Sunday, January 05, 2014

Excerpts from the Prison Memoirs with the Ameer of Hizb ut Tahrir, Sheikh Ata bin Khalil Abu al-Rashtah

Al-Waie Magazine received some of the memoirs of the respected brother, Salim al-Amr. We are publishing some of them, for in them is a lesson and benefit, insha'Allah, for those who take heed. We extend our recognition and appreciation to Brother Salim for these poignant and expressive memoirs, and we ask Allah سبحانه وتعالى to grant what came in their end, and that He keeps him safe from all evil.
Prison Memoirs and the Honor of Companionship (1)
The beginning starts from the Sawaqa Desert Prison in Jordan. That day I did not know about Hizb ut Tahrir except that which made me hate and ridicule the Hizb. May Allah forgive the one who was the cause for this!
On the morning of that, day news came to the prison that a prisoner by the name of Ata Abu al-Rashtah [Abu Yasin] will be transferred from Juwaideh Prison to the Sawaqa Desert Prison. It did not matter to me as much as it mattered to the Shabab (members) of Hizb ut Tahrir, who were in the room opposite to ours. I witnessed their cheerful faces, when they heard of his coming. I found out from them that he was the official spokesman of Hizb ut Tahrir. But who from us knew of him?
"How come you don't know who this man is; he is one of the very few who wrote about Islamic economics!" exclaimed my friend (Ahmad al-Sa'oub, a brother of my cause - resistance against the Jews). Of course, it was Ahmad who avidly read the newspapers such that we used to say that we buy the newspaper for twenty cents and he reads it for one dinar! Even the small ads would not miss his attention.
At that time I was in a room with the so-called 'Afghan Jordanians'. The case was a complicated one in which many had been unjustly imprisoned, many of whom were there by no fault of their own. We were named at the time as the case of Wadi Mujib. Our case was in short a martyrdom operation against Jewish tourists who were coming to Jordan, conducted on the first anniversary of the Ibrahimi Mosque massacre of 24/02/1995, but the operation did not succeed, and I was sentenced to death, later reduced to life imprisonment with hard labor.
My mentality at the time was closer to the Salafi jihadi one; hence there was a major difference in opinion between me and Hizb ut Tahrir. I admit that I was intellectually immature at the time. I did not care about thought (fikr) or know what it meant. We did not know the terminology that we heard from the Shabab of Hizb ut Tahrir and did not care about knowing to the degree that we used to make fun of the word thought (fikr), when we saw Abu Yasin and his followers move between rooms. One of our friends used to say sarcastically, "This is the leader of them who thought them thought (fikr)" (playing on the Quran'ic verse, "This is the leader of them who thought them magic (sihr)") and we used to naively laugh!
While we were busy with our internal problems and searching for news of general amnesty that we heard from time to time, hoping to get out of jail, the Shabab of Hizb ut Tahrir were busy absorbing from the knowledge of Abu Yasin. They were, as described by the writer Abdullah Abu Rumman when he was imprisoned on the issue of bread, "writing a book each week." Their reality was described by Professor Hamza al-Aneed, at the time of his family's visit to him in the prison. He used to say that we have with us Abu Yasin, who gives us between every two lessons (dars) a lesson! Therefore, news of the general amnesty did not concern them. They believed that the prison was qadaa' from Allah, and there were rarely any internal issues worthy of mention among them.
Sheikh Ata used to busy them with research, writing, and teaching them Arabic and usul ul-fiqh (principles of jurisprudence). When we would go to sports many of them used to go to the prison's library to live in the shadows of tafasir (translations) and borrow books to research and complete what he assigned to them.
Prison Memoirs and the Honor of Companionship (2)
Sometimes we were exposed to conflicts, as a result of side fights with the prison administration which we were in no need of. This was usually because of the Salafi Jihadi brothers (the state called their case the case of 'allegiance to the imam'). Their view towards the police, their describing them as tawagheet and what resulted from that of ahkam, resulted in this hostility, which made us live in a state of conflict within the prison, due to the likes of running battles between them and the prisoner guards and police.
Whereupon, the prison administration sought to repress us by throwing tear gas to divide us. It decided to divide us into small rooms, scattered over two floors, and was thus able to alleviate a lot of problems with this step. The situation then was as described by the writer and journalist Abdullah Abu Rumman in an article he wrote when he was released from prison under the title, "Leaders in the Prison" (wa fi al-sujoon 'umara').
I was in charge, I used to serve a group of prisoners from different movements: Afghan Jordanians, those from different movements, and from Hizb ut Tahrir, because some of them were in my cell, among them Tariq al-Ahmar, as well as the engineer Laith Shubeilat. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was also a leader of a group. Walid Hijazi was leader of the Shabab of Hizb ut Tahrir in the cell including Abu Yasin, because the latter refused to be leader. He used to seek to make leaders of the Shabab instead, guiding them where needed.
During Friday prayers, we used to pray in the rooms. We would hear the Khutba (Friday prayer speech) at times from Sheikh Ata and sometimes from Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi. This was before we were divided into small rooms. The sermon of Abu Yasin used to be remarkable to the point that it had affected some of the Salafis. This made their leaders concerned and they manufactured some problems, in order to rupture them from the Shabab of the Hizb, and this is what happened in fact.
Abu Yasin used to give a regular lesson in our room on usul ul-fiqh and it used to be attended by some of the Shabab in the room. Another regular lesson was given by Brother Shabeita, also from Hizb ut Tahrir, on Arabic. But we did not pay great attention to these lessons, unfortunately.
Abu Yasin would seize any opportunity that allowed him to communicate with the others in the different rooms, whether in cases of illness or a funeral; despair never found a way to his heart. He used to advise his companions as the Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him, used to advise his companions,
«صلْ من قطعك، واعفُ عمّن ظلمك»
"Make ties with those who cut them off from you and forgive those who treat you badly".
He used to ignore abuse against him by others from other movements and not respond except with kindness.
ادْفَعْ بِالَّتِي هِيَ أَحْسَنُ فَإِذَا الَّذِي بَيْنَكَ وَبَيْنَهُ عَدَاوَةٌ كَأَنَّهُ وَلِيٌّ حَمِيمٌ
"Repel evil with that which is best, and the one with whom you have enmity will became as if a close friend."
(Fussilat: 34)
We used to mock the Shabab of the Hizb and at the same time we used to love them. Some of us would tease them saying, "You Shabab of Hizb ut Tahrir, when you go for coffee you ask the waiter to bring you one tea and two people to discuss with." I saw Abu Yasin laugh at this statement, coming from my friend Eid al-Jahaleen (from the 'Afghan Jordanians' case), who had lost both his feet in advancing to blow up a cinema – may Allah give him health. Dr. Ali al-Faqir, who used to sit in the circle of Abu Yasin and learn Usul, would say to us, in being fair, when we were alone: brothers, if there was a person worthy of our respect, it is Abu Yasin.
After two years in prison, the picture began to become clear to me little by little. I became to see things objectively. I especially saw our internal problems increase for trivial reasons, which made me waste time. I then wrote a request to the prison administration to send me to the second floor; the room where the Shabab of Hizb ut Tahrir were. The application was approved, only to be rejected a few hours later! So I remained there only a night, then returned to where I came from.
From time to time, we would bid farewell to the released Shabab, and it was custom to celebrate when they were released. I organised with the guard on the night of the release of some of them to sleep in their room, in order to provide some anasheed to celebrate the occasion of the release.
Then the day came that Allah سبحانه وتعالى honored me to meet the Ameer of Hizb ut Tahrir and his Shabab in one cell, when we were transferred to the prison of Salt (in north-west Jordan) which was divided into cells on which "the Sun would not shine", as it was said. The cell contained a concrete two-story bed and each cell had four stories, that is, eight prisoners to a room.
Salt prison compared to Sawaqa Prison was harsher. The atmosphere changed, our conditions were more constricted, humidity problems multiplied, and the problems increased; but I do not exaggerate in saying that I gained the most because of this transfer, even though they took me twice the distance away from my family, as I am from the city of Karak.
By the grace of Allah, this move turned the adversity of prison into a blessing.
Prison Memoirs and the Honor of Companionship (3)
Every prison has a different atmosphere. Despite the lack of services and the small cells in Salt prison, we started to become familiar with the place. Imprisonment is not about walls. A man can turn the adversity of the prison into a blessing, by his will, despite all the obstacles.
At the time Abu Yasin was about to bid farewell to most of the Shabab of Hizb ut Tahrir in prison. No one remained from them but few, all of whom were soon to be released as their sentences ended. I remember from them Walid Hejazi, Suhaib Ja'ara, and Abdul al-Rahim Abu 'Alba. This is what happened; within weeks they were outside the prison walls, breathing the air of freedom.
No one from the Shabab was left in the room except Abu Yasin. How painful and sad to leave a man in isolation, without a companion in the room. Here I decided to transfer to his room, especially since it had now become easier.
There were many reasons for this decision of mine: the mental peace in the room of Abu Yasin; serving the man who was now moving on in the years with white hair appearing on him. He deserved being served - it is from the reverence of Allah سبحانه وتعالى to honor an elder Muslim and a companion of the Quran. He also had a unique forbearance, a vastness of heart. One day I saw him abused very much by one of the other prisoners, but he was above responding in any way with the like. Rather, he overlooked and forgave.
Having moved to his cell, I began to watch the man closely; how he ate, how he drank, how he performed ablution, how he worshiped, and how he dealt with people. I saw Islam manifest in reality in that cell. It was a blessing from Allah سبحانه وتعالى that He gives to whom He wills.
Abu Yasin was the object of everyone's respect. He always greeted you with a smile. When he performed wudu' he did not waste water; he would close the tap several times during the wudu' as he moved from one body part to another. I would ask him, "Abu Yasin, are you afraid that the water of the prison will run out?" "It is public property", he would reply, "which must be preserved and not unduly wasted."
He used to greet everyone with the salam, but some of the inmates from other movements would not reply to his salam, a matter that saddened him. He would say to me, "How will such mentalities be handled upon the establishment of Islamic state?" He would remain silent for a while and then say, "There's no solution for these, upon the establishment of the Khilafah, except that they be on the frontiers of war fighting the enemy."
There was only one television in the prison, for everyone. It was always on in the dining hall. Abu Yasin used to go only to watch the eight o'clock news and then would return to his cell.
One day one of the other prisoners, from the Tahhan family, someone not from the Shabab of the Hizb (he was imprisoned for carrying a weapon) said to me, "My brother, you don't know how much I respect this man (Ata). I have seen him more than once break down in tears upon listening to the news bulletin, especially when he heard the painful news of Algeria and the killing taking place there."
Due to me being from the well-known 'Amr clan of city of al-Karak, some of the officers from the south used to be affectionately close with me; we used to go to the yard for a break in the back of the prison. Sometimes the guards would go out with us.
One day an officer from the al-Shabtat clan of al-Tufayla said to me that he had spent a period of his service in the Preventive Security Service, before being transferred to the prison. After a degree of familiarity and friendship developed between us he said to me, "Salim, in your opinion, who is the most dangerous for the Jordanian regime from those present here?" My answer was quick: the 'allegiance of the Imam' (i.e. the 'Salafi Jihadis') then the 'Mines of Ajloun'. He laughed a bit and then said, "All of these do not pose us with difficult challenge." Then he said, "Do you see that man (meaning Abu Yasin) walking there all alone to whom none of you pay any attention." "Yes," I replied. "He is the most dangerous of you for the Jordanian regime."
I realised then that the reality is not as it seems. Some of the officers used to come stealthily to the cell to sit with Abu Yasin, when they were sure of the absence of the Preventive Security Service. I then realised that achieving the nussrah (material support) was possible, that many of Firawn's family conceal their iman.
At the time, I used to be not able to distinguish the subject from the predicate in Arabic grammar. Abu Yasin said to me one day, "Why do you not take advantage of your time and learn the Arabic language?" I said, "It is a difficult subject which I do not understand, forget it."
"All you have to do is bring with you a copy of the Quran, a notebook, and a pen, and leave the rest to me. You will learn it, Allah willing", he replied. I challenged him that he would be wasting his time in the wrong place. However, he insisted to teach me the Arabic language. Any why not, it is the language of the Qur'an and the key to understanding it.
I convinced some of the other inmates to study Arabic, and we started on the method of the old Qur'an schools (katatib). We started to distinguish between the noun, the verb, and the particle, and that the sentence is beneficial expression, which benefits complete meaning. Most of the examples he used were from the Qur'an, likewise the assignments he would give us. At the end, after several weeks we had a test which I never dreamed of ever being able to complete in the past - to do complete i'rab (grammatical analysis) of Surat al-Anfal, and I was able to do it... may Allah reward him the best reward for that!
Prison Memoirs and the Honor of Companionship (4)
There was not much time left. In but a few weeks Abu Yasin would have had finished his sentence and be released. His sentence was three and a half years, and with the joy of his release to be among his family, his beloved ones, and his party that was waiting impatiently for him, I was also sad to part with him; he was like a father, brother, and a friend. In an impulsive act, some of the Shabab decided to attempt to remove the previous ameer of Hizb ut Tahrir, this news that some diseased selves may tell him that he split with the leadership of Sheikh Abdul-Qadeem Zallum (May Allah have mercy on him), devastated Abu Yassin found solace in the depths of night in Allah سبحانه وتعالى. Many more visits came bearing sad news of this, he remained strong before us and did not reveal his suffering before us.
At the time I was not part of Hizb ut Tahrir. I gave the matter much thought and made istikharah about joining the party. After that I spoke with him and I asked him to allow me to join. A radiance appeared on his face and his smile returned to him anew. He was keen to finish my basic studying in the party before he was released, even though only a week remained. However, I refused it due to the difficulty of the curriculum and the lack of books. So he started teaching me some of the broad principles and ideas and some administrative matters. This was in 1998, a time I consider myself to have been re-born on count of the honor of joining Hizb ut Tahrir. My gratitude for this, after Allah سبحانه وتعالى, is to Abu Yasin, may Allah preserve him.
Abu Yassin used to admire very much the personality of Muhammad al-Fatih, may Allah be pleased with him. I recall that once he drew on a piece of paper, within two minutes, the map of the world and showed me where the commander Muhammad al-Fatih reached with his conquests.
When I used to seek his permission to leave a sitting to go to sleep, he would say to me, "May it be a good sleep," and he would often say, "To a bright and honorable tomorrow by the leave of Allah", before he went to bed, in bidding us farewell for the day, with a certainty filled with hope of honor, victory and empowerment.
Abu Yasin was a poet. He would sometimes write a few verses for those who were blessed by Allah to leave the prison. He had a diwan (collection of poems) of his poetry, however it was confiscated from him. On the night of his release, he wrote some lines bidding farewell to those from other groups who came to congratulate him on his release.
When I went to meet him, he reminded me that I had been good to him in companionship and service, saying, "You have been extremely good to me. I ask that Allah gather us in other than this place."
The reality of the matter is that had I been good to him my entire life, I would not repay even part of what he done for me. He had no idea that I used to enjoy serving him, and Allah is my witness.
Abu Yasin was released from the Salt prison leaving behind a profound void. It was painful for us for months, until we were transferred to the Jafr Desert Prison in South Jordan.
Prison Memoirs and the Honor of Companionship (5)
The situation was beginning to reach a boiling point in Salt prison as a result of the so-called assassination of Khaled Meshaal and the swift release of the Zionist Mossad who carried out this operation without being brought to trial as the Jordanian saying goes: the Jews are our most precious possession. As a result of this turmoil in the prison, many political prisoners begin to seriously contemplate escaping from prison especially those with long sentences, especially since some of Firwan's clan who concealed their faith were willing to facilitate their escape, believing in the justice of our cause. After the prison administration suspected something they decided to transfer us to Jafr Desert in the far south of Jordan. Indeed, in the darkness of the night, we were transferred after they bound covers over our eyes, and under heavy guard took us to Jafr Prison, and this was at the end of 1998.
Jafr Prison was one of the oldest prisons, hardly fit to live in, but Allah made it easy on our hearts, giving us tranquility and serenity. When the prison administration noticed that we were at home with the place, they added to our room more than 15 prisoners arrested in cases of drugs, violence and like criminal cases. The prison administration thought that we would start fighting with them, but instead we took them in as brothers, treated them well and started influencing them. There was no one from the party's Shabab in prison at the time except me and being there alone amongst members of groups who adopted armed struggle, was a test.
We made good relations with the prison guards and found out from them that new prisoners will be transferred tomorrow to the prison. I looked at the list of names present with one of the guards, only to find that Ata bin Khalil Abu al-Rashtah was on it. I did not know that Abu Yasin had been arrested once again; particularly given that he was only out of prison for around four months or less.
My heart was filled with joy, as if I read about my own release – perhaps, as the Arabs say, in this (apparent) bad there is some good.
We were to meet Abu Yasin the following night - the best prisoner and best guest (for me)! In all honesty, everyone was pleased with his arrival. He is a person who commands respect and it is rightly deserved. That day I started preparing for study whilst inside the prison; my father and mother – may Allah shower them with His mercy – brought all the necessary books. They were amused at how I was thinking about studying, when I was sentenced to life imprisonment. I paid the costs and began to study. Fortunately, Abu Yasin came to raise my spirit. He taught me some subjects with the best techniques! He would simplify the content in unexpected time. What normally required months, he would get through in less than a month - may Allah سبحانه وتعالى reward him abundantly.
I was not convinced in the people of nussrah much, and I discussed this matter with him, so he gave me a practical lesson in this matter.
From one of the days that soon followed, he called me said, "Read." It was a new leaflet from the party! But who gave it to him? I realised that there was goodness in the people of nussrah, and that it was possible.
After the passing of a few months, news about the general amnesty was everywhere in the prison after the death of King Hussein, and it was only a few days thereafter and we were outside the prison walls - glory be to Him in whose Hands are the keys for everything.
The story of my release from prison is an amazing and strange one. How come I was released whilst being sentenced to life, and excluded from the amnesty law ('terrorists' are excluded from it). But because of a loophole in the amnesty law, I came out whilst I was the prisoner with the longest sentence (life sentence). In contrast, my friend, Ahmad al-Sa'oub, remained in prison. He was convicted to 10 years and due to his connection with King Hussein through the latter's family, he was moved to Sawaqa Prison in preparation for his release by King Hussein. But then the King died and the King of kings remained! I was released and Ahmad remained in Sawaqa Prison. Here I recalled the words of Abu Yasin that, "No matter is determined on Earth, except that it had been determined beforehand in the heavens."
During that period, Abu Yasin was fasting most of the days. Whenever he prayed a fard he followed that by another fard as qada' (compensation). When we asked him about this practice he said, "In the days of my youth, my prayers were not as perfect as they should have been; therefore, I want to make up for that."
I saw Abu Yasin happy in those days and wondered why. He said the party had returned stronger than it was before the event of the defection, which many thought would be the end of the party. He added that he had also married his son Yasin during his few months of release. Yasin had refused to marry while his father was in prison.
A few days later we were both out of prison, by the grace of Allah. I went to visit Abu Yasin at his home in the city Rusaifa and what a beautiful meeting it was! I arrived late in the evening, and I thought - with my Karaki mentality - that I was looking forward to a great dinner feast!
After hours of a warm welcome, he asked his children to bring dinner, and to my surprise it was but olive oil, thyme, eggs, and potatoes, but I swear by Allah that I have never seen a better dinner in my life, notwithstanding its simplicity. Had he anything better he would definitely have served it. He taught me from this that goodness is from those present, not from the material luxuries. He displayed no pretense to demonstrate anything more than what he was or had, and by doing so, gave me a practical lesson that I should be who I am and that honoring the guest is in the good meeting and welcome before all, as the saying goes, "Meet me, don't feed me".
I spent that night with Abu Yasin and it was the most beautiful night. He bid me farewell in the morning, after we prayed Fajr in the masjid. He had led the people in the prayer as imam.
I have not seen Abu Yasin since 1999 till this day.
I ask Allah Almighty to bless us with the Khilafah after he has blessed us with this noble scholar, the Ameer of Hizb ut Tahrir, and to liberate Jerusalem and conquer Rome at his hands. Indeed, the matter is in the hands of Allah and He is Able to fulfill it.

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