Babar Ahmad leaving prison behind… (Image via MVD)
Babar Ahmad is freed during the days of Eid ul-Fitr. الله اكبر و لله الحمد
News of the release of Babar Ahmad after almost a dozen years in prison reminds me of the Quranic verses: “Verily, after hardship comes ease” and “Whoever has taqwa [God-consciousness] Allah will create an exit for him.”
Despite being imprisoned in Guantanamo I’d never experienced the British prison system other than on trips to HMP Long Lartin where I used to visit Babar before his extradition. Talking to him was an absolute pleasure. After two hours of the most wonderful and engaging discussion I would always leave him with a sense of sadness and enrichment: sadness, knowing that he was returning to more indefinite years in prison and an ordeal, after so long without trial, that was yet to begin if he was extradited to the U.S. but, enriched and revitalised by his profound sense of justice and genuine care for other prisoners and matters far beyond.
I still, however, couldn’t understand what it was like for him once I left and he returned to life in his cell. That only happened two years later when I had my own short spell in a high security British prison and finally began to understand something of his experience – but only after he was extradited.
I’d often explain to Babar my experience of US custody in preparation for his own impending imprisonment there. Once his fight against extradition failed we all knew that as a Muslim terrorism suspect in the U.S. his only prospect of freedom was a plea bargain. Even then, based on sentencing in U.S. I expected he’d spend a very long time imprisoned before coming home. But relief came in the most unexpected form: the sentencing judge had to this to say (of both Talha Ahsan and Babar in particular):
“Neither of these two defendants were interested in what is commonly known as terrorism … It appears to me that he [Babar] is a generous, thoughtful person who is funny and honest. He is well liked and humane and empathetic…This is a good person…”
Only a few weeks ago I spent the evening with Babar’s funny and sweet father and discussed the imminent return of his son. He had many apprehensions and fears but kept looking at my experiences in the prisons of the world as a source of hope. Al hamdu lillah I assured him he had nothing to worry about, especially after how the judge had described him.
In fact, that was where the help of Allah came from – the most unexpected place. Allah says: “Perhaps you detest a thing and it is good for you and perhaps you love a thing and it is bad for you.” A record-breaking petition signed by 141,000 to have Babar tried in the UK fell on deaf government ears. Yet, who could have imagined Babar’s (and Talha’s) deliverance would come, eventually, from the one thing he’d fought against all these years?
“Whoever has reliance on Allah then He is sufficient for him.” That is the lesson from the story of Babar Ahmad, Talha Ahsan, Omar Khadr, Abu Qatada and many others whose cases we’ve fought for over the years. It’s my lesson too.
There are many others who remain imprisoned without charge or trial like Shaker Aamer, or who’ve been convicted on bogus entrapment evidence like Munir Farooqi while others have received unbelievably long sentences for victimless “crimes” abroad trying to defend civilian populations from chemical attacks, barrel bombs and sectarian butchery or, for simply being misguided teens.
But let’s praise Allah in all circumstances and remember that “when Allah loves His servant he tests him”. May we be among those who pass with grace, patience, perseverance, faith and without bitterness, like our brothers, if chosen.
الله اكبر الله اكبر الله اكبر لا اله الا الله، الله اكبر الله اكبر و لله الحمد
Carol Anne Grayson is an independent writer/researcher on global health/human rights and is Executive Producer of the Oscar nominated, Incident in New Baghdad . She is a Registered Mental Nurse with a Masters in Gender Culture and Development. Carol was awarded the ESRC, Michael Young Prize for Research 2009, and the COTT ‘Action = Life’ Human Rights Award’ for “upholding truth and justice”. She is also a survivor of US “collateral damage”.