Umm Sulayman and her husband originally came from Libya to the UK and they have five children. In 2007 around Fajr time their home was raided by police who broke down the door, some entering with shields and others bearing armed weapons:
“Obviously we were horrified by the way they entered. It was as if something had exploded and we were all terrified to the extent that we couldn't even move from our places. There was a lot of shouting. I will never forget that day.
They aimed their guns at us and it was absolutely terrifying. They got hold of my husband and when I got up to scream they held me by twisting my hand behind my back. I was dressed in my nightclothes and was asking them to let me change but they refused. They also got hold of my children who were infants at the time. Even now, whenever I think of the incident, I'm deeply disturbed. We were all just terrified.”
All of the family’s valuables, mobile phones, computers and money were confiscated and the police broke down other house doors which were not replaced. While the home was raided, Umm Sulayman was taken to a hotel room and she returned to an effectively ruined house where even the carpets had been lifted up. To make matters worse, Umm Sulayman did not know English and struggled to communicate with the officers who did not arrange for an interpreter. She could only plead with them in Arabic.
Umm Sulayman was only told that her husband would be taken back to Libya. This completely terrified her because at the time Gaddafi was still in charge so her husband’s return would certainly result in his death. The raid also had a profoundly shocking impact upon the young children:
“They were confused and didn't know what was going on or even who these people were. They were asking, ‘Why did they take Dad? Why did they hold you like that?’ They were so terrified that they urinated on themselves.
The children needed someone to talk to and I couldn't do all of this myself. Obviously they were hugely affected as they no longer had a father who they could celebrate their Eid with. Eid time would come and they were deprived of going out. Their father used to do a lot for them and they lost all of this.
They were constantly asking about him and were extremely demoralised. They didn't feel like other normal children who had fathers to take them to school and take them out to enjoy themselves. They lived like they were orphans. They used to ask innocently. ‘Mum, Dad's such a good man so why is he in prison?'”
Umm Sulayman felt so embarrassed in front of her neighbours over the raid that she felt she needed to move house, which she did. Alhamdulillah, the rent for her new home was paid for by community members.She describes her experience in her old home:
“I'm sure people must have thought of us as terrorists. Nobody would help us. People looked at us differently; they looked at me as the wife of the terrorist who was taken away.”
Her struggles were made worse by her lack of English skills as well as her inability to travel to take her children to school and even go food shopping
With helplessness surrounding her, Umm Sulayman could not support her children’s academic lives and their health was also affected. She even had to spend time in hospital which added to her worries. She recalls her distress:
I was frightened and used to cry a lot. I couldn’t take the children to school. They cried too and asked about their father often. I didn't even know his whereabouts and couldn't speak English in order to find out. I don't have family in the UK nor do I have any friends who could help me. I didn't even know how to pay for my shopping or how to get to the shopping centre. Everything was difficult, including communicating. My husband used to do everything for the household before he was arrested. I found myself staying home most of the time and hated to go out.”
Even with her husband in prison, the police continued to turn up at Umm Sulayman’s house unexpectedly, late at night and in the morning. This only added to the emotional stress that her children were experiencing as they were terrified of the intimidating appearance of the officers. Just the sound of an ambulance or police siren would strike great fear in them as they worried their mother would be taken away just like their father:
“They asked, ‘What do the police want from us?’ They often hid under their beds and some even unintentionally urinated on themselves. I would find some of my children crying as I walked into their room. They would say, “Mum, what if the police take you away like they took Dad?” I would reassure them by saying that everything would be fine. My children were emotionally destroyed.”
Upon hearing their story, HHUGS took Umm Sulayman and her family in by giving them all the support possible. When she struggled with speaking English and going to see her husband in prison HHUGS arranged the transportation and visits to make the distressing experience a little easier. Umm Sulayman explains the difference this made in her life:
“I really didn't know how to get around by train or even use public transport. Without HHUGS it would have been extremely difficult for me and I don't think I would have made it to visit my husband.
When she needed to spend time in hospital HHUGS took care of her children which helped to alleviate the worries that flooded her as a result of being apart from them. Afterwards, Umm Sulayman was supported with regular visits from HHUGS to ensure she had emotional support and the children were also taken on trips and introduced to various activities for their peace of mind. On occasions like Eid further activities were arranged for the children that successfully lifted their spirits.
The positive impact that HHUGS made in Umm Sulayman’s life is one that she wants to share with the rest of the world:
“My message to everyone that is listening to me from the Muslim and the non-Muslim communities is this:
I urge you to contribute towards HHUGS because they have really helped lots of families who have been oppressed, subjected to various forms of injustice and undergone similar conditions like myself. You should help them as much as you can so they can provide better assistance to these families. There are families who are unknown in the community, families who are cut off and don't have relatives in the UK. HHUGS helps out the children of these families and had it not been for them their situation would be a lot worse.”