An interview conducted with the sister of a young detainee held at Goulbourn’s SuperMax prison. This interview was conducted for the Campaign Publication/Magazine put together as part of GIMC’s 2015 Innocent Until Proven Muslim? Conference. This story will be further discussed at the Conference on 1 November 2015.
Barā has been held in solitary confinement for a number of months. He has not been charged; he has no criminal record and, at the time of writing, is yet to face trial. Haneen, his elder sister, is keen to have his story heard.
All names in this interview have been changed for the safety of the people involved.
Haneen, your parents’ house was raided while you were there on a morning visit. Can you explain what happened that day?
Yes, my parents’ house was raided and the police conducted an 11-hour search. They went through everything. They searched the kitchen, they went through the bedrooms, they looked through personal belongings and they checked every corner of the house. It was very invasive. In the end, they took a bunch of items that had the shahada on top, and they took notes from Islamic classes. They laid out the items on the table and put them in the evidence bag.
What was the mood of the family like during the raid?
We were completely normal. We were laughing, joking, having coffee and getting on with our lives. We were confident that there was nothing on us. There was nothing to hide. Barā was calm and he let the police do their thing. I’ll never forget; he went to the side and he kept praying.
They took the evidence bag and left. We thought that was the end of it, but I had a bad feeling. I kept visiting them and it felt like something bad was going to happen.
Did your feeling turn out to be true?
Yes. Soon after the raid, the police returned and arrested Barā. He was suspected of wanting to commit a crime that would jeopardise national security, but they didn’t say anything about the evidence. It was a big shock. My mum refused to let him go. She was on the floor holding him, saying “No, you’re not taking him.” Barā was the one consoling, “Mum, get off me, it’s alright.” Then he turned to the officers and said, “Just handcuff me.” They did and then he was gone.
No matter what happened in our lives, Barā was always the kind of person who believed that there’s a reason behind every test. You’ll never hear him say, “Why me?” He believed that after every hardship, there will be ease.
How has this incident affected you all?
He was the glue of our family. He used to fix any family issues we experienced. We’re never going to be the same. The only way to make it through this trial is for us to stand together, but it’s difficult because everyone is in their own corner feeling distressed.
I’m the eldest of my siblings and I feel automatically responsible for him. I can’t believe I’m out here and he’s in there. I haven’t seen anyone in so many months. I’ve pushed everyone away. I feel guilty eating, sleeping and even when someone is comforting me. I feel bad and I think to myself who’s there to comfort Barā? I know he has Allah (swt) with him but it’s so easy to feel forgotten when you’re in there. I sleep with his t-shirt under my pillow.
When I got married, I gave him a ring so he could remember me and not feel upset about my absence. He used to wear it everywhere and all the time. Now, I have the same ring to remind myself of him.
How did Barā preoccupy himself?
Barā lived for da’wah. Since he was young, he lived by the idea that you should love for others what you love for yourself. The thing he loved the most was Islam and he wanted to share that with everyone. When he was in year 5, he loved his primary school teacher so much. He struggled with his learning but his teacher encouraged him through the learning process. She was very caring, empathetic, supportive and kind towards students with learning difficulties. As a show of his gratitude, Barā took da’wah books from my mum to give to his teacher. He placed a letter with the dawah material and he wrote, “Because I love you so much, I would love for you to become a Muslim.” He had this passion in him since when he was very young.
He was an outspoken person and he was always giving da’wah on the streets. He wasn’t articulate in his speech but he knew how to talk to the youth. So many of the young brothers gave up their bad habits and started practicing Islam because of him. When you’re young and this is what you’re preoccupied with, you’re called an “extremist”. It’s like: they’d prefer to see our boys out in the clubs, getting drunk, smoking, overdosed, and sleeping around than loving the masjid and wanting to settle down.
Can you describe the reaction of the community towards your family following the arrest of your brother?
I feel let down by the community. I find it disgusting how people who’ve known us for years, leaders who’ve known Barā since he was a baby, show no empathy. My dad was very involved in the community. They never picked up the phone to say, “Are you alright? Do you need anything?” They have responsibilities over their community. If this was their son, wouldn’t they want everyone to speak up for them and support them?
Even when you go on social media, you’ll see an article about my brother or another accused Muslim and some of the comments are disgusting. They’re name calling and making takfir. How would they feel if that was their son?
What do you want from the Muslim community?
Everyone knows you can’t clap with one hand. The least I’d expect is that if they don’t have solid evidence on someone to accuse them of something so big and serious, they should be standing behind him. How many times have we seen the media lie? Our job is to stand with the truth and to believe that a person is innocent until proven guilty. At the moment, the so-called justice system and some voices in the community are treating him like he’s guilty until proven innocent.
I want the community to not ignore and forget about the young Muslims. They need compassion and respect. You have young boys like Barā who have a passion, they’re driven, they want to feel supported, they want to feel brotherhood but they’re rejected. They go from musalla to musalla, looking for brotherhood but they’re ridiculed and made fun of because they’re young. People don’t take them seriously and they mocked these young motivated individuals.
I want my brother to know that the people who love him will support him and will be behind him no matter what anyone says. We will have his back throughout this difficult time.
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