Meet Yunus and Yahya, stormed and arrested, their once normal lives were now to become darkened with abuse, humiliation and extreme social alienation.
The Nightmare Began
I was 24 years old. I had just graduated from Dar al-Uloom, as had my younger brother. We were just finding our career path at that time and looking for jobs. I had recently just got married too.
At that time, I was invited over to a European country to lead the congregation in Ramadhan. I was at the airport. I had been through security. We were just waiting for them to call our flight so we could board the plane but curiously enough, it was as if it was just me and the person that I was traveling with. There was nobody else around so we had been ushered into a separate part, not knowing what was lying ahead for us. That was when we saw the armed response, a bunch of cops fully geared up with guns, coming running. They arrested me at gunpoint. That’s when our nightmare began.
I was 21, I was working as a security guard at a factory complex. I was looking over the main road and I saw a what I can only say is an unholy amount of police cars – seven or eight that were driving on the main road heading towards the main gate. It wasn’t strange to see the police on site if there were incidents, so my initial reaction was that maybe something’s happened at the factory. As I opened the main gate, police flooded in and asked my name. They then said, “You’re under arrest” It took about 5 seconds to kick in that they are actually arresting me.
When I saw the guns in my face, to tell you the absolute truth, the first words that came out of my mouth was “Ashhadu Allah Illaha Illallah.” I thought they were just going to shoot me. The adrenaline kicked in. My heart was racing and the thoughts that were going through my mind at that time, SubhanaAllah, I can still remember, of my wife, my parents. I just thought that SubhanaAllah what’s going on? Why are they doing this? Why are they going to arrest me? What have I done? They put my hands behind my back, they handcuffed me, and led me onto the main tarmac, outside where the planes were landing, and they had police vans. All the planes had been grounded for some reason, the helicopters were coming in, and they took us straight from there to the main police station in a big convoy. They made a really big show out of it.
Thinking back now it was actually quite a confusing time, you’re conflicted by different emotions: fear and concern. Your mind just gets flooded, but mainly it was my parents I was worried about; my mother was gravely ill at the time, and I knew this would affect them deeply. I knew in my mind I committed no crime but the way the political climate was, the fact that I was a Muslim, you are always going to be guilty until proven innocent. This was the first time in my entire life I’d ever been in trouble with the police. It was a harrowing experience, in regard to the show of force. They try to intimidate you. You just take it on the chin, and you just carry on and wish for the best.
We found out in the police station they could hold us for up to 28 days without charge. Initially for the first few days, they did not let us contact anyone. They did not allow me a phone call to my parents until a few days later, where I spoke to my father, in my own language, but then they told me, “No, you can only speak in English”. My father put my mother on the phone and alhamdulillah, my mother – she passed away this year in Ramadhan, Allah grant her the highest ranks in Jannah – she told us to have sabr… subhanAllah. She was our strength. On the phone, she didn’t cry or anything, she just told us to be strong, and that’s when the police cut the call and I went back to my cell. I can still remember until now, I recited the Quran for hours on end at the top of my lungs. I just hoping that if my brother is in the prison cell close to me, he would hear my voice, my recitation and it would give him peace in his heart.
Abandoned by those closest
We were remanded in custody at Belmarsh Prison. The first night in prison, I didn’t sleep, I continued to recite Quran and to make du’a to Allah to help us out of this situation. It was scary, but I was always hopeful in the mercy of Allah, and the mercy of Allah came in many forms after that. I knew this was a test, and I prayed to Allah that I passed.
In my mind, obviously I was thinking I’d be out of here soon and they’ll say, sorry, it was a misunderstanding; we will explain to your boss, so I was gripping onto hope. Unfortunately, those days turned into weeks, I realised that wasn’t the case and that’s when I started getting anxious. It was just two weeks prior I’d read about this horrible dungeon of a place called Belmarsh and now I was about to be a guest there so you could imagine it was a horrible experience. I was worried about my brother and if I’d get to see him or my parents again.
When they raided our house, from what our parents told us, they came barging in, they kicked the door in and it was quite a scary experience for our parents. My mother stood up to them, saying “What are you doing here? Why are you here?” They weren’t answering questions or anything. She wore the full veil, and had been ill for many years so to have these men walk into the house the way they did, but subhanAllah, the show of strength that she showed against them when they informed her that your sons have been arrested. She told them straight, “You know none of this is true, is this because we are Muslims?” She fought tooth and nail against them, even when things went missing from the house, like her gold being stolen.
As my mother was quite aggressive against law enforcement, when it came to her vetting process, she was not allowed to visit us, they cancelled my mother’s visits. Bear in mind, the journey was quite long from up north all the way down south, so my mother wouldn’t have made it anyway. Nobody wanted to help or come near me and my family at that time. This wasn’t just my neighbours; this was my family, as well. Close relatives didn’t want anything to do with us and everybody was afraid that if they contacted my parents somehow that they would get tainted or get arrested by the police. They kept their distance. The police created an atmosphere of suspicion and of extreme fear.
They criminalise the family, they criminalise the community. They intimidate everybody around you, so people don’t want to be anywhere near you. They create such a climate of fear that its unparalleled in my lifetime, I’ve never seen anything like this before. The UK was also devolving into the mind-set in regards to how they were discriminating against a certain community, prosecuting and persecuting us. That’s almost exactly what it was starting to feel like.
There was no support. So it was a good seven months after being arrested, that my father initially came to see us in prison. We were behind a panel of glass. We weren’t allowed to touch or hug him. It was emotional but alhamdulillah, just seeing my father, it gave us strength.
I was recently married; my wife was still abroad, and my brother had been engaged abroad. After our arrests, my wife was being pressured by certain members of the family, saying, “Oh, he’s never going out to come of prison. Since you’re just newly married, it’s best to just dissolve the marriage now.” But my wife stood firm against them all, saying, “No, my husband’s innocent, Allah will protect him, and Allah will bring him out”. My younger brother’s engagement was dissolved, so this had an impact on our personal lives as well.
My personal concern was for my wife. I was missing her; I couldn’t speak to her. Even when we were out on bail, I couldn’t ring her or anything. I was writing letters, but I couldn’t get them out to her. It was just a way of consolation for myself, writing letters to my wife. When she did eventually receive them, it was a big thing. It gave her a lot of consolation and helped to strengthen our very new marriage. It strengthened the bond between us.
My biggest concern was my parent’s health. My mother’s health had become quite bad, and my father became severely ill when this happened and ended up getting diabetes, due to the stress and other health issues which have over the years progressively gotten worse. I was concerned for my sisters and how they were doing. The media did would turn up at the door and try to ask questions. It was a very, very, difficult time.
Nobody came to their aid, but then it wasn’t long after that, that they were contacted by HHUGS. Alhamdulillah, HHUGS gave them t everything they needed. My dad was initially coming for regular visits, but his health had deteriorated, so he couldn’t drive, but HHUGS would send a brother who would drive them to the prison, and they really made all the difference.