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The Day My Husband Fell

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By Umaima Jafri

Preface

I am alone in the bedroom with our youngest child late one evening, in the Spring of 2017.

If you were to meet our youngest today, you might not guess that he was a late talker, but he was. At two years old, he understood a lot, but his articulated words were few. He answered yes and no to questions, made one-word requests with what vocabulary he had, and loved to make a spitting sound as he stuck his tongue out through his lips, “Pthhhhhh.” He did this in anger, and for fun.

He is almost four now. He babbles on in full sentences the way a toddler does, parroting his older siblings and adults around him, grammar and pronunciation always just a little bit off.

He does. not. stop. talking.

In Spring of 2017, his speech was just taking off.

That night he was alone with me in the bedroom. He said something that stopped me in my tracks.

“Baba fall garage.”

My heart skipped a beat, and I had to make sure. “Baby, what did you just say?”

“Baba fall garage.”

I couldn’t believe he still remembered.

Scene III

This story starts much earlier- two years ago. It starts in late Fall of 2015, early in the morning—November 5th, to be exact.

We were in our Texas home, where we had moved just three months prior, full of many ambitions and dreams: that six-figure job my husband had landed, an amazing school for the kids, the dream home we were working towards purchasing, and finally, finally being closer to family.

Our youngest was almost two at the time, and inhis father’s lap.

My husband, Ibrahim, was about to take off for work, and I was getting ready to take the other kids to school. There was a rhythm to our days— a familiar, repeating motion. This was how our weekdays started.

Then they came —in fourteen, unmarked cars. FOURTEEN. A single car would have been enough, or two or three, but “enough” is not what any of this is about. There is an element of spectacle to these situations, a display of pomp and power meant to strike fear in the heart. They like to put on a show.

I saw them coming through the open garage door, the descent of vultures into our home. I shouted at our older three to go to their rooms, protecting their eyes from what was happening. I ran out, too hurried, too panicked, to even think about my hijab, there was no time. I took our two-year-old son from Ibrahim. We both knew what this was about. I demanded a warrant. They denied my request at first, but presented it briefly afterwards. They did have a warrant and this was no mistake.

Ibrahim blacked out. He was standing there one minute, listening to the barrage of legalities, instructions given to me by the US Marshalls: which court, what time, what steps to take, which lawyer. On and on, they droned while Ibrahim’s life flashed before his eyes. Would he ever see our four children again? Would he ever get the chance to run around the house with them? Would our toddler even remember him? Would he ever see his own mother?

It was all too much for him, and he came crashing down. My husband is built like a linebacker. Six feet tall, broad shoulders, strong as an ox. And he fell. I cannot recall what I did with our son, but in an instant, he was no longer in my arms and I was at Ibrahim’s side beckoning him to get up. He was sweating profusely. Soaked completely through his clothes. They called the paramedics and went on with business. It was just another day at the office for them, and a never-ending nightmare for us.

The US Marshalls, I admit, were somewhat considerate. They let Ibrahim hug his children goodbye, and they were kind enough not to put cuffs on him in front of the children. But the children saw anyway. They watched from the upstairs window, confused and horrorstruck, unbeknownst to me, as their father was taken in cuffs into the back of an unmarked car. I watched, numb and cold in the heat of a Texas autumn —confused but determined as they drove my husband away.

That was the day my husband fell.

***

 A year and a half passed, between the time our youngest saw it happening and the time he said those words, “Baba fall garage”. He was three when he said it. Half of his then-lifetime had passed before he could tell me about that memory. That’s a long time to hold something in before you can put it into words.

***

Scene I

You might have guessed it by now, but this story starts much earlier. It starts in the Winter of 2011, in the early morning.

We were in our Ohio home. It was December 8th, and (perhaps you are seeing a pattern here) it was just the start to another ordinary day. My husband was getting ready to go to work. I was upstairs on the second floor of our townhouse, getting ready to take the older two to school. Our third child, a 6-month old baby, was lying on the bed, laughing and cooing.

It was then that the ominous knock came—a terrible, loud banging on the front door. I looked out the window and made eye contact with an agent wearing a vest, the letters F-B-I sprawled across her chest. This was our first visit from them. It came without warning, but with everything in me, I knew it was not good.

When you have been a part of the Muslim community in America for as long as we’ve been, living post 9/11, you recognize a surprise visit from the FBI as part of a familiar narrative. It’s like when you’ve read too many Agatha Christie novels: You go from being shocked each time about who committed what crime, in awe of Christie’s writing skills, until you reach a tipping point. A switch flips. You start to recognize the pattern in her writing, and suddenly, you can guess without fail the end to every novel.

It’s the same with these types of FBI cases. If you haven’t seen the pattern yet, it’s only because you haven’t read enough of them.

The FBI authors many cases (which you may have heard about in the news as “terror plots”) \. They are of their own construction. They involve undercover agents, claiming to be sympathetic to a Muslim cause, preying on the sentiments of people who are mentally ill, or alone and vulnerable, or else angry and frustrated with American injustices abroad. The agents seek out vulnerable targets, and then construct a plot so flimsy it could never have taken off anyway. They involve targets in the plot just enough so they can later arrest them, indict them, and convict them of a crime they would never have thought of were it not for the FBI itself. Often there are co-conspirators that the FBI somehow manages to rope into the case because of their association to a target, even if the co-conspirators are clueless about any potential crime. Sometimes these cases are thought crimes — the defendants guilty of nothing their First Amendment rights don’t clearly protect.

Whatever the version of the story it is, the underlying mechanism is the same. The FBI schemes, and then declares itself hero as it foils its own plot. A Muslim, or groups of Muslims, is caught in the crossfire of flimsy evidence. A jury made up of average Americans who are mass-fed fear, already exposed to a narrative of the defendant’s guilt through the media, is expected to weigh in on a genre they know nothing about. They haven’t read enough stories to see the pattern yet.

It is a game the FBI plays and has played for many years now with the Muslim community. When you get a visit from them, you don’t know how they will use you as a pawn in their next best-selling plot, what role they will assign to you, but you can be sure it is not good. So when that ominous knock came on that early December morning, I flew into gear. I don’t know what moved faster: my heart sinking all the way down to my feet, or my feet flying down a full flight of steps just as my husband was opening the front door. I threw myself against the door, shutting it again. They yelled from the other side to open up.

“I can’t,” I said, “I don’t have my scarf on.”

They said to go put it on, but I still had to let them in. Up the stairs I ran. My hands shook as I wrapped a crumpled scarf around my head, just as they were making their own way upstairs. They called out my name at the landing – I was surprised they actually knew my name, that they even pronounced it correctly – and I walked out to meet them.

“We’re not here to arrest anybody.” Those were the first words the agent spoke, and there was instant relief as the blood came rushing back into my body.

I demanded a warrant. I said I had a right to a lawyer. I did all the things I knew I was supposed to do in a situation like that.

Ignoring my request for a warrant, they said absolutely to a lawyer. I fumbled through some old papers in the bedroom. The only lawyer we had at the time was an out-of-state immigration attorney for when we had applied for my husband’s US residency. I had no other numbers, and didn’t know who to call. I feigned calling the lawyer, when in reality I called my dad. I knew he would be able to help, but when he didn’t pick up, I called the immigration lawyer anyway and left a message for him.

I demanded a warrant again. The agents ignored me as they entered my bedroom to begin their search there.

I was feeling all sorts of emotions. Confusion about what was going on, fear creeping in on me, but mostly I was angry. I asked them point-blank what was going on, and they said something about structuring.

What?

Ibrahim is a structural engineer, and I was utterly confused as to how his job could get him into any sort of trouble. I asked them to elaborate. A female agent said this was about structuring of funds. I looked her straight in the eye and laughed.

“You really need to come up with something more original than ‘structuring of funds.’ That’s all you guys ever try to blame on people like us,” I said.

She turned beet red, as did the other FBI agents.

I grabbed my 6-month-old baby and went downstairs. I found my husband with other FBI agents sitting on the sofa. I looked him in the eye, told him to shut his mouth and not open it no matter what. We still didn’t have a warrant. They separated us and took my husband into the dining room while I stayed on the living room sofa with our three children.

I am not exaggerating when I tell you there were dozens of them. A few dozen agents inside our home, and another dozen or so stationed outside, too many for me to actually count or keep track of. They searched everything: drawers, cabinets, the inside of cereal boxes and cookie jars, everything they could possibly find. They even opened up the fridge and started looking, like we could be hiding something dangerous in there. I don’t know, a carton of expired milk, maybe? They crawled all over our home like a horde of ants, seeping into every nook and crevice, invasive and unwelcome, impossible to get rid of.

I still had my phone at this point because I was waiting to hear back from the lawyer. I picked it up, saying I had to call him again. I called my dad. He finally picked up. Speaking in Urdu, words pouring out of my mouth in a rush, I told him there were people in the house— he needed to act fast. My dad understood immediately.

So did the translator standing behind me who I had not seen. They came and took my phone away. I protested, anger punctuating my every word, but they kept it, saying they would return it to me.

Feeling angry and trapped —my communication with the outside world, with anyone who could help us —now snatched away, I sat there with the kids, trying to occupy them with coloring and cutting paper. The agents searched on.

Again and again, I demanded a warrant, and again and again I was denied.

Three hours later, a lawyer showed up at our home.

Through a series of phone calls my dad had made, he finally got in touch with one. It was another immigration lawyer, a friend of a friend of a friend. This was not his area of expertise and he was not comfortable taking the case, but he came as a tremendous kindness on his part to help us when we were most in need. Ibrahim was done with their questioning by this time. He was sitting next to us on our living room couch. The agents released us into the lawyer’s custody, giving him permission to take us out of the house. They continued searching.

Sitting in the lawyer’s car, we told him what happened detail by detail that morning. It was a long and excruciating ordeal to go through, and I have saved you from most of the details. Apparently, the lawyer told us, this kind of search was going on in other Muslims’ homes in Dearborn and parts of Detroit, Michigan, as well. These guys were on a roll, their pattern of play clear and on display for anyone who cared enough to look into it.

We drove away with the lawyer; stopping by my husband’s work to explain his absence, stopping by McDonald’s to get the kids some treats. It’s what you do as parents, isn’t it? You go through the most traumatic experience of your life, and in the midst of your own confusion, you carve out a moment of normalcy for your kids. You try to put them in a bubble of warmth and safety, signaling to them that everything is ok, or will be ok, and inside you, all the while, is a non-stop reel of all the horrors and worst-case scenarios your mind can dream up.

A couple hours later, the agents called our interim lawyer saying that they were done. They were gone by the time we came back home. This should have been a comfort, but walking in through the unlocked front door, I felt like I had been physically violated. Our house was a mess. Everything was all over the place, thrown out and strewn around the house. It looked like ruffians had ransacked our home – isn’t this the kind of thing you call the authorities to report? So whom do you turn to when it is the authorities who’ve done this to you? They raped our home, leaving us to pick up the pieces, to trace their steps and count the things that were missing. They took all of our electronics: laptop, external hard drives, old computers I had from work. They took a bunch of CDs we had of religious lectures, things that were mainstream and standard in Muslims homes at the time we bought them. Anything that looked remotely electronic was gone. The only thing I really cared about was a hard drive with all our children’s pictures since the moment they were born.

I am still waiting to get back those pictures of my babies.

***

Do you see how things escalated? In December of 2011, I flew down a flight of steps at the sound of a knock, threw myself against an opening door, used my headscarf as a way to buy us a few extra seconds before our home and our lives were turned upside down. In November of 2015, almost four years later, there was no knock against a closed door (even that token gesture of seeking permission was taken away), there was no time to spare, and I left behind a headscarf I had worn religiously for eighteen years as I flew to my husband’s side.

***

Scene II

I know you are wondering what happened in those four years between the raid on our Toledo home and my husband’s arrest in Dallas.

I should mention, first, that we finally got our search warrant. The head agent in the 2011 raid gave it to our interim lawyer when he showed up, something about a condition on the warrant saying they didn’t have to present it until after their search was done.

They also presented my husband with a subpoena. Within a week, he was set to stand trial before a grand jury in Cleveland, Ohio. If you know anything about grand juries, you know that indictment is guaranteed once you are, in front of one. The defendant shows up in court without a right for defense, prosecutors bombard him with a sundry of accusations, 99.9% of which are untrue and which he will not be formally charged with. There’s a catchphrase in the legal world that you can indict a ham sandwich. They don’t look for proof of guilt; they merely look for what the government tells them to do.

Needless to say, it was a week of panic and intense prayer. We went everywhere looking for lawyers until we found a David Klucas in Toledo through a friend. David spoke with prosecution and they surprisingly offered a reverse proffer, a chance for my husband to speak to them outside of the courtroom and offer them information they might be looking for. Ibrahim proffered twice at the FBI office in downtown Toledo. They asked him a series of questions and he answered.

Here is where I tell you that nothing happened in the four years between the Toledo raid of our home and my husband’s arrest in Dallas.

After the proffers, there were no court dates and no charges brought against him. Ibrahim never stood in front of a grand jury; he was never indicted. The FBI never approached my family again. For four years, they disappeared.

We went on with our lives, guardedly at first, and then more and more freely.

In the winter of 2013, we moved to Michigan for the kids’ school, while my husband continued his work in Toledo.

In August of 2015, we moved to Dallas. I’m a Houston girl myself, and the Midwest was always too cold for me, always too far away from family. Dallas was a promise of a better job and better schools, and being that much closer to home.

We checked with our lawyer every step of the way. Somewhere in those four years, my husband even applied for his US citizenship. We talked to our lawyer to make sure moving out of state wouldn’t be a problem. We opened a bank account with our social security numbers, we acquired utility accounts, we lived our lives in the way people do when they have nothing to hide.

But three months after moving to Dallas, and four years after the raid, they showed up again. Only this time they had a warrant, and this time they had an indictment. This time, the arrest and charges were all too real.

***

When Ibrahim was arrested, he was extradited back to Toledo, where all of this began. The “evidence” brought against him, if you are inclined to call it that was not something he said or did or participated in during the four years the FBI left us alone. Instead, it is behavior of allegedly criminal intent dating back to the years of 2005-2009. This was many, many years before the arrest, and several before the raid itself.

Why the sudden change? Did moving to Texas somehow take us out of their jurisdiction; did they miss having us close by? Or was it because the old prosecutor had moved on to a career in DC, while some new hotshot, eager to clear out old files and play hero, decided he needed to add a “foiled terror plot” to the pages of his developing resume?

***

Intermission

I know you are still wondering what all of this is about. Most days, I wonder the same thing, too.

In 2015, Ibrahim (along with three other Muslim men) was charged with conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists, conspiracy to commit bank fraud, and conspiracy to obstruct justice. Search his name, and you can read the whole 72 page indictment if you like.

You would think those pages contained mountains of evidence for the prosecution’s claim, clear exhibits of crime or attempted crime, but they don’t. They’re filled with buzzwords like al-Qaeda. They have snippets of email conversations between the defendants expressing unpopular political opinions that are protected by First Amendment rights, and (hold your laughter), evidence that they shared and listened to the popular nasheed, “Ghurabaa.” There is evidence of irresponsible behavior from one of the defendants, nothing I can elaborate on, as the case is still pending, but nothing that showed a conspiracy to commit acts of terror.

The crux of the prosecution’s argument pivots on the name “Anwar al-Awlaki,” who was killed in a US drone attack in September of 2011, less than two months before the raid on our home. The CDs they took during the raid included some of his lectures from years before. The emails exchanged between defendants show that they sometimes mentioned his name. The indictment opens with several pages of Awlaki quotes and excerpts from his blog, citing his later views on jihad – no evidence that the defendants shared those views or were even aware of all of them. In many ways, it is really an indictment of Awlaki himself, a man who they already killed.

What the indictment conveniently leaves out is that Awlaki was a household name within the Muslim community for many years, that his lectures were mainstream and non-controversial. We bought his CDs and shared them; we mentioned his name and quoted his words at a time when it was not a crime to do so. The fact that the FBI had him under surveillance, that they studied his movements and changing ideology under a microscope for many years, does not mean that the Muslim community was privy to that knowledge within the same time frame.

When it became clear that Awlaki’s views in his later life had turned radically extreme, by and large the Muslim community distanced themselves from those views. It was one thing to criticize the US for its foreign wars and illegal occupations, another thing entirely to encourage indiscriminate attacks on civilians, or the betrayal of trusts extended to us as civilians by the country we lived in, and loved, and called home.

My husband’s trial is about many things, but mostly, it is about his First Amendment rights, and this sick and unethical game the FBI plays with the Muslim community and with the hearts of the public. Somewhere, an FBI agent, a state prosecutor, a higher up in Washington DC writes these cases down on his resume, a plume in his hat, a shining star ascending in his career. He moves up the ladder by stepping on some family’s life, spreading fear in the hearts of citizens while claiming to protect them.

***

If you search the internet for my husband’s name, be sure to search it as Ibrahim Zubair Mohammad, and maybe include the word “Toledo,” or you will have trouble finding the right Ibrahim. There are thousands of men in the world with that name, but only one of them is the man I know as my husband. What you find out there will doubtless be damning, news articles reporting on the charges and quoting the prosecution, telling a one-sided story in as sensational terms as they can. Remember that the FBI has played this game before  – using media is a part of their pattern – and remember that they are experts at selling fear.

***

Scene IV

Ibrahim is currently being held on the sixth floor of the Lucas County jail in Toledo, a concrete structure where he has no access to fresh air or the sun. I remind you that it has been two years since he was arrested. He has not been convicted of any crime.

We await a trial that has been postponed and rescheduled at least four times already, anticipating his return every day. Every day I answer questions from our children about when Baba will be home, who took him away, why they took him away. Our now nearly four-year-old remembers what the others never saw, “Baba fall garage,” that one detail about his father I desperately pray that he forgets.

He thinks we go to “Baba’s house” during visits. Our “visits” are nothing more than video chats through hazy screens in a loud jailhouse lobby, my husband sitting upstairs somewhere in front of another hazy screen. This is our contact: nothing physical, no visits behind glass, just this rudimentary video chat where I take one child per week for 30 minutes, max. Ibrahim has watched his children grow from behind this screen. He has seen them only through the eyes of a camera in the pictures I am able to send him.

We moved back to Toledo as soon as we could after the arrest, leaving behind the Dallas life we were beginning to love, in favor of being with him. Ibrahim is so close to us, yet so impossibly far away. For almost two years, I have raised our children as a single parent, surrounded by old friends who have known Ibrahim and our family for over a decade. They stand by my side relentlessly, giving their unconditional support. They love our children like their own. These are people who have known Ibrahim for so many years as a friend, a successful engineer, a Qur’an teacher, a philanthropist who never shied away from helping others in the community, and a man who was obsessed with his family.

We were that typical American family who cleaned out the garage when it was warm out, who washed their cars on the weekends, who went biking around the neighborhood, who went to Costco just to try the samples. Ibrahim was the husband who woke up early on the weekends so I could sleep in, made his famous omelets for the kids (four different types for four picky eaters – five, if you count me), sat down with the children and read Qur’an with them, prayed with his family at home, helped me with chores and dinner, and my favorite: put the kids to bed. They loved his bedtime stories. The ones that had adventures galore and lessons to be learned, the ones I thought were far too long. After these nearly hour-long bedtime stories would be our turn. Chai and cookies, and just us.

These days, our days consist of the same breakfast (only one type of egg for four picky eaters), the mundane routine of school, homework, and me counting down the minutes until bedtime. There are no bedtime stories, no imagination left for me to conjure up anything, nothing that will ever come close to matching Baba’s adventures. After putting them to bed, I head to our bedroom, alone, no chai or cookies, no us. Nearly two years of going to bed alone, dreaming about Ibrahim and then waking up alone. Two years of being mom and dad, discipliner and comforter. Two years of waiting, fighting, and more waiting. Two years of being emotionally and physically drained.

Two YEARS. And he’s still not home.

***

In the last two years, we’ve moved for bond twice, backed by the moral and financial support of the Toledo Muslim community we lived in for many years before Ibrahim’s arrest. Both motions were denied, this last one, according to the prosecution, “based on the facts of the case.” The same “facts” that led to a raid but no charges several years after the “evidence” was in their hands. The same “facts” that let Ibrahim live as a free man, carrying on with his normal life for FOUR years after the raid. If he was such a threat to society, then why did they “endanger” the public by letting him stay free for so long? Is the argument that they were carefully watching him all those years? And if he is innocent, or at least presumed innocent until proven guilty as the law allows, then why can’t he await trial with us on bond, at home, under the careful watch of the State, while he makes omelets and tells bedtime stories and watches with love as his own children grow?

***

Here is a fun fact. If you go to the Toledo Zoo, you might see many things: giraffes with long necks, a brown bear taking a bath, an octopus in a dark display in the aquarium. You might also see elephants in an enclosure. That enclosure was something Ibrahim worked on once. Ibrahim Zubair Mohammad: my husband and father of our four children, family man and community volunteer, structural engineer and designer of elephant enclosures.

***

Scene V

It is here that I come to the end of telling a story that is still unfolding. It was kind of you to listen in for so long, to follow the thread of so many moving parts. These are words I have held in for a long time.

Ibrahim, as I write this, is still awaiting trial, our family’s life is still in limbo, we are still holding on to the hope of bond until said time. How things turn out in the near future, how they turn out eventually, at what point any of this comes to an “end” is known by Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) alone. In the meantime, we carry on, doing our best and fighting the good fight.

It is here that I invite you to take a part in things, to pick up a proverbial pen and start writing with us:

    1. We created an online petition titled “Justice for Ibrahim Mohammad.” Please sign this petition, and spread it far and wide.

  1. Here are the names and numbers of Ohio Representatives.
  2. Share your ideas below, anything you can suggest or help with will be greatly appreciated.
  3. Use the hashtag #FreeIbrahimNow to spread awareness about this injustice
  4. Brothers, write a letter to Ibrahim.
    Ibrahim Mohammad
    Lucas County Correctional Center

Do you know what our youngest child said the other day

I spilled a drop of yogurt on the counter, and followed it with an audible, “Oh, darn.”

“It’s ok,” said our little one, “Baba does that, too.”

I like how he speaks as if Baba is still here. He keeps saying that Baba is out of prison already. I wonder if he dreams about him, too, and if in those dreams he sees what I pray every day to see: Baba finally home, wiping up that spilled yogurt, with his baby boy in his arms.

 

23 Comments

23 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Amanda

    November 6, 2017 at 10:12 PM

    Prayers for you and for Ibrahim that this nightmare will be over soon, Inshallah.

  2. Avatar

    Sofia

    November 7, 2017 at 4:46 AM

    May Allah give you the strength to get through this xx

  3. Avatar

    Nasra Ban

    November 7, 2017 at 6:21 AM

    Thankyou for sharing your story with us. I don’t think anyone can comprehend what you and your family have been through. I pray Allaah grants you ease, ends this trial and returns your husband to you Aameen. I will keep you in my duas sister.

  4. Avatar

    Winy

    November 7, 2017 at 7:10 AM

    Du’as and hugs for you dear sister. May Allah keep giving you strength and ease. Have you tried contacting Muslim Legal Fund of America/MLFA? They deal with this type of cases

  5. Avatar

    Mariam

    November 7, 2017 at 10:10 AM

    This was so heart-breaking to read, but as a Muslim, I am hopeful that Allah has a better plan for you and your family inshaAllah. He answered the call of Yunus (AS) inside the belly of a whale. He will bring peace and justice to your family, and the reward of Jannah for patience in this trial. Ameen.

  6. Avatar

    ST

    November 7, 2017 at 11:05 AM

    This could be any of us. Heartbreaking. I’m so sorry.

  7. Avatar

    Muslim

    November 7, 2017 at 11:53 AM

    Thanks for sharing and may Allah free your husband.

    Given how this brother was framed, Muslims in America better start using encryption and taking measures to beat surveillance so they can’t be framed like this.

    Please visit https://ssd.eff.org/ and educate yourself.

  8. Avatar

    Nayeem

    November 7, 2017 at 12:01 PM

    As Salaamu Alaikum sister. May Allah bless you and your family, and may Allah grant Ibrahim the patience of Ibrahim alaihi salaam. May he grant him the ease and contentment that Ibraheem alaihi salaam had in his trial. May Rabbul Aalameen also grant him a high level and freedom as Yusuf alaihi salaam and release him from the prison. Inshaa Allah we make du’aa for you at this time, and may Allah use us to help you as well. Salaam.

  9. Avatar

    Susan

    November 7, 2017 at 1:51 PM

    This story needs to be heard. I highly recommend you pitch a version of this to a magazine (not newspaper, because you want to be able to write it in great length). Consider which ones may take a story like this, by reading some of their current stories. It’s imperative that this story reaches a wider audience! Maybe Vice.

  10. Avatar

    Ummearw

    November 7, 2017 at 11:59 PM

    May Allah give you sabr and may he be released soon.
    Stay strong and turn only to Allah..
    Duas
    Ummearw

  11. Avatar

    SD

    November 8, 2017 at 1:28 AM

    I looked at the indictment. It shows two brothers in puppy love with the Taliban and al Shabaab who lied to obtain credit cards and used fraudulent means to send money to a known terrorist, Anwar al Awlaki.

    Ibrahim is a guest in the United States. He engaged in criminal behavior. I have no tolerance for financial dishonesty or fraud against my government. To add insult to injury, American citizens such as myself have to give our hard-earned taxes to monitor non-citizens who use our country as an opportunistic playground for their violent religious aspirations.

    I’m completely sick about this. I am personally offended by Ibrahim Mohammad and the way he conducted himself in my country. He does not belong here. After prosecution, he should be deported without hope of ever returning.

    His children have only him to blame for their troubles.

    Non-Muslims read Muslim Matters. When Muslims support a fraudster who acted against the United States and her citizens while living off our largesse, it does nothing but a warped moral compass on the part of Muslims.

  12. Avatar

    ali-id bouh ali

    November 8, 2017 at 9:02 AM

    Asalam Aleikum,

    This story needs to be video-produced (true story type of it). I was thinking to make some sort of a 5/10 minute video (short video) to showcase the horror of the scene’s and how it’s more than 2 years your sabring (be patient). and then stream it to all the SM channels (youtube, fb, twitter …) & get as much views/like.

    of course your new government (trump) wont be of a help ;) but still i’m sure there’s good people in your state government. (btw im canadian!)

    check out the inspiration series : https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=%23InspirationSeries

  13. Avatar

    Bilal Yasin El-Amin

    November 8, 2017 at 10:33 AM

    As-Salaam Alaikum dear sister. We pray that Allah, The Most Merciful, will bless, guide and protect you and your family. Think as your baby is thinking… that Baba is already out of jail. Allah says Be! And it is!.

  14. Avatar

    Usman

    November 8, 2017 at 11:31 AM

    As an American-born Muslim of Pakistani heritage, I felt compelled to comment on this article. I reflected on this article overnight before writing because I wanted to carefully phrase my thoughts in a respectful and non-judgmental manner.

    The author writes a poignant article which humanizes the tribulations her family is enduring. It truly resonated with me because I am a father of a 5 year old boy and can empathize. I too underwent separation from my son due to the legal system and Alhamdullilah was reunited. Albeit, I did not undergo 2 years of such suffering, but long enough to understand the indescribable anguish. InshAllah, I make dua that this broken family is reunited again.

    Having gone through both the criminal and civil court systems in the U.S.A, I have to say that for the most part, the judicial branch of this country does its best to uphold justice. Does racism and Islamophobia exist in this country? Yes. Is it something that permeates to a degree that prevents Muslims from living successful, safe, and comfortable lives in the U.S.A.? No. If this was the case, then my parents and millions of other Muslims immigrants wouldn’t have left their own Muslim lands to seek better worldly opportunity in the U.S.A. My experience and the experience of hundreds of my Muslim relatives here in the U.S.A. has been positive. And so much so, that none of us would choose to leave this country and go back to Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, or the Middle East. The freedoms afforded to us in the U.S.A. is un-parallel.
    I took the author’s suggestion and researched this case online. As a habit, I always take what the media says with a grain of salt and view the presented data with a lens of moderate skepticism. A few researched items I found disturbing – namely that the author’s brother-n-law pled guilty “to solicitation to commit a crime of violence for the 2016 plot to kill a Judge, and to conspiracy to provide and conceal material support or resources to terrorists for raising and delivering $22,000 to Yemen in 2009.” Pleading guilty in a court of law – even for a lesser sentence or reduced charges is still an admission of partial culpability or guilt.

    The debate of whether political free speech encompasses support of declared enemies of the state (either verbally or financially) is an entirely separate issue. A freedom fighter to one group can be construed as a terrorist to an opposing faction. Nonetheless, as a citizen of the U.S.A. who enjoys its religious freedoms, luxuries, comfort, protection, educational system, legal system, and advanced infrastructure, I choose to stay clear of such foreign political rifts that do not concern me, my family, or immediate community.

    The author’s husband may have openly declared views that were anti-government foreign policy, but I do not wish to pass judgement without having purview to the actual evidence or lack thereof. But the first visit from the FBI may have been the gentle friendly warning to cease and desist any activity that could be construed as defiantly oppositional.

    My contention with what happened to the author’s husband is my opposition to the ideology of preemptive prosecution. This is the slippery slope which is dangerous and makes thoughts rather than actions crimes of accountability. If I was held accountable for all the evil thoughts that ran through my head, then I would be serving 10 life sentences without the possibility of parole! The whole point of differentiating thoughts from action is the quintessential essence of the life test that Allah (SWT) presents us with. We all are capable of murder in a fit of anger or passion. However, our conscience has been given free will to make a decision.

    • Avatar

      UmmSaleh

      November 8, 2017 at 11:22 PM

      Brother Usman,

      I feel compelled to make a few points in response to your comments:

      1. This article is not condemning the Justice system, but rather the government prosecutors and anti-terrorism agencies of this country that target Muslims, sending in undercover agents to act as instigators and entrapment agents.

      2. The article clearly explains that these undercover agents target weak, mentally-ill, and disillusioned individuals to propose and entrap them in a plot they can later “foil”. They then pull into their net as many “co-conspirators” as they can in order to strengthen their case. In many cases these are innocent individuals who may be RELATED to them through ties of family or friendship.

      3. No-one is their brother’s keeper and should not be held accountable for what other family members may do or claim to do.

      4. If you research further you will find that Ibrahim’s brother’s lawyer explained that the “judge-murder ploy” was instigated by a fellow inmate who feigned interest in Islam and fabricated the ploy to entrap Ibrahim’s brother in order to reduce his own prison sentence. The whole thing was based on “secret code” and the testimony of a convicted felon. Read between the lines.

      5. A plea agreement does not mean an admission of guilt. Rather it is a deal brokered to protect a person from a possibly worse sentence if he fears he cannot get a fair trial or an unbiased jury or fears fabricated evidence that he cannot disprove (i.e. his word against another inmate). Plea agreements can also be reached so that one person takes the fall in order to save others (i.e. other innocents who were unknowingly pulled into the entrapment). Read between the lines.

      The author clearly cannot comment on the specific details of the case but she said enough to help you “Read Between the Lines”.

      As you said, no matter what the situation, there is no justification for 2 years of detainment without trial, suffering under conditions we deem barbaric in other countries, denying bond, while the government tries to put together a case for an alleged thought crime that they already had 4 years to put together.

      Allah is the Best of Judges and will bring forth the truth in this life or the next Insha Allah.

      • Avatar

        Usman

        November 10, 2017 at 11:48 AM

        Assalam Alaikum UmmSaleh,

        Thank you for responding to my comment. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your thoughts and views. I wish to respond to your numbered points and will do so systematically. Rather than copy and paste each of your points, I will just address the # as reference to what you wrote above.

        Reply to point 1:
        The rationale in humanizing her family’s suffering is to appeal to the masses for justice to be served, namely closure to the matter. The Federal Court (i.e. U.S.A. Justice System), denied her husband bail. Why? The Federal Court (i.e. U.S.A. Justice System) has not started a trial for over two (2) years. Why? Has this defendant been denied his 6th amendment right? My research has limitations because I do not have access to the prosecutor’s discovery, the defendant’s exculpatory evidence and court’s pretrial minutes. Therefore, I cannot answer the aforementioned questions. What I do know is that bail is usually denied when a defendant is a flight risk or a clear and present danger to society.

        Reply to point 2:
        Entrapment is a real phenomenon and debated in legal circles but not just for cases that deal with Muslims. Sting operations that include undercover prostitutes, undercover NARC agents masquerading as drug dealers, undercover Mafia wise guys and other such operations are all examples of entrapment strategies that can also target “weak, mentally-ill, or disillusioned individuals.” Was entrapment designed specifically to target Muslims only? I think not. Is it ethical? Debatable. Does it save lives and keep communities safe? Also debatable.

        Reply to point 3:
        Agreed, everyone is responsible for their own actions. It just raises an eyebrow that both brothers were arrested, both denied bail, both had similar contact dealings, and now one of them has pled guilty. And yes, the author’s husband should be presumed innocent and afforded due process.

        Reply to point 4:
        If what the brother-n-law’s attorney is stating is true, then why not present this plausible defense in pretrial proceedings and/or a jury trial?

        Reply to point 5:
        Pleading guilty is an admission of guilt (whether it be partial). A no lo contendere plea is when the defendant neither accepts nor denies responsibility for the charges, but agrees to accept the punishment. This is analogous to an Alford Plea, whereby a defendant asserts innocence, however admits the evidence the prosecutor has would likely persuade a judge or jury to find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The brother n law pled guilty. He did not plea no lo contendere and/or an Alford plea. What could have been worst than twenty-seven (27) years in jail for a man in his 40s? This is effectively a life sentence. Why wouldn’t the brother n law have taken this case to trial for the possibility of not receiving any jail time and found innocent? If someone is innocent, they are not going to accept a lesser deal that is 27 years. This is absurd. Unless they know that there is no possibility of being found innocent and/or are truly guilty of the charges.

        Studying other precedent cases that involve non-Muslims for capital crimes, it can take more than 2 years before a case goes to trial. A current example is the May2015 Waco shootout case which is in an active trial right now over two (2) years later. But, yes, I do agree that this waiting time is excessive, especially if a person is innocent.

        I have a lot of questions about the four (4) years in between FBI visits. What exactly transpired after the first FBI visit? Were there any activities that raised red flags during these four (4) years? Were any warnings given? Was suggestions given to avoid being on the radar screen? There is a lot the public is not privy to and understandably so.

        All around this is a sad, and if this case is truly about thought crimes and preemptive prosecution, then yes I would like justice for the author’s husband. But, being intellectually honest I cannot conclude innocence or guilt based upon media writings. InshAllah, I hope this family gets back their husband and father.

  15. Avatar

    Laeh-Maggie Garfield

    November 11, 2017 at 3:08 AM

    I would like your story to be widely published in media that reaches Americans who are not Muslim. Living in a fascist state is not what we hope for you or ourselves. The light of day needs to be upon your case so that other people can get behind you and make justice happen.

  16. Avatar

    Tia

    November 13, 2017 at 9:14 AM

    Hello, I am not Muslim and your story has reached me through Facebook. People are sharing it and listening to you.
    Your writing is remarkable. Have you thought of reaching out to the Washington Post or Huffington Post with this story?
    In addition, there is a group on Facebook called Pantsuit Nation. There are over a million members of this group, including many Muslims. Your story would be heard there and shared. These men and women are prone to take action. If you ask them to contact representatives, many will and you will be connected to people in Ohio who may participate in demonstrations and help bring greater awareness to your family’s plight.
    I will be following your story, contacting representatives, and keeping your family in my prayers. As a widow whose husband died while my 4 children were young, I understand the pain of raising children without their father. My heart breaks that you and your children are tasting this pain while your husband yet lives.

  17. Avatar

    Nabeel

    November 25, 2017 at 12:02 PM

    May Allah bless you and your family with patience, support and victory. Hasbiyallahu wa niamal wakeel

  18. Avatar

    monique hassan

    January 2, 2018 at 4:45 PM

    This brought tears to my eyes. May Allah (Swt) reunite your family and keep you safe. amen.

    If it will help, I am a freelance writer, I will share this on social media and I would like to post the story to my website with a link to the change site.

    have you tried contacting cair?

  19. Avatar

    Moulana

    January 5, 2018 at 6:23 AM

    Asalamu Alaykum, sister, may Allah grant you and your family the sabr required to be steadfast in these trying times as well as grant your husband his freedom. Duas

  20. Avatar

    Kristy

    January 19, 2018 at 3:32 PM

    Apparently on the same day your article appeared here, November 6, 2017, a decision had been made about Ibrahim’s brother:
    “Chief Judge Edmund A. Sargus, Jr. of the Southern District of Ohio, sentenced Yahya Farooq Mohammad, 39, to 27½ years in prison for the unsuccessful plot on Judge Zouhary’s life, and for supporting terrorism.”

    Mohammad was also ordered deported to India after he serves his prison sentence, never to return to the US, and ordered to pay a fine of $25,000.

    Mohammad pleaded guilty to the 2016 plot to kill Judge Zouhary, and to delivering $22,000 for Anwar al-Awlaki.

    “Judge Sargus said it was ironic that he was sentencing Mohammad in a federal courtroom where thousands of people had been naturalized as U.S. citizens over the years. Farooq Mohammad was welcomed to this country with his three children and his wife, but he chose to attack the principles that bring so many people here,” Judge Sargus said.

    “Michael Freeman, an assistant U.S. attorney, said Mohammad arranged for his wife — a U.S. citizen living in Illinois — to meet the purported hitman and deliver the $1,000 payment. A few weeks later, the undercover agent again met with Mohammad’s wife, showed her a picture of what appeared to be a dead Judge Zouhary, and demanded the rest of the money.”

    “Scheduled for trial in April on similar terrorism charges are Mohammad’s brother, Ibrahim Zubair Mohammad, 36, of Euless, Texas; and brothers, Sultane Roome Salim, 41, of Columbus and Asif Ahmed Salim, 35, who most recently lived in the United Arab Emirates.
    The four men were indicted in 2015 for allegedly providing financial support for al-Awlaki, an American-born terrorist was was killed in a U.S. drone strike in 2011.”

    Yes, Mrs. Ibrahim Muhammad, I too hope justice will be done.

  21. Avatar

    Kamilah Salahuddinn

    March 18, 2018 at 8:15 PM

    My family’s prayers go out to your family sister. May Allah rectify this for your family soon and allow you to be reunited again. This is truly a disgrace to hear about another family being torn apart based on lies. I pray that justice will be done very soon. Stay strong and remember to keep Allah first.

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#Current Affairs

Questions About My Political Activism | Imam Omar Suleiman

Imam Omar Suleiman

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Imam Omar Suleiman activism

Bismillah Al Rahman Al Raheem,

I thank Allah for the blessing of in person interactions. The simple joy of meeting your brother and sister in the Masjid with a smile and salaam that removes the shaytan from our hearts. The ability to ask questions clearly and immediately bury hatchets (which some forgo for destructive emails and WhatsApp threads even with their neighbors). I’m blessed to live in the incredible Valley Ranch Islamic Center community where I serve as Resident Scholar in a voluntary capacity. Members of my Masjid and the Dallas community can approach me and ask me anything about something I’ve said or something being said about me, and we walk away as brothers and sisters. I had the same blessing in New Orleans where I served as full-time Imam for 6 years. And I am blessed to meet people around the country and around the world that I love for Allah. Those are lifelong bonds that I pray continue in the hereafter under Allah’s shade. 

I also thank Allah for the online world that allows people to connect in good when otherwise they would not have been able to benefit. Without social media and expanding ways of technology, good content and avenues for charity would be far more limited. I’m grateful for all of you that have connected with me and prayed for me over the years. I don’t want to take away from any of that. With that being said, the online world does of course have its pitfalls. There can be a lack of mercy and husn al dhann (good assumptions) with one another, and widespread gossip and slander. It’s also uniquely destructive to those who garner large followings even due to good reasons. It’s very easy to praise someone you only know through videos and pictures, as it is to tear them down. Allah has tested some of us with fame through this machine, and it is a mighty test. I pray that Allah allows all of the people that I’ve been blessed to benefit in this world to be witnesses for me on the day of judgment, and that He not shame me or raise me amongst the hypocrites who didn’t practice what they preached. 

As the great sage Imam Ibn Al Jawzee (ra) said, “Know that if people are impressed with you, in reality they are impressed with the beauty of Allah’s covering of your sins.” It is very easy to deceive and be deceived through a screen. I pray that Allah allow any unjust critiques that I receive to be an expiation for all the undue praise I receive. People are usually imbalanced in their love and hate. The test is whether that love stops you from correcting your brother when he is wrong, or that hate that causes you to swerve from justice.

With that introduction, I’d like to address questions about my political positions and affiliations. Why? Because I do believe in accountability and transparency. Deceptive voices should be ignored, concerned ones shouldn’t. Certainly, there are falsehoods and hit pieces that often are disguised as legitimate critiques. But there are also legitimate critiques and/or requests for clarification. Over the past several years, I have had both types forwarded to me. I am not concerned with those who use deception to falsely portray me or my work. I am concerned about those who genuinely have questions, and don’t have them answered. I have sought to clarify my own political positions through my work on numerous occasions such as here, here, and here. I will quote some of that content here. But I hope this will be a thorough article that can be referenced any time in the future when questions about who I am and what I represent are brought up. Moreover, I hope it can be a conversation starter about what types of political frameworks are actually beneficial to the community.

The Foundation and Legitimate Differences

I believe that the Quran and Sunnah should be the foundation for everything that we do, public and private. That means never exceeding their boundaries, and also manifesting their calls. Many people forget the latter, and only focus on the former. If the only time the Quran and Sunnah are invoked in discussions of activism and justice is to shut down something deemed illegitimate or impermissible, we suggest that our divine sources have stagnated and are unable to converse with the world around us today. I believe in amplifying the beautiful solutions from our religion to confront the ugly realities of the climate around us. The Deen is rich and beautiful. The Seerah is an incredible guide to everything in life. Through Yaqeen Institute, I had the blessing of doing the 40 on justice series that spanned for over a year and a half where I hoped to articulate a Sunnah-lens to the issues around us. My goal is to now develop that into a book. I believe the person and message of the Prophet (saw) speaks to us as clearly now as it did in the year 620, and that everything we do should be in accordance with it.

There can be reasonable debate about the Sunnah and how it’s lived in certain aspects around us. Some use Hudaybiya to justify every form of engagement and say things like, “if the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) were alive, he would do this.” I don’t want to project anything on the Prophet (saw). My attempt is to draw from his Sunnah, not legitimize my shahawat. There are areas where the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) showed compromise, but he never lost clarity. While the treaty of Hudaybiya had to omit “Al Rahman Al Raheem” from the name of Allah, and “RasulAllah” from the name of Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), none of the companions were confused about their realities.

The legitimate debates around how to truly implement the Sunnah today largely emanate from what aspects of the Prophetic call are it’s defining features, and what our priorities and timelines, political or otherwise, should be. Tawheed is the foundation and primary basis for it all. As for what aspects of the call are defining features, the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) was sent us a mercy to the worlds, defined his mission as perfection of character, said that Allah loves gentleness in all of His affairs, and was revolutionary in his compassion to everything around him. That doesn’t mean he didn’t at times get angry or use power to eliminate evil. He was not limited by his mercy, but always enhanced by it.

As for priorities and timelines, even the companions frequently differed. There are examples from the life of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), and after. During Hudaybiya, Ali (ra) did not want to erase from the treaty what the Quraysh wanted him to. Omar raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) wanted to proceed forth to Makkah that very moment. The companions found themselves unwilling to accept that they would have to turn back. Abu Bakr raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) saw things the way the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) saw them. Umm Salama raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) advised the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) in those difficult times how to get everyone on the same page despite those strong feelings.

The debates about this were deep in many aspects of Fiqh (jurisprudence) after the death of the Prophet (saw), none so more than regarding political issues. We know the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) taught us to seek both justice and stability. But at what point and at what cost is it permissible to challenge the power structure? No one was ambiguous about tyranny, but they differed greatly as to how to challenge it. In the first massive fitna to engulf the community, the painful debate over the assassination of Uthman  put Ali raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) on the defensive about whether or not he was interested in pursuing his killers in the first place. He was of course, but believed in stabilizing the Khilafa before pursuing the assassins to not cause more bloodshed. When Omar Ibn AbdulAzeez (ra) who pushed legendary reforms in his 2 year Khilafa was questioned by his son about some of the things he wasn’t pursuing, he responded, “Oh my son, do you want me to try to compel them upon the religion all at once, so that they abandon it all at once?”

My work politically revolves around eliminating suffering, domestically and abroad. This shapes how I view militarism, poverty, policing, mass incarceration, environmental issues, healthcare, immigration, and torture. The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “find me amongst the oppressed. Are you given aid and support by Allah except by how you treat your most vulnerable?” I believe that we as Muslims, especially those who claim orthodoxy, should assert ourselves in these areas. This doesn’t mean that I think this is the only area in which Muslims should be active. Different people should work in different areas of good, and not undermine one another. Good efforts should be complementary to each other. My background suits this particular role. I grew up with deeply humanitarian parents, worked as a field coordinator in disaster relief, and feel strongly moved towards these causes. While most came to know me through Islamic lectures, I have never not been involved in these things. Fighting exploitation and oppression are part and parcel of our religious identity. Not only should Muslims be present in these areas, they should be leading the way. And that’s not because it’s good political strategy or public relations, but because it’s scriptural imperative.

I’m also concerned with Religious Freedom and think we should assert our right as a Muslim community, as should other communities, to live out our faith unhindered, and our institutions un-harassed. Conservatives tend to leave Muslims out in their calls and lace them with other forms of bigotry we can’t stomach, and liberals often alienate religious communities like Orthodox Jews, Black Churches, Muslims, etc. while claiming to be for pluralism and inclusivity.

I cannot in good conscience support anything that is opposed to the Sunnah, even as a matter of political expediency. I believe in working together with communities on things we agree upon, and learning to respectfully coexist with things we don’t agree upon. On such affairs, I maintain political neutrality with religious clarity and relationship building that allows us to have these hard discussions as human beings seeking to reduce societal tension and promote the common good. I use multi-faith work as a blueprint for this. If people can harmoniously coexist despite strong beliefs about God, purpose, salvation, and scripture, surely they can learn to coexist on political issues that are of far lesser consequence to them in their worldviews. 

All of this warrants discussion on priorities, pragmatism, gradualism, and political programs. As Muslims, we should have vibrant disagreements that start off with: 1. What Allah and the Messenger ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) deem as good is good, and what they deem as bad is bad. 2. People can disagree on how to apply those realities to the world around us without obscuring the lawful and the prohibited. 3. People should maintain good assumptions about one another and not accuse their intentions when they disagree. 

At the end of the day, these are largely areas of Ijtihad and we’re all on the same team.

Pictures and Associations

I rarely request anyone to take pictures with me, but I never turn them down. I have my reasons for that. It is primarily a personal decision I formed after going to the funeral of Muhammad Ali (may Allah have mercy on him) in Louisville. I was deeply moved by how everyone from the shuttle driver, to the hotel clerk, to the gas station employees, etc. had a story about meeting him. He never turned down a request, and that meant something to people. My colleagues and I differ on this issue. On one hand, we don’t want to feed celebrity culture. On the other hand, we don’t want to disappoint, hurt, or leave people feeling slighted. This is where I’m at on this, and I don’t think I have it in me to say no to someone who asks for a picture. 

My “associations” are widespread because I engage numerous spaces. I get invited to conferences and campuses, mosques and festivals. Anywhere I go, I try to be courteous to people and that should not mean an endorsement of all that they do or stand for. I do not believe appearing in a picture with someone or in a common space is me promoting them, or even them promoting me. 

Guilt by association is the most deceitful way of targeting someone. It’s what the Khawarij do. It’s also what Islamophobes have been doing to take down every Muslim leader in the community since 9/11. They draw the association as wide as possible, then associate you with every position through that association making it impossible to defend yourself.

My positions are only the ones I actually espouse.

Platforms and Panels

As for platforms and panels, I typically will not turn them down unless I feel like the platform itself is so biased that I won’t be able to speak my mind, or there is no value in my opinion even if I’m allowed to speak it. Most recently I sat on a panel at the Texas Tribune Festival on religious freedom with Sr. Asma Uddin from the Freedom Forum Institute, and staunch republicans like Rep. Matt Krause and Kevin Roberts, the Executive Director of the Texas Public Policy Foundation. I’m in dialogue at an event early next year with the most prominent evangelical preacher in the country. I often share the stage with staunch liberals who agree with me on issues of militarism, torture, policing, and immigration, but are quite hostile to religion. I try to do right by my part on panels regardless of who else is serving on it. The only time I would participate in a public boycott of a panel or platform is if it’s a collective push to purge someone who has just taken a position or done something that would inherently tarnish the panel or platform. I did this, for example, in the wake of the Rabaa’ massacre with scholars who legitimized it. When I’m invited to a highly partisan place like the Texas Democratic Convention, I try to be very specific with my subject matter (where I spoke about children victimized by policy here and abroad, and brought up Gitmo and Abu Ghraib).

How Do I Choose Whether or Not to Accept an Invitation

Istikhara (prayer) and Istishara (consultation). I have turned down many high profile events because I thought my presence would be tokenizing and unsubstantial. With my invocation in Congress, I literally forwarded the invite to my teacher and asked him whether or not I should do it. He advised me to go forward and give an invocation that would leave people thinking. I hope that was achieved even though I must admit I wasn’t expecting the flurry of attacks afterwards. Imam Siraj traces the beginning of the avalanche of hate against him to his invocation in congress, but ihad hoped that all the relationships I had built would ward off some of that.

Most of my invites are not so confusing, but some of them are. Have I regretted accepting certain invites? Yes. But I don’t lament too much over them so long as I did proper Istikhara and Istishara.

Demonstrations, Coalitions, and Alliances

In our tribal politics in America, platforms are wide and coalitions are narrow. I believe in the exact opposite. I believe we should have specific issues that we determine important and meaningful, and form broad coalitions around those specific issues. This way the work is focused, the ally-ship is clear, and the advocacy is unproblematic. When it’s a bunch of people working on a small set of issues, the issues dominate the conversation as opposed to who is at the table. It’s about what we’re at the table for. 

So if we’re going to organize a march on the border, against ICE deportations, or against police brutality, I don’t care who else is coming to march or where they stand on other issues. This to me was the essence of Hilf Al Fudul. The tribes came together for one purpose of supporting those who were exploited because they didn’t have the protection of belonging to powerful classes, and the Prophet (saw) said he would take that pledge in jahiliya or Islam.

Partisan Politics

I don’t believe in uncritically adopting a platform, or letting a party take advantage of our vulnerability. We need to challenge Democrats just as strongly as we do Republicans, while remaining independent and principled. We have a right to an agenda like any other community. Politicians should have to work for our vote, and we shouldn’t shy away from where we differ with candidates even when we vote for them.

You can read my article on voting here in which I lay out those principles.

As a side note on endorsements, I’ve only endorsed 2 candidates in my life, one a Muslim candidate for city council and another a candidate for county chair. With the Beto campaign against Ted Cruz last year, who I believe is the most dangerous man in the Senate for various reasons, I particularly reached out to the campaign to clarify some concerns about the criminalizing of BDS. I applauded him for taking the time to meet me and clarify those concerns. With the recent news on his  comments on revoking the tax-exempt status of religious institutions, I once again reached out to those who I know from the campaign to register the community’s disapproval and was able to have a fruitful conversation about it. And no, I’m not endorsing him or any candidate for president right now.

Left vs Right

I wrote an article in the Dallas Morning News about transcending the left/right divide. In it, I said, “Most of the religious presence in our political discourse seems to be superficial with the religious left and the religious right often simply representing nothing more than the political left and the political right with collars.”

I believe Muslims should be engaging well-meaning people on different issues from different backgrounds. While the political right may have taken on an overtly Islamophobic posture, there are conservative religious groups that may be willing to work with us and dialogue on issues of mutual concern. I welcome that 

We need to be a part of constructing the moral center in America instead of waiting for it to happen without our input whether its on domestic or foreign policy. We don’t have to adopt anyone else’s blind spots. We can talk about the child from Guatemala and the child from Gaza. We can talk about the sanctity of the child in the womb, and the sanctity of the child in the cage. We can talk about Gitmo and Abu Ghraib abroad, and our own mass incarceration systems at home. If some Republicans are the only ones willing to speak about the Muslim Uighurs in the name of religious freedom, we can work with them on that.

Not everyone has to work in all of these spaces simultaneously, but we should appreciate those who do so long as they don’t forsake their principles in the process.

On Engaging Government

This is a hard one so I’ll break it down into a few things:

  1. Local, State, Federal

I strongly believe in the idea of most politics being local, and that Muslims need to have a strong presence in city and state government. My invitation to Congress was due to my local work with Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson who has been an incredible ally to our community. I think it gets trickier at the federal level. I’ve personally never been inside the White House under any administration for an Iftar or otherwise, but I don’t fault all who have. I know some who have tried very hard to do right in those tricky spaces. I was invited to the last Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom at the State Department and declined. I think this is the trickiest space of them all, and wish those who engage it well. My hope is that anyone who does engage it raise our issues and make it clear to the community that they are doing so. I have never participated in CVE work, nor has Yaqeen ever taken CVE money, and I am opposed to it as a framework due to how it’s used exclusively against the Muslim community.

I differentiate between patriotism and nationalism and believe that our government should be held accountable for its violation of human rights like any other government. And war crimes have spanned administrations of both parties for a very long time.

  1. Foreign Governments

I am particularly skeptical of many Muslim governments considering the role that installed dictators and despots have played in suppressing the Muslim community worldwide. They have been the greatest violators of our rights, and the most shameful purveyors of Islamophobia as evidenced by the support given to China’s genocide of the Uyghurs. I don’t think it’s impossible to work with foreign leaders on specific issues, but that it requires crystal clear clarity from those who do on the issues those governments are criminally implicated. Granting religious legitimacy to tyrants who have themselves harmed or enabled harm towards the global community is incredibly dangerous. And it is important to not become co-opted by the lesser aggressors from the Muslim world. While some foreign leaders do better than others on certain issues, they will consistently disappoint on others. None of them should be able to buy the silence of the American Muslim community.

On Muslim Politicians

No politician, Muslim or otherwise, deserves our uncritical support for their political positions. Every Muslim, politician or otherwise, deserves our dua for their guidance and wellbeing. 

This is a tricky reality to navigate. When they take bold political positions, they should be qualifiedly praised specifically for those actions. When they do things that are problematic, they should be measuredly criticized specifically for those actions. We should want them to do well, and want well for them. As politicians, they naturally make decisions that they have to be accountable to the public for. As brothers and sisters, we should pray for them to make the right decisions and be enabled with and for the truth. As a community, we can’t put it on them to save the Deen. There will be more politicians that will come up in coming years, and our Dawah needs to continue independent of them while reminding them with good manners, supporting them with Dua and Naseeha, and politically engaging them like any other politician.

 

“Donate your reputation to Allah.” by Imam @OmarSuleiman504 Click To Tweet

Callouts

I will not engage mudslinging or callouts personally, even when they’re against me. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen something that I could easily respond to with one line. But Allah is sufficient for me, and He is the best disposer of all matters. I would hope people can see through unfair attacks. And even when they can’t, I trust that Allah will make the best of the situation and I’d rather not take the community on a ride. Through one of these particular episodes, my teacher and friend told me, “Donate your reputation to Allah.” That stuck with me. If I’m doing what I’m doing for His sake, I shouldn’t be too bothered when other than Him deals with me uncharitably. If I am, I need to work harder on my own intentions.

As for others, I will not use social media to put people on blast. I discuss concepts, not people. Now two fair questions arise from this:

  1.  Can one assume that because I’ve supported people by name in certain contexts, but not criticized them by name, that I support all of their positions? I understand why people could derive that conclusion, and it’s not something I’ve particularly figured out. I don’t think ambiguous cheap shots are the solution either. I personally don’t burn bridges with people in fear of wronging them, and in hopes that I can still advise them. I feel like that’s the best I can do. I hope that people can appreciate that approach not as the only approach, but as an approach.

The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) used to employ the language of “what is it with a people that do such and such” (ما بال أقوام يفعلون كذا وكذا ) without actually naming the person in several narrations. This could be seen by some as passive-aggressive, but it’s about clarifying the concept and not focusing on the individual. I typically will try to employ this approach, and will sometimes fall short of it.

  1. Should there not be those who explicitly address wrongdoings, fairly hold leaders accountable, and ask important questions? There absolutely should be, but with good character and fair critique. We can’t adopt the tactics of Islamophobes against our own community. Half-truths, guilt by association, casting aspersions on character, etc. are grievous sins. They also take away from the legitimate critiques. Unfortunately, social media seems so drenched in toxicity that it seems impossible to discuss things with balance. With that being said, we need more forums to have important conversations and I can’t blame people in the meantime for feeling left out of those conversations and confused. As a rule of thumb, try to keep things depersonalized and to the issues. And when you have to say something critical of your brother or sister, try to say something about their good as well. 

What is considered public vs. private

There seems to be this prevailing idea that if it isn’t posted or tweeted, it’s not public. I try to be open in discussion with brothers and sisters when they meet face to face and am much more willing to discuss sensitive issues then. I don’t know of any basis in the Sunnah that would suggest social media is the only way to have a public position. I don’t mind being quoted in what I say in my halaqas or public settings, but simply don’t prefer to engage in certain discussions on social media.

Yaqeen’s direction and funding 

I am not Yaqeen. My political activism is not Yaqeen. I serve as the President of the organization with one vote on the board. I am blessed to work with an incredible team of over 60 people and growing that believe in the mission of the organization to foster a strong viable Islamic identity that preserves the religion in the hearts of our future generations, takes back the narrative from Islamophobes of all sorts, and demonstrates a path forward that doesn’t depart from our divine sources. Some of the writers are my teachers. Others come from entirely different backgrounds. I contribute a tiny fraction of papers myself, but am fulltime in my role as the President of the organization. Yaqeen set out to be as encompassing as possible of Muslim scholars and academics that believe in commitment to the religion, and contributing to the world through it. I believe strongly in institutions that are bigger than personalities, and that is the culture we try to foster from within.

As for our methodology, we have a course and a paper out soon from our scholars which should clarify further what we view as valid means of interpretation, and valid opinions. We try to do extensive peer review and allow opinions to be published within the fold of Islamic acceptability. 

We have extended our hands to Muslim organizations around the country and world to partner in good, and never charge a dime for our content. And for the sake of maintaining independence and integrity, Yaqeen has never taken money from any government entity or foundation that espouses ideas that would delegitimize it. Al hamdulila, all of it is through generous private donors that have found benefit from our content and I’m grateful to each of them for it.

Mistakes

Let me start with the personal. Anyone that serves as an Imam, activist, or representative of the community will be put in awkward situations frequently. Part of growth is learning from those mistakes and being wiser in future situations. I will still inevitably be put in compromising situations and pray that Allah guides me to deal with them with wisdom and rightful guidance. I will continue to listen to people who lovingly point those mistakes out to me in hopes that I do better in the future. May Allah reward them all. And I will take the best of unforgiving critiques and try to still benefit from them. May Allah reward them also if they’re done in sincerity, and forgive them if done for other reasons.

As for the communal, we haven’t figured out a way to host reasonable disagreements that involve various segments of the community. Yaqeen is meant to be a platform to foster some of that within our scopes of research, and some sites like Muslim Matters have also sought to be that when issues of concern arise. Over the past few years, I’ve had the blessing of being a part of an annual retreat that brings together various Islamic scholars of different backgrounds to foster unity amongst ourselves and create space for critical conversation. Sadly there are too many other divisions that exist in the community though to be remedied through that particular space. I think the community has felt locked out of certain discussions, and I can’t blame them for feeling that way. 

Solutions

Clarity. People like myself who are involved in multiple worlds need to not leave the community out of our thinking and articulate our frameworks better. I own that, as I have made many assumptions about what the community did or didn’t think about my positions.

Spaces. I’ve been blessed to be a part of forming some wonderful onsite spaces and forums where we have had some of these difficult conversations. I want to be a part of forming some of these spaces online with the realistic expectation that they will never equal the blessing of sitting with one another. I hope our community invests in more retreats where scholars of different backgrounds, activists, etc. can come together and discuss tough things, and then produce their findings. 

The Rope of Allah

Allah tells us to hold firm to the rope of Allah. The rope isn’t a political idea or opinion, it’s divine revelation. We are bonded by it and should honor that bond. We can disagree with each other and still love each other. We can debate ideas intelligently without descending into tactics unbefitting of the ummah of the Prophet (saw). We should be just with one another and not use the ways of our enemies against each other. I’m sure not everyone agrees with my framework above, and I may also change some of my opinions as time goes on. I pray that none of it ever swerves from what is established through the divine sources, or into anything divisive, hateful, or unjust.

The Quran speaks of justice, unity, and accountability. Those themes are not contradictory in Allah’s book, nor do they have to be in our lives. The Sunnah manifests that in a way that we can all learn how to conduct ourselves. This doesn’t mean we excuse everything in the name of Adab, it means we use Adab even when holding people accountable.

I end with this: Yunus al-Sadafi reported: I have not seen anyone wiser than Al-Shafi’i, may Allah be pleased with him. I debated him one day over an issue, and then we separated. He later met me and took my hand, then he said, “O Abu Musa, can we not continue to be brothers, even if we disagree on an issue?”

May Allah keep us united upon good, faithful to Him always, carriers of His Prophet’s way, and beneficial to the entirety of humanity. May He forgive us for our shortcomings, guide us to the straight path, and remove from us all that displeases Him in our worship and work.

اللَّهُمَّ إِنِّي أَعُوذُ بِكَ أَنْ أَضِلَّ أَوْ أُضَلَّ أَوْ أَزِلَّ أَوْ أُزَلَّ أَوْ أَظْلِمَ أَوْ أُظْلَمَ أَوْ أَجْهَلَ أَوْ يُجْهَلَ عَلَىَّ

O Allah, I seek refuge with You from going astray or stumbling, from wronging others or being wronged, and from behaving or being treated in an ignorant manner.

Read: Our Brothers Who have Transgressed Against Us | Imam Omar Suleiman

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Prayers Beyond Borders Offers Hope to Separated Families

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border wall in tijuana

On the border of San Diego, California and Tijuana, Mexico, several families live their lives torn apart—they were born on the wrong side of a wall. Now, faith groups are joining together to give them hope through prayer. Since the Mexican-American War in 1848, the boundary that divided the two countries transformed from an imaginary line, to a monument, to a simple barb-wire fence where people on either side could meet, greet, hold hands, or exchange a warm smile, to a heavily monitored steel wall stretching across almost 15 miles between San Diego and Tijuana. 

In recent years, crime, drug trafficking, an influx of undocumented workers, and increasingly white nationalism created stricter immigration policies in the U.S., directly impacting those who live straddling both sides of the border. Included in these are families whose loved ones have been deported – parents, spouses, children, and other relatives – to Mexico, undocumented workers providing for their families, and relatives who have not made physical contact with each other in years, sometimes decades. They gather along the steel mesh barriers of the border wall at Friendship Park to touch each other’s fingertips and pray.

The documentary, “A Prayer Beyond Borders,” produced by CAIR California, MoveOn, and Beyond Borders Studios captured some of these emotive moments during a Sunday prayer service held by the Border Church in partnership with the Border Mosque. Christians and Muslims came together in solidarity at Friendship Park on September 30, 2019, and held a joint bilingual ceremony, led by Reverend John Fanestil, Pastor Guillermo Navarrete, Imam Taha Hassane, and Imam Wesley Lebrón.

Imam Lebrón, National Hispanic Outreach Coordinator for WhyIslam, witnessed the nightmare families separated at the border endure when he was invited to participate in this first meeting of the Border Church and Border Mosque. As a Puerto Rican, U.S. born citizen who never experienced the hardships of immigration, he was moved by what he witnessed. He said, 

“I entered Mexico and reached the border at Friendship Park and immediately noticed families speaking to each other through the tiny spaces of an enormous metal wall. They were not able to touch except for their fingers, which I later learned was the way they kissed each other.”

He described families discussing legal matters and children crying because they could not embrace a parent who traveled for days only to speak to them briefly behind the cold steel mesh partition. 

“Walls are meant to provide refuge and safety from the elements and they are not meant to prevent human beings from having a better life,” he explained, “As I stood behind that wall, I felt hopeless, angry, and had many other mixed emotions for our Mexican brethren who have been completely stripped of the opportunities many of us take for granted.” During the service he addressed the crowd gathered on the Mexican side of Friendship Park and recited the Adhan, the Muslim call to prayer. It was the first time the call was heard in Friendship Park, but not the last. 

The Border Church and Border Mosque will continue to provide a joint service on the last Sunday of every month and are calling for a binational day of prayer on Sunday, October 27th. They will be joined by Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and indigenous spiritual leaders to “Pray Beyond Borders.” The event will be filmed and possibly live-streamed to a global audience with the objective of raising awareness and requesting financial support to address issues related to family separation in the region. 

On October 7th CAIR California with MoveOn, Faith in Action, MPower Change, and a social media team and distribution partners released the film “A Prayer Beyond Borders,” With the digital launch of this film in English and Spanish they wish to reach millions of viewers in telling the story of the Border Church and the Border Mosque and bring more faith leaders and activists on board to protect families’ right to gather. Please join them at Pray Beyond Borders – A Binational Day of Prayer – Sunday, October 27th at Friendship Park. 

when the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears and delivers them out of all their troubles(Psalm 34:17 – NIV).

“And seek help through patience and prayer, and indeed, it is difficult except for the humbly submissive [to Allah ]” (Qur’an 2:45)

Photo by Max Böhme on Unsplash

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Zahra Billoo Responds To The Women’s March Inc. Voting Her Off The New Board

Zahra Billoo

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Women's March Board

Earlier tonight, I was voted off the Women’s March, Inc. national board. This followed an Islamophobic smear campaign led by the usual antagonists, who have long targeted me, my colleagues, and anyone else who dares speak out in support of Palestinian human rights and the right to self-determination.

The past 48 hours have been a spiral of bad news and smear efforts. Part of the smear campaign is motivated by opponents of the Women’s March, because the organization has traditionally challenged the status quo of power and white supremacy in our country. However, much of the campaign is driven by people who oppose me and my work challenging the occupation of Palestine, our country’s perpetuation of unjust and endless wars, and law enforcement operations targeting the American Muslim community.

The Women’s March, Inc. is an organization I once held dear. I spoke at the first march, spoke at regional marches every year after, spoke at the convention, participated in national actions including the original Kavanaugh protests, and worked to mobilize Muslim women for their efforts.

During the past few years right-wingers, from the President’s son to the Anti-Defamation League and troll armies, have targeted the Women’s March, Inc. For so long, I’ve admired their resilience in speaking truth to power, in working together, and in never cowering. Over and over again, the co-founders of Women’s March, Inc. put their lives on the line, winning power for all women in all of our diversity. The Women’s March, Inc. that voted me off its board tonight is one that no longer demonstrates the strength that inspired millions of women across the country.

To see and experience its new leaders caving to right-wing pressure, and casting aside a woman of color, a Muslim woman, a long-time advocate within the organization, without the willingness to make any efforts to learn and grow, breaks my heart. This isn’t about a lost seat, there will be many seats. The Women’s March, Inc. has drawn a line in the sand, one that will exclude many with my lived experiences and critiques. It has effectively said, we will work on some women’s rights at the expense of others.

To be clear, anti-semitism is indeed a growing and dangerous problem in our country, as is anti-Blackness, anti-immigrant sentiment, Islamophobia, ableism, sexism, and so much more. I condemn any form of bigotry unequivocally, but I also refuse to be silent as allegations of bigotry are weaponized against the most marginalized people, those who find sanctuary and hope in the articulation of truth.

In looking at the tweets in question, I acknowledge that I wrote passionately. While I may have phrased some of my content differently today, I stand by my words. I told the truth as my community and I have lived it, through the FBI’s targeting of my community, as I supported families who have lost loved ones because of US military actions, and as I learned from the horrific experiences of Palestinian life.

In attempting to heal and build in an expedited manner within Women’s March, Inc., I offered to meet with stakeholders to address their concerns and to work with my sisters on the new board to learn, heal, and build together. These efforts were rejected. And in rejecting these efforts, the new Women’s March, Inc. demonstrated that they lack the courage to exhibit allyship in the face of fire.

I came to Women’s March, Inc. to work. My body of work has included leading a chapter of the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights organization for over a decade, growing it now more than six-fold. In my tenure, I have led the team that forced Abercrombie to change its discriminatory employment policies, have been arrested advocating for DACA, partnered with Jewish organizations including Bend the Arc and Jewish Voice for Peace to fight to protect our communities, and was one of the first lawyers to sue the President.

It is not my first time being the target of a smear campaign. The Women’s March, Inc., more than any place, is where I would have expected us to be able to have courageous conversations and dive deep into relationship-building work.

I am happy to have as many conversations as it takes to listen and learn and heal, but I will no longer be able to do that through Women’s March, Inc. This action today demonstrates that this organization’s new leadership is unable to be an ally during challenging times.

My beliefs drive my work, and I am not seeking accolades or positions of power. These past few days have been the greatest test of that. My integrity, my truth, and my strength comes from God and a place of deep conviction. I will continue my work as a civil rights lawyer and a faith-based activist, speaking out against the occupation of Palestine and settler-colonialism everywhere, challenging Islamophobia and all forms of racism and bigotry in the United States, and building with my community and our allies in our quest to be our most authentic and liberated selves.

Onward, God willing.

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