Captured and raped by Isis fighters, Yazidi women fear rejection on their release. Now they are learning to heal thanks to a revolution in their religion

No one wears shoes in Lalish. The village is so sacred that all visitors must walk its paths barefoot. Perched at the top of a narrow valley, in the parched, scrubby hills of northern Iraq, close to the Kurdish border, its cluster of shrines are a revered site for followers of the Yazidi faith.

At the heart of Lalish is a pool of water sheltered by a small cave, its entrance shaded by mulberry trees and watched by a guardian in a red turban. This is the “holy white spring”, where newborns must be brought for baptism, the waters mixed with the Lalish soil for the rites of marriage, birth and death. For generations, the rituals carried out at the spring had been unchanged. But two years ago, groups of women, usually silent, often with young children, began joining the families filtering in and out of the cave.

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