Ashfaq's Story

A Story Untold

Every one of our homes resounded with the terrifying tale of Babar Ahmad, his brutal arrest, eight years of detention without trial in the UK, culminating in his eventual extradition to the US.  He evoked the minds of many, who protested and campaigned for his right to a fair trial and became a symbol for Muslims in the UK…

But known only to a few is the story of Uncle Ashfaq, Babar’s father, and the individual who bore the brunt emotionally, physically and financially of his beloved son’s absence for twelve long years HHUGS were there for our Uncle in his time of hardship and now, he wants to tell us his story.

A Doting Father

Babar was working at Imperial College at the time of his arrest and it’s safe to say that Uncle Ashfaq was a proud father. He loved his son deeply; who was the pride and joy of his life. So Uncle was taken aback when his home, and that of his son, was raided in the Winter of 2003. Though Babar endured a brutal encounter that night, after days in a police station, he was eventually released without charge. When Ashfaq saw his son, having learnt of the physical, verbal, religious and sexual abuse that he had been subject to, he realised the depth of the situation. When Babar came home, he looked deeply into the eyes of a man he didn’t recognise; the Babar he knew was light hearted and relaxed. This man had the pain of his trauma etched into his soul. A tear rolled down Uncle Ashfaq’s face as he reminisced:

“When you have a baby, sometime if they have some problem the mother is up all night and will not sleep. How would you react if some nasty people snatch away your child or your son and beat him up badly?  He was a different person, it wasn’t the same Babar and it was very, very difficult for us to accept that.”

To the world you may be one person, but to one person you may be the world

No charges were brought, and so upon his release, Babar tried to resume a normal life. Nine months passed, when Babar was arrested again, this time on a US extradition warrant. 

“Obviously it was very, very difficult for us all, and we never had that sort of experience before and we never want it to happen again. So after that initial shock we thought that, well, Babar is going to prison and Babar himself was in a shock, we went to see him first time in the prison sitting in those four walls, and didn’t know how to cope with it. He said I won’t be able to sit there for one hour, let alone… so that’s how it happened then slowly, the reality was there that Babar was in prison and we thought that what we can do to you know get him out of the prison and the lawyers, and all that..”

The years that proceeded Babar’s first few nights in jail was a blur of pain and fear for Uncle Ashfaq and his wife; not only emotional torment of losing a son, but also weathering the troubles of financial strain, as Babar’s accounts were closed and blocked. As pensioners, standing orders and running bills were difficult to pay, they felt the absence of their son severely. But more than that Uncle Ashfaq just wanted his son home, safe and sound once more.  With old age and ailing health, there were practical difficulties too.

“I am a pensioner, so myself my wife we did manage, but yes, if he was here, then more than money and finance, more than that, we needed someone to be physically present, that was more important.Once one of my tyresof my car, it was flat so somebody fixed the tire and then our computer printer that was not working…Over the years, it’s been such a long time and when we look back I see myself and my wife were here… and so many things we couldn’t do ourselves… it was very, very difficult for us but the help of people and Allah’s help, we managed to live through all that. How we lived those 11 years… it was very difficult…”

Though he would try to suppress his emotions, to be the pillar of strength in the home, Uncle Ashfaq recalls how his wife would miss her son, familiar smells and tastes triggering memories in their minds:

I didn’t show all that emotion, but she was always thinking, when she eating something, she will think about how Babar use to like keema paratha, Babar used to like certain things, certain foods.”

To add to the strain, Ashfaq was thrust into the limelight of the media and the public campaign for his son’s release, travelling hours up and down the country to raise awareness for his case. Despite English not being his first language, and with no formal training, it was difficult to speak about something so deeply personal and painful. He recalls however how he found strength from the solidarity of complete strangers and their prayers.

I got strength with people, HHUGS and many other organizations, many other people who Ihad never known, never seen, they all helped me.”

A Light of Hope in their Time of Darkness

In the face of this immense test, HHUGS was there to provide support, alleviating tasks too difficult for Uncle Ashfaq and his wife.  It wasn’t the money or food provided, that served to remain in Uncle Ashfaq’s mind, but the kindness and emotional support. As he recalled feeling like his family name had been ruined, and stigmatised, the HHUGS team were there to remind him that he was not alone through his ordeal. He recalls the girls from HHUGS constantly ringing…

“HHUGS, as I say, they were always in touch with us, and they were always trying … it is not money and food, it is the moral support, it was more important, it was needed and they supported us a great deal in that respect. The girls from HHUGS, they ring us and (ask), “Uncle, do you want anything? Are you happy? Are you alright?”

HHUGS arranged picnics for families, inviting Babar’s parents and their grandchildren, who sorely missed their uncle, how they gave gifts and meat for Eid and in Ramadhan.

“That meant a lot to us because as you know that, like a child, a child is very sensitive, and as children you are going and playing and all that and some of your friends they were going on picnics or outings and they had cars, and I didn’t have a car at the time. They said, ‘why don’t they take us?’, so those little things...When someone is in prison he is helpless, but when someone else can take your kids out. For kids if you take them to the park it’s a big thing for them.” 

Uncle Ashfaq recalls the girls personally bringing these items and ringing him to give moral support, to lift them up, “The world goes on but when you see somebody is caring for you, this is very important, and I am so thankful again and we knew there was somebody there who was worried about us. There is someone, always someone who cares about you.”

The gruelling distances for prison visits, travelling from London to the Midlands, proved difficult for the elderly couple, so HHUGS provided transport through volunteers, regardless of the time, morning or evening.  

“There were always volunteers. There was a time when there was 3 or 4 people in a line, cued up, they said, ‘well, if he is not there, I will take you,’ that sort of thing. Just imagine time is so valuable, so (to) use your whole day in the weekend, leaving your family and taking us to prison. You can imagine, you have got your kids, from 7-6am in morning till late in the evening, you take a family to visit people. That sort of thing, we value. That sort of thing you can’t judge it with money. It is something that comes from within I think.”

Separated by the Ocean

It was a hard reality for Uncle Ashfaq to take, but as eight years passed with Babar held without trial in prison, the reality gradually dawned on him that the fate of extradition drew closer. In October 2012, after a prolonged legal battle, Babar was extradited, the start of two years spent in solitary confinement in a US Supermax prison.

“It was such a shock, I couldn’t believe it why and what has he done, I didn’t know how to accept, how to react to that.”

Communication was limited, as calls to the US were very expensive and restricted for prisoners; the costs of visiting even more prohibitive. Eventually Uncle Ashfaq and his wife, made a trip to the U.S to visit Babar. It was a shock for him to see his son, in such a way.

“We went to see Babar over there. It was very difficult…but we had got used to seeing him in a prison cell and as I said that the worst thing was that we chatted with him for an hour or so and when the visit was over and when he went back to his cell and we came home, that was very difficult.”

The difficulties continued as Uncle Ashfaq when in America, had an accident, this lead to him having to undergo a serious operation for his brain. This caused great grief and anxiety to both Babar and Ashfaq, in fears of permanent separation too soon. Being in an alien country, far from home, away from his elderly unwell father, Ashfaq became tearful as he painfully recalled how difficult it was for his son:

Babar just wanted to come home because didn’t know if I would still be alive.  He always said that I prayed to Allah that I come back and see my Dad and Mum alive and well, thank God…”

Relief After Hardship

Ashfaq reminisced, “Every man that is sitting in jail, if he gets even just one word of love, it would be enough. So many people have supported us whilst we went through that time. It’s nice to know people are supporting you and even when walking on the street people would approach and say are you Babar’s father and our duas are with you. These small things that happen - you can’t imagine he is sitting in prison, and a few loving words meant a lot to him.”

Uncle Ashfaq’s wife, as a result, was always hopeful for her son’s safe return, with the support and prayers of HHUGS and others in the community behind her.

“We were very, very grateful to Allah that in the end it all happened that Babar came home. We had hope all the time, we had hope and as Muslims we must have hope and never give up hope that he will be back.”

Since Babar returned, he says, people remark that he and his wife have a “different look”, that the relief is visible on their faces.“It’s understandable,” he says, “how much do you love your children…”

Uncle Ashfaq urges others, “not to give up hope. As Muslims, we hope that Allah will help, but at the same time you should be strong and strive, no point crying in your bed asking why this happened. You should strive and see what you can do.” With many prisoners and their families still in the same situation, he reminds that HHUGS still needs your help to continue to support so many families out there.

“Whether £1 or 10p, support HHUGS for their work, for the sake of other prisoners, and for other people who are under stress. HHUGS are doing good work for them and with your help they will keep doing it.  I am an example in front of you. Over the years, support from HHUGS…if it was not there then it would have been more difficult. Whatever they did for us and what they are doing for other people, they need your help. With your help, they can help many other people.”