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Azmath, the Gentle Sufi from Hyderabad

Maryam Ismail
Filed on January 24, 2009

With Barack Obama, I hope for the end of Guantanamo Bay as well as the release of all there locked in dungeons and in secret jails.

Or on Navy brigs like Jose Padilla, who spent over three years in solitary confinement in South Carolina. He was later tried and convicted in Florida, without any evidence, for conspiring to kill his fellow Americans. When Padilla was arrested, they announced him as the new kind of terrorist: the dirty bomber, one who would carry a nuclear-activated bomb in a briefcase and destroy entire cities. He was young, a former gang-banger, who converted to Islam and came to be known as Ibrahim.

America canít let his past rest. They neither have any evidence nor any right to put him away. He is seen as someone more notorious than Bin Ladin. Think of the reputation he will never live down. If he gets out where can he go to live, work, and have a normal life? For Padilla, there is barely a website that doesnít paint him as the villainous enemy, dangerous, a terrorist, and despite his name being Jose and Padilla. You see, of all of the would-be crimes that he was accused of the final one, converting to Islam, is the most terrifying. Like the case of John Walker Lindh (Suleyman), who is also serving like Jose 17 years, is being gassed, stripped naked, and strapped to a table in the wrong country. I donít mean to make light of the destruction of the World Trade Center on September 11, which I used to go through everyday, when I worked in New York, but come on, can we get the real guys?

It is rarely reported, but many Muslims also died in the World Trade Center. South Asians, who sold newspapers, magazines, candy, Tylenols, and Snapple. I saw them everyday I went to graduate school and then to work. They were just like the guys in Newarkís Penn Station, who one day asked me, ďAre you Muslim?Ē Afterwards, they were like my brothers, during Ramadan, close to time to break fast, they were always ready, offering dates, juice and water. Muslims are such a small group in the US, you find solidarity were you can.

It was during that time, I got to know one of them in particular, who chose me to be a subject of Dawah. Looking at the magazines, killing time until my train came, this one very soft spoken brother, interested in Sufi Islam, on a few occasions encouraged me to think about Allah. He gave me a book about the miracles of the Prophet (PBUH). It was the first time that I had heard of such a thing. His encouragement along with some others, made me think, itís time to learn more about Islam.

This guy in the window, next to McDonalds, whose shyness prevented him from looking directly at me for three years, one day spoke to me about Allah. And from that point on, I had a friend at Penn Station. So, imagine my shock, when I see my friendís face on the TV, in Time magazine, on CNN, everywhere, as the 20th bomber. I still want to gasp. We were not close, he was just an ĎAs Salaamulaikum sisterí, on the way to work, but imagine if it was someone you knew? Your brother, father, husband, sister, wife, cousin or a friend? I still feel it. He along with his travel partner was not part of the Al Qaeda network (if there is any such thing), they were just two guys being tested by Allah. And their test is not over. Just google Mohammed Azmath, and it as if they are still wanted, and 9/11 is a day that never ends.

What this makes me think of is there a way to get your innocence via the net? Who controls it? Itís not as free or fair as we think. Try to google something like the Wal-Mart fiasco, all information stops at 2003. While Wal-Mart goes on, making profits on the back of humanity. But for those like Azmath and Padilla, their character assassination continues on the net.

Azmath was lucky; they let him go after 18 months. His salt and pepper hair had turned completely white. When I saw his picture in the paper, I felt relieved. Still, one has to think, then it was him, and when will it be me or mine? We cannot just protest, get mad, and cause trouble, we have to be smart and lobby and find some political power of our own.

Tell those Google people to stop publishing stuff that only says over and over that these people are dirty bombers, masterminds and terrorists. Because none of these guys in these jails, dungeons, rendered into oblivion on gray planes with no names can cause the same level of mayhem, heartache, pain, death and destruction as Israel unleashed in Gaza, and as the US in Iraq. We cannot sit idle, silent, fooling ourselves that it wonít come here or near us.

They know how much Muslims fight, bicker and discriminate against each other, yet they give us so much power. If we had the amount of power they said, we had, then Palestine and Israel would be like Czech and Slovakia. Two separate nations, and managing just fine.

I think if we are smart, we can do something to change this war on terror because right now nobody is safe. I know before it was the guy at the newsstand, and there is no guarantee that next time, it wonít be me.

Maryam Ismail is a Sharjah-based Arab American writer. She can be reached at: maryam@journalist.com


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