The first time the police arrested Khadijah’s husband she was in Pakistan, enjoying a holiday in her home country with her children. Back in the UK, Abu Fatima was sleeping on the sofa, with his young son sleeping on his chest and with his mother fast asleep upstairs. Suddenly, the police cut through the front door and window to get to Abu Fatima. They arrested him, vigorously searched through the house and sent his terrified mother and young child to the neighbour’s house. They waited there, unable to return home, confused and startled by the situation they had suddenly found themselves in.
Meanwhile, Khadijah remained in Pakistan, awaiting her daily phone calls from her husband. A day passed and she hadn’t received any contact from her husband. Confused, she began to call her landline, her heart sinking every time the answering machine message played. Her confusion soon turned into anxiety and she began desperately calling her neighbours. Perhaps there was a problem with her landline? Or her husband had just been extremely busy? But her normally receptive neighbours ignited her fears by refusing to speak to her or simply not answering her calls. Panicked, Khadijah called all the neighbours she could think of when one finally confirmed her deepest fears: that her husband had been taken away.
“The day before, I called him and the next day he wasn’t answering and I didn’t know what had happened. I called the neighbours to go and see if he was okay but they didn’t tell me anything, for a few days no one was telling me what happened.”
Khadijah returned to the UK, she collected her mother-in-law and son from the homes of members of the local community who had taken them in and then she returned to her shattered home with her five children. The police had taken her children’s toys and left the house in a state, with the windows and doors broken and all of their belongings turned upside down.
“After that I began to feel a lot of stress. The days were going by with great difficulty because we weren’t being told anything and we couldn’t have even imagined that something like this could happen.”
Khadijah was born and raised in Pakistan, so when she married and entered the UK, like many women in a similar position, she was accustomed to her husband taking care of her needs. From grocery shopping to paying the bills, Khadijah was a stranger to it all. She was used to a life which consisted of taking care of her children and household duties prior to her husband’s arrest. Thrown into the deep end, she would now have to face up to being the breadwinner, father and mother of the household.
“I used to just look after my mother in law because she was ill and my husband used to be the one who went out to get thingsâ€¦ I didn’t know what things to bring or how. My benefits were stopped and I didn’t know how to apply. I had to learn how to do everything on my own and when I went out, I found it difficultâ€¦ I can’t drive so I have to ask others to do my shoppingâ€¦it was really hard for that first year. “.
Alone and vulnerable, Khadijah was easy prey for the press who would constantly visit her house to get answers. The press eventually got hold of Khadijah’s brother’s address and began to harass her family members. Khadijah and her children’s faces had even been broadcasted on news channels, for all the world to see. Despite living in the heart of a Muslim community, Khadijah faced gossip and slander from her neighbours, family friends and those closest to her. Speculation about her husband’s alleged crime was rampant, making her and her children’s situation all the more unbearable.
Naturally, Khadijah wanted to protect her children from the chaos around them, but her older children were perception enough to realise what was happening. It broke Khadijah’s heart the day they asked in tears:
“Why have they taken our father away from us, Amma?”
Abu Fatima would take his children with him whenever he went out; he would spend time with them and play with them, so all of the children were deeply attached to their father. Some of Khadijah’s children suffer from ill health, with conditions such as diabetes and epilepsy. Because of the stress these young children were facing their conditions flared, with the elder getting increasing attacks of epilepsy due to his father’s absence. Tragically, one of Khadijah’s children eventually contracted a life threatening illness during that time. It was as if the weight of the world was bearing down on Khadijah, alone, ostracised by her community and financially drained she was now faced with lengthy and daily trips to the hospital.
“The kids used to cry so much. Even now they question why their father isn’t here. My older son was completely fine before then, but now he’s traumatised.”
When your loved one has been taken away, it is extremely important you go and visit them. Prison visits bring comfort to you and your children and make your hardships that little bit more bearable. So when Khadijah’s husband was taken away she knew how important it was that she and her children visit him. Finally, after one month since her return, she plucked up the will power to go and see her husband. But after the exhausting four hour journey there with her sick children, she was turned away at the prison for not having booked the visit properly. She was heart-broken.
Khadijah’s GP observed the ever-increasing burden on this fragile woman and eventually, he called social services. From then onwards, immensely increasing the pressure upon her, Khadijah was faced with regular visits from care workers who persisently question her, her children and even her extended family, threatening to take her children away.
“They told me they are going to take my son awayâ€¦”
“Verily, After Hardship Comes Ease”
When HHUGS became aware of Khadijah’s situation, they began to help immediately. HHUGS sent Khadijah supermarket vouchers to help her feed her increasingly ill children. HHUGS could see the strain Khadijah was facing trying to pay her bills, so HHUGS covered the cost of her gas and electricity as well as winter clothing, to ensure her children are kept warm and comfortable throughout the year.
“They helped us a lot for the past eight years. Whenever we need help with bills or for anything else, we ask the sister and Alhamdullilah they help us. You can phone them anytime and they will help you. We are very happy with them, they really support families. I don’t know how I would have done it without HHUGS.“
In order to empower Khadijah, HHUGS began to pay for her driving lessons and take her to visit her husband regularly. To ease the burden of taking constant trips to the hospital, HHUGS pays for Khadijah’s journey there and back, to make her day that little bit less difficult.
“Because of HHUGS transport became easier. I’d just have to ask a sister to arrange a prison visit, then they would collect us and take us back home too. It made it easy to go there and get back. Without that, it would have been really hard.”
Life without a father is difficult, but living on a knife’s edge, not knowing how many more years your father will be locked away, with everyone in the community, in school and on the street knowing and talking about you and with your face having been broadcast on TV, life is a struggle for a child.
“Eight years on and they speak of their father coming in their dreams, being with them like he used to.”
To take their mind off the situation, HHUGS helped to sponsor Khadijah’s children’s education and their spiritual development, covering the costs of their madrassa and helping them to learn the Qur’an. HHUGS arranged trips, outings and activities for them with other HHUGS children so that they could unwind and feel like normal children again.
“It makes you really happy to know your kids are going out on a trip and are having fun because usually they don’t go out anywhereâ€¦ It was really good because the kids really enjoyed having a day out with their family and playing with other kids.”
HHUGS provides Khadijah with one to one, dedicated emotional support. Her Keyworker calls and checks up on her regularly. She meets with other HHUGS families once a month at coffee mornings, where she gets to offload and relax. When Khadijah’s children are ill and she needs to be with them in hospital, HHUGS volunteers organise food rotas and child-minding to ensure her home is taken care of.
“The coffee mornings have bought us a lot of happiness. It’s really good because you get to meet other families and the kids also get to go. The meetings inspire you to be more patient because there are very young sisters there, when we meet and speak to them it gives us so much strength, you forget about yourself. When one is really stressed, seeing them gives you hope. Right now, my daughter is in hospital so a sister has arranged a food rota so that every day a sister comes round to bring food.”
“They’d take me to see my husband, they helped with the kid’s education, Asda vouchers and madrassah fees. If I ever need anything they are there, if I need to go out, the sisters offer to look after my kids. HHUGS weren’t like others, they treated me like their own. They take the kids on trips too... my life would be so difficult without HHUGS.”
Khadijah would like to encourage those who have been affected by detention like herself, but haven’t yet come forward, to contact HHUGS:
“There are other families out there and they need people to support HHUGS. They really help families like usâ€¦ there is no other charity that is supporting these types of families. For those who have been affected themselves, Iwill just say that they should be patient and that this is test from Allah. That they will receive the fruits of their patience but they need to contact HHUGS, so that they can attend the meetings and get hope from other families.”
Empowerment is the key to freedom, and since HHUGS were first contacted by Khadijah after easing her financial situation and giving her the emotional support she needed, she has become much more self-sufficient, taking care of her children and her home without feeling alone and vulnerable.
“I’m very grateful to them, JazakAllahu Khair.
Until now we have been with them and in shaa Allah we will stay with them.”