The Aafia Siddiqui I Saw
During the time of the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم), those who entered Islam were of two types: those who remained in their lands with the general populace practicing the basic tenets of the religion, and those who took it upon themselves to migrate and join the Prophet in his expeditions. There are ahadith that show that the Prophet treated these two groups differently from each other due to their difference in status. For example, Muslim and at-Tirmidhi report that when appointing a leader to a battalion, he would instruct him on how to deal with those of the enemy who became Muslims, saying: “…invite them to migrate from their lands to the land of the Muhajirin, and inform them that if they do so, they will have all the privileges and obligations of the Muhajirin. If they refuse to migrate, tell them that they will have the status of the Bedouins, and will be subjected to the commands of Allah like the rest of the believers…” This distinction was simply of one group deciding to take upon its shoulders certain responsibilities in contrast to the other whose inactivity limited them to a very individualistic, localized, benign practice of Islam. One can in essence say that the Prophet divided the practice of the Muslims at the time into two types: the religion of the Migrants (Din al-Muhajirin, whose adherents took upon their shoulders the responsibilities of aiding and giving victory to Islam), and the religion of the Bedouins (Din al-A’rab, whose adherents did not go beyond the basics).
Although the depiction is of a situation that existed over a thousand years ago, it is an eternal pattern that Muslims will be distributed amongst these levels in every era and in every place. So, one can notice this distinction even amongst the practicing Muslims of the East and West. The Din al-A’rab of the past can be compared to the Islam that is limited to the five pillars, eating zabihah, and keeping the local mosque clean. Considering how difficult it is in the West to come across even these Muslims, imagine what joy comes to the eye and heart to see those who go a step further and reach the level of adhering to Din al-Muhajirin – those whose concern spans the entire Ummah, driving them to get up and become active workers for Islam, to dedicate their every minute to the service of Allah however they can no matter what other responsibilities clutter their busy lives, to have their hearts beat with the rest of the Muslims – all this with their heads raised high and paying no regard to those around them who eat and live like cattle, as it was said:
Such are the free in a world of the enslaved…
Recently, the entire world has been speaking about one such person – a short, thin college student, wife, and mother of three small children. Her name is Aafia Siddiqui.
I want you to be drawn to the story of this woman and also understand why I was drawn to it. I want you to come to know of the concern and dedication that this woman had for Islam as described by those who knew her – a dedication that was manifested by way of actions that were very simple and easy, yet seldom carried out by those who are able.
Those who knew Aafia recall that she was a very small, quiet, polite, and shy woman who was barely noticeable in a gathering. However, they add that when necessary, she would say what needed to be said. She was once giving a speech at a fundraiser for Bosnian orphans at a local mosque in which she began lambasting the men in the audience for not stepping up to do what she was doing. She would plead: “Where are the men? Why do I have to be the one standing up here and doing this work?” And she was right, as she was a mother, a wife, and a student in a community full of brothers with nothing to show when it came to Islamic work.
When she was a student at MIT, she began organizing drives to deliver copies of the Qur’an and other Islamic literature to the Muslims in the local prisons. She would have them delivered in boxes to a local mosque, and she would then show up at the mosque and carry the heavy boxes by herself all the way down the three flights of very steep stairs. Subhan Allah, look at the Qadar of Allah: this woman who would spend so much time and effort to help Muslim prisoners is now herself a prisoner (I ask Allah to free her)!
Her dedication to Islam was also very evident on campus. A 2004 article from Boston Magazine mentions that “…she wrote three guides for members who wanted to teach others about Islam. On the group’s website, Siddiqui explained how to run a daw’ah table, an informational booth used at school events to educate people about, and persuade them to convert to, Islam.” The article continues to mention that in the guides, she wrote: “Imagine our humble, but sincere daw’ah effort turning into a major daw’ah movement in this country! Just imagine it! And us, reaping the reward of everyone who accepts Islam through this movement, through years to come. Think and plan big. May Allah give this strength and sincerity to us so that our humble effort continue, and expands until America becomes a Muslim land.”
Allahu Akbar…look at this himmah (concern)…look at these lofty aspirations and goals! As men, we should be ashamed to have to learn such lessons from a sister.
She would drive out of her way every week to teach the local Muslim children on Sundays. I was told by a sister that she would also drive out of her way every week to visit a small group of reverts to teach them the basics of Islam. One of the sisters who attended her circles described Aafia as “not going out of her way to be noticed by anybody, or to be anyone’s friend. She just came out here to teach us about Allah, and English wasn’t even her first language!”
Another sister who would attend her circles describes: “She shared with us that we should never make excuses for who we are. She said: “Americans have no respect for people who are weak. Americans will respect us if we stand up and we are strong.””
Allahu Akbar…O Allah, free this woman!
But Aafia’s biggest passion was helping the oppressed Muslims around the globe. When war in Bosnia broke out, she did not sit back and watch with one knee over the other. Rather, she immediately sought out whatever means were within her grasp to make a difference. She didn’t sit in a dreamy bubble thinking all day about how she wished that she could go over to Bosnia and help with relief efforts. She got up and did what she could: she would speak to people to raise awareness, she would ask for donations, she would send e-mails, she would give slideshow presentations – the point I’m trying to make here is that Aafia showed that there is always something we can do to help our brothers and sisters, the least of which is a spoken word to raise awareness to those who are unaware. Sitting back and doing nothing is never an option. She once gave a speech at a local mosque to raise funds for Bosnian orphans, and when the audience was just sitting there watching her, she asked: “How many people in this room own more than one pair of boots?” When half the room raised their hands, she said: “So, donate them to these Bosnians who are about to face a brutal winter!” She was so effective in her plea that even the imam took off his boots and donated them!
There is much more to say about how passionate this sister was for Islam. However, the above gives you an idea of what she was like, and should hopefully serve as an inspiration for brothers before sisters to become active in serving Islam through whatever means are available. Remember that she was doing all of this while being a mother and a PhD student, and most of us do much less despite having much more free time.
So, having this image of Aafia in my mind, I was taken aback at what I saw when she was brought into court for what should have been her bail hearing. The door on the front left side of the courtroom was slowly opened to reveal a frail, limp, exhausted woman who could barely hold her own head up straight in a pale blue wheelchair. She was dressed in a Guantanamo-style orange prison uniform, and her frail head was wrapped in a white hijab that was pulled down to cover her bone-thin arms (the prison uniform is shortsleeved). Her lawyers quickly sat around her, and the hearing began.
The head prosecutor, assistant US attorney Christopher LaVigne, walked in with a group of three or four FBI agents, one of whom was a female who looked Pakistani (لعنة الله عليهم). The defense began by announcing that the bail hearing was to be postponed because of Aafia’s medical condition. Essentially, Aafia’s lawyers reasoned that there was no point of her being out on bail if she was near death. So, they demanded that she be allowed a doctor’s visit before anything else. LaVigne got up and objected, saying that Aafia was a risk to the security of the United States. The judge didn’t seem to buy that, and the prosecutor continued arguing that “this is a woman who attempted to blast her way out of captivity.” As soon as this was said, I looked over and noticed Aafia shaking her head in desperation and sadness, as if she felt that the whole world was against her. By the way, Aafia was so small and weak that I could barely see her from behind the wheelchair. All I could see was her head slumped over to the left and wrapped in the hijab, and her right arm sticking out.
I got a better understanding of why she was so sad and desperate when her lawyer began listing details of her condition:
* She now has brain damage from her time in US custody
* One of her kidneys was removed while in US custody
* She is unable to digest her food since part of her intestines was removed during surgery while in US custody
* She has layers and layers of sewed up skin from the surgery for the gunshot wound
* She has a large surgical scar from her chest area all the way down to her torso
With all of this, she had not been visited by a single doctor the entire time of her incarceration in the US despite being in constant incredible abdominal pain following her sloppy surgery in Afghanistan – pain for which she was being given nothing more than Ibuprofen! Ibuprofen is purchased over the counter to treat headaches!
With all of this, the prosecutor had the audacity and shamelessness to try to prevent her from being seen by a doctor due to her being a “security risk.” When he was pressed by the judge as to why Aafia was sitting all this time in a NYC prison without basic medical care, the government attorney stuttered, said that it was “a complicated situation,” and capped it with the expected cheap shot that “it was her decision as she refused to by seen by a male doctor.” As soon as the prosecutor said that last bit, I saw Aafia’s thin arm shoot up and shake back and forth to the judge (as if to say ‘No! He’s lying!’). I felt so sorry for her, as she was obviously quite frustrated at the lies being spilled out before her very eyes. Her lawyer then put her hand on her arm and began stroking it to comfort her and calm her down.
When the hearing was over, one scholarly statement stuck in my mind, and it is where Ibn al-Qayyim said that a person rises in his closeness to Allah until: “…there remains only one obstacle from which the enemy calls him from, and this is an obstacle that he must face. If anyone were to be saved from this obstacle, it would have been the Messengers and Prophets of Allah, and the noblest of His Creation. This is the obstacle of Satan unleashing his troops upon the believer with various types of harm: by way of the hand, the tongue, and the heart. This occurs in accordance with the degree of goodness that exists within the believer. So, the higher he is in degree, the more the enemy unleashes his troops and helps them against him, and overwhelms him with his followers and allies in various ways. There is no way around this obstacle, because the firmer he is in calling to Allah and fulfilling His commands, the more the enemy becomes intent upon deceiving him with foolish people. So, he has essentially put on his body armor in this obstacle, and has taken it upon himself to confront the enemy for Allah’s Sake and in His Name, and his worship in doing so is the worship of the best of worshippers.”
And this was absolutely clear that day when looking at the scene in the court. Despite Aafia’s apparent physical weakness and frailty, there was a certain ‘izzah (honor) and strength that I felt emanating from her the entire time. Everything from the way she forcefully shook her hand at the judge when the prosecutor would lie, to how she was keen to wear her hijab on top of her prison garments despite horrible circumstances that would make hijab the last thing on most people’s minds, to the number of FBI agents, US Marshals, reporters, officials, etc. who were all stuffed in this small room to observe this frail, weak, short, quiet, female “security risk” – everything pointed to the conclusion that the only thing all of these people were afraid of was the strength of this sister’s iman.
This is the situation of our dear sister, a Muslim woman in captivity…
What can I say…?
I will not close by mentioning the obligation of helping to free Muslim prisoners. I will not mention how al-Mu’tasim razed an entire city to the ground to rescue a single Muslim woman. I will not go back to the days of Salah ad-Din or ‘Umar bin ‘Abd al-‘Aziz, who rescued Muslim prisoners in the tens of thousands. I cannot be greedy enough to mention these things at this point because what is even sadder than what is happening to Aafia Siddiqui is how few the Muslims were who even bothered to show up to her hearing in a city of around half a million Muslims (not counting the surrounding areas), and that not a single Muslim organization in the United States has taken up the sister’s cause or even spoken a word in her defense, and as Ibn al-Qayyim said: “If ghayrah (protective jealousy) leaves a person’s heart, his faith will follow it.”
Unfortunately, in a time where most of us are following Din al-A’rab, it seems that the best person to teach us a lesson in how to help Aafia Siddiqui would have been Aafia herself.