“One of them grabbed me and pushed me into the front room and all I could hear was them shouting. He was just shouting, ‘I’m going to cuff you’, ‘I’m going to cuff you!‘”
Saima’s story began in 2005. She had been married to her husband for a little over two years and was two months pregnant with her second child. She had been staying at her mother’s house and was awaiting her husband’s arrival after he had left to pray the night prayer at the mosque. But ‘Isha passed and there was no sign of her husband’s arrival. Saima’s insides were twisting up; ‘he is never this late,’ she thought to herself. She wanted to go to the mosque to see if he was okay but her mother stopped her, as it was late at night. So Saima waited; little did she know just how long that wait would beâ€¦
As dawn set in, she pulled back her curtains and saw a disarray of officers towering over her front door. She ran downstairs to open the door and was greeted by a large number of men, tall, armed and expressionless. Saima was dragged back into the living room where she was handcuffed and sat down.
“I just kept saying, can you let me cover? After persistence, he let me get my scarf but didn’t un-cuff me so I had to try and put it on. I told him there were only women and children in the house and he said they knew, so I thought, ‘Why on earth are you acting like this then?'”
Feeling confused and afraid, Saima left her home and went to stay with her sister. When she turned on the television, Saima stared in shock as the breaking news flashed coverage of her husband’s arrest. Saima began to panic; she had no idea where her husband was. She called a solicitor and pleaded with them to locate her husband, finalising receiving information about what had occurred.
“When it happened, it felt like the rug was being pulled out from under my feet.”
She returned to her flat to find all her things had been taken, leaving her to start from scratch without her husband, pregnant and with a one year old in tow.
“They took everything – all of my paper work, all of my bank statements so that I had nothing – no bank cards or anything. So you have the stress of the situation but on top of that you have to try and be normal and just get on with things the best that you can. I rang all the banks, you know – I had to start building upâ€¦ At that time I was pregnant with Mariam and I thought I was going to lose her because of what I was going through.”
Saima desperately needed someone to talk to, she felt alone and vulnerable, desperately in need of comfort but her family’s eyes were fixated on the T.V, constantly broadcasting news of the arrest. The words which the media had planted into her parent’s eyes had pierced deeply into Saima’s heart.
“If I say, ‘you don’t believe everything they say, do you?’ but they do believe it. They can’t comprehend the fact that the news might not be telling the truth.”
Saima was relieved to meet her solicitor, as she was keenly anticipating receiving the reassurance she so needed. She felt as if she was living in a whirlwind of doubt and distrust and needed to hear a voice of reason, a voice which would tell her just how quickly the storm would end.
“I wanted him to reassure me –I wanted him to say, ‘don’t worry sister, insha’Allah, you know, we will do this and this, and he will be home,’ but he didn’t say that. Instead he said, ‘Sister, just make du’aa.’ When he said that, my insides wanted to scream. You know when you feel like something happens and you have no control? I knew at that point that there was nothing I could do. Nothing that I could physically do to help. That it was going to be a long time, whatever it was, it was going to be a long time before I got any answers– I just had to live with that. All I kept thinking was that I don’t want to do this – I never wanted to be on my own; obviously you get married and you don’t imagine you’re going to be on your own, do you?”
Her sadness had become like a cold dark sea; bottomless and without light. She could rarely feel happy or force a smile. A sense of hopelessness overcame her as she felt herself sinking into depression.
“It was really hard for me to eat because I used to feel guilty for everything I did and I used to feel like – how can I eat this when he’s there and I can’t share this with him? For the longest time I didn’t cook properly at home, I’d just cook to get by. I never had any fancy meals and I never invited anybody around and I’m still like that now. I don’t like entertaining; it reminds me too much of what we did as a family, I don’t even get dressed up – I don’t bother with that– I keep telling myself I don’t want to do it because I don’t want to do it. This thing has affected me and turned me into somebody I didn’t want to be.”
Saima needed someone to speak to, someone who would understand and relate to her sorrows.
“I didn’t want people to just sympathise with me. I wanted to speak to people who understood. I didn’t want people to just sit there and tell me it’s going to be alright and people to just sit there giving me their sympathy. My family didn’t understand. I just wanted to hide. I used to go home really late just so that I didn’t have to think too much about the fact that I was on my own but all of the streets would remind me of him, as I’d remember that we drove through these places together, it was horrible for a long time.”
Years passed by and Saima’s babies had grown into two beautiful children, aged 9 and 11. They had to come to terms with their situation, prison visits had become a part of their routine, but Saima could see the affect their father’s absence had had on them.
“She gets asked at school, ‘Why don’t you talk about your dad?’ She is very emotional and all the things I think in my head, she vocalises it: ‘Did you see that man carrying his son on his shoulders?’ and she says ‘I wish I could do that with my Dad’. My son just doesn’t open up, even if I’m forceful, but I can see it’s affected his confidence. There are so many things he wants to do but I can’t do them with him. They loved their Dad so much and that’s what makes it harder, they love him so much.”
Then one day, when Saima least expected it, if matters could not get worse, she found herself under arrest. Police officers arrived to take her away, as she turned to see the exasperated look on her daughter’s face:
“I saw her face, and again, inside I wanted to scream. That’s how she looked.”
Saima was released soon afterwards but continued to face the torment of being apart from her husband. Inevitably and like many other sisters in the same situation, Saima’s marriage began to crumble under the immense pressure.
“He calls up, expecting everything to be hunky dory, and it’s not, so we end up arguing all the timeâ€¦ This whole situation is justâ€¦ I got to the point where I don’t know how to fix it. I really don’t know how to fix it. I have to be Mum and Dad all the time and it is exhausting, I have to work, feed the kids, cook, clean and I have to do everything and my kids have to grow up very fast because of this situation. I keep telling myself, I don’t want to do it, and mentally refuse to be in this situation. I’m stressed out all the time because there is no one to balance the equation at home, the kids are constantly arguing and fighting and beating each other up, it’s like a war in the house and it affects my husband. He wants to ring up and hear that everything is going OK but it isn’t and I can’t pretendâ€¦ dealing with this on a daily basis is starting to drive me crazy. It’s always there hanging over your head. I don’t think that he is going to come home and everyone is going to live happily ever after. I can see that it’s not going to happen. I can’t see how his release is going to mend our relationship. Part of me feels like I have to walk awayâ€¦.I would not be contemplating this if we weren’t in the same situation so it really has torn us apart, hasn’t it?”
Saima knew about HHUGS but initially did not want to ask for help. One day, HHUGS volunteers, knowing about her situation, insisted that she attend a beneficiary party in Leicester. Seizing the opportunity, HHUGS volunteers were able to register Saima and began to offer her support. Saima found herself attending the monthly coffee mornings, where she could meet other sisters who understood her pain. She was finally able to offload to those who were going through something similar. The volunteers never let a gathering or outing take place without Saima, making her feel as if she was part of a family.
Seeing that Saima was most in need of psychological support, HHUGS began to pay for her counselling. Slowly but steadily, Saima began to adopt a new outlook on life. Although she continues to face challenges, Saima is far better equipped to deal with them by talking through them with her counsellor. To give Saima the break she needed, HHUGS would pay for her and her children to attend the MRDF retreat where she was able to attend classes while her children, growing up without a father figure, enjoyed the activities available.
After conducting a financial assessment, HHUGS approved temporary monthly shopping vouchers to prevent her from falling into debt. When Saima needed to move home, HHUGS paid for her deposit. Her new flat has meant there is more space for her and the kids. Saima was working but struggled with the long hours and inadequate pay. So when Saima requested that she undertake a vocational course to help her become self-employed, HHUGS immediately accepted. Now, fully trained and two weeks into her new job, Saima is looking forward into a brighter future. A future where she is able to support her family independently and where she can focus on the positive in her life. The clouds are beginning to break over Saima and her familyâ€¦
“This new course which HHUGS have paid for will mean I’m working on a self-employed basis, everything I do will be for us. I will have more hours, I can do a 25 hour week. More hours means more money. I can pay off my debts, support the children’s education and just live a reasonable comfortable life without having to ask peopleâ€¦.That’s the hardest thing about this situation – you find yourself having to ask which is really difficult. It’s good for my children to see that their Mum is going to work and providing for the family. I don’t want them to grow up with the mentality that you can sit at home and everything will come to you. You have to do something to get something.”
“People should donate to empower families like ours; the financial side of things is just a small part of the big picture, and if that’s covered by someone then we can just concentrate on other pieces of the puzzle. I think that, especially for people in the UK, there are so many things in the world and we are always willing to give outside the country, but Allah is going to ask us more about people here, it’s important to support those in our situation. We’re closer to them at home; because we are at their doorstep.”