Hajar is an 80 year grandmother of Arab origin, residing in her London home with her own mother, and with her two children and her grandchildren living nearby. A peaceful, family orientated woman, she enjoyed spending time at home with her Qur’an and taking care of her children. In 2003, her nightmare began as she returned home from a holiday to devastation and the terrible news that her son had been taken into custody.
“When I entered my home, the front door was smashed. I felt I was in a forest. The garden had been turned upside down. The house was upside down – we couldn’t recognise anything. I didn’t know how to sleep or rest.“
It would be three days after her return before she was able to see her son in prison. On this first visit, Hajar was unaccustomed to travelling alone. She didn’t know how to use the train and needed support getting around. To make it easier, she wrote down the name of the stations needed on a piece of paper, just in case she forgot the names en route. When she arrived at the prison, she was terrified by the sniffer dogsâ€¦
“If I see a dog on the road I feel my heart stops. I used to shout when I saw the dogs. Many days I wished for death so that I didn’t have to see the sniffer dogs as I would fear that they would attack me.”
During the search, a security guard discovered the piece of paper on which Hajar had written the names of the stations she needed and tore it up before her eyes:
“I pleaded with her. Please do not tear it. I need it to get back! I do not know my way back! But she didn’t listen to meâ€¦ I was fasting that day”.
In the end, Hajar only managed to return home when another visitor saw what had happened and offered to drop her home. Alone and vulnerable, Hajar was constantly afraid.
“It used to get dark early and I would be scared during the night. I spent my days lost. Tears would always be in my eyes. I would get up at night and pray to the Lord of the Worlds. I prayed so much that I became shy from my Lord. Only Allah knows how I lived through this time.”
“Those days I do not count them as part of my life. My son going to prison and coming out felt for me that I had been sent to hell and back. Alhamdulilah , those days passed. My son was found innocent. But they did not leave us.”
Although Hajar’s son was acquitted at trial and released from prison, their nightmare did not end. The security services attempted to recruit her son, to work for them although he repeatedly refused. He increasingly was stopped under Schedule 7 and on one occasion had his passport seized. Shortly thereafter Hajar’s son received a call at her house, despite not living there at the time.
“It was the MI5 again and they asked if I had changed my mind. When I said, “No, I haven’t changed my mind, I’m still not interested in talking to you,” at the point, they still that I will pay the price for failing to co-operate with them. It was after that in 2006 when the second raid took place.”
After praying the night prayer that night, Hajar was suddenly awoken:
“All of a sudden I could hear loud bangs on the door. I went down stairs and shouted in English, “Who is it?” but no one answered and suddenly, I saw the door break. I couldn’t see anything except 20 odd police officers storming into my home, screaming, with guns in their hands. All I remember is hearing my son behind me, shouting, ‘Leave my Mother alone! Take me! Enough! Just take me!”
All Hajar could remember from that point onwards were the deafening sounds of her house being turned upside down and seeing both of her children in handcuffs. They were relocated by the police to a hotel, not allowed to take any of her belongings with her, except for a piece of fruit. When she returned, her house had been destroyed, her belongings scattered and all of her savings taken.
“They took all the money I had saved, not even leaving behind enough to buy breadâ€¦ Life in the hotel felt like a prison because we didn’t have any money for food out and we had no clothes with us apart from what we were wearing. I remember going to the market and asking a stall holder if he could offer some credit. Despite not knowing me, he gave me clothes for me and my children worth £70.”
Although no one was charged on this occasion, Hajar’s son’s bank account was frozen thereafter and he placed under financial sanctions, making it a criminal offence to provide him with any economic resource or funds. From thereon, if he needed any money, he had to apply for a license from the Treasury, making life particularly difficult for himself and then later for his young family.
“I get really stressed. At the time of the sanction I wasn’t married. I thought I’ll never get married with those sanctions. As a Muslim man who feels the need to support his family, I don’t want to be on state on benefits, I don’t want to take hand outs. Although they say you can work with these sanctions, it’s impossible to get employment with these sanctions. I would rather be in prison sometimes than be living with these sanctions, but I abide by the rules for the sake of my family. If I buy a chocolate bar for 35p I have to worry about the receipt.”
Despite the ongoing difficulties Hajar’s son faced, their ordeal was to take yet another unexpected turn for the worse. In 2011, one night, when Hajar was sitting in bed reciting the Qur’an before fajr, her daughter burst through her room:
“Mum, can’t you see what is happening? Haven’t you heard the police everywhere in our house?!!”
Hajar remained in the same position, shell shocked. Was this happening again? Was there no escape? She stuttered, “What?” but before she knew it, the police were in her room, placing Hajar herself under arrest.
“I felt as if all of my joints had collapsed.”
They took Hajar to the police station and placed her in a cell and locked the room. Hajar took in her surroundings, there was a toilet and a table made of stone. She looked towards the door and the small flap opened, with a woman peering through. She told them she needed to made wudhu (ablution for prayer), but they said they could only take her to a sink if a male officer was present to supervise her. Hajar explained she would not be able to do so, due to observing hijab. Instead, Hajar made wudhu using a bottle of water on top of the small toilet in her cell.
“I begged them to open the door and not to lock it. I said, “why are you doing this to me!? During my time in the cell, I felt as if I was in a grave.”
When Hajar was finally allowed to return home a week later, her house was once again turned upside down. Her books and Quran audio sets were gone and everything was a mess.
“It’s been three years since the raids but I haven’t been able to sort my things out, everything is still a mess, I don’t even know what they took. All money I saved was missing. I began constantly living in fear. I started feeling that I’m not a complete human being, the pressure on me was very intense, especially after they cut off all my financial assistance. I was forced to sell some personal things I had. Whatever I could sell, I sold to be able to eat to be able to live my life. I started living on very little resources.
Hajar was living through dark days. Her benefits and her pension were suddenly cut off, but meanwhile her bills and rent arrears were piling high, and within a short space of time bailiffs were at the door every day, knocking violently for payment.
“They used to knock really hard. Sometimes I would feel that the door was going to break. They would come to take everything. During this time I used to shake out of fear. I would continue shaking until they left. For a long period of time, I was very nervous. All my finances were cut. I didn’t have money for food. My health began to deteriorate. . Sometimes people would scream from the letter box, ‘open the door!’ The situation all became unbearable. The gas company, the electric company started to threaten me that they would cut off their services. I ran out of all my money. I had no money to give to them or anything to give to them, nearly every day someone used to knock the door and of course, I was too scared to open the door for anyone. Sometimes when the door would knock, my mother (who was visiting) and I would both be shaking. I wouldn’t be able to move in fear that someone would see me.”
Her landlord was trying to evict Hajar and her mother, over a hundred years old herself, from the property which took a physical and emotional toll on her, losing significant amounts of weight, eventually being referred to a psychiatrist.
“All of my hair fell out, I had no hair left, I became bald! My life was so upsetting. I used to know over a thousand couplets of poetry but I forgot them all. I was very depressed, I couldn’t control my emotions and would burst out crying all of the time. I feel my mind has gone. I don’t even have the means to laugh anymore or speak normally, like I used to.”
Seeing his mother in such a state but powerless to help was crippling.
“At this time I couldn’t help my mother or support her in anyway because of my financial situation, so I felt even more upset, that I couldn’t even provide for my mother or relieve her of her situation. It became so difficult that Mum didn’t have any food in the house, I can see these things are not there anymore. I could see my mum’s health deteriorating. Sadly, in these times my mother was getting really ill, she would leave the gas on, and she would forget things. She couldn’t shut the door properly, had hurt her hand on more than one occasion. Mum would find it hard to go out of the house, she was really frightened. She used to find it hard to do what she used to do.”
“At this stage it came to my mind that I should ask HHUGSs for help. Within a week, he had given a card for food, paid for her gas and electric, because she had literally been threatened that they will cut gas and electric off. Alhamdulillah May Allah reward the brothers and sisters and the charity. They supported my mother a lot.
HHUGS intervened to cover the cost of Hajar’s rent and prevent her eviction, up til her trial and the resolution of her case. She received emotional support from a volunteer keyworker. On Eid, HHUGS sent the family gifts and meat.
Hajar’s son describes the importance of HHUGS in his mother’s life during this difficult time:
“My mother would get phone calls from HHUGS. A sister called her to see if she would need anything. She would get meat on Eid, strangers would come to see you and tell you they love you for the sake of Allah. These small acts become a rope for us to hold onto.
“Even after my mother’s case was concluded they still offered support. If I could say anything about this charity I would say that this charity reminds me of the kinds of sacrifice made by the Sahaba for each other. Maybe not today but in a few years, people will hear about these incidents and they will hear that Muslims came together to help people around them. I encourage people to support this organisation, not because they helped me, but because they help people in worse situations than me and my mother. So Alhamdulillah, please do continue to support this cause and be a part of this reward.”