Safa’s father was arrested when she was just four. She hasn’t seen him in over a decade. He was detained in the UK before being deported, and is now held indefinitely abroad. With concerns that the prison authorities are neglecting his medical needs, she fears she may never get to see him again.
Lockdown within Lockdown
I haven’t seen my father for over a decade now, since he was deported. Last year, around winter time, he went on hunger strike in prison. Because of that, they wouldn’t let him contact us for a good two or three months. That period of not hearing from him, was one of the toughest for my family. We found out after that he was being kept in isolation because he wouldn’t give up his hunger strike.
There are people out there living in lockdown within this lockdown. My father is one of them. He is restricted from interacting with other prisoners, from getting exercise in the prison yard, from getting some fresh air, even from seeing the sky properly. And his health has suffered so much, because he hasn’t been getting the right medication. My father has diabetes and he’s disabled. Recently, he lost his sight completely in one eye.
Despite all of this, my father is a man who doesn’t really complain. But I know it’s getting tougher for him; I can hear it in his voice. When he sends us pictures, you can tell he’s lost a lot of weight, subhanAllah. He’s not young anymore. He doesn’t have the strength to endure what he could before. Knowing this puts a lot of fear in my heart. And lately he has mentioned things that are happening to him; with prison guards coming into his cell and being violent. It’s very upsetting. No daughter or child would want to hear that their father is being abused like that.
A Father’s Absence
I used to spend a lot of time with him when I was little. He used to love reading, so I would sit down and just watch him read, and he’d give me things to do. I cannot explain how painful it was after he was taken away. Being a daddy’s girl, it’s not something that you can get over in a couple of years. Up to this day, when I speak to my father over the phone…after the call, I still feel like I am missing something important in my life.
So never take your family, and the comfortable life you have, for granted, because our fathers and mothers won’t always be there. Only Allah (swt) remains.
After my father’s arrest, our lives changed in a single morning. The house felt very lonely without him. Everything just stopped.
My mother tried to get us back into doing activities, the way he used to, but that didn’t happen immediately.
We missed our father, his presence, the beautiful motivational talks we used to get from him. We missed having someone who brought us all together. For a single parent, it’s difficult to do that. And because my mother had so much she now had to manage on her own, my siblings and I didn’t want to add to her burden. So we learnt to deal with some stuff by ourselves. And as we grew older we started looking for ways to help her. We weren’t like other kids, who only have to worry about school and graduating and getting a job. It wasn’t that simple for us. I was always thinking: how can I support my mother? How can I help my siblings to cope with whatever they are going through?
Needless to say Ramadhan and Eid were the times when we felt most that someone was missing. Having iftar, altogether as a family, as we did in the past, was gone. My father wasn’t there anymore to bring us together to pray salah. He wasn’t there to ask us about our lessons at school and follow up on our learning and progress. My older brothers tried to take on the role of father as much as they could, but everyone was shattered.
I think HHUGS must have known that Ramadhan and Eid were difficult times for a family in our situation, because they would always bring us some nice goodies and send us a Ramadan card; and it would be the same for Eid. I remember the first time, when we received gifts from them on Eid. It felt like even though our father was not there to give us gifts, we had HHUGS, alhamdulillah.
They have been like a second family to us. And the things they did made such a difference.
A Second Family
It was always nice to see that smile on my mother’s face, every time she received something, or got a call from HHUGS. They would arrange coffee mornings, where she could meet sisters who were going through the same thing as us, which was really good for her.
After the raid, we learnt that we couldn’t talk to anyone and everyone about what had happened. We saw how just the mention of it made people take a step back and make it clear that they didn’t want to associate with us.
At school, I had to be really careful about what I would say to my classmates. When I tried to open up, the reaction was never pleasant. It’s hard to find someone that will listen to you, without judgement. So these meet-ups and events HHUGS organised were so important.
At the coffee mornings, we could connect and exchange experiences with sisters without worrying about them cutting us off. Once we’d all started chatting, you realised that everyone has a story, subhan Allah, whereas when you see them from afar you would never think it. And then the Eid gatherings: these were a breath of fresh air, especially when we were younger. There’d be spoken word poetry readings and activities for kids, and there were competitions, where all the mothers and daughters had to team up. The vibes were just really nice. It was as though they were telling us, come here and enjoy your time, forget everything that’s going on for a while, and just make the most out of this moment.
So HHUGS really is like a second family to us. Their key workers are always in touch with my mum through regular messages and phone calls. They have some amazing brothers and sisters working at HHUGS, who are understanding and supportive and always there to listen. Whenever my mother has struggled with something, they were always there.
HHUGS are different from other organisations because they provide help to outsiders in our own communities that no one else will support. If we are unable to help people in our own families and communities, then how can we help other people, in other countries? So if you are supporting HHUGS, never underestimate what you are doing, whether you’re volunteering with them or donating. They are a really lovely family to be part of, Allahumma barik!