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Aafia Siddiqui- Memories of MIT to Carswell Prison


I prayed two rakah salah before writing this – I wrote it after her sentencing but honestly have not had the guts to publish it. I have been scared by friends and relatives – paranoid in these times of guilt by association – ‘Don’t write they will come after you too” For what? writing a blog entry. Fear is a strange thing…Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) may I never be fearful of anyone but You… Ameen.

She set up the table and pressed play. Tugging at her floral scarf, she instructed me to let the video run until the end.  It was a documentary on the atrocities being committed in Bosnia. Her kind, confident voice soothed my anxiety. It was my first time manning the booth in Slater Hall on the Wellesley campus. Next to us was a Native American lady selling silver jewelry. She handed us some extra pamphlets and waved goodbye.

Sister Aafia, the sister I remember was the heart behind the MSA of Greater Boston. I was a first year student at Wellesley College and my future husband a sophomore at MIT.  She was the one who would make hundreds of samosas to sell at MSA fundraisers.

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A passionate activist, she struggled to find Muslim homes for the hundreds of Bosnian orphans that were brought to the U.S. I could relate to her then, I spent my childhood in Africa, too and like her had come to study in the U.S. from Pakistan. She was one of the first women I had met who was brilliant, educated, ‘religious’ and a hijabi – not many those around in the 1990s. Pakistani women had been ‘liberated’ in the seventies and eighties, nobody my age, in our social circle, covered. Most women who covered then were older grandmothers or TV anchors forced to cover under General Zia.

They make her sound so scary, ‘neuroscientist’ sounds ominous when linked with chemical warfare. Brandeis has a world-renowned school for neuroscience where she studied behavioral sciences, her concentration was children.  Our paths diverged, we both left Massachusetts and for years, I did not hear of her. I was visiting Pakistan and heard about her abduction in the newspapers.  Sheikh Rasheed was the then Interior Minister in Pakistan and he claimed (on television) to have no knowledge of her kidnapping. An internet search of her name revealed her familiar face but on the FBI’s most wanted list.  How did she end up there? The shock of seeing her face still gives me shudders. It is so hard for me to believe that someone like her could have become entangled in anything so terrible as the crimes they accuse her of.

This was 2003, I had just had my second daughter. Her child, Suliman would have been my daughter’s age, 7. It gives me chills thinking about what happened to that poor child, to this day no one knows.  She was missing for 5 long years; her family believes that those years were spent in underground prisons. Why, why her? Could what happened to her, happen to any one of us?

Recently, she was tried in a court in Manhattan. Her sentence is for eighty six years – how long is that?  Slightly, less than a century. We will all be dead before that date rolls around. 86 years ago for attempted murder where no one was hurt except for her. When she was arrested some of us foolishly hoped that at least now she was in the hands of the American justice system and the chances of her being released were higher. Eighty-six years!!  I tried to find who else had been meted a similar sentence but was led to an unfruitful search of child molesters and dads who murders their kids. Even if she is guilty of the worst of what they accused her of – EIGHTY SIX years?

As she was not charged on any count of terrorism, her judgment was based solely on her  “attempt at murder,” but she was given a terrorism enhancement on her sentence. This case will go down in the books of major law schools on the effect of political influence on the judicial system. Aafia’s lawyer described Aafia’s cell, “a small concrete block, no light, no windows… She reminded all Americans that one day “We’re going to look back in history and see what drove Aafia’s sentencing—fear, instilled and practiced by its very own government. We want to punish her more because of fear.”

To further rub salt on her wounds, the same judge who declared her mentally capable of standing trial then insisted on sending her  to Carswell Prison, a mental institute, notorious for rape and medical neglect, where 100′s of women have lost their lives under “questionable” circumstances.

I am reminded of Prophet Yusuf’s [alays]  trial and his term served in the prisons of ancient Egypt – I pray that as Allah’s mercy intervened for him, it too will intervene for Aafia.  As he was rewarded for his patience and constant faith, may she also be elevated in her ranks.  How can I make this comparison, if I was not a witness and have no idea to her state of mind. I read eyewitness accounts of her cruel verdict – they speak volumes of her character.

She reminded the judge, “No one here is in charge of my sentencing except for Allah. None of what you all decide for me matters. I am content with Allah’s decision. I’m happy and you can’t change that. All thanks to Allah.” This should shake any human to the core regardless of your religion or political inclinations. The jury did not even find her guilty of firing a weapon.

“If you want to save humanity, get rid of child imprisonment.  Help other innocent prisoners. Don’t waste your efforts and money on me. The money you spend on me is not used for your desired change. Lord knows what happens to that money. I’m stuck with these people as my decision-makers. You won’t get to alleviate my conditions. But I’m very content as is. Don’t cry over my case. God wants me to survive so I am here.”

“At the end of an out-of-this-world hearing, when the judge was wrapping up his 86 year sentence, Aafia brought up the 6th verse in the 49th chapter of the Quran, ‘O you who believe! If a rebellious evil person comes to you with a news, verify it, lest you harm people in ignorance, and afterwards you become regretful to what you have done.’ She then asked all the people present in the court and her supporters outside of court that they have mercy on and forgivethe prosecutors and defendants and Judge Berman. It seemed almost like Judge Berman was mocking her when he said, ‘I wish more defendants would feel the way that you do. Enjoy your life, Dr. Aafia.’” (

She urged Muslims not to hate American soldiers. After being held, broken, physically, mentally, psychologically, a travesty of her former self, the torture etched in her face, she still is able to forgive them and urges us to forgive them, too.  Learning this make me ashamed of my own shoddy, spiritual state compared to her.  She has so much forgiveness in her heart despite being caged and I having so many luxuries at arms length; can kiss my children whenever I want, hug my sisters, talk my brother, yet I am so weak.  I have a hard time forgiving someone who harms me by backbiting or hampering my work. I wonder in our separate journeys, who is better off?

Some words from her brother, Muhammad, whose experience in the US has been very different from his sister’s and who is still waiting for American justice to prevail.  Despite many attempts to visit her, he has been told that our normal rules don’t seem to apply to your sister. She is isolated, although she has retained a new lawyer but has not been allowed to contact this person. She is told that her brother has not made the arrangements to see her.  Imagine the emotional havoc on her soul, making her think her family has abandoned her, too.

“In the end you had a judge pronounce an 86 year sentence but it was Aafia who calmly offered him forgiveness and he almost greedily accepted it and thanked her for it.  For a moment one could be excused for wondering who was lording over whom?  This was not unexpected but by quantifying the number of years, I think Berman inadvertently fueled the passions in Pakistan.  A life sentence in Pakistan generally means 10-14 years and in political cases commuted in a couple of years.  People would not have been as upset had he given her life but 86 is an undisputed mathematical number and is a large number.  The reaction was therefore much stronger and in an odd way, Berman provided the momentum that we all thought would be over.  Now the emotion has shifted from guilt or innocence to the sheer brutality and total lack of compassion for Muslims. TV channels are on a countdown to 86 years, and children put on school plays in elite English-medium schoolsabout Aafia’s legend – every day people will be reminded.”

I pray that Americans join in the demands for her repatriation back to Pakistan – send her back to her home country where her aching eyes can at least see her children through the bars.

Many people go through trials and tribulations during their lifetime. Scholars say, that to see whether the trial is a test from Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) or a punishment from Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), you must do muhasabah (ask yourself is this bringing me closer to Allah or away from Allah?) Judging solely by her remarks made in court, I can say I believe this is a supreme test from Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) for Sister Aafia – her iman unwavering, her night filled with visions of the Habib ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him).

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Hena Zuberi is the Editor in Chief of She leads the DC office of the human rights organization, Justice For All, focusing on stopping the genocide of the Rohingya under Burma Task Force, advocacy for the Uighur people with the Save Uighur Campaign and Free Kashmir Action. She was a Staff Reporter at the Muslim Link newspaper which serves the DC Metro. Hena has worked as a television news reporter and producer for CNBC Asia and World Television News. Active in her SoCal community, Hena served as the Youth Director for the Unity Center. Using her experience with Youth, she conducts Growing Up With God workshops. Follow her on Twitter @henazuberi.



  1. Dalia

    December 30, 2010 at 8:32 AM

    Ma Shaa Allah…what a strong person. May Allah subhanu wa taala set her free soon in shaa Allah.

  2. mambee

    December 30, 2010 at 10:15 AM

    Innalillahi wa inna ilayhirajiun. This could have been anyone. The difference would be how we would react. 86 yrs in prison? Ya Allah, such a situation is indeed from You. You gave the life and 86 yrs out of it sounds like all of it, maybe more than ones tenure of life. But everything that happens is by Allahs will and He is always with the pious. More grease to Afias elbow, Allah is with her. Only Him knows what her jannah will be like InshaAllah by His will. If He so wills she will be out, but whatever the case, she has the best judge-Allah. May we have the faith to love Allah. Amin.

    • UmmSarah

      December 30, 2010 at 10:52 PM

      Indeed, this could’ve been any of us. Allah does what He wills in His dominion. He tests people according to their ranks. Sister Aafia, may Allah join you with your children in Jannah of highest rank.

  3. 4 Asura

    December 30, 2010 at 3:13 PM

    Mashallah, First of All – I want to congratulate the sister who wrote this article

    Your foreword reminds me of the ayah in Surah Ale Imraan

    “Those (i.e. believers) unto whom the people (hypocrites) said, “Verily, the people (pagans) have gathered against you (a great army), therefore, fear them.” But it (only) increased them in Faith, and they said: “Allah (Alone) is Sufficient for us, and He is the Best Disposer of affairs (for us).”

    Mashallah that you overcame the fear, and increased in your eeman, and posted this article. It constantly serves as a reminder, knowing that many of us, including me, have been in the position where we have told others, or have heard from others, to stay quiet. To be afraid of “them.” They will make sure that you end up missing, and never be seen again. If that tactic does not work, we say, or we have heard from our muslim brothers, and sisters : Think about your family! They might be the ones hurt. Be afraid of them for the sake of your family. But BY Allah, my fear is for the one who gives life, and takes it as he pleases. My fear, and your fear should be for the who, if the world world was to gather to help or hurt you, they would not be able to do so, unless he wills it. (Capitalize all the “h” in he). And we should be careful if we are the ones saying this to others who want to do something. Who want to speak of the injustices, who want to aid the good, and fend of the evil. We should be careful in saying “Fear “them,” whoever they may be, other than Allah, because this constitutes Nifaaq, and we should be careful lest Allah labels us as Munaafiqs.

    The only other thing I would like to comment on is

    “She urged Muslims not to hate American soldiers. After being held, broken, physically, mentally, psychologically, a travesty of her former self, the torture etched in her face, she still is able to forgive them and urges us to forgive them, too. ”

    That is, and I love Sister Afia, as she is my sister in Islam, but that is incorrect. It is not for the ones who are killing, plundering, raping, destroying, and wreaking havoc on hundreds of thousands of my other brothers and sisters to be forgiven. Ever. If sister Afia feels that we may feel hate towards the American soldiers only because of her, then that is not completely true. By Allah, I feel closer to the mothers, and sisters, and fathers, and brothers, who are constantly terrorized by these soldiers, than to my own co workers. If one part of the body is hurt, then the whole body hurts, and if you are infected with cancer, you do not forgive that cancer. You fight it, and hate it, and try to make sure that it no longer exists in your body. I am not calling towards needless violence, but my love and hate is for Allah. And I love my brothers and sisters everywhere for the sake of Allah, and hate and will continue to hate with a deep seated hatred in my heart those who kill, and rape the loyal servants of Allah. And it is not for those who fear the wrath of Allah, to ally themselves, or to forgive, when they have no right to forgive (as the crime is not towards them, but towards those who are being plundered overseas, and towards Islam, and towards Allah), the soldiers of Kuffar. The muslims in the west cannot forgive these soldiers, as the injustice is not towards them. The injustice is towards our brothers and sisters overseas, and it is for them to forgive. Unless you have been raped by an American soldier, you have no right to forgive. It is for Allah to either punish them, as he is Shadeed Ul Iqaab (The most severe in Punishment) or it is up to Allah to forgive some of them by guiding them to Islam. The only thing I can say towards the soldiers in the American Army (regardless of whether they call themselves Christians, Jews, Atheists, Agnostics, or Muslims) is that – I pray to Allah that he guides you to Islam.

    • Sister in Islam

      January 1, 2011 at 10:21 AM

      MashaAllah. Very well stated. Put my thoughts into words. Couldn’t have done it better.

  4. Arif Kabir

    December 30, 2010 at 6:28 PM

    Aafia, you are not alone. SubhānAllāh, that’s such a powerful sign. May Allāh (subhānahu wa ta’ālā) alleviate her pains and worries, and grant her Jannatul Firdaus. Ameen…

  5. saba

    December 30, 2010 at 6:44 PM

    Ameen to the dua.
    beautifully written article.
    i think it says how we all feel.
    May Allah (swt) grant her and her family janatul firdous and free her to be with her family soon.

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  7. Rafa

    December 31, 2010 at 12:15 AM

    SubhanAllah, what an incredibly strong person, I can’t even imagine. Really puts things into perspective for those of us who live blessed lives and continue to complain. I think the concept of forgiveness will be ringing differently with me from now on…Insha Allah.
    Allah is the best of planners. May He grant sister Aafia and her family the highest level of Jannat al Firdous. Ameen.

  8. Mohammad

    December 31, 2010 at 1:55 AM

    Sister Aafia is one case among many Muslim brothers and sisters who are fallen victim to the propaganda of Western governments. The bigger worry was the fact it was the Pakistani Goevrnment which handed her over in the first place, in the most slavish of ways. And why is it that none of the governments of the Muslim world have intervened to aid Sister Aafia? Its a shame that the Muslim Ummah does not have a leader to represent them as Muslims, not as Pakistanis, or any other nationality.

    • Sister in Islam

      January 1, 2011 at 10:23 AM

      Very True. In addition to grieving for not having a Khalifah…we should also grieve for the weak sense of Ghayrah of today’s Muslim men. Shame on them. May Allah (swt) strengthen their manhood. Ameen.

  9. umtalhah

    December 31, 2010 at 6:52 AM

    may Allah bring her and all other muslims in similar situation peace and tranquility within their hearts.
    jazakumAllahu khairan to everyone responsible for bringing this article to us.

  10. F

    December 31, 2010 at 7:30 AM

    May Allah(swt) destroy the people who did this to her. Ameen.

  11. Kashif Dilkusha

    December 31, 2010 at 7:34 AM


    I pray may ALLAH accept her deeds and bestow her the real success which is the permit to live in JANNAH.

  12. Ahmed Chaudhry

    December 31, 2010 at 4:31 PM

    subhanAllah. amazing article, left me speechless.

    Sr. Aafia you are not alone and you have the full support of all muslims.

    MashAllah, amazing article with a great reference to the story of Yusuf (AS).

  13. Madeeha

    January 1, 2011 at 6:19 AM

    “I prayed two rakah salah before writing this – I wrote it after her sentencing but honestly have not had the guts to publish it. I have been scared by friends and relatives – paranoid in these times of guilt by association – ‘Don’t write they will come after you too” For what? writing a blog entry. Fear is a strange thing…Allah (SWT) may I never be fearful of anyone but You… Ameen.”

    O’Allah! May WE never be fearful of anyone but YOU. Aameen.

    May Allah free Dr. Aafia asap.
    May Allah expose all those who did ‘zulm’ on her.
    May Allah reunite her with her family & children asap.
    May Allah strengthen her Imaan.
    May Allah protect her from all evils.
    May Allah admit her in the highest levels of ‘Jannat-ul-Firdous’.
    May Allah give Dr. Aafia & her family ‘Sabr-e-Jameel’ & reward them for it.


    • N. Hussain

      January 1, 2011 at 11:10 AM


  14. N. Hussain

    January 1, 2011 at 11:08 AM

    When I first began reading this article it made me I feel sorry for all those that were and are involved in this sisters predicament.. She has very big heart and has complete faith in the allmighty.. I pray Alah (swt) give her more sabr and help us becomr better and more gratefull muslums..inshallah..ammen

  15. TARIQ

    January 3, 2011 at 11:57 PM

    May ALLAH swt keep her steadfast and grant her sabr in abundance.

  16. nancy

    January 4, 2011 at 7:56 AM

    i’m not muslim or pak, but i am really disturbed by this case. america’s pretense at openness and transparency is such a joke. a terrible joke. why do they keep her in such seclusion in prison? what are they trying to hide? i think they r trying to hide a lot in aafia’s case. surely, her brother and any other members of her family should be able to visit her.
    i think muslims have to have a louder voice. you are not getting into the mainstream media enuf. nobody i know has even heard of this mysterious case. what are her prison conditions like now? is she allowed to associate freely with other prisoners? is ANYONE from the outside allowed to talk with her? if not, then it can only be because america is afraid of what she might say.
    i cant find much news from pak about her either, except for the protests. how are her children? do they attend school? are they healthy, physically and mentally? where were they during the missing years?
    i think american muslims are not doing a good job at getting their voice out. you just talk to each other.

  17. Maybe

    January 6, 2011 at 12:46 AM

    Has anyone ever thought about the other side – she was after all married into a family engaged in terrorist activity and might have been responsible to building the bombs which have killed more mulsims than anyone else. Maybe this is Allah (swt) way of showing her some highlights of what is in store for her – is her innocence completely conclusive ? That we start comparing her to a great Prophet ?

    • Muslim Stranger

      January 6, 2011 at 12:52 PM

      @ Maybe

      The above mentioned Links maybe of information for you too.
      Plz read.

  18. shiney

    January 7, 2011 at 8:52 PM

    very sad…in school we are learning about Yusuf (A) and my friend and I are simply in awe of the patience of this lady…masha’allah! We need more Muslims like her, and I’m really grateful to the sister who wrote this much-needed article about Dr. Aafia’s real personality and story. I had heard about Dr. Aafia but didn’t really know much about her but after reading this, I’m sure she is a wonderful person masha’allah. May Allah (SWT) give her justice and relief and May He protect our own Iman and give us security. Ameen (to all the other dua’s as well)

  19. Starlight

    January 9, 2011 at 11:48 PM

    Ameen to the du’a..

  20. Alchemy

    January 13, 2011 at 7:03 AM

    There is a LOT more to her than meets the eye. Her story keeps changing and there are HUGE discrepancies between what her sister says, he uncle says and her husband says.

    Most people here are defending this woman just because she is a Muslim and deliberately choosing to ignore facts.

    It is no wonder that the Muslim world is racked by terrorism – its because we glorify terrorists.

    • ahlam

      January 13, 2011 at 2:36 PM

      ”It is no wonder that the Muslim world is racked by terrorism – its because we glorify terrorists.”


      It is no wonder that the Western world is racked by terrorism- its because we/they glorify terrorists.

      Last I checked, ”terrorism” is defined by current world powers which have on their own caused a whole lot amount of damage in the 21st century alone.Therefore, it would be helpful if we don’t keep a one-sided persepective on things.

      • Alchemy

        January 15, 2011 at 3:53 PM

        What you’ve said is largely irrelevant but typical of how we think. Instead of judging the actions of this woman on their own merit, we turn all such issues into an “Us vs Them” case. So because the US invaded Iraq illegally, it is OK for the Taliban to burn down Girls’ schools (or so the typical arguments go.

        All this while we conveniently ignore that her own uncle says that he met Aafia six months before her capture in Afghanistan (and she stayed with him for three days asking him to hook her up with the Taliban). All this while we conveniently ignore that she just happens to be married to Ammar Baluchi who is the nephew of Khalid Shaikh Muhammad. All this while we silently ignore that she had a penchant for collecting money for the wrong charities (repeatedly) and being associated with numerous Al Qaeda members.

        None of that matters. All that matters is how we can twist her story to fit an antiamerican agenda.

        • Hena

          January 16, 2011 at 1:23 AM

          Are you a witness to her acts of terrorism?
          Has she been tried in court for terrorism?
          As Americans are we not supposed to presume innocent unless proven guilty?
          I don’t like getting into online sparring but that’s a big accusation
          “glorifying terrorists.”

  21. Yamin

    January 15, 2011 at 11:59 PM

    Islam prides itself on logic and rational thinking, something this articles author overlooks.

    Being muslim is not a defence even if the charges are incorrect.

    So far, it appears she has decided not to present a defence and, given the outcome of her case, along with the sentence, any support for her is merely support for a convicted criminal and her crimes. The article is irresponsible and unworthy.

    Complaining about unfairness while at the same time ignoring the details of the case doesn’t serve any useful purpose. Other than giving encouragement to such criminals this article promotes anti-islamic behavior. It is hardly the peaceful side of islam and hardly the work of allah (pbuh).

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  25. Abu Maryam Shiraz

    September 10, 2012 at 3:13 PM

    May Allah Grant the highest place in Jannah with likes of Aasia, the wife of Fir’awn.

  26. Abu Maryam Shiraz

    September 10, 2012 at 3:14 PM

    May Allah Grant Dr. Afia,
    the highest place in Jannah with likes of Aasia, the wife of Fir’awn.

  27. John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt

    May 30, 2016 at 7:22 AM

    An FYI: ALL women who are considered to be “highly difficult” (escape risks, federal death row) in the federal system are sent to Carwell. Places like USP Admax are only for men.

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