Monday, February 06, 2012

Salaam Aafia, a tribute to our imprisoned rose


Faizel Patel – Cii Broadcasting

As prisoner number #650,she sits alone in her cell, which is six feet long in Carswell prison, Texas, in the United States of America. Weighing less than 45,36kg, tortured and beaten mercilessly without any remorse from her jailers.

She is not allowed to recite the Quraan. She was forcefully stripped by six men and then repeatedly sexually abused, beaten with rifle butts until she bled. She was bound to a bed, with her hands and feet tied whilst unspecified forms of torture were administered to the soles of her feet and her head injected with unknown substances. She was dragged by her hair and having her hairs pulled out one by one and forced to walk on the Quraan which had been desecrated in her cell whilst naked. Yet they cannot kindle or break her spirit, for her spirit lives in each one of us, running in our veins across the world.

Dr. Aafia Siddiqui was born on 2 March 1972 in Karachi, Pakistan. Aafia’s father Mohammad Siddiqui was a UK-trained doctor and her mother, Ismet, a homemaker. Aafia has three children: Ahmed (b. 1996), Maryam (b. 1998), and Suleman (b. 2002), the latter of whom remains missing to this day. As a 39-year-old mother of three, consumed, like other Boston moms who volunteer or work outside the home, with the minutiae of everyday life.

A deeply religious woman, she picked up Quraan’s from a local masjid and distributed them to inmates in area prisons. She hosted playgroups in her apartment on the 20th floor of the Back Bay Manor in Roxbury. She took her sister Fowzia’s child into her care while Fowzia finished a fellowship in neurology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. She did the grocery shopping and prepared meals for her children and husband, an anesthesiologist at Brigham and Women’s hospital.

Aafia moved to Texas in 1990 to be near her brother, and after spending a year at the University of Houston, transferred to Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). You might think the daughter who eventually got into MIT was the smart one in the family, but her siblings are just as accomplished.

Mohammed, Aafia’s brother, is an architect living in Houston with his wife, a pediatrician, and their children. Fowzia, Aafia’s sister, is a Harvard-trained neurologist who was working at Sinai Hospital in Baltimore until she decided to go back to Pakistan.

Siddiqui’s fellow students say she was a quiet, studious woman who was devout in her religious beliefs but far from the media characterization of ‘Lady Qaeda’. A fellow student, Hamza, recalled in an interview with the BBC, “I remember Aafia as being sweet, mildly irritating but harmless”.

During her time at MIT, Aafia joined the campus Muslim Student Association (MSA) and was actively involved in efforts to portray the teachings of Islam to non-Muslims in order to better their understanding of her faith and invite them to Islam. Her emphasis in her life on bettering the conditions of Muslims even pervaded her academic achievements. During her sophomore year at MIT, she won a grant of $5,000 to study the effects of Islam on women living in Pakistan.

In addition to her many academic achievements, Aafia earned the honourable status of committing the entire Qur’an to memory. Following her graduation, Aafia married a medical student Mohammed Amjad Khan. She subsequently entered Brandeis University as a graduate student in cognitive neuroscience. Citing the difficulty of living as Muslims in the United States after 9/11 and following FBI harassment of her husband, Aafia and her husband returned to Pakistan

They stayed in Pakistan for a short time, and then returned to the United States. They remained there until 2002, and then moved back to Pakistan. Some problems developed in their marriage, and Aafia was eight months pregnant with their third child when she and Khan were separated. She and the children stayed at her mother’s house, while Khan lived elsewhere in Karachi. After giving birth to her son, Aafia stayed at her mother’s house for the rest of the year, returning to the US without her children around December 2002 to look for a job in the Baltimore area, where her sister had begun working at Sinai Hospital.

Aafia Siddiqui was a normal woman living a normal American life. Until the FBI called her a terrorist

Dr. Aafia was sentenced to 86 years in prison because she had a dream. A dream for an educated Pakistan that would enlighten the Pakistani Nation and free its youth from foreign dependency and economic shambles. The flimsy and concocted charge that she tried to kill a US marine while in Kabul is totally outrageous.

Her lawyer, Elaine Whitfield Sharp described it beautifully when she said, “She was Detained for Five Years in a Black Site” and “Forced to Create Documents to Incriminate Herself “A rose isn’t a rose, the emperor doesn’t have any clothes on”, clichés of a government that has ingrained its poisonous talons into an innocent person…

From the innocent little children that are too young to understand, to the elderly engaged in sincere prayer, the pangs for her freedom are carried across the vast plains of this earth on the wings of angels humming to the soothing words of Salaam Aafia.

Remember Aafia - she may be out of sight, but she is definitely not out of mind, heart or forgotten. She will be ingrained in our dua'as until the day she is released.

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