The Kuwaiti shaykh who told me a story
If you meet Shaykh Fayiz, you’d be mesmerized by his kindness and knowledge – and might even forget that he spent 14 years in Guantanamo. In this episode, Moazzam Begg shares a heartfelt lesson on the true meaning of worship he learnt from Shaykh Fayiz. A fitting and inspiring story for the blessed month of Dhul Hijjah.
[As part of the MuslimMatters x CAGE Dhul Hijjah Activism Drive: Close Guantanamo, we bring you a series, Guantanamo Memories, of stories from behind bars]
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We had the privilege of having Fayiz al-Kandari addressing CAGE’s supporters gathered at our annual iftar.
Fayiz is originally Kuwaiti and spent 14 Ramadans in Guantanamo.
In Guantanamo, he was known as “Shaykh Fayiz” because of his keen pursuit of Islamic knowledge and his beautiful way of preaching.
If you were to meet him for the first time, you would never think he had been released from one of the worst prisons in the world just a year and a half previously. His warmth, his positive spirit and his gentle way of talking about Islam are not only unchanged, they seem to have increased through these 14 years of tests.
I will never forget the words he said to me when I briefly met him in Kandahar prison – where we had been brutalized by the US military.
الفرج قريب; Deliverance is close.
He was right. My deliverance took only three years but he had to wait fourteen years.
During our iftar, he shared a personal story of an incident that happened in Guantanamo during Ramadan.
But this story wasn’t just to pass the time, it was to make us reflect on something deeper. This is something that learned Arabs often do to convey a lesson in a gentle way. Allah Himself, the One who cannot be compared to anything else, does this in the Quran. He relates to us the most beautiful stories in order to teach us.
A guard once said to Fayiz: “You are very strong”. Fayiz said: ”No, we are humans. We are tired sometimes. We feel weak sometimes… We are humans… But there is something that keeps us strong.”
The soldier interrupted him and said: “I know… it’s the Quran”.
This guard knew it because he had witnessed the impact of the Quran on all of us.
One guard came to Fayiz and asked: “How do you endure fasting in these terrible circumstances?” He responded: “How do you endure not fasting in these terrible circumstances? This is the correct question.”
Fayiz concluded: “I learnt in Guantanamo that worshipping Allah is not a burden on us. On the contrary! It relieves us from the stress of this life. “We derive patience and love from worshiping Allah . “It assists us to change our community for the better, and not be changed by our community for the worse.”
Fayiz’s US military lawyers were convinced of his innocence and fought to get him released.
In the picture above I’m with Lt. Commander Bogucki and Col. Barry Winguard discussing the case of Fayiz al Kandari on Islam Channel’s Absent Justice. I campaigned alongside them to make sure his case wasn’t forgotten.
In 2016, he was released and returned home with no charges against him. He continues to teach people wisdom through his beautiful stories.