Meet Sana, a mother of 6, an average homeschooling family, with hopes and dreams for the future. But those dreams were cut short when their lives were shattered by a bang in the dead of night.
I am Sana, a mother of 6. I had 3 children who I home-schooled. We were just an average family.
It was around 2am in the morning, there was a bang that woke us up straight from sleep. At the time, I was sleeping on the floor with the children and not ready to open the door for anybody. My youngest was 2 years old and I kept him close to me. The children were petrified. Nobody knew what was going on.
It was almost like out of a film: Bang bang bang “Open the door! You have 5 seconds!” This was 5 seconds to get yourself up, awake and ready to open the door. There was no way we could, so bang bang bang “We’re going to break the door down!” SubhanAllah, looking back it was a really frightening experience.
There were big men with uniforms coming in. It felt really surreal, you don’ t know what to ask or expect. This is your home, at 2:00am in the morning, where you’re supposed to be asleep and now you’re being commanded to do certain things.
I was pregnant and just feeling so insecure and overwhelmed. When I say they raided everything, I mean everything. They took drawers apart, they picked up carpets, ceiling fittings, they did not leave anything unturned. We were made to feel almost so dangerous subhanAllah, like we were going to cause so much destruction or we’re some kind of threat. I was thinking, we’re here in our pyjamas, we’re women and children! You’re not letting us speak until you give us permission to speak, and yet you’re coming here to make out like we’re the danger.
The way they looked at you, spoke to you – like you’re subhuman, who doesn’t deserve any respect or privacy, just someone to be looked down on. I would never want anybody to go through that.
There was one man who spoke to me really aggressively and I did cry, subhanAllah. No man has ever spoken to me like that, I thought, what gives you the right to speak to me like that? I needed to go to the kitchen because my child wanted water and he said, “Get back in there, you’ll go when you’re given permission to go”. I thought I am harmless; you can see I’m not threat. I really didn’t want him to see me upset, but my emotions and tears just naturally flowed. He got what he wanted: to humiliate you and make you feel small.
You couldn’t even go to the toilet subhanAllah, not without someone there. Now if that isn’t a humiliating or demoralising situation!
Later, I phoned my husband and realised he’d been raided as well.
Abandoned and alone
The birth of my fourth son was very, very special because it was at a time where my husband been arrested. I didn’t know what would happen after that and thought this child is very special to me because maybe I won’t see my husband for a very long time. Who knows if I can have any children after this; who knows where he will be or where I will be? So that made my son very special.
I was grateful, that as my husband was on bail, he was still around for his birth. It is such a long process when you get raided because you’re in limbo for so long afterwards. After he was taken, everything fell on me. I was managing all the bills, the shopping, food and everything. Allah knows what you can deal with, and He will only give you what you can deal with. I had to support my husband who was in prison so that was another outgoing. Managing it all was a bit of struggle, you realise this is something I didn’t have to deal with before, my husband took care of all of that. I was just a mum and I liked being just a mum, but now I had to do all those aspects that were new. I was working within a certain budget and if things didn’t fall into that, we would go without- simple as that.
I hadn’t told anybody about my personal circumstances, but I had one friend in the homeschooling community; this was the first person I told, because I thought, “she’s a Muslim, she would understand.” After I told her, she never called, never answered my calls. She wouldn’t reply to my messages. This was a big wake up call because I assumed she was a sister and she’d understand that these things are happening to Muslims. But then it hit me, and I thought “No actually, Muslims aren’t sympathetic to this, Muslims don’t understand, you need to not say anything next time.” After that, I didn’t tell anybody. I did think Muslims would support other Muslims and give them the benefit of the doubt, but my entire perspective changed.
The pain of separation
When he was taken, I didn’t know where he was. I remember I phoned a sister one night, and I remember crying my eyes out because I didn’t know what’s going on. I didn’t know what to do and I felt like it was on me to know. I felt bad wondering why I didn’t know this, or who I could even phone. Many weeks had passed and there was no contact. Then a few months later, someone called and said you’re going to get a phone call. He didn’t say when this call was going to happen. I went to take my daughter to an Arabic class on a Saturday and my phone rang. I asked who it was and my husband answered, saying “It’s your husband”. I just stood in my tracks thinking I’m not ready for this call. I was expecting to be somewhere nice to finally speak to my husband. I had a child on my hip and had just dropped my daughter off. I just cried and cried because it had been so many months, I’d actually forgotten what my husband sounded like. I felt guilty wondering how I could forget my husband. I just cried and cried. That was the first phone call after months. I didn’t even know where he was, how he was, he doesn’t know how I am or how the children are.
It was another couple of months before I could visit because they had to do so many checks. It was the first and last visit: it was so awful. My daughter had lights on her shoes, so they told me I couldn’t go in. I had done this journey by waking up at whatever time it was in the morning, to get a taxi to the train station, then one train to another train to another train to an underground. Just thinking about it is tearing me up because it was so stressful. The woman said I can’t go in because of the lights on her shoes, I offered to remove the shoes and she said no, you can’t go in barefoot. I asked what I’m meant to do and she eventually called the manager who let us in because it was a first visit.
It was only thanks to HHUGS that we could afford the prison visit costs, so we did two visits a month. I always used to leave thinking I’m going home and will feel the fresh air and go back with my children. But he is going to go back to an empty cell. All he will have is just thoughts and memories of us. That was so hurtful for me. I’d feel kind of ashamed to complain about the luxuries that I have when the one you love is in there. It’s sad and bitter because you’re already thinking about the other person, they are probably thinking of you too, and you just feel so guilty all the time.
Part II: Life without Abi
For mothers, naturally their priorities are their children. Any time I felt lonely or isolated, I would channel that feeling and put it into them, because I couldn’t afford to be emotionally upset, lost or worried. There would be nobody to pick me up if I had fallen. For years, that’s what I was doing. I remember speaking to my husband when he was detained, and sometimes, we would argue. I’d think, he is just not realising how hard this is for me. There was nothing anybody could do. He couldn’t do anything; I couldn’t do any more. It brought so many different strains that you wouldn’t imagine really.
I was hit with the realisation that I was on my own with the children. Something always plays at the back of your mind, at night when you’re about to go to bed; have I double locked the doors? Have I triple locked the doors? When you’re on your own, it’s very difficult. The most mundane things would become very big things. The children were always with me, so if one of them became ill, I’d have to take all of them with. I remember the car broke down one time, and I thought I have no idea what to do what do I do. If one of the children were ill, I’d have to take all of them to the doctors. I remember once the car broken down and I thought “I have no idea what to do!” What do I do? I’ve got children with me here.
My boys were left without a father figure. They wanted me to take them to boxing and football matches, but I didn’t feel comfortable taking them to those kinds of men-only environments, so they did suffer because of that. It still affects them because it was a really impressionable age (3-7). They start to become who they are by being around people, but they were with me all the time. A father was very much needed then. I’m seeing the effects of that now on all my sons. It’s affected certain traits that they have. My eldest son who missed him the most, is super attached now to his dad.