Tuesday, 23 September 2008


The Way Out
by Moazzam Begg
Cage Prisoners

It’s almost seven years since the notorious images depicting kneeling
Muslim men attired in the signature orange clothing of Camp X-Ray,
Guantanamo Bay, were unleashed through the world’s media. Their eyes
covered with blackened-out goggles, their mouths masked and their
ears covered with earmuffs. They saw no evil, spoke no evil and heard
no evil: they only experienced it. Ironically, they were – and are
still – regarded by the world’s most powerful military machine as the
epitome of evil, the ‘worst of the worst.’ My time with them was
comparatively short but, I had the honour of being in these men’s
company for three years.

The president of the USA called them ‘bad men’, ‘terrorists’ and
‘murderers’ who were so dangerous they would ‘gnaw through the cables
of an aircraft in order to bring it down’ (hence the justification
for face masks.) Despite not one person being convicted of any crime
related to September 11 (the whole reason why Guantánamo was
allegedly instituted as a prison facility) the men are still treated
worse than convicted criminals. In fact, they are still regarded as
‘the worst of the worst’ at worst or, with deep suspicion at best –
even by Muslims. So how is one meant to judge these people,
especially when we learn what these men were doing before they had
the fortune to be tested in the manner of the Prophets of old?

It is now clear from released prisoners and mountains of US military
documentation that the overwhelming majority of those detained in
Guantánamo had nothing to do with the targeting and killing of
innocent civilians in America – or anywhere else. Although this fact
has not been conceded by the US in word it has been in deed with the
release of 500 of us to date. But 250 still remain in Guantanamo and,
more disturbingly, thousands have been simply ‘disappeared’ or held
in ‘ghost’ detention sites around the world.

Some of the men were abducted from places as diverse as like Gambia,
Zambia, Indonesia, Azerbaijan, the Persian Gulf – no where near the
‘theatre of combat operations.’ But most of the men, me included,
were in Pakistan and Afghanistan working on benign projects to build
schools, wells, orphanages and aid centres. Others had come to this
region to live under what they believed was a land of hijrah
(migration) for the sake of Allah, or to study the tenets and
jurisprudence of their faith, or to live as exiles from their various
homelands – like the Chinese Uyghurs – escaping terrible persecution.
It is also undeniable that some came to repel the occupiers of a
Muslim land by non-Muslim forces, in the way that thousands had come
before them during the last superpower’s occupation of Afghanistan.
But that’s very different from what they stand accused of being:

Hitler’s propaganda minster, Joseph Goebbels once said: “If you tell
a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come
to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the
State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or
military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important
for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the
truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the
truth is the greatest enemy of the State.” This formula has been
adopted by many of today’s leaders and those who follow them. We know
how these men – and Muslims in general - have been described by
certain western leaders and their Middle Eastern sycophants. But how
does the one who created them and gave them purpose of life describe

‘Those who believed, and emigrated, and struggled for the Faith in
the Cause of Allah, as well as those who give (them) asylum and aid--
these are indeed the true believers: for them is the forgiveness of
sins and a provision most generous.’

Are these men not Muslims – believers in fact? Did they not emigrate
for the various reasons cited? Did not the Prophet (saws) say that
hijrah in the way of Allah wipes out all prior sins, even more so
than Hajj? Did they not struggle in the cause of Allah with their
wealth and in person against all the hardships one must endure to
live in one of the world’s poorest and destitute countries? Did not
Allah promise them the greatest of rewards in the Hereafter for their
struggle and sacrifice? Did they not come to give support and aid to
the beleaguered people of impoverished lands?

And when Allah continued to test them in the way He tested his
beloved Yusuf (as) did we find they faltered or changed? When
tortures and humiliations like those meted out to Bilal, Ammar and
Summaya were inflicted upon them did they not hold fast to their
faith and cry out: Hasbuna Allaha wa ni’mal wakeel (Allah is the
sufficient protector for us)? When they heard about the births of
their children – or their deaths – during their time in prison did
they despair and lose hope in Allah’s mercy and deliverance? Did not
the very earth shake under their feet after such tumultuous trials
until they said: ‘When will the help of Allah come?’ Were they not
contented with His words: ‘Surely, the help of Allah is near’?

There is a verse I came to learn, to know, to recite, to contemplate
and to believe in – even during the bleakest of times:

‘And whoever fears Allah He will make for him a way out and provide
for him from whence he never imagined.’

The word at the end of this verse is ‘makhraja’ which in Arabic
literally means exit and although it refers to a set of circumstances
relating to marital affairs, the rule therein was, for us,
devastatingly simple: fear Allah, turn to him, keep to your duty and
He will find you a way out. And so we were released – at least some
of us were. But what of those who remain? Does it mean they did not
fear Allah, did not keep to their duty and promise to Allah? Of
course not. The Prophet (saws) said: When Allah loves a person He
puts them to trial. And if He did this with his beloved Prophets,
then what of us? Was not Yusuf thrown into a dungeon for years,
despite his innocence? Could the Torah, the New Testament and even
the Quran have been complete without this story of wrongful

I am honoured to have been in the company of these few men who held
on to the rope of Allah when many others would have wavered and
fallen. They have not all been released, but they have been mentioned
specifically by the one in whose hands their souls lie:

‘Amongst the believers are men who remained true to their covenant
with Allah; of them some have fulfilled their obligations, (i.e. have
left this world) and some still are waiting, but they have never
changed in the least.’

In these last nights of Ramadhan some of us will be praying all night
at home, in the mosques and even in the Masaajid al-Haraam (in Makkah
and Madinah – where rewards for prayers are multiplied in their
thousands). Some of us will be doing ‘itikaaf, qiyaam al-lail and
reciting the whole Qur’aan several times and attending Friday prayers
with record numbers of worshippers in continually expanding mosques.

My imprisoned brothers have not prayed a single prayer in
congregation in seven years. They have not prayed Jum’ah once in
seven years. They have had no Eid with their families in seven years.
They are waiting with the patience of Yunus (as) for deliverance. But
they have made ‘itikaaf in their tiny cages for seven years. Some of
them fasted every Monday and Thursday – even when they were given no
food to break the fast; some of them fast on every alternate day
outside of Ramadhan (the fast of Dawood (as)). And their recitation
and memorisation of the Quran far surpasses that of freemen; their
supplications during the night prayer have brought tears to the eyes
of men who have encountered every hardship imaginable, men whose
tears you’d have thought would have dried up by now. But their tears
are not of grief and sadness for this world: they cry fearing what
might become of them in the Hereafter. Yes, they fear Allah still. It
is the only way they will find an exit.

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