During Ramadan I always like to take time to reflect on my work with Cageprisoners and inshallah renew my intention. During our annual dinner event in London, I met a brother who I once helped while he was detained in Kenya and subsequently sent to Somalia. Seeing him reminded me of a strange series of events which culminated in Cageprisoners helping him and the brothers he was detained with.
In February 2007, a friend I have known since my time in university called and said he needed to meet with me urgently, according to him we had another, "Moazzam Begg situation". This left me a little sceptical as sometimes young Muslims are prone to a little exaggeration, however, it turned out that Allah SWT planned for my friend to have remained in touch with me when all my other friendships from uni had waned.
15 minutes later we were meeting on the corner of Brick Lane where the bombings had happened. My friend explained that four British men (the Nairobi 4), one of whom was his friend, had been detained and were being questioned by MI5. Having previously done the research on the original Fabricating Terrorism report, I immediately became worried by what this could potentially mean for the men.
Fortuitously, one of the Nairobi 4, Shahjahan, had the presence of mind to bribe the prison guard for the use of a phone. My friend had already made a western union transfer to the guard and so he was amenable to assisting us in our efforts to find out more information from the detainees. The phone call that evening resulted in me being able to advise two of the men who were being detained together, that they were under no obligation to speak with MI5, and that they should only be seeking consular assistance. Further, we were able to get phone numbers and addresses for all four men as they had exchanged details in case someone managed to get word out.
That very night I rang three of the families whose numbers I had been given. It is a difficult thing calling someone to say that their loved one is detained in a country far away and that our own government is complicit in their detention.
The same day as this was all taking place, I rang a colleague of mine, Clara, who worked at Reprieve at the time to see if she would be willing to assist with the cases. The both of us began a campaign of ringing the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to complain about the treatment of these men, and also to register that it is was inappropriate that the security agencies were able to access them, while at the same time consular officials were claiming they could not do so.
For the three families we were able to contact by phone and arrange to meet in person, we were able to procure the assistance of solicitors to help aid the families and the men. However, Clara and I were left with one name and address with no telephone number, it was an address close to Edgware Road. Thinking that our best opportunity would be to catch the family in the evening time, we proceeded to the street in order to knock on the door and hope that someone might answer. On arriving at the street, we found that it was very long, and not only that, the number 8 house we were looking for, could be in any of the 30 odd housing estates that lined the street! Not shaken in our resolve, we proceeded to make our way through each estate, knocking on the door and asking if Mr Ezwiki lived there. By the time we finished trying to knock on every door that could have fit the description, it was 11:45 pm and we were left with nothing. Our one ray of hope was the final door on the street, which had the Arabic for ‘In the Name of God’ written at the top, with no one answering. We decided to return the next day in the hope that we would find better fortune.
The following afternoon was a Saturday and we hoped to find someone at home that we may be able to speak with. To our misfortune, it was a Pakistani family, we were looking for a Moroccans. As we headed back towards the tube station, we questioned some kids from the area hoping they may have heard of the name Ezwiki - again to no avail.
Just as we were about to give up and proceed with our investigation a car pulled up just by me. The person in the car looked like an observant Muslim and so I decided to ask him if he knew the family. The baffled man returned my salaam, but said that he was from miles away and had just come to visit someone who lived around here. At that moment I heard a voice behind me saying, “Excuse me, is there a problem?” It was an English woman wearing the hijab. She was host for the family that had just arrived in the car. I explained that we were looking for the Ezwiki (not their real name) family to which she replies, “Is this about their son, and the trouble that he has just gotten into abroad.” Subhanallah, you cannot imagine how it felt at that moment, to know that Allah SWT had put this scenario in our path, but then further, that she turned up to be their neighbour who lived in the flat above theirs.
We were told to wait outside as I gave my business card to the lady who then proceeded to speak with the family. It turned out, that after we had raised the problem of the detention of the men with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the homes of all the men were raided by the police. They obviously knew who the men were, through information sent by MI5 - it was strange how the FCO still claimed that they could not get a hold of the men.
After about 10 minutes of waiting, the younger sister of our client emerged and requested that we wait a little longer. It would transpire later that in fact she had gone with my business card (with Cageprisoners clearly identifiable on it) to her brother’s friend who lived around the corner. After analysing the card, he told her to tell us to get lost, and that we were probably journalists looking to harass the family. Again, the Qadr of Allah intervened as another friend, who had been studying in Egypt for the previous two years, had decided to visit that day. On seeing my card he exclaimed that I was genuine! He and I had been on Umrah together previously, and were close friends! I only found out about this story later, but I could see that Allah SWT had conspired to find a way for us to find our client, and to assist him.
It was only due to this set of what seemed strange coincidences to Clara, that within moments, we were sitting before the family, explaining to them the situation their son was in, and giving them solutions to the problem they faced.
With the detentions that were taking place in Kenya, we were concerned that we had no one to contact in region in order to assist us on the ground. Again, it was through Allah’s assistance that a brother that had formerly been campaigned for by Cageprisoners, was actually in Kenya at the time, and had involved himself with a human rights group that was specifically working for the release of these British men. He had established contact with me and was informing us of the movements of the Nairobi 4.
While we were sitting with the Ezwiki family, we were informed by our contact in Nairobi that the men were being put on a rendition flight to Somalia which was in a state of conflict with Ethiopia at the time. I immediately rang the FCO to give the news of what was taking place, explaining that it was illegal under international law for them to be sent back into a war zone. The officer on the phone explained that they had not received any such information, and that they could not verify that this had taken place. The moment I put my phone down, Clara’s phone rang from the same officer, who explained to her that they had just received information that the men were being moved to the airport to be sent to Somalia. To have such a situation occur in front of the family who were relying on the FCO to assist them in the return of their son was terrible for them, but it convinced us that we needed a stronger strategy to aid our clients.
After the end of two very long and difficult days, Clara turned to me and said, “I never thought I would say this or believe it, but everything that happened can only be put down to Providence.” Subahanallah, even she recognised that Qadr of Allah was diplayed openly before us.
Allah SWT says in the Qur’an:
“And they planned and Allah (also) planned, and Allah is the best of planners” [3:54]
I bear witness that I saw the physical manifestation of these words unfold before me during this period.
At Cageprisoners, we try and work on the principle that we cannot release any individual. That is a matter for Allah alone. All we can do, inshallah, is to help fulfil the fard kiffayyah on us all, to help those who are detained without charge or trial. This entire episode cemented for me the concept that really truly, Allah SWT assists those who work in his path, and will always provide avenues, even when there seems no hope for success.
A few days later through the assistance of Allah SWT, all four men were released back to the UK without charge or trial. Allahu Akbar!