The Aafia Siddiqui I Saw
- "I want you to come to know of the concern and dedication that this
simple 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."
The Aafia Siddiqui I Saw
by Abu Sabaya
NOTE: Go to the website for before and after photos of the dear
"She is a high security risk."
- Christopher LaVigne, assistant US attorney, on August 11th when
trying to convince a judge to prevent Aafia from seeing a doctor for
her gunshot wound.
During the time of the Prophet (SAW), 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
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 simple 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 (Massachusetts Institute of
Technology), 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
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! [NOTE: The founder of the Benevolence
International charity, Enaam Arnaout, was given 12 years in prison
for the crime of donating these boots to the Bosnians.]
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. 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
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
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.
PETITION TO FREE DR. AAFIA SIDDIQUI:
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