BismIllaah ir-Rahmaan ir-Rahiim,
As-salaamu ‘alaykum wa rahmatUllaahi wa barakaatuh,
My name is Abu Talhah Zakariyya Al-Amriikii (legally Zachary Chesser, and I am a prisoner of the American Inquisition being held in one of the two facilities known as Guantanamo North in Marion, Illinois in the United States. The other Guantanamo North facility is in Terre Haute, Indiana. Officially these two units are called Communications Management Units (CMUs). I am writing this to inform you all of the continuing war against the ability of Muslims to pray together in this place.
I am actually writing this article on the first morning after having my e-mail privileges returned to me following a four month period where the American government took it away. They took it from me, because they convicted me of a crime. I did not steal, nor did I assault anyone, nor did I engage in any sort of illicit activity. I spent one third of a year cut off from my wife, who lives overseas and is without a mailing address and whom I cannot afford to call very often, because I was caught praying in a group with my fellow brothers in Islaam. I previously detailed this and other events in an article I wrote on the eve of these sanctions which I called “The War on Salaah.“
This was not my first time being severed from my family over this issue. No. I have been convicted of this crime before. In November, 2011, my e-mail was taken for a month when I was convicted. As soon as my sanctions ended I was placed in isolation and lost all communications except one fifteen minute phone call for a month and a half. According to the Case Manager in my unit, Milton Neumann, this was due to things I wrote to the United States Senate criticizing the American government for not allowing us to pray and for a few other things as well.
A few weeks after being released from isolation, I was convicted of being suspected of praying in a group, not even for actually praying in a group, and I was sanctioned for another month. I was also placed in isolation again for a few weeks over the exact same issue as before, when this happened.
In May, 2012, I was again placed in isolation over a question I was trying to get answered regarding certain religious issues. There was nothing violent about the questions, but the prison chose to interpret them as promoting violence, because they automatically assume that anything having to do with Islaam is inherently violent. When I threatened to go to the media and to the courts over this, they expedited my release.
When I was in isolation on this occasion, I began to write a piece detailing a simple twenty-four hour experience locked away. I wrote it in a bit of an artistic manner as opposed to a simple article. The piece detailed our struggle to do things like call the adhaan and pray together in isolation. When I was released from isolation, I began re-writing it as an e-mail to the outside. Shortly after beginning it, while it was still saved in my drafts folder, our Unit Manager, Steven Cardona, and our Case Manager, Milton Neumann, called me into their office and threatened to put me in isolation permanently on fake investigations if I sent the e-mail out. I agreed to delete the e-mail.
I was again caught praying in a group around this time, but instead of writing me an incident report and taking my e-mail, the prison moved me to the cell closest to the office of the guards.
Shortly after this, I was again convicted of being suspected of praying, but this time I lost e-mail for two months. After this, I only had it back for three weeks when they convicted me on this most recent incident when I lost it for four months.
In the midst of this latest sanction, I worked with a brother to craft a lawsuit against the ban on prayer in Guantanamo North. I had to wait a long time, because the prison makes you seek administrative remedies for about a year before you can file a lawsuit. They never answer these remedies, so it is simply a way of deterring lawsuits. In fact, when the American government created this policy, they openly claimed that it was to keep prisoners from using the courts.
Our suit sought relief under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and the First and Fifth Amendments. The goal of the suit is to overturn the ban on congregational prayer in the unit, gain compensation for the oppression they subject us to in Guantanamo North, and to punish the people who are responsible for these actions. One of the people I am suing is the guard who, as mentioned in the previous article, threw a padlock at a wafer thin brother while he was sleeping. This brother is wafer thin, has one lung and is suffering from cancer. This guard is being sued, because he has issued incident reports for the prayer on two occasions.
I also hope to have the suit certified as a class action, but this is a bit difficult and I would need an attorney to do it (not that I cannot write the motion myself, but having an attorney is a prerequisite for filing a class action suit. A class action suit is one which applies to all people who fit a certain description, even if they themselves did not file the suit.
A similar suit was filed a few years ago by some brothers at Terre Haute’s Guantanamo North facility. In their suit, they simply sought relief under the RFRA, which means that no damages could be awarded. The standard for the RFRA is fairly easy to meet, so this is why they used that instead of a constitutional argument. Eventually, every single plaintiff on this suit was dismissed, except for John Walker Lindh.
The suit was also denied class action, because the extremist Sufi government appointed imaam who believes in Wahdat ul-Wujuud (that everything is Allaah and Allaah is everything) and who supports Bashar al-Assad in Syria wrote a misleading declaration against them. Despite the fact that this man’s beliefs and positions are considered extremely heretical by mainstream Muslims, the prison refuses to replace him and uses him to back up whatever position they want to take against the Muslims.
Our arguments are essentially the same, except that in our facility they have been more harsh on the prayer and they have less reasons for restricting it, as there have been a few incidents at Terre Haute which were used to justify the ban. The prison claims that group prayer leads to radicalization, and a “political” view of Islaam. This is why they have banned it. There arguments at each facility are the same.
Al-hamdu Lillaah, our brother at Terre Haute won. The judge in his case saw that the prison was very clearly oppressing them in their religion. Therefore, in shaa-Allaah, within the next two months these brothers will once again be able to pray in a group. However, there is a possibility that this will be delayed as the government appeals the ruling.
As one might imagine, all of the brothers here were overjoyed. It brought tears to our eyes when we saw this brother’s victory on the news. Everyone’s hopes were raised that maybe we would be allowed to pray together too. However, this was not the case. Despite the fact that the prison has been clearly told that their action was in violation of American law, they refuse to recognize this ruling.
Technically, they do not have to, because the court ruling only applies to John Walker Lindh. However, the ruling also makes clear that anyone who is in the same situation as Lindh ought to be allowed to pray by the prison. This is the case over here, but instead of viewing things from the perspective of right and wrong, the prison has chosen to view them from the perspective of what they can get away with in terms of oppressing Islaam. It would not cost them anything to let us pray together. In fact, it would save them time, money and resources.
They allow us to gather for every worldly purpose: cards, television, movies, food, conversation, sports, games, and so on. However, when it comes to the prayer, all of a sudden we become a threat to their security. Why? Because it is a public manifestation of a religion which frightens them. They see this force which they cannot understand. they see that it moves people to do extraordinary things. It causes men and women to reject those things which they love as immoral and adopt self-sacrifice and perseverance as a means to better the lives of their brothers and sisters. This is why we cannot pray.
Please raise awareness of this issue and please keep us in your du’a.
Abu Talhah Al-Amriiki
Zachary Adam Chesser #76715-083 USP Marion U.S. Penitentiary PO Box 1000 Marion, IL 62959 USA