My life changed on that fateful day on 15th September 2007 when around 6am in the morning, I heard loud banging on my front door which didn’t stop. It took several moments before I realized I wasn’t dreaming and ran downstairs to see who it was.
Imagine my shock when I opened the door to find officers ready to arrest me on charges of terrorism! At the time, my wife was pregnant and I was handcuffed in front of my two young daughters.
The officers instructed me to tell my family to leave the house – my family were frightened and confused and had no idea what was happening or what would happen. After my arrest, I was taken to Belmarsh prison as a CAT A prisoner and was strip searched. It was a humiliating experience for me – one that I will never forget.
I wasn’t told what was going on until almost 3 weeks after my arrest. Bail came an agonizing 2 months later when the authorities decided that I could only receive bail if I wore a tag 12 hours a day and made daily reports to the authorities. I wasn’t allowed to leave my home town for any reason whatsoever and initially, I wasn’t even allowed to the do the school run. My children would ask endless questions about my tag and I found the whole experience so difficult to talk about.
Worse was to come though. At the time of my arrest, I was a Computer Technician and after the arrest, I subsequently lost my job. I couldn’t leave my home to go to the jobcentre and find myself work. Every time I did find something that I could potentially do, the counter terrorism unit would contact prospective employers which meant that no one would hire me.
Things hit an all-time low when my marriage buckled under the pressure of the situation. For more than two and a half years, my wife and I were separated by distance and the resulting psychological, emotional and financial stress became too much. Eventually we got divorced, and everything I had ever once held dear was now nothing more than a passing memory.
In my community, no one wanted to know me or associate with me, for fear they would somehow get into trouble with the authorities. It shocked me to see so much stigma surrounding innocent people like myself. The sad truth is that no-one wants to know you and everyone wants to stay out of sight and out of mind.
I lost everything I had ever known and loved. The emotional pain I feel to this day is still very much raw. Even though all charges were eventually dropped against me, things didn’t automatically get better like I thought they would. It took a very long time to resume some form of normality and I realize now that this kind of scenario is common.
After my release, I was having anxiety issues when going out and about, thinking and fearing I was being ‘watched.’ After three years of having to report to the authorities on a daily basis, I found it hard not to want to go and report myself daily like I used to. Even now I struggle to leave my area of residence and sometimes feel anxious and on edge because I still feel as if I’m still under restrictions.
Family and friends were initially very reluctant to get in touch or help in anyway. Having gone through such a traumatic time in my life, I sincerely needed emotional support which I didn’t get from those who I assumed would be there for me.
I struggled with finances and even simple things like shopping became a nightmare for me. That’s when HHUGS stepped in. They helped me out of the emotional and physical black hole I was in. They found me a car to help me regain some freedom and would visit me weekly to ensure I was ok. My HHUGS representative was extremely supportive and encouraged and motivated me to integrate back into the local community.
Thanks to HHUGS, I started helping other people out in similar situations and this really helped me overcome many of the personal traumas I was facing. Somehow your own problems seem so insignificant when you start concentrating on others – and this has been a huge blessing from Allah.
I started getting involved in fundraising events which really helped to boost my self-esteem and which helped give me the confidence I was so desperately lacking in myself. The truth is that when you’re completely alone, depression sinks in fast and can destroy your mental and emotional wellbeing.
I guess it’s natural for your family and friends to feel scared about meeting or helping you. However, the truth is that when the very people who should be there for you are avoiding you like the plague because think you’re a sociopathic monster, then it completes erodes your self-esteem.
HHUGS stepped in when no-one else would. They helped me get back on my own two feet and got me back into a position where others felt safe and secure around me again. HHUGS helped restore my faith in people. They helped me get onto skills-based courses so I could work again. They provided financial support when I had nothing and no-one.
I guess people under-estimate the value of staying connected with others when you’re going through any kind of difficulty. It’s not normal to feel so scared of everyday life when you know you haven’t done anything wrong. But that’s exactly what happened to me. If I didn’t have the support of HHUGS when I did, who knows what would have become of me.
What amazed me about HHUGS was that there were brothers in the team who had experienced what I had experienced and had made the resolve to help others like me out of our desperate situation. Now I do the same – I too help others who are going through the same battles as I once did. For me, this is a wonderful way to give back to HHUGS and I sincerely hope I can make a difference to others just like me.