Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Qisaas means 'narrations', and in these narrations is life.

Following the atrocious slaughter of over 140 people, most of them children, in a school in Peshawar Pakistan, people were understandably angry, and the public of Pakistan called for a resumption of the death penalty. The terrorists who committed the attack had already been killed, but that wasn't enough to satisfy people's anger, so the execution of others on death row began again.

Whilst I understand the anger, I am firmly against the death penalty, in all circumstances, and I found the mass rage disturbing, since anger clouds the vision, and I fear what comes next as people and governments rush to act whilst still in a state of anger. Just today I learn that Pakistan now intends to execute 500 prisoners, and one of them that was due to be executed today (23rd Dec) has been on death row for nearly 11 years now, after being tortured into a confession at the age of just 14.

A never ending cycle of revenge attacks results in ever increasing bloodshed, but how can one call for reconciliation after such a crime? After spending some time in prayer, searching for some answers, I happened to come across a beautiful Arabic inscription from a museum, which caught my eye. On closer inspection I learnt that it read
"My intercession is for those of my community who have committed great sins."

http://www.brooklynmuseum.org/opencollection/objects/120807/Panel_with_Quranic_Phrase#
For me it was the answer to my prayer. The best thing to do at such a time of anger, is to pray for those who sinned. I tweeted the image and was overcome with emotion when someone explained to me that these were actually the words of the Prophet Muhammad pbuh, narrated in a number of Hadith classed as "Sahih" (authentic).

It was then that I had someone tweet me a photo of one of the grieving mothers in Peshawar, with the message "she is calling for qisas", in addition to being sent extracts from translations of the Quran to apparently justify the call for the death penalty, which prompted me to write this response, in defence for the value of mercy.

Google 'Qisas' and the first thing you will find is the Wikipedia definition:
'Qiṣāṣ'  is an Islamic term meaning equal "retaliation" or revenge'.

But does it really? After much research and prayer regarding this matter, I am now certain that the verses in the Quran using the word ''Qiṣāṣ' (pronounced qisaas) were misunderstood, due to the misinterpretation of 'qiṣāṣ' as 'retribution', and this has resulted in a clouding over of the message of mercy that these verses were to reveal.

These are my findings (sorry this involves explaining a little Arabic grammar, I'll try and keep this simple!):

The word 'qiṣāṣ' is derived from the triliteral root qāf ṣād ṣād (ص ص ق). Words derived from this same route, according to the The Quranic Arabic Corpus project, appear in 30 instances in the Quran. You can see the list here:

http://corpus.quran.com/qurandictionary.jsp?q=qSS#%282:194:6%29

In 24 of these instances they have been translated with the core meaning 'narration'/'to narrate', on 2 occasions they are interpreted as words deriving from the meaning 'follow'. In only 4 instances have these words been translated as 'retribution', but after my research I conclude that they should have all been translated as words related to 'narration'.

In all the 26 instances not related to retribution, the main body of the words sound like 'qasas' for the nouns and verbs in the perfect tense, and 'qussu' for verbs in the imperfect tense. However, in the 4 instances where the meaning 'retribution' is implied, they sound like 'qisaas'. Actually when written in Arabic, all the letters in the bodies of the words remain the same, which is that of the  trilateral root, it is only the vowels that differ, which are determined by marks above and below the words.

Some people argue that the words with the 'qisaas' sounds that are translated as 'retribution' are clearly different words from the 'qasas'/'qussu' words that have been translated as 'narration' or 'follow', hence the different meaning. Some people say that the word 'retribution' is derived from the word 'follow' since it is about following up the person who committed the crime and getting them to pay for their wrong. I read one argument that said the word literally means 'likeness', because you are getting the perpetrator to pay 'like for like'. Other people say that the word is related to 'cut off', as in cutting off a hand or a foot, since 'qas' means 'to cut'. None of these arguments makes a lot of sense, considering this:

" And We have not sent you, [O Muhammad], except as a mercy to the worlds." Quran 2:107

In addition, not only does the use of the word qisaas as retribution not fit in within the context of the message of mercy which the Prophet Muhammad pbuh was sent to bring, it also doesn't fit in with the clear message of mercy sent by the Prophet Isa/Jesus, who said regarding 'eye for eye' to 'turn the other cheek', 'love your enemies' and 'pray for those that persecute you'.

Let us recall some of these Quranic versus (which are just a few of those promoting the message of mercy and also confirmation of what was sent before):

"He has sent down upon you, [O Muhammad], the Book in truth, confirming what was before it. And He revealed the Torah and the Gospel before, as guidance for the people." HQ 3:3-4

"There was certainly in their stories a lesson for those of understanding. Never was the Qur'an a narration invented, but a confirmation of what was before it and a detailed explanation of all things and guidance and mercy for a people who believe." HQ 12.111

It is my conviction that the 4 instances of 'qisaas' that have been translated as 'retribution' should have been translated in accordance with the other instances, as 'narrations'. The only reasons that qisaas has different vowels from the 'qasas' instances is because qisaas is plural of qasas, following one of the common patterns to be found in Arabic 'broken plurals', which involves a change of vowel pattern.

For example:

mountain (singular) = jabal
mountain (plural) = jibaal

In the same way:

narration (singular) = qasas
narration (plural) = qisaas

An example where the word qisaas has been used as the plural for narrations, outside of the Quran, is in the term 'Qisaas Al-Anbiya' which means 'Stories of the Prophets' http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qisas_Al-Anbiya

I could find no example of the word 'qisaas' being used to mean 'retribution' outside of the Quran, except in reference to what was written in the Quran.

With the Quranic Arabic Corpus's 'Word by Word' facility it is now easy for even those with limited Arabic understanding to get a much clearer idea of the verses in their original form. http://corpus.quran.com/wordbyword.jsp

Below I list the four exceptions in the Quran where the word 'qisaas' had been translated as 'retribution', following which I have written my suggestions on alternative translations using the word 'narrations' instead (as well as some other differences that I feel are worthy of consideration).

For each verse I have written a translation as close as I could to the original wording, which can  sound a little awkward in English, but which allows room for individual interpretation, as I think it should. This is one of the beautiful things I have found in the Quran - its texts can mean different things to different people at different times - just so long as the spirit in which it is read is good, then what we come to understand will also be good. I find I'm constantly refining what I understand, so even after writing I may come back and amend what I have written here, and I welcome suggestions of refinement from those people of knowledge.

 

Instances 1 + 2 of Qisaas translated as 'retribution'

(I have underlined the 'qisaas' words in question.)

Translation from Sahih International:
"O you who have believed, prescribed for you is legal retribution for those murdered - the free for the free, the slave for the slave, and the female for the female. But whoever overlooks from his brother anything, then there should be a suitable follow-up and payment to him with good conduct. This is an alleviation from your Lord and a mercy. But whoever transgresses after that will have a painful punishment. And there is for you in legal retribution [saving of] life, O you [people] of understanding, that you may become righteous." HQ 2:178-179

For other translations see http://corpus.quran.com/translation.jsp?chapter=2&verse=178

My translation:
"O you who have been faithful, prescribed (written) over you were the narrations regarding killing: the free man for the free man, the slave for the slave, and the female for the female. Then whoever was forgiven by his brother for anything, then [there is] a following with fairness, and [there is] a returning to him with goodness. This is a lightening [of load] for you from your Lord and mercy. Then whoever transgresses after that, then for him is a painful torment. And for you in these narrations is life, oh men of understanding, so that you may become righteous."

It's actually far more beautiful in Arabic, and I encourage you to have a look at the original, word by word, as I did, and also to listen to the recitation which you can do here:

http://corpus.quran.com/wordbyword.jsp?chapter=2&verse=178#%282:178:1%2978#%282:178:1%29

The deeper meaning to this verse I feel is the wonder of life that is born out of forgiveness. The 'eye for an eye' narrative was brought to people through the Torah, to bring about the understanding of fairness - but it was also something that weighed heavy 'over' us, since in seeking retribution we do not fully understand mercy. Here God guides us towards mercy - hence a 'lightening', ie. a lifting of that which was written over us. When a perpetrator is offered forgiveness, what happens next is often remarkable: The  perpetrators frequently begin a truly good life, since they are so moved by the mercy they have been granted it brings them to a place of sincere repentance and a willingness to make up for the bad they have done.

There have been many instances where killers have met with the families of the people they have killed, and the families have offered forgiveness, and many of those forgiven have then gone on to put their efforts into good works to repair their damage.

Here are some wonderful stories of reconciliation following the Rwanda genocide:
http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/04/06/magazine/06-pieter-hugo-rwanda-portraits.html

This is the story of a lady whose father was killed by a bomb in a terrorist attack. She met with the man responsible after he was released from prison and now works with him on a reconciliation project for peace:
http://theforgivenessproject.com/stories/jo-berry-pat-magee-england/

Now imagine these perpetrators, having been granted such great mercy, later returning to sin and committing a similar crime again - I don't know of any such cases, but wouldn't they feel terrible with themselves? This, in my understanding, would be the most painful torment for them of all - their own conscience.

The National Commission on the Status of Women completed a report in 2006 for the government of Pakistan entitled ‘The Concept of Justice in Islam: Qisas And Diyst Law' http://www.ncsw.gov.pk/prod_images/pub/Report_Qisas_Diyat.pdf
On page14.b it states 'The Holy Qur’an has termed ‘Qisas,’ a ‘life’ for the humanity, as it is ordained that “in the law of equality there is (saving of) life to you, O, ye men of understanding; That ye may restrain yourselves.”'

But let me say without hesitation: There is no life in the death penalty, only death. And there is no mercy in the death penalty either - absolutely none. There is however new life in forgiveness. I say this before you and before God - and have pleaded my case in my prayers "God if you want me to punish someone with death, I refuse. And if you want to punish me for that, then go ahead, I won't do it, or support it, I can't, I just can't, and my conscience is clear."

Instance 3 of Qisaas interpreted as 'retribution' in the Holy Quran

Sahih International: [Fighting in] the sacred month is for [aggression committed in] the sacred month, and for [all] violations is legal retribution. So whoever has assaulted you, then assault him in the same way that he has assaulted you. HQ 2:194

My Translation: The sacred month is for the sacred month and The (Most) Sacred narrations. So whoever attacked you, then you can attack him in the same way that he attacked you.

You can check the word by word translation yourself here:  http://corpus.quran.com/wordbyword.jsp?chapter=2&verse=194#%282:194:6%29

This verse was in guidance over what to do when they were attacked in the holy period in which there was to be no fighting (ie. guidance regarding self defence). The word "ḥurum" was translated as "violations" when it should have taken on the meaing "sacred"(as it does elsewhere in the Quran). The emphasis here is on 'The Sacred' narrations, that is to say, this sacred month has been designated for those narrations which are of the most sacred - and perhaps this revelation on being able to fight back in self-defence during the sacred month was therefore emphasising in particular the importance of defending these revelations (certainly nothing to do with retribution).

Instance 4 of Qisaas interpreted as 'retribution' in the Holy Quran

Sahih International: And We ordained for them therein a life for a life, an eye for an eye, a nose for a nose, an ear for an ear, a tooth for a tooth, and for wounds is legal retribution. But whoever gives [up his right as] charity, it is an expiation for him. And whoever does not judge by what Allah has revealed – then it is those who are the wrongdoers. HQ 5:45

My Translation: And We wrote over them (prescribed) in it (in reference to the Torah - stated clearly in the previous verses): "the life for the life, and the eye for the eye, and the nose for the nose, and the ear for the ear, and the tooth for the tooth, and wounds" narrations. But whoever gives charity with it, then it is an atonement (smoothing over) for him. And whoever does not judge by what God has revealed, they are the wrongdoers.


The word by word translation can be found here: http://corpus.quran.com/wordbyword.jsp?chapter=5&verse=45#%285:45:16%29

I looked a long time at the grammar of these verses, and in this instance the word translated as 'is legal retribution' is clearly defined in the Quranic Arabic Corpus as the nominative (subject) of the phrase, which does not make sense. In my translation, the word 'qissaasun' which I have translated as 'narrations' is indeed the subject of the phrase. These verses clearly emphasise again that God brought mercy, and whoever does not judge with this message of mercy that has been revealed, they are in the wrong. It should also be noted that it states nothing about giving the families of the victim the authority to decide whether or not to permit mercy in judgement.

The next verses that follow this verse (I have not written them here) then go on to confirm that God gave Isa/Jesus the Injeel/Gospel as guidance and light. Now I understand that Muslims differ with Christians in regards to who Jesus was exactly, but there can be no dispute over his message of mercy - that would be contradictory of everything the Quran has to say about Jesus as well as mercy.

There are many accounts of great forgiveness in the Prophet Mohammed's life. One such account is that of the lady Hind, who was for so long full of hate for him and always wishing terrible things on him and the whole Muslim community. On the battlefield, she sent her slave to kill Hamza, who was Mohammed's foster brother and close friend. After he was killed, Hind, blinded by hatred, after previously losing some of her own family members who were at battle with the Muslims, is said to have then mutilated Hamza's body and ripped his heart out. Muhammad was devastated when he heard that Hamza had been killed and even more so when he saw his mutilated body. Can you imagine what Muhammad did to Hind and her slave later on when the Muslims came to (peacefully) conquer Mecca? He forgave them both. After that, he never had any further problem with either of them, in fact they both become devoted Muslims.

There are many more stories of forgiveness in The Prophet's life. Some of them are mentioned here: http://www.pbuh.us/prophetMuhammad.php?f=Ch_Forgiveness

There is a word for retribution in the Quran. That is 'intiqām'. After looking at the verses where this is used, I learnt that God is the master of retribution, not us.

Above all however, let us not forget, that He is The Most Merciful, something we are reminded of literally every time we recite the Quran.

You may also like to read this, another of my blog posts that discusses some interpretations of the Quran: The Quran Does Not Invoke Beheading.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Hijab and Me - why I don't wear a headscarf (at the moment)

I had a random thought today: I accepted Islam some 10 years ago and never once has another Muslim asked me to wear the headscarf. Not even once. Surprising no? Not that I would have been offended had someone asked - but they never did. Some none Muslims have asked me about it, which is fine too. But in a world where we are led to believe that Muslim women wear the headscarf because they are forced too, I'm pleasantly surprised regarding my own experience. The Muslims I have had the pleasure of meeting - online as well (and there have been many there) have I believe shown total respect for my choice and never judged me regarding my lack of head gear. (I should point out that I have had the odd dig from anonymous trolls but I don't really consider those real people, since they could be anyone I have no way of telling if they are really Muslims or people paid to stir up trouble and knock me off message).

Ammendment: just been asked why I don't wear it by @DawaGifts who requested a special mention to let you know he was the first Muslim to ask :-)

Surely some of you must be wondering though, why don't I wear it? I sometimes ponder over this question, in case anyone does ask me. The answer is quite complex, since there are several reasons, and it is difficult to determine which is the primary reason, but I think I have worked that out now, so decided to write a blog to explain, because this won't fit into a tweet.

First let me say that I think the headscarf looks beautiful. Really I love it! Whenever I see a sister wearing the headscarf I am often mesmerised by just how beautiful she looks in it. Also, I should point out, I wear the headscarf when I pray, if I visit a mosque, or if I visit a Muslim country. I do this because it feels right and as a sign of respect - I'm not here to draw attention to myself. Putting on a headscarf for prayer helps to bring me to a state of calm, it reminds me I am about to meet my Lord, and as I physically place it on my head I feel His peace enter my body and soul. On a recent trip abroad to a Muslim country my hosts explained to me that there was no obligation to wear a headscarf, that many women do not and I should do whatever I feel most comfortable with - for me that was a no brainer - I was much more comfortable there in a headscarf.

Me on holiday.

When I was a practising Christian, I made friends with some Muslims. I decided then, if I was sincere in my friendship,  it would be better not to eat pork, and to refrain from drinking alcohol, certainly in their presence, and maybe even altogether, on the guidance I read in Romans chapter 4


It's actually a really beautiful scripture that I encourage my Muslim friends to read too:

'If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love... the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit...  Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification... it is wrong for a person to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble... Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves.'

The whole message of these verses is that you should not let what you eat, drink [or what you wear] come between you and others - if someone is going to judge you on these things they will not see past that to your faith, so it is better to remove these obstacles for the sake of peace: ie. if someone thinks drinking something is wrong, don't drink it - it's only a drink and there are more important things than that. I wanted my Muslim friends to understand my faith in God, and in order for them to see past what I ate and drank and wore, it would be better to remove those obstacles - not eat pork or drink alcohol, and to dress modestly - this was my way of showing respect and building our friendships.

The exact same principal applies for me now as Muslim. My objective is to show respect, build friendships, see past external things, and not draw attention to my appearance. When in a Muslim society, it is therefore completely natural for me to wear a headscarf - maybe in some countries even a veil (have never experienced that but would do if it helped with communications). If however I wore extra clothes when say visiting a tribe in a jungle, rather than put on a headscarf, for me personally I would be much more inclined to put on some face paint or whatever else might help them relate to me - I would probably draw a line at going topless however, that would be a little outside of my comfort zone.

The core message in regards to clothing in Islam is one of modesty, both for men and women. It's actually the exact same principle in Christianity too. At the time and place of Mohammed pbuh it was entirely appropriate for a woman to cover her head - it was a traditional 'norm' and not only that but was (and is still) extremely practical, protecting from sunburn and sand storms, as well as protecting a woman from the gaze of other men at a time when women were sadly lacking in basic human rights (before the acceptance of the message that the Prophet pbuh brought at that time).

Of course it wasn't just the Muslims that wore the headscarf (or hijab) but Jewish and Christian ladies too - and this tradition went on until today. Even in church I remember as a child some of the older ladies would put on a head scarf for the Sunday service, and of course nuns are usually dressed in full 'hijab'.

I love the headscarf. Not only is it practical, protecting from sun, wind, and all the elements, it also means goodbye to 'bad hair days'. No need to worry if your hair has been brushed or is looking a bit greasy, no need to spend hours trying to perfect that latest hair style in the morning - just pop on your headscarf and you are done. And what if you have cancer and are being treated with chemo - isn't it wonderful that these ladies can go out without any worry at all about people staring at them? And what about those older ladies who are losing their hair or going gray - no worries. Just fabulous in fact!

So why don't I wear it. Well, here is the thing, I did try it, for a few days, to see how if felt. The great thing is (in a none Muslim society) spotting other Muslim sisters and being able to exchange 'Salam' to them, without any surprise. The not so great thing is feeling other people either stare at you or look away from you, giving you the cold shoulder, or worse still, approaching a group of skin heads guys on the pavement and bracing yourself for the nasty comments which may or may not come - or having to cross the road in the first place to avoid such a confrontation. A strange experience I found - but the difficulty in wearing a headscarf, being the type of person I am, would actually only encourage me to wear it more - as a statement really - I like to push boundaries.




This was me in 2012, trying out wearing a headscarf when campaigning in Ireland, on behalf of the Bahraini medics who were tortured and sentenced to lengthy prison sentences for treating injured protesters. Far more important than what was on my head was what I was speaking about. 


My husband asked me to consider carefully if I wanted to wear it or not - he is a Muslim, but he said to me that he thinks Islam is not really about a headscarf - people get carried away with it. I should not feel that I am being pressured to wear one and should give consideration to the society I am living in and also to how my Christian parents might feel - and I think this was really important advice.
So I prayed about it. Should I or should I not? What was the important thing for me to do, at this time and place in my life? And how can I best serve society, at this time and place? For that is my ultimate objective, to please God, through my service to mankind.

Regarding scripture, I was not at all convinced that wearing a headscarf was a crucial component of Islam - I felt the arguments on that front somewhat unconvincing. Without going into too much detail, one discussion in favour of the headscarf based on evidence in the Quran can be found here:
http://www.al-islam.org/hijab-muslim-womens-dress-islamic-or-cultural-sayyid-muhammad-rizvi/quran-and-hijab An argument against wearing the hijab, based on what is written in the Quran, can be found here: https://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20081115200047AArJ4Fw 
I'm not saying whether either is right or wrong, I think what is important is that each individual prays about the matter, uses their God given intellect, and takes a decision for themself, in good faith, based on the information they have and their current circumstances.

If you look at the overall message of Islam, actually this makes up one tiny fraction of the Quran - yet in today's world anyone might be forgiven in thinking it is one of the most important issues for a woman, and a sign of their faith regarding how much of her body she covers or not. What is clear however is that modesty is important - but the exact details are open to interpretation - and I believe consideration must be given to society and individual circumstances. Far more important than what we wear is what is in our hearts, and it is our hearts that change us, from the inside out.

If I was to wear a headscarf because I believed it is beautiful - for sure that was defeating the objective of modesty. If I was to wear a headscarf because it was practical, or to fit in, then that's fine - but I had to be honest with myself about my motives. I wanted to please God, I wanted to do what was right in my heart, and to serve humanity to the best of my ability. Deep down I knew my place in society is as a bridge, between the Muslim and 'the Western world' - and right now, living in the UK, putting on a headscarf I felt would put up a barrier between me and those people I felt I most need to talk to about Islam, at a time when I know I must try to break down barriers.

It was for this reason above all that I decided not to wear a headscarf, for now, for me at this present time in my life in this place. In the future, or in a different place, you may or may not find me wearing a headscarf. For now, as an added bonus of my choice, which brought me peace, I get to represent the hundreds of thousands of Muslim women who do not wear a head scarf for their own personal reasons, and to help break down the stereotype that all Muslim women wear a scarf - we don't. Some do, bless them all, and some don't, bless them all too. May I encourage you all to look past the superficial, to consider first the heart, to respect individuality and freedom of choice.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

A Lesson in Honesty and Parenting

At the weekend I had to go out to run a few errands with my husband. Our son wanted to stop at home with his big sister but we knew he would waste his time playing computer games or something similar, so we insisted he come with us. We tried to explain to him that he might learn some important skills in life by simple observation, like seeing how his parents do the shopping - just through seeing how we talk to people and make our decisions.

One of our stops was at the local supermarket to go back and explain that they had undercharged us  - the previous week after checking our receipt we had realised that they had not charged us for a pan. My husband and son went into the supermarket whilst I stayed in the car reading my 'Teach Yourself Arabic' book. They were a long time. To my surprise, when I looked up, my son was presenting me with a beautiful bunch of flowers. Apparently the display of honesty had caused a bit of a stir and the shop attendant disappeared for a while - I can imagine my husband's feelings as he was left standing for some time thinking to himself 'I only want to make a payment, wish they would hurry up I have a lot of things to do!' - and then his surprise when she came back with a bunch of flowers to say thanks.


My first reaction was "Alhamdulillah, that you came with us and witnessed this lovely lesson in life". It also gave me the opportunity to explain to my son that even had we not received the flowers, God saw all. These things happen to us as a test. God gives and God takes away: we may not have told the supermarket about their mistake, but we could have lost twice as much the next day, alternatively the supermarket may not have shown any gratitude, but for sure God sees and rewards us with blessings sooner or later for our good actions. And most importantly, it doesn't matter if it is a few pence or many pounds: taking (or keeping) what is not yours is stealing, and once you cross that line, there will be nothing stopping you stealing something much larger the next time.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja on Hungerstrike in Bahrain

I started writing a book, a few years back. It's about how I became 'an activist' and some of the wonderful people who have inspired me along the way. The writing was going great until a series of tragic world events and injustices really occupied all of my attention, but I'm back on it today, jumping forward to the chapter about Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja of Bahrain. The reason being, as I write, he is on hunger strike, for the second time, and he may not live much longer, so I feel an urgency to write about him so some more people might know what a great man he is, before it is too late. Here is this chapter:



Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja
Writing in the hope that your words might in some way help change events that could save a great man's life, brings a new kind of pressure. Every word becomes important, must be chosen carefully, must be the best that one can find. If only I could just write that one piece which touches hearts so much that it might change lives, make a difference in the world. This man, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja is one of those great people who does that with his words, his speech, his spirit: he touches hearts, brings hope for a better future, for justice. He changes lives.

On the 8 February 2012 Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja began a hunger strike, until "Freedom or Death". It was to take him to the very edge of death. It lasted 110 days.

I had been campaigning for human rights in Bahrain the previous year, in particular for a group of medics who had been tortured and sentenced to lengthy prison sentences for treating injured protesters. I had heard about Abdulhadi and had followed the news about his hungerstrike, but I didn't really know a lot about him. Well I knew that he had the label 'political prisoner', arrested on 9th April 2011 for his alleged role in a peaceful uprising which called for democracy and human rights. I knew that he had been brutally tortured and then sentenced to life in prison. I also knew that he was father of inspirational human rights defenders Zainab Alkhawaja @angryarabiya and Maryam Alkhawaja @maryamalkhawaja as well as husband to an incredibly strong lady Khadija Almousawi @tublani2010. I guess I knew the facts, but I didn't truly understand the love that the people of Bahrain held for this man, I guess I felt no great connection. You see, whilst I was happy to campaign for medics punished for doing their jobs, the term 'political prisoner' I think scared me. Whilst I certainly believed nobody should be imprisoned for a political belief, in reality I felt that everything in politics is dirty, and Bahrain's politics were really none of my business, and probably best avoided.

But my feelings changed on the 5th March 2012, when I awoke in tears during the night, following a vivid dream. It touched me deeply, connected me with the love people felt for Abdulhadi, of which I had previously been just an observer, so much so that I wrote the dream down the next day:

"I had a dream last night that Al-Khawaja died. He was hanging from a thread and the thread broke. Everyone looked in horror at Zainab, who was called Maryam, and saw her pale face. But she looked up the thread to Heaven and smiled. Then she turned to everyone watching her and told them it is ok, he is at peace now, his suffering has ended and she knew where he was. And then there came a huge sound of cheering and celebration from the angels in Heaven. Huge celebration that you could hear all across the earth coming from the skies. And all the mothers who had lost their children took comfort from knowing that such a great man was now with them too. And so did all the young men who had lost their friends take comfort and lose all fear of death. And everyone felt great peace."

Above all, this dream helped me to understand one thing: Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja is a truly great man.

The weeks following, I followed his hungerstrike with a new sadness and a resignation as to what I felt was to come, because for sure this man was so strong he would never give in, and the Bahraini regime were showing no sign of compassion that might bring about his release. For them, this peaceful man was far too great a risk, his spirit too strong, they feared the change his freedom might bring.

I hung on to every tweet of his daughter Zainab, who often relayed messages from him in his prison cell. This was one beautiful card that he wrote for his family during that time:



"My dear and beloved family, from behind prison bars, I send to you my love and yearning. From a free man, to a free family. These prison walls don't separate me from you, they bring us closer together. Our connection and determination is stronger than ever. We take our strength, from beautiful memories. Remembering every trip, every meal we ate together, all the conversations, remembering every smile, all the jokes and the laughter. The distance between us disappears, through our love and faith.
It's true: I am in here and you are out there. But, you are in here with me, and I am out there with you. Our pain is made more bearable when we remember we chose this difficult path and took an oath to remain on it. We must not only remain patient through our suffering, we must never allow the pain to conquer our souls. Let our hearts be filled with joy, and an acceptance of the responsibility we have been given, for in the end, this life is about finding a path of truth towards God."

One day Zainab tweeted the following story, which was later made into an animated video:


"On the 30th day of my father's hunger strike, an officer at the prison approached his cell. Seeing him weak and very thin, the officer said 'Why do you strike? You should be happy that your conditions have improved. At least you are not in solitary confinement any more. At least the torture has stopped.' My father smiled with his kind eyes and looked up at his jailer. He then told the officer this story: 'You know, as a child I learned of two kinds of birds that are oh so very different. The first is the nightingale. Put a nightingale in a cage and feed it and what beautiful songs it will sing for you. Open the cage, let the bird out, and it will go right back when it is hungry.' The officer stared at the prisoner, listening intently to his story. My father's eyes lit up and he continued, 'But then, there is the wild bird. Put it in a golden cage, provide it with the best food, and you will hear no song. Come back in a few days and you'll find the bird at the bottom of the cage, dead. For this bird you might cry. You might say: 'A golden cage and all this food, how could it die?' But what you don't understand, what you don't understand is, the wild bird can never live in your cage. Never. Golden or otherwise.' My father continues his hungerstrike to this day, for all our freedom."

My dream was slowly eating away at me as I asked myself whether it was for any reason. Why have such a dream? If he was going to die, then he was going to die, and there was nothing I could do to change that. But then it dawned on me, perhaps he might die, or perhaps he may live, really only God knew that, but one thing I knew for sure was, this was a great man wasting away in prison, and the least I could do was to help spread the news and tell people about him. This feeling that I should at least try to do something grew stronger, until 16th March when I decided to write a letter to him and post it to my blog:

Dear Mr Alkhawaja,

You don't know me, and I never met you. I live in the UK and I've never even been to Bahrain. But I just wanted you to know that your peaceful resistance against oppression and your struggle for human rights has inspired me, and I know many other people around the world too.

I understand you are in the final days of a hunger strike, to 'freedom or death'. I know you are a great man that does not fear death, and after the way you have been treated I wouldn't be at all surprised if you'd had enough of this world. I also know that the angels will be having one huge party the day you join them in Heaven.

But I just wanted to tell you that if you die it is going to be a huge loss for mankind. I hope and pray you will hang on and give us a little more time to help get you out. There are a lot of people now working hard in different countries to try and secure your release and news about your struggle and suffering is spreading all the time.

Love and prayers,

Ms Frankie Dolan (that was before I changed my name to Jamila Hanan)

I invited some of my campaigning friends to do the same, to write a letter too and to post them to Twitter with the #DearAlkhawaja tag. We also faxed our letters to the prison - who knows if they were ever read, but that didn't matter somehow.

They are beautiful letters, I hope you might take the time to read some of them too:

From @ElaineMasons 17th April

From : @Taranta3 17th April (in Arabic)

From @JohnHorneUK 20th April

From @mirandadiboll 21st April

I also found this letter written earlier on 7th March, from his friend @PWLMcAdams

On 19th April, 3 days before Formula 1 was due to make its debut race in Bahrain, Abdulhadi decided to stop all intake of fluids. This meant he would likely die very soon, as he was already extremely weak. The day following, on 20th April 2012, this was tweeted by Zainab his daughter @angryarabia
  • Urgent: My father called now, he asked us to try and get him an urgent visit by his lawyer to write his will 
  • He said, if they won't allow the lawyer to see him, he has three things he would like everyone to know
  • 1st: he is completely convinced in what he is doing, and that he has chosen this path & wud choose it again if time goes back
  • 2nd: he asks that nobody attempts to go on a similar strike til death
  • Finally my father said "if I die, in the next 24 hrs, I ask the ppl to continue on path of peaceful resistance...
  • My father continued "... I don't want anybody to be hurt in my name"
  • My father has stopped drinking even water since yesterday
  • As my father finished saying his will to us, the line was cut. He did not say goodbye
I recall the day of Formula 1's debut race in Bahrain, 22nd April 2012. The drone of the engines whirring as motor cars raced around the track competing with the cries for freedom and democracy outside, amidst thick clouds of tear gas. Crowds of up to 500,000 demonstrators clambered to get the international media to focus on their suffering, for just a moment, putting up a valiant fight to stop the Formula 1 racing in Bahrain. "It's nothing to do with us," said F1 chief Bernie Eccleston to the media, "You guys love it. What we really need is an earthquake or something like that, so you can write about that now." I felt sick.



As usual, I was safe at home in the UK, following the whole thing from my armchair. My son and husband love the Formula 1, so I couldn't force my views on to them and ban the race from our television. I could hear the race as I followed the demonstrations on Twitter. My body was in England, but my heart and mind could almost smell the burnt tires from the circuit mixed with the tear gas from thrown at the demonstrators; oil, sweat, tears and blood merged into one.

It was very noisy, that's what I recall. And yet all I could really think about was Abdulhadi Alkhawaja, in a quiet prison cell, possibly taking his last breaths, alone.

Abdulhadi Alkhawaja on hungerstrike, 2012

The next day I broke down in tears and sobbed as I felt that he had passed away. A dear activist friend was there the other side of Skype sharing the grief. But we had no way of knowing. Even his family did not have any news - they knew that he had been taken from his hospital bed, but to where exactly, nobody knew for sure, and many of us feared the worst.

On the 23rd April I made him a card, which we also faxed to the prison, goodness knows if it was ever picked up, but taking the time to cut out the card, make a simple flower, send a message of love, somehow brought relief. I also wrote a blog post, about 'the hero I love'. I have a belief, when I feel I can do nothing else, I can (and must) at least blog.


After that I picked myself up. I just had to do more. We had to work on the basis that he was still alive. The world had to know who this great man is, and if he was to die, then we had to make sure that he did not die in vain.

On 24th April I asked my Twitter friends if they would join me in raising awareness. We wrote some actions for people to complete, which we called #Action4Khawaja. The first tweet was asking Sky News to cover the story. I asked for 10 people to join me in completing the action - which they did. The next tweet was to the BBC, in which I asked 15 people to complete the action. Following that, 20 of us contacted Channel 4, 25 contacted Cameron, 30 CNN, 35 Obama, 40 Aljazeera, 45 Kofi Annan, 50 Desmond Tutu. The 10th action was initially to contact Nelson Mandela - but after emails were returned stating he had retired and was no longer in good health, we instead each lit a candle, said a prayer, sat in silence.

The candle I lit each night for Abdulhadi

I started to fast, in solidarity with his hungerstrike, just eating and drinking at night time, like we do during the month of Ramadan. At the end of each day I lit a candle. Perhaps for the first time I  started to pray with diligence, 5 times a day. It was for me a spiritual time of reflection and perseverance, a time during which I really started to understand the true meaning of love and sacrifice. I felt for the first time the kind of love that I have often wondered about in this verse in the Bible: 'Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends'. John 15:13 When I knelt down in prayer and my head touched the floor, saying the words سُبْـحانَ رَبِّـيَ الأَعْلـى I felt that love, its was tangible, ran down my spine, through my veins, like I have never felt so strong before.

Following #Action4Khawaja we encouraged people to tweet their own spontaneous actions which others could support, and then on 27th April we wrote another set of 10 actions using the tag #Act4Khawaja By that time there was a group of up to 50 of us writing. We sent messages and emails to Prince Charles, Richard Branson, Aung San Suu Kyi, Nick Clegg, Terry Waite, Donald Trump, Dmitry Medvedev, Bill Gates, Bill Clinton and Brad & Angelina. The idea was partly to cause as much embarassament for the Bahraini regime as we could. The writing in itself was the campaign, any responses were a bonus.

On the night of 27th April, exhausted, I wrote this blog. "#Bahrain I did my best". But had I really done my best, had I really done everything that was in my capacity to do?

Over the next few days I asked the people of Bahrain to tweet me their thoughts about this great man and I compiled their responses into a number of 'Storify' stories. I hoped these might help people to better understand why Abdulhadi was held in such high esteem. I hope you will read these tweets and be inspired like I was too:

28th April This is Abdulhadi #AlKhawaja hero of #Bahrain
28th April The Life + Work of Abdulhadi #AlKhawaja Hero of #Bahrai
28th April Memories of Abdulhadi #AlKhawaja of #Bahrain
28th April Messages to Abdulhadi #AlKhawaja Hero of #Bahrain
29th April The Life + Work of Abdulhadi #AlKhawaja Hero of #Bahrain
29th April To the Family of Abdulhadi #AlKhawaja Hero of #Bahrai

Fond memory: Abdulhadi Alkhawaja with Nabeel Rajab before he was arrested in Bahrain
 
On Sunday 29th April, one week after the Formula 1 race, we received word from his wife that he was still alive. That was such a huge relief. She had been allowed to visit him for the first time in two weeks, but what she learnt was also most disturbing. Abdulhadi had been drugged on 23rd April and taken away to be force fed, which is a form of torture in itself. For those who don't believe it is torture, I encourage you to watch this video to see exactly what it involves. I should warn you, the video is disturbing, I could not watch it through to the end.

http://youtu.be/z6ACE-BBPRs

But Albdulhadi Al-Khawaja was still alive, and whilst he was alive, there was hope. Together with friends on 30th April we started a somewhat crazy campaign of writing to random people to ask them to do something to help secure his release, say by writing a letter, or publishing a statement, or even writing a song. We called it #Write4Khawaja

We chose people together, at random - anyone that somebody suggested, we tried to contact them. We looked up their agents, emails if we could find, contact forms, Facebook accounts and Twitter. Some of our suggestions on who to contact were a bit mad, but mad was good. Every day we added more people to the list and reached out to them all. We wrote to all these people and organisations:

George Soros, Paul McCartney, Mia Farrow, Russel Crow, Steven Spielberg, Samuel Jackson, Elton John, Bob Geldoff, Lady Gaga, David Beckham, Will i.Am, Jim Carrey, Richard Gere, Spike Lee, Martin Sheen, Sting, Michael Moore, Oprah, Bill Clinton, Joe Bidon, Annie Lennox, John McCarthy, Vanessa Redgrave, Sami Yusuf, Michael Heart, Yusuf Islam, Morgan Freeman, Erin Brockovich, Will Smith, Angela Merkel, Outlandish, Prince Talal Bin Abdul Aziz Al Saoud, Shakira, Ellen DeGeneres, Maher Zain, Al Gore, Christine Lagarde, Michael Phelps, Charlie Clements, Eddie Grant, Keanu Reeves, Nazanin Afshin-Jam, JamesOrbinski, Romeo Dallaire, Jane Fonda, Rowan Atkinson, Julia Gillard, Warren Buffet, Imran Khan, Boyce Avenue, Ariel Dorfman, Maya Angelou, JK Rowling, Dan Brown, Paul Coelho, The Elders, Catherine Ashton, Jared Leto, Whoopi Goldberg, Sharon Osbourn, Charlie Rose, Piers Morgan, Lesley Stah, Melinda Gates, JimmyCarter, Mary Robinson, Marri Ahtisaar, Michael Stipe, Friends of the Earth, the ICTJ, Youth for Human Rights, FreedomHouse, Global Exchange, the IHRC, Protection Internationa, the OMC, Witnes, Peter Gabrie, Adel, Cherie Blair, Jack Straw, Minister Lavro, Mr S.M Krishn, the Vatican, Dr. Michael Spindelegger FM of Austria, Dr Nassirou Arifari Bako FM of Benin, Hillary Clinton, Global Solutions, AED, PM of Denmark Helle Thorning-Schmidt, Chen Xiaodong, Gareth Peirc, Jean-Louis Carrèr, Giulio Terzi di Sant’Agata, Dean Allison, Andreas Aebi, Koichiro Gemba, the UPR, Richard Ottaway, John Kerry, Ruprecht Polenz, Bob Carr, Abiodun Williams, Bruce MacDonald, Daniel Brumberg, Patrick Meier, Jared Cohen, the USIP, Steven Heydemann, Stephen Krasner, Qamar-ul Huda, Robin Wright, the CDP, Omar Offendum,President Hollande, Queen Rania Al Abdullah, Hisashi Owada, Dalai Lama, Ray William Johnson, Muhammad Yunus, Ted Turner, the UN Foundation, Big Hass, Susan Rice, VCNV, Kathy Kelly, Peter Singer, Youssou NDour, Noam Chomsky. 

We were fishing, thowing lines anywhere we could, hoping we might catch a big fish somewhere in the world. Some people responded, most did not, but we kept on writing, heartfelt personalised emails, not just about Abdulhadi but also about the stories of persecution on that little island, of which there were many examples, and little by little awareness was raised, not just for Abdulhadi but for all of the people living under oppression in Bahrain. Of course we weren't the only ones campaigning. Also hard at work were Amnesty International, Human Rights First and Frontline Defenders, as well as other organisations. The story started to receive increased media coverage, and together, alongside the people protesting in Bahrain (who never stopped - they were out every day, every night with their banners) we started to bring some pressure on the Bahraini regime.
 


On 22nd May, Abdulhadi, having been kept alive through forcefeeding, appeared before the Supreme Court of Appeal, and gave this speech:
"Gentlemen, President and members of the honorable Supreme Court of Appeal,

Peace, mercy and blessings of Allah be upon you,

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak before your venerable selves, as I have been deprived of this right throughout the previous stages of the litigation. Kindly note that my statement has been excluded during the investigation as a result of me being subjected to torture.

I, the Bahraini citizen Abdulhadi Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, have been subjected since the April 9th 2011 to arbitrary arrest, incommunicado detention, psychological and physical torture, sexual assault and unfair trial, without having committed any offense for which I deserve legal punishment, in addition to torture and other violations criminalized by international and national laws. Please note that I do not belong to any association or political group, though this is not an offense in itself but rather a natural right of any human being.

These current and previous violations were in fact motivated by the thorny, difficult path which I have chosen, that is to defend human rights, not only as a matter of specialization and career – given that I am a researcher and trainer in this area – but also that I have decided that my duty is to stand with the oppressed and the victims of various abuses to which they are exposed, disregarding the risks and reactions of those who perpetrated such violations. Thus, my activities and practice involved serious issues such as political and financial corruption, arbitrary detention, torture, the privileges of the ruling class, sectarian and ethnic discrimination, as well as other topics including poverty and the right to human dignity, adequate jobs and housing, and the rights of foreign workers.

And if at the beginning back in the eighties my activity involved volunteering with the "Committee for the Defense of Political Prisoners in Bahrain”, which is considered a wing of one of the opposition political groups, it has, however, been shifted at the beginning of the nineties into working completely independent through founding "The Bahrain Human Rights Organization," which played a fundamental and decisive role in bringing Bahrain out of the era of security of the State, through its activities in Western capitals in collaboration with the United Nations and international human rights organizations. I am honored to have gained then my second nationality when I became a political refugee in the Kingdom of Denmark, which ensured my freedom, dignity and shelter when I was facing persecution in my country of Bahrain. However, I never hesitated in returning to Bahrain in 2001 when I was allowed to, and there I continued carrying out my duty in education and training on human rights issues in Bahrain and abroad, assisting victims of violations to embark on a peaceful movement to demand their rights, in addition to monitoring and documenting human rights violations. As a result, the price I have been paying throughout the past ten years was facing physical assaults by security forces, arrest, detention, unfair trials, smear campaigns, and travel bans. This was the case even during the period from November 2008 to February 2011, during which I worked as a regional coordinator for Frontline Defenders, a leading international organization - based in Dublin and Brussels - which focuses on the protection of human rights defenders all over the world. The fact that I have resigned from my post as president of "The Bahrain Center for Human Rights" before undertaking my work at the international organization; which was not relevant to the situation of human rights in Bahrain – did not make any difference; for an overwhelming spirit of revenge was motivating those who have been targeted by my previous activity due to their responsibility in relation to the perpetration of violations through their positions as security and political officials, as well as them suspecting that – under cover -I have been using my international work to provide aid to local activists in Bahrain.

Abdulhadi at work, speaking for human rights, in 2007

Then came the events of February 14th, and the subsequent declaration of a state of national safety to make it the right opportunity for revenge, especially that after I witnessing all those dead and injured in the first few days I decided to resign from my international post and to dedicate myself to full-time voluntary work in Bahrain to contribute to the popular peaceful movement and ensure its effectiveness in attaining rights, in addition to monitoring and documenting violations that occurred during the events. To these ends I took part in seminars, delivered speeches and participated in various meetings that were attended by representatives of political associations and groups, including political and civil rights activists, and jurists; in my capacity as an independent human rights defender. Those meetings were held at the headquarters of political associations and residents of political figures, and they were not secret and did not intend to establish new groups or create working plans, they were merely a platform for consultation and exchange of opinions in the midst of escalating and serious events.

It was soon the time for retaliation; after midnight on April 8th 2011 – i.e. three weeks after declaring the state of national safety and granting the military and security services authorization to kill and use excessive force, arbitrary detention and torture, which led in some cases to death. That day, while I was spending the weekend with my wife, daughters and sons in law, heavily armed forces surrounded the building where my two married daughters live, and without warning or warrant, it broke into the building and knocked down the door of the third-floor apartment, then a group of masked security men started beating and kicking me in all parts of my body while dragging me down the stairs. In addition, my hands were cuffed back and my eyes were blindfolded before putting me in one of the cars, when I received a severe blow on the left side of my face with a metal object. This caused me to fall on the ground while severely bleeding due to deep cuts close to the left eye and a number of fractures in the jaw, cheek and nose, prompting them to transfer me to "Al-Qal’a" first then directly to the military hospital where I received stitches and underwent a complex surgery to address bone fractures. x-ray images show about 18 plates and about 40 screws that were used to join fractions.

I stayed at the military hospital for six days, during which I was kept blindfolded and handcuffed to the bed in a painful manner that prevents me from moving. A group of people would come over each night and verbally abuse me and touch my private parts. I was told that they had arrested my daughter Zainab, and after they had done what they wanted with her they had transferred her to a prison in Saudi Arabia. One of them informed me that he was the one who had given me the blow to the face and that there was “more where that came from” after I am moved from the hospital. He also told me that a large man will be waiting to rape me. Instead of a recovery period of three weeks at the hospital I was transferred on the sixth day to a distant place where I learned about two months later that it is “Al-Qareen” military prison.

In AlQareen, I was put in a dark solitary cell for about two months. All guards and nurses were masked. I did not have any contact with the outside world, nor was I allowed to go out in the sun and fresh air. I only had a sponge in the cell, as well as very dirty pillow and blanket. I was only allowed to take a bath after ten days. My head and body bore bruises and bloodstains.

During that period, I was unable to eat anything except for liquids through a tube, and I received medications pertaining to the surgery I had and the resulting pain. Despite that, starting from the second day of my stay in prison night doses of torture began. A group of masked individuals would come after midnight and start horrifying the prisoners through screaming and cursing and hitting the cells’ bars, then they would enter the cells one after another, and subject the detainees to verbal, physical and sexual abuse. Each one of us could hear the screams of pain and suffering of those who are in the other cells.

Abdulhadi after police beat him at a peaceful protest in 2005

Among those whom I came to know in nearby cells are Mahdi Abu-Deeb, president of the Teachers Association, and the lawyer Mohammed Altajer, and an Islamic scholar, Mr. Mohammed al-Musawi. I used to hear the screams of other detainees in other cells but I could not recognize their identity.

The torture that was inflicted on me during that period included, continued standing with lifting the hands for many hours, beating the back of the head with a heavy tool, blows to the back, beating on the back of the hands with the door lock, beating the feet with shoes, forcing me to kiss pictures of the rulers of Bahrain and Saudi Arabia which were put on the cell’s walls, forceful removal of clothing, sodomizing using sticks, indecent insults related to dignity and religious beliefs, forced self-cursing, forced declarations of loyalty to the political leadership, especially the Prime Minister and the Head of the Defense Force, under the threat of beatings and rape.

As a result, I went on hunger strike on the third day in prison, and refused also to receive any medications. This led to further beatings. On the sixth day I was taken to another building in the prison where I was beaten with plastic pipes on my toes and feet to force me to put an end to the strike, or sign a paper stating that I refuse to take food and medicine. Then I was transferred to and I received two units of intravenous infusion. Someone who speaks an Arabic non-Bahraini dialect (a doctor or a nurse) threatened that he will force the tube from my nose to the stomach or puncture my abdomen in order to directly feed the stomach if I insist on continuing with the strike. I have indeed suspended the strike on the seventh day after receiving assurances that torture will stop and that my request to see the doctor who performed the operation is to be met, as I was very concerned about the swelling of my face and not being able to move my jaws. Torture, however, did not stop, and I had to repeat the strike twice in protest of torture during the following two weeks for several hours each time, but the beatings and torture took place in the cell before and after the investigation sessions. At the end of the third week of arrest I was examined at the prison premises and in the presence of prison guards by a forensic doctor, and he hastily took note of some injuries that were still visible on my face, hands and feet. During those same days I was taken twice for interrogation by the military prosecutor where I was subjected to insults and beating during transport to and from the building of military prosecution and at the premises before and after I was entered to talk to the investigator. The shackles and the sac covering my head were only removed while in the interrogation room.

Violent and degrading treatment reoccurred throughout the in following months each time we were taken to attend the court hearings at the National Safety Court. Transportation was undertaken by military police. On one occasion I was singled out of the group as one of those who "will be executed", and they made me hear sounds of arms. Prior to the first hearing at the Military Court, on 7/5/2011 to be specific, an exceptional incident of torture took place. I was allowed to shave and get a suit which had been sent by my family. Late in the evening I was taken by four individuals in a small car to a building located about 15-20 minutes away from where I was held, and there I was seated at a table, my handcuffs were removed as well as the blindfold. I found myself sitting in an elegant office with a young man in civilian clothes, who identified himself as "Sheikh Saqr," a personal representative of the king of Bahrain. He wanted to hear directly from me about the events and the charges against me. The interrogation went on for about an hour and a half, and he eventually asked me if I want to appear on a recording by a television camera which was already prepared, and to apologize to the king for what I did. I told him that I have not done anything to apologize for.

Afterwards I was blindfolded again and taken to an adjacent room where one of the people who brought me there told me that I am sitting on a bed and that they will not beat me, but they will do all other things unless I agree to the apology recording. They proceeded as one of them put my hand on his penis another touched my back with his penis, and put his hand on my derriere, then they started to take off my clothes. I could only do one thing. I eluded them, and hit my head with the ground until I was unconscious. I woke up to find myself in the car traveling at high speed. I was carried and brought back to my prison cell. My forehead was swollen and so was the left side of my face where previous fractures were located. For three days compressors and pain killers were used. On the following day I was visited by the doctor who had performed the surgery and saw how bad my condition was. He demanded that I be transferred immediately for x-rays, but this was only done several days after, and through the transfer of radiation equipment to the prison. I did not see the doctor before a long time, and he only revealed his face to me after about six months. I then knew that he is Dr. Mohammed Al-Muharraqi.

The second incident took place during the second military court hearing, when I demanded the right to speak and was denied that right. I said that I have been subjected to torture and that I was threatened not to mention that to the court. The judge ordered that I be taken out of the courtroom, and I was abused on the way to prison. I was punched, kicked near the gate of the prison and made to stand with a sack on my head and my arms lifted upwards for about an hour. I was then threatened inside the prison “You will see things you haven’t seen yet if you talk again in the courtroom.”

The third incident was on 22/6/2011, at the National Safety Court of first instance, when, after the judge read out the verdict sentencing me to life imprisonment, I shouted and said “We will continue our struggle for freedom and human rights”, and the other defendants were shouting the slogan “A peaceful movement, A people demanding freedom”. We were then taken outside the court premises, handcuffed and beaten with batons by members of military police. my face was hit against the wall and I was bleeding from my the top of my nose. I was also beaten on my joints, bottom of spine, thighs, and wrists. Since I was handcuffed, this caused me to bleed from my wrists. And as I was trying to protect my face, one of them purposefully hit me on where I had surgery for facial fractures until my hand were swollen. We were then taken to the waiting room, and were seated on the floor and they stepped on our backs and shoulders wearing their shoes. When the injuries I had became evident to them I was transferred to the emergency room at the military hospital for treatment. leading the group of guards who took me to hospital was major “Abu Ahmad”, the officer in charge of military guard.
Protest in Bahrain

As for my trial before the National Safety Court, the one of first instance and the exceptional court; the court listened to the main prosecution witness, a national order officer who did not have any proof or evidence to support his false allegations pertaining to establishing an organization and plotting to overthrow the regime and the incitement of violence; and held that his sources are secret and that he cannot reveal them. The two other witnesses were national order officer Badr Ibrahim Ghaith and his assistant, who were in charge of my arrest. Their testimony aimed at justifying the severe injuries that I incurred during the arrest. On the other hand, I was not allowed to speak, and my lawyer was not able to call witnesses to testify; his demands to call the forensic doctor or the surgeon who operated on me in order to obtain the medical report were also ignored. He was further prevented from presenting his oral account. The verdicts were already prepared, and I was handed a life sentence.

After that came the report of the Royal “Bahrain Independent Commission of Enquiry”, which confirmed the abuses to which I have been subjected to, and mandated doctors examined the medical reports, to document all violations that were inflicted on me as detailed in this speech. My case, as well as the cases of other individuals from the same group, were quoted several times in the report, and a summary on my case was outlined under item no. 8 among the cases attached to the report. The report and its recommendations concluded that grave violations, including arbitrary arrest and detention, solitary confinement, psychological and physical abuse, and unfair trial; have occurred. The report denied any legal basis for my arrest and continued detention. The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights along with a number of international organizations studied the case file and found that I am a prisoner of conscience, and that I should be immediately released.

Then came the court of cassation verdict of 30/4/2012, stating that the National Safety Court verdict does not outline the crime elements, neither in its Mens rea nor its Actus reus, and is therefore “a void verdict that should be reversed”.
Amnesty demonstration in Denmark, April 2012
In light of the aforementioned facts, I propose the following:

First: there are no legal grounds for my continued imprisonment, especially after the occurrence of injuries has been proven through medical and forensic reports, and the confirmation of arbitrary arrest torture and unfair trial in the Bahrain Independent Commission of Enquiry report, and reports of the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and international human rights organizations which affirmed that I am a prisoner of conscience, and that I should be immediately released.

Second: The file in the court’s possession lacks any decisive evidence that links me to the charges in question. Everything that has been presented against me is in fact evidence that supports my acquittal, as they are speeches in which I express my opinion without inciting violence, but rather repeatedly emphasized peaceful work. Then the court of cassation verdict concluded that the crime elements are incomplete.

Third: Given the previous facts, I have began a hunger strike more than a hundred days ago in protest of my continued imprisonment, and I was willing to give away my life to declare disapproval of this injustice to which I and others were subjected, and to demand freedom. The authorities, instead of responding to those fair demands and address the perpetrated violations of my human rights, reacted by confining me for over one month at the military hospital in a state comparable to solitary confinement, and imposed forceful feeding on me through the use of anesthesia, and feeding me through a tube from the nose to the intestines, and the use of intravenous infusions. My demands insisting on going back to prison were only met when I agreed to a program of fluid intake, along with explicit threats that I will be admitted again to the military hospital and forcibly fed in case my health deteriorates, and this constitutes forcible feeding against international laws. I hold political authorities and this court accountable for any danger I might face in the few coming days as a result of my continued hunger strike.

Fourth: I reaffirm the statements that were presented in my defense before the first instance National Safety Court and the National Safety Court of Appeal, as well as the Court of Cassation, as an account of defense in this appeal, and a reference. I also demand that all medical reports and other detailed reports by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Enquiry be added as well, in addition to this speech.

Fifth: That I am in this case the victim for defending the rights of others. Those responsible for violation of my rights are the ones who should be brought to justice and punished.

Sixth: Acts of retaliation have targeted members of my family. On the same day when I was arrested, both my sons in law (engineer Wafi Kamel Al-Majid) and (Hussain Ahmad) were arbitrarily arrested, even though they were not otherwise wanted. They have been subjected to psychological and physical torture, and fabricated charges were brought against them, then they were tried in order to justify their imprisonment for one year for Wafi, and six moths for Hussain. My wife was dismissed from her position as a supervisor in a private school in a degrading manner and no explanation was made for this act, in breach of the simplest due process. My sister Fatima Al-Khawaja and her husband Rashid Abdul-Raheem from their positions at the Bahraini Radio without legeal grounds, and they were reinstated only a few months ago. My other sister Huda Al-Khawaja, who runs a law firm in Kuwait and undertakes training; had her passport seized for several months without legal grounds. The element of retaliation in obvious in this case, and this necessitates that there be serious and credible mechanisms to reveal the truth and rectify all injustices to which I and my family were subjected to, and bring those responsible for these violations to justice.

Please accept my highest consideration and esteem.

Abdulhadi Abdullah Al-Khawaja 22/5/2012"

Our campaign ended on 28th May when news was confirmed that he had decided to end his hunger strike after 110 days.

The Bahrain Center for Human rights reported "Abdulhadi Alkhawaja...decided to stop his hunger strike due to continuous force feeding and because he had been successful at bringing international attention to the situation of political prisoners in Bahrain."

Sadly, the High Criminal Court of Appeal upheld the life sentence of Abdulhadi on 4 September 2012, and since then, not a lot has changed in Bahrain. Human rights abuses continue on a daily basis.

Regarding my activism, in June 2012, I was alerted to the tragedy of the genocide against the Rohingya taking place in Burma, acts against humanity of which the world was blissfully unaware. I took on that cause actually after the great inspiration that I had received from this man, his dear wife Khadija, and daughters Zainab and Maryam. But recently I learnt that he has begun his hungerstrike once more, on 25th August 2014.  Today as I write it is day 23, nowhere near the 110 days he reached last time. But this time he is refusing to go to the military hospital for treatment, where they drugged and forcefed him last time. And this time the world really is very quiet, quiet about Abdulhadi, quiet about his daughter Maryam who has been arrested also after she tried to go back to Bahrain to visit her father, quiet about the hundreds of prisoners still detained for calling for their rights, and quiet about all the abuses that continue in open view as well as behind closed doors.


Abdulhadi with his wife Khadija

Whilst writing this chapter, I ploughed through old emails, blog posts, tweets, to refresh my memory and check on dates. It was painful to read, because we had tried so hard for his release, and yet failed. What more could we do? Should we do the same again? What might we have missed? One thing was for sure, doing nothing was not an option, I would never live with my conscience. I looked on Twitter for some inspiration and checked to see if any of his family might be online. His dear wife Khadija Almousawi @tublani2010 had just tweeted the following message:

"To all those who r working for cases like my Maryam's case and Hadi's case and c that things go backwards instead of forward
To those who r trying their best for this world to b a better place and work hard day & night to save people like Maryam & Hadi
And instead of seeing them free get to know that this gov. Doesn't mind Hadi going blind cus of low blood sugar
Or my Maryam being transferred to a higher criminal court on fake accusations I plead don't lose hope & keep working towards
A better world. I c this kind of act from these regimes to b act of weakness & not otherwise and braveness I c in Maryam & Hadi.
Keep working for a better world. Mayb Maryam & Hadi will not benefit of it but I am 100% sure that others will in future.
It's not the result that should satisfy us but how many people r ready to stand for the rights of others that counts.
Tonight when I was coming home I saw some kids who had their faces covered and were printing Hadi's picture on the wall.
These kids want a decent life with dignity. U out there and these kids in here want a better world. A better world for all.
Ur work out there and this small but very risky act of these kids give a person like me hope. Not that I approve that they get
arrested and tortured for printing a picture on the wall but that they want the world to know that they exist and have demands
I thank everyone who stood or still standing for the rights of others and continue believing in a better world. THANK U."
Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja at a peaceful demonstration before he was arrested

At the time of writing, on 17th September 2014, Abdulhadi Alkhawaja is in prison, on day 23 of his hungerstrike. If when you read this, he is still on hungerstrike, or still in prison, but alive, please do something, even one thing. Maybe write to a politician about his case, or your local media, or the Bahraini regime, or anyone else you can think of. Please also send a tweet using the #FreeAbdulhadi tag and post this to your Facebook.

A final message from me, is to the regime in Bahrain, and those who support the regime. I'm not begging you, that would be something Abdulhadi would never do, but I am asking you, human to human. Please open your heart to this suffering. Please look within you for some humanity that may bridge your differences. Please remember compassion and mercy. These days are terrible times for so many. One million of our Muslim brothers and sisters in Burma, the Rohingya, are facing genocide. In Pakistan, Kashmir and Bangladesh over 5 million of our brothers and sisters have been hit by terrible floods that have displaced hundreds of thousands and washed away homes and belongings. In Syria, well, you know what is happening, I can hardly begin to write about the suffering there, and I could go on, but you know these times are terrible times. Recently however I heard some wonderful news, a branch of the Taliban in Pakistan has decided to lay down their arms and to embrace peace, because that is what their nation needs, and so do we all. In Bahrain, whether you agree with calls for democracy in your nation or not, I hope you may come to realise that within your prison is a great man of huge courage who thinks only of the suffering of others. Please do what you can to help free this man, find compassion, compromise and bring healing. His death would be a great loss, not just to Bahrain, but to the whole of humankind.

UPDATE: Abdulhadi Alkhawaja came off his hungerstrike the week after I wrote this post. He was concerned for other prisoners also on hungerstrike with him who had started to faint. He remains in prison at the time of writing (21/10/2014) and says that he will take part in a further hungerstrike sometime in the future.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Sikhs, Hindus, Muslims, Cooking Together For Flood Victims - how about it?

I tweeted this:

As of writing, one day later, it has well over 1,000 retweets and nearly as many 'favourites'. Rapidly turning into one of my most popular tweets ever. How wonderful, that people of all faiths really, really want to see this kind of news! And just have a look at some of the beatufiul comments:















But now here is the truth: Sorry, I made a mistake. Apparently they are all Sikh in these particular photos. I misread some the captions on the original photo essay, which you can see at the bottom of this article here (one of them stated it was in a mosque and there were other captions regarding all faiths coming together, so I hope you will forgive me, it really wasn't my intention to put out false information). And yes there were a few other comments too that I didn't include here, of course some corrections, but also a few nasty tweets where people took offense to a story of unity - but those tweets were in the minority. There is a saying 'empty vessels make the most sound' - those voices of hate, there aren't that many as it may first appear, out of over 1,000 retweets there were just a couple of cold replies, and even less hate replies (actually just one or two, of which one was anonymous).

And here is another truth: lots of people really, really want peace and unity and care more for humanity than they do our differences. And it's not just hate that sells - look at this tweet - people loved it! Media should take note of that. Now usually I would delete a tweet where I had made such a mistake - mistakes happen and I've made a few over the years, and I've always deleted previous mistakes, but this one I chose to leave - at risk of damaging my credibility (of which I am always quick to point out I had none to lose in the first place). I'm leaving it because I just love the message of hope that this brings. I'd be really grateful if you could also share this, my apology, so people don't feel misled, and also to give the Sikh community credit where it is due.

Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs ARE working together: Over the past few weeks I have seen wonderful things happen on social media where Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and people of no faith have indeed come together and worked together to co-ordinate relief efforts - and its even happened that activists who really disliked the army have been working with the army to do the best for the people at this time in need. These things ARE happening. I've seen ALL communities working together and alongside each other - ok so maybe they are not actually sitting down in the same kitchen cooking the same food - maybe I saw what I wanted to see - but wouldn't that be wonderful too?

Finally, a challenge: Can you make it happen? Can you bring people from different faiths together, to work together on a project for humanity? If you can, please email or tweet me your photos and I will tweet and blog them - this is what many people of the world really want to see happen, so how about it? You can email your photos here: jamilahanan1@gmail.com or tweet me on @jamilahanan