قَالَ رَبِّ السِّجْنُ أَحَبُّ إِلَيَّ مِمَّا يَدْعُونَنِي إِلَيْهِ
“My Lord, prison is more to my liking than that to which they invite me.” [Al-Quran 12:33]
All praise be to Allah, and may peace and blessings be on his messenger, family, and companions.
When al-Mamun the Abbasid caliph imprisoned Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal and tortured him in order to compel the Imam to accept the heretical belief in the ‘createdness’ of the Qur’an, Imam Ahmad refused and preferred death to uttering the heretical doctrine. The real victory for Imam Ahmad was to remain steadfast in believing that which pleases Allah; in effect, it was the victory of principles and ideas. History has recorded thousands of prisoners who have spent decades in prison where they preferred to die rather than accept defeat.
Syed Qutb, the great Egyptian Muslim thinker, was one of those who preferred death and torture to renouncing what he had declared. It is to him that the powerful and profound statement is attributed where he said, “the finger that testifies that there is no god but Allah refuses to testify for other than him.” As a result of his commitment, he was promptly hanged. He wrote in Milestones,
“The highest form of triumph is the victory of soul over matter, the victory of belief over pain, and the victory of faith over persecution…In the incident described above, the souls of the Believers were victorious over fear and pain, over the allurements of the earth and of life, and they gained such victory over torture which is an honour for all of mankind and for all times – this is true victory. All men die, and for various reasons; but not all gain such victory, nor reach such heights, nor taste such freedom, nor soar to such limits of the horizon. It is God’s choosing and honouring a group of people who share death with the rest of mankind but who are singled out from other people for honour – honour among the noblest angels, nay, even amongst all mankind, if we were to measure them by the standards of the history of generation after generation.”
He also famously said,
“Indeed our words remain dead until we die in their cause, and then they become alive to remain amongst the living.”
As Muslims, achieving our aims is far easier than those of tyrants. When the disbelievers of Makkah thought that they had defeated the Muslims at the battle of Uhud, pride and arrogance made them blind to seeing the truth. The Prophet (peace be upon him) taught us the crux of the matter: ‘Our dead are in paradise and your dead are in the hell fire’. There are countless stories of a similar nature where physical strength won the battle but ultimately led to losing the war. Willpower and resolution normally destroys physical power – this will being determination and a strong belief in a cause. It is the result of a high standard of morals and ethics.
The British Babar Ahmad and American Tarek Mehanna are just two examples of the struggle between the power of determination and oppression. Irrespective of what they are accused of, the unjust treatment, decisions and statements are enough to consider them martyrs and heroes of their determination and conviction.
I think it is time for us to face reality and stop shedding tears for shameless British, American, and Western injustices. America, the state that has killed and will continue to kill millions of people whilst prosecuting similar numbers will fight for its interest imprisoning people in solitary confinement until they die. They feel no shame in doing this, and unfortunately, our country feels no shame in following them as a poodle follows her master. Whatever the case may be, injustice leads to destruction. This is proven by history and mere common sense.
The arrogance these countries have acquired has also turned them blind, and so they pay no attention to wise voices failing to realise that they are hastily destroying themselves. The moral decay that is self-evident will inevitably lead to the collapse of society and eventually the state itself. We must protect these societies from destroying themselves as there are many people turning to Islam and submitting to their Lord. Victory lies with the true ethical code and thus with Islam. The Quran defines victory in different ways and in different places, yet the reality as it establishes, is one. Allah says,
“So do not weaken nor grieve, and you will be superior if you are [true] believers. If a wound should touch you – there has already touched the [opposing] people a wound similar to it. And these days [of varying conditions] We alternate among the people so that Allah may make evident those who believe and [may] take to Himself from among you martyrs; and Allah does not like the wrongdoers. And that Allah may purify the believers [through trials] and destroy the disbelievers. Or do you think that you will enter Paradise whilst Allah has not yet made evident those of you who fight in His cause and made evident those who are steadfast?” [Al-Quran 3:139-142]
Having said that, we need to remind Babar, his colleagues, Tarek Mehanna, and all Muslim prisoners and families that this life is nothing but a test. Allah says in the Quran,
“Do the people think that they will be left to say, “We believe” and they will not be tried?” But We have certainly tried those before them, and Allah will surely make evident those who are truthful, and He will surely make evident the liars.” [Al-Quran 29:2-3]
Besides from the benefits associated with the individual, there are numerous benefits of such trials on a societal level. It purifies society from hypocrites and those who put their faith in the state. It strengthens the bond of unity between the members of the community as it encourages people to help each other. Moreover, it prepares society to take on leadership.
Practical steps to overcome similar trials
The more a person thinks of the hereafter and the more his heart is attached to Allah, the more such tests pass by easily. As just said, prisons are educational and training institutions in which Muslims learn and train in many things that they cannot study outside. It is the school of Prophet Yusuf whom Allah mentioned in the Quran,
“And he said to the one whom he knew would go free, “Mention me before your master.” But Satan made him forget the mention [to] his master, and Joseph remained in prison several years.” [Al-Quran 12:42]
It is amazing that Allah did not give us many details about the life of Yusuf as a prisoner; in fact, He glossed over it as if it was not significant. The only thing the Quran considerably addresses is the call to tawhid by Yusuf (peace be upon him) made to fellow inmates.
While Muslims are obliged to help their prisoners, it will help the prisoners not to think of being freed; perhaps they shouldn’t even fight for it. Many people who have been inmates confirm this and suggest that the person should accept prison as a new lifestyle expecting to die behind bars. Furthermore, as an inmate one should plan his life accordingly. For example, he can plan to memorize the Quran in one year and then plan to finish reading the Quran once every three days. He may also challenge himself to complete the Quran a thousand times and repeat the pledge once achieved.
The prisoner may consider fasting every other day, the fast of Dawood (peace be upon him) which is the best fast. He might even fast consecutively as some of the scholars of the first generations did so. Other challenges the person can initiate is to memorize Sahih Bukhari or Muslim, although it is unadvisable unless the individual knows that he will leave the prison – otherwise the best thing is to spend time in earning good deeds. A religious personality who, after more than a decade was released recently stated that although he was unaware of his crime, he never made du’a that Allah release him from prison as it was an enjoyable time for him and went by very fast. This reminds us of what Shaikh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah would say:
“What can my enemies do to me? Paradise and garden are in my heart and do not leave me. Imprisonment is i’tikaaf (seclusion with Allah). Death is martyrdom, and exile is to visit foreign attractions. If the people who imprisoned me were given the equivalent of this prison in gold, it would not do them as much good as what Allah has given me with this prison.”
If possible, the prisoner may engage himself in authoring books or reflections on the Quran. Many du’aat have written books whilst in prison and missed such activities when they were released. Ibn Taymiyyah wrote a number of books and treatises in his cell, all of which testify to his profound depth of Islamic knowledge.
The prisoner should not think much of his wife and children as such thinking might be a cause of mental torture for him. It is narrated that the Abbasid caliph al-Mansoor sent word to those of Banu Umayyah who were in prison to ask them: What is the hardest thing for you in this prison? They said: What we have missed out on raising our children. However, the person must put trust in Allah that He will take care of their families. The story of the two young children mentioned in the Chapter of the Cave reminds us of how Allah will look after the children of the righteous. In the story Allah inspired al-Khidhr to rebuild their collapsing house despite the refusal of the people of that town to host him and Musa. Allah says,
“And as for the wall, it belonged to two orphan boys in the city, and there was beneath it a treasure for them, and their father had been righteous. So your Lord intended that they reach maturity and extract their treasure, as a mercy from your Lord. And I did it not of my own accord. That is the interpretation of that about which you could not have patience.” [Al-Quran 18:82]
The books of history confirm that Prophet Abraham left his son Isma’il in the desert for years, and Prophet Yusuf was raised away from his father Prophet Ya’qub, and so on.
The prisoner should also avoid thinking bad of others as they did not put enough effort to help him. He should be careful to not let arrogance and pride overcome him with the view that he is being tried and others are not. An amazing story about one of the early scholars is that of Ibrahim ibn Yazeed ibn Shuraik al-Taimi (52 – 92 AH). The tyrannical ruler al-Hajjaj commanded his guards to arrest Ibrahim ibn Yazeed al-Nakha’i, another scholar, but the guards went to Ibrahim ibn Yazeed ibn Shuriak al-Taimi and asked him whether he was Ibrahim ibn Yazeed to which he replied in the affirmative. They took him to prison and although he knew that they were looking for the other Ibrahim he found it immoral to lead them to al-Nakha’i. They imprisoned him in the desert where there was neither shade from the sun nor any protection from the cold weather at night. They would chain him regularly. This continued until he became weak and changed. His mother couldn’t recognise him and it was not long until he died an inmate still under forty years of age.
It helps the prisoner to think of those who were tested by more difficult, but similar, trials. Some of our old du’aat mentioned that story that was narrated by some elders that the communist Chinese would torture Muslim leaders and once they arrested one of them and placed him in a big hole in the road. They forced Muslims to bring their defecation and throw it in that hole until the defecation drowned him and he died.
Jamal Abdul Nasser the former president of Egypt would enjoy torturing scholars and religious personalities from the Muslim Brotherhood as well as those who would sympathize with them such as the notable Azhari scholar of hadith Muhammad al-Awdan. When arrested he was over seventy years of age. He would wear false teeth and when they arrested him he asked the guards to get it for him. They brought it and then damaged it in front of him causing him to suffer when eating prison’s food.
What was even more shocking was the way they imprisoned him – they put him in a very small cell along with a number of dogs where the dogs would consume his food and drink before he was able to eat anything. What was far worse than that was that they locked him up along with the dogs in that cell and never let them out for a long period of time. The dogs would defecate and urinate on him until the smell of the cell was unbearable. The dogs themselves became sick and some of them lost their limbs due to damp, filth and absence of sun and air. Once the smell was unbearable, the prison guards had no choice but to vacate the cell but they couldn’t come close to him due to the smell. Shaikh al-Awdan was later released and moved to Saudi Arabia – a few months later in 1967 he died in Makkah and was buried in Madinah. Hundreds of stories can be told, but the reality is that imprisonment should be expected by any person who calls for the way of Allah and hence he should be ready for it.
In conclusion, we would like to remind all of our brothers and sisters who have been imprisoned unjustly that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said,
“Trials will continue to befall the believing man or woman in himself, his child and his wealth until he meets Allah with no sin on him.”[Narrated by Abi Hurairah and recorded by al-Tirmidhi]
“When Allah wills good for His slave, He hastens the punishment for him in this world, and when Allah wills ill for His slave, he withholds the punishment for his sins from him until he comes with all his sins on the Day of Resurrection.”[Narrated by Anas ibn Malik and recorded by al-Tirmidhi]
“And among mankind is he who worships Allah as it were upon the edge (i.e. in doubt): if good befalls him, he is content therewith; but if a trial befalls him he turns back on his face (i.e. reverts to disbelief after embracing Islam). He loses both this world and the Hereafter. That is the evident loss.” [Al-Quran 22:11]
Whatever happens to the Muslim prisoners, the end result is that they managed to expose the hypocrisy of western justice and that is a great victory for them (and us). The Muslim ummah should realize that it will not be victorious until it is tested and stands up to these tests. Various types of tests will take place and among them are those who afflicted distinguished individuals such as those Muslim prisoners. Imam al-Shafi’i (may Allah have mercy on him) was asked: Which is better, patience, trials or prevailing? He said:
Prevailing is the level attained by the Prophets, and there can be no prevailing except after trials. If a person is tried he will become patient, and if he remains patient he will prevail.
-Shaykh Haitham Al-Haddad