“Has Allah commanded you to leave us here?” These were the words of a mother abandoned. In response, Prophet Ibrahim offered only an affirmation. With her baby’s life in the balance, Hajar gazed onto an arid wilderness, harsh and barren as far as the eye could see, and said only:
The beloveds of Allah sacrificed what they loved most for Him, and our religious traditions were shaped by their trials. Hajar’s lonely struggle became a ritual of the Hajj Pilgrimage practiced for centuries. The reward for her faith and patience: the pure spring of Zamzam that continues to quench the thirst of millions. Every Dhul Hijjah, we honour our Mother Hajar (ra) and celebrate her strength. But what of our sisters who share a similar fate to her today?
In the first day of Dhul Hijjah, HHUGS gave to me…
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New clothes, gifts and the joy of celebrating together –these are the things all children look forward to on Eid. But children of prisoners have no such hope, and their mothers feel their hurt more acutely. In broken households where food is scarce, children are forced to go without warm clothes in winter, let alone new ones for Eid.
“The children began to feel special after receiving Eid gifts from HHUGS and they also arranged Eid parties we could attend. We finally started to feel more normal, like there were some people who weren’t afraid to associate with us. HHUGS saw us as human beings, not as criminals and terrorists. They treated us as part of the Ummah”
The average UK prison visit is a 120 mile round-trip. For a single mother barely able to make ends meet, the high cost of travelling to a prison in a remote location is simply not affordable. In many cases, the added impediment of mobility constraints, make these visits impossible. In times of togetherness like Eid, the wives and children of prisoners suffer the pain of separation more strongly.
“May Allah reward everyone at HHUGS for arranging transport for the prison visit. Alhamdulillah, if it was not for HHUGS and the volunteers who drive us, I wouldn't be able to do this, especially with a new born baby. […] My husband was so excited about seeing our son, it was the first time he’d seen him since he's been born.”
With their husbands in detention, bereft wives become single mothers. They are left to pick up the pieces of a life devastated overnight. With bank accounts closed or frozen and benefits withheld or delayed, often they haven’t even the means to feed their children.
“They took all the money I had saved, not even leaving behind enough to buy bread...we had no clothes with us apart from what we were wearing. We had no clothes with us apart from what we were wearing. Whatever I could sell, I sold to be able to eat, to be able to live my life.”
Wives of prisoners are more than twice as likely to suffer mental health problems due to loneliness, trauma and the added pressures of being single mothers. They watch helplessly as their children struggle with their own traumas caused by bullying and separation anxiety.
“I began constantly living in fear. I started feeling that I’m not a complete human being, the pressure on me was very intense, all of my hair fell out.”
No one deserves to be left alone in times of hardship. Yet this is the reality families of prisoners live with day in and day out. Labelled guilty by association, they are ostracised by their own communities, and often face harassment. This situation is hardest on single mothers, who are helpless as their children witness the joy of their peers during Eid.
“The Eid parties, the presents - it's made me feel as though 'I'm not alone. You get together with other families and it makes you realise it’s not only you going through that struggle. It’s like they’re family, they are a part of us and we are a part of them. My children were so happy to see me happy and smiling.”
Following an arrest, many families of prisoners are left without the means to pay the rent and so face eviction and constant harassment by bailiffs. With smashed doors in disrepair, they’re left vulnerable without the most basic security. Unable to pay utility bills, they are forced to go without heating and electricity, leaving them exposed to the elements in their own homes.
"I had no income, it wasn’t legal for me to work… I was very depressed. But then HHUGS paid for my bills and my rent. I think if HHUGS were not there I wouldn’t be alive right now.”
Through financial hardship and social isolation, the wives of prisoners struggle to provide and care for their children. Many face the additional challenge of language constraints as well as a lack of basic skills and work experience. Without community support for childcare and funding for education, they’re unable to improve their situation. Their association with a terror suspect also reduces their chances of employment.
"When I finish my course I hope to apply to become a Teaching Assistant level 3 in school. It looks very good on my CV and will help me get a job. Often sisters in my situation don't have any qualifications. Our days are consumed with our families and dealing with the prison, the case. Without HHUGS this would not have been possible."
Following the arrest of their husbands, wives of prisoners are left to pick up the pieces on their own. With assets confiscated and benefits frozen, they quickly accumulate rent arrears and unpaid bills. In some cases they inherit the debts of their husbands, which were previously unknown to them. With limited financial resources, these become near impossible for them to pay off.
“I had so much debt when I contacted HHUGS but they helped me pay off my rent arrears, my water bill and my council tax arrears, which lifted a huge burden off my shoulders."
In broken homes, where the hard choice between food on the table or heating in the winter is a daily reality, the prospect of buying school uniforms is a daunting one. With the average cost of uniforms ranging between £250-£300, for state run schools, many single mothers struggle when their children outgrow shoes or school attire. Research shows that nearly 80,000 children in the UK attend school in ill-fitting uniforms, because parents simply can’t afford to buy new ones.
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