Allow me to share an amazing true story expressing, in a new poetic way the Islamic terminologies of Fitr, Zakat and Eidiyah, of purification through charity of wealth, time and skills, that I hope, as a non-Muslim, honours the spirit of Eid al-Fitr.
Fitr: The fast of freedom ends
On 17 October 2016 Mohamedou Ould Salahi’s 14-year forced freedom fast ended. This was a blessed day for Salahi when he gave thanks to Allah for the strength to endure the great injustice against his innocence with its daily psychological and physical torture at the hands the US government.
Salahi, born in 1970 in Mauritania, was taken captive on 20 November 2001 by US military authorities based on their fantasy profile of Salahi as the mastermind recruiter of three of the 9/11 hijackers concocted by a false joining of the dots between his 1990 Afghanistan mujahideen episode (armed by the US government) and association with his cousin Mahfouz Ould al-Walid, a spiritual advisor to Osama bin Laden.
Renditioned to and tortured in Jordan, Afghanistan and the notorious Guantanamo prison where, as Number 760, he suffered barbaric torture ordered by Rumsfeld; beatings, sleep deprivation, stress positions, water boarding – all set out in his book, Guantanamo Diaries.
Understandably, he capitated and made a false confession when he was (falsely) told his mother was detained in Guantanamo and under threat of sexual assaults. Salahi never saw his mother again, on news of her death, as a Hafiz, he he sang the whole Quran.
His legal team won his habeas corpus trial which ruled no probable cause to charge him, but he remained imprisoned for 7 more years.
On release, Salahi emerged from a 5170-day hunger for freedom with the great blessing of righteous Karam; with an open heart he obeyed Allah’s command, “And let them pardon and overlook. Would you not like that Allah should forgive you? And Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.”(Quran 24:22) and generously forgave the perpetrators of his suffering.
Zakat: The giving of principles of justice
Nancy Hollander, payed her zakat of justice to free Salahi. Hollander, an American criminal defense lawyer is renowned for defending cases lawyers refused to take on especially Salahi’s with “alleged connections to 9/11”. Since Salahi she defended Chelsea Manning and “In 2019 she was jailed for refusing to testify against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and was given a fine of $256,000.”
Hollander steadfastly believes everyone has the right to a fair trial and her belief was tested in Salahi case when she steadfastly weathered death threats and abuse placing Salahi’s legal rights above her own safety. She doggedly stood up for Salahi as his lawyer, and in time as his friend, against the stonewalling of the US government that withheld crucial documents and against Obama’s 2009 appeal against the habeas corpus ruling that kept Salahi in Guantanamo for another 7 years.
The military prosecutor, Lt Col Stuart also offered his zakat of justice to Salahi’ case. A personal friend of Michael Horrocks, the pilot of the second hijacked plane, he had a personal and professional motivation to secure Salahi’s guilt and death penalty.
On finding proof that Salahi’s ‘confession’ was made under the duress of torture he resigned as prosecutor.
Because of his belief in a fair trial compounded by the Christian demand to defend human dignity, he stood firm, like Hollander, for justice even though he was publicly slurred as a traitor. Crouch later contributed to the freeing of Australian Mamdouh Habib.
Muslims understand the spiritual call to stand firm for human dignity, “I breathed into him (Adam) of My Spirit” (Quran 38:72) and the call to justice, “O you who believe, be upright for God, and be bearers of witness with justice!” [Quran, 5:8]. When Zakat is understood as inner wealth where it’s purification is holy. As the Sufis say, “Alms fall first into God’s hands” thereby generosity of self and talents is purified into love and justice for the poor and oppressed.
Eidiyah: The gift of a double conversion
The unexpected eidiyah in the Salahi story are the gifts of joyous conversions from Steve Wood. Woods, became an MP (military police) after 9/11. At 23, in 2004 he was deployed to Guantanamo as the night guard of the “United States military’s highest-value detainee”- Salahi.
Prior to Guantanamo, his unthinking political attitude reflected most Americans, “He recalled his political views as being “whatever Fox News told us.” He didn’t know the difference between a Hindu, a Sikh, and a Muslim—he had never met one.”
Drawn into Salahi’s open friendliness which is profoundly inspired by Islam and also Salahi’s encouragement that he research political truth, Woods embarked on his conversion paths to becoming a Muslim and a political activist to close Guantanamo.
Wood reflecting on his Guantanamo experience, stated, “I wanted to be proud of what I did” but “he left Guantanamo with no pride and wanted get his pride back.” Initially, because of the public patriotic fervour around 9/11, he kept his Muslim conversion a secret and after he revealed it, he lost his marriage and many family and friends.
Salafi, Hollander, Crouch, Woods are not extraordinary people. They are ordinary people who hold fast to faith and live true to the extraordinary sacredness of Love, Justice, Truth.
FYI: I came across Salahi in the film The Mauritanian on Prime Amazon. It is hoped film will renew pressure to give due process of law to the remaining 40 detainees of the original 780 detainees of whom, to date, only 3 were convicted. The documentary My Brother’s Keeper shares with us Salahi and Wood’s friendship.