Even when Salam sat through chemistry lectures at university, he would be quietly humming. “When I got accepted in chemistry, I didn’t feel free. I felt closer to music.”
His instrument lessons began at home in his Sinjari village of Snuni, watching YouTube videos at age 13. Then he attended a music academy in Erbil. Still, he kept telling himself that chemistry was a more practical career choice that would help him support his family. He had a lot to learn, especially when he poured water over hydrochloric acid, accidentally causing the mixture to splatter everywhere in the lab.
Salam graduated with a degree in chemistry from the University of Sulaimani in 2015, the same year Snuni was liberated from ISIS. When the fighters had invaded, Salam and his family didn’t have time to take anything with them. He says all of the instruments and music equipment he left behind were deliberately destroyed. ISIS believes music is haram, forbidden by their interpretation of Islamic law.
He still hasn’t found work as a chemist. Instead, he commutes to the displacement camp near his house to give music lessons to children from Sinjar. He teaches them the piano, oud, biziq, and saz. “Music is life for me,” he says. Still, life has changed more than he could have ever wanted. “I cannot feel inner peace until I return to my homeland.”