Saturday, February 01, 2014

PART 2: Excerpts from the Prison Memoirs and the Honor of Companionship with Sheikh Ata Abu al-Rashtah

PART 2: Excerpts from the Prison Memoirs and the Honor of Companionship with the Ameer of Hizb ut Tahrir, the eminent scholar, 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 (6)
I used to ask Abu Yasin (Sheikh 'Ata) about the cause of the shiver which afflicted his side when he used to lead us in prayer. I found out that it was the result of torture he underwent in the prisons of the intelligence agencies in Jordan, Libya and Iraq - electric shocks and other forms of torture. I recall him telling me that the Shabab would be tortured in those prisons to the point that they would be tied to gas cylinders so that they would move in circles around themselves at times of extreme cold in the torture chambers whilst whips would hit them from all sides.
Here I will suffice with the mention of some testimonies about the Shabab of the Hizb I heard from brothers (not from the Hizb) who we knew inside and outside the prison.
1. The Azhari teacher, Sheikh Ahmad al-Farkh (Abu al-Amin), a resident of al-Karak, Jordan. He died in 2006 after living to reach beyond 80 years. I asked him about the ideas of the Hizb. He said, "Praise be to Allah who made for me in Hizb ut Tahrir a clear criterion between truth and falsehood, O Salim. I bear witness that Hizb ut Tahrir is on the Haqq." He related to me a story about one of the communists in Anabta (Tulkarm, Palestine) who used to always be arguing with the Shabab. He had a respected daughter whom many of his friends in the Communist party asked for in marriage but he refused. But when one of the Shabab of Hizb ut Tahrir with whom he was at ideological odds asked to marry her, he agreed instantly. When he colleagues asked him, "Why did you agree to marry your daughter to a Tahriri who will argue with you all day and does not agree with us, instead of us who are from the same party as you (communist party)?!" His response was that, "They will look after her and respect her; you will not."
May Allah have mercy on Sheikh Ahmad al-Farkh, the noble scholar. All who knew him from the people of al-Karak attested to his character and knowledge. The Shabab remained in contact with him until he decided to join the Hizb a mere three days before he passed away.
2. The famous poet and engineer, Dr. Ayman al-'Atum, a companion of mine in prison. The following is what he writes about the Shahab of the Hizb in his book, O Companions of the Prison [YaSahibay al-Sijn] on pp. 192-197:
"In cell no. 12 and the two opposing rooms sat the Shabab of Hizb ut Tahrir. They were about ten prisoners. I went to them as a guest given the similarity of the cases for which we were accused, namely, 'lengthening the tongue' (i.e. speaking out against the regime). When I reached them the leader of the cell, Walid, welcomed me. Walid was a man in his late thirties. He had a long beard and strong, sharp voice. His smile would almost never depart his face. The top half of his torso inclined to the right slightly when he walked such that it seemed he was strutting or doing a dance of some sort.
Sheikh 'Ata, the leader of Hizb ut Tahrir in Jordan, was one of these ten prisoners. He was a revered and dignified man in his fifties, grey of head, of little words, amiable, blue eyed, with a white beard of moderate length etching his face. He attracted the overwhelming reverence of the other prisoners of his party, who would rush to serve him, to fulfill his tasks, and to attentively listen to every whisper emanating from him. And why not, given he was the leader of Hizb ut Tahrir not only of these ten but of every member of the Hizb in all of Jordan and perhaps even Palestine, and he may – one day – became its leader at the global level.
Walid prepared for me a distinguished bed. Hizb ut Tahrir had great appreciation for those imprisoned on the like of my case (speaking the haqq), and they had heard about his stance and my poems. Thus Walid, as the leader of the cell, made my bed distinguished by putting for me a new, clean mattress and plenty of covers. It was also distinguished in its position, being right next to the bed of Sheikh Ata.
Sheikh Ata was a man in whom the ideas of Hizb ut Tahrir saw practical and real manifestation. The main and central idea for which the Hizb works is the Khilafah. They link everything they do and strive for and everything they suffer for in the path of realizing this objective, namely, the establishment of the Islamic Khilafah on Earth. As to how, where, when, by what means, in what time period...every member of the Hizb had answers to these questions.
Often would the saying of Allah, the exalted, be repeated on their tongues in discussions,
وَعَدَ اللَّهُ الَّذِينَ آَمَنُوا مِنْكُمْ وَعَمِلُوا الصَّالِحَاتِ لَيَسْتَخْلِفَنَّهُمْ فِي الْأَرْضِ كَمَا اسْتَخْلَفَ الَّذِينَ مِنْ قَبْلِهِمْ وَلَيُمَكِّنَنَّ لَهُمْ دِينَهُمُ الَّذِي ارْتَضَى لَهُمْ وَلَيُبَدِّلَنَّهُمْ مِنْ بَعْدِ خَوْفِهِمْ أَمْنًا يَعْبُدُونَنِي لَا يُشْرِكُونَ بِي شَيْئًا وَمَنْ كَفَرَ بَعْدَ ذَلِكَ فَأُولَئِكَ هُمُ الْفَاسِقُونَ
"Allah has promised those of you who have iman and do right actions that He will make them successors in the land as He made those before them successors, and will firmly establish for them their deen with which He is pleased and give them, in place of their fear, security. 'They worship Me, not associating anything with Me.' Any who are kafir after that, such people are deviators."
(An-Nur, 24:55)
They were content in that the promise of Allah in this ayah would eventuate, and would mention with it another ayah,
فَاصْبِرْ إِنَّ وَعْدَ اللَّهِ حَقٌّ وَلَا يَسْتَخِفَّنَّكَ الَّذِينَ لَا يُوقِنُون
"So be steadfast. Allah's promise is true. Do not let those who have no certainty belittle you."
(ar-Rum: 60)
Sheikh 'Ata would give in the week: three lessons in tafsir of the Quran and three in Arabic language (lugha). Thus the week of the Hizb ut Tahrir inmates was distributed into two days: a day for tafsir followed by a day for language. 'Ata, knowing that I was a poet, would encourage me more than others to attend these lessons and to contribute and interact in them, and thus I did. I have never forgotten till this day his explanation of the saying of Allah, the Exalted,
هُوَ الَّذِي أَنْزَلَ عَلَيْكَ الْكِتَابَ مِنْهُ آَيَاتٌ مُحْكَمَاتٌ هُنَّ أُمُّ الْكِتَابِ وَأُخَرُ مُتَشَابِهَاتٌ فَأَمَّا الَّذِينَ فِي قُلُوبِهِمْ زَيْغٌ فَيَتَّبِعُونَ مَا تَشَابَهَ مِنْهُ ابْتِغَاءَ الْفِتْنَةِ وَابْتِغَاءَ تَأْوِيلِهِ وَمَا يَعْلَمُ تَأْوِيلَهُ إِلَّا اللَّهُ وَالرَّاسِخُونَ فِي الْعِلْمِ يَقُولُونَ آَمَنَّا بِهِ كُلٌّ مِنْ عِنْدِ رَبِّنَا وَمَا يَذَّكَّرُ إِلَّا أُولُو الْأَلْبَابِ
"It is He who sent down the Book to you from Him: ayats containing clear judgements (muhkamāt) – they are the core of the Book – and others which are open to interpretation (mutashābihāt). Those with deviation in their hearts follow what is open to interpretation in it, desiring conflict, seeking its inner meaning. No one knows its inner meaning but Allah. Those firmly rooted in knowledge say, 'We have iman in it. All of it is from our Lord.' But only people of intelligence pay heed."
(Ali-Imran: 7)
The Sheikh spent a long time on the particle 'waw' (and) in "waw al-rasikhuna fi al-'ilm" ("and those well-grounded in knowledge") on the question of whether it was a 'waw' of conjunction ('atf) or a 'waw' of resumption (isti'naf). This issue has been discussed at length by the classical exegetes and linguists. The Sheikh first presented, at length, the various views on the issue, and then explained his position which went counter to the majority position. The position of the overwhelming majority of exegetes is that the 'waw' here is a 'waw' of resumption but he held that it was a 'waw' of conjunction.
The students in the lessons from Hizb ut Tahrir would hold copies of the Qur'an and writing folders and would write behind the Sheikh that which Allah opened for him of knowledge. I saw myself, and in the handwriting of the Sheikh, three folders full of the tafsir of surat al-Baqarah. These folders would move between the students of the Shabab as if they were priceless treasures. They sought to protect them from damage or loss. One of them would hold it close to his chest while reading it. In conveying a trust, I should mention that I saw the Sheikh in these lessons diligent and bold in his interpretation of the ayat and what they contained of legal rulings, and the folders containing his tafsir had a mysterious glow. The students would transfer them among themselves as a jeweler moves gems and pearls.
The Sheikh has begun writing a tafsir of the Qur'an in the prison, till that point resulting in the compilation of these three folders of material. At that time he continued in this pursuit. I do not know today whether he completed the tafsir of the Qur'an or whether his occupation in leading Hizb ut Tahrir prevented him from doing so.
As for the lessons in the Arabic language, I still recall the lessons I attended in which the Sheikh explained the metaphor (majaz) and its various relations (with the literal meaning). I recall his mentioning the saying of Allah سبحانه وتعالى,
أَنْزَلَ مِنَ السَّمَاءِ مَاءً فَسَالَتْ أَوْدِيَةٌ بِقَدَرِهَا فَاحْتَمَلَ السَّيْلُ زَبَدًا رَابِيًا
"He sends down water from the sky and river-beds fill up and flow according to their size, and the floodwater carries with it an increasing layer of scum"
(al-Ra'd: 17)
and explaining that, "In origin we do not say 'the valleys flowed', we say 'the water in the valleys flowed'. This is a metaphorical usage. As for its relation, it is the relation of valleys with water, the former being the place in which the latter flows; so what we have here is an example of indirect metaphor [majaz mursal] whose relation is that of place."
The Sheikh would give everyone in the lesson work to complete for the next lesson. For instance, he would say to them, "Find different relations of the metaphor from surat Ali-Imran", or "Extract the various types of (grammatical) abrogaters from surat al-Furqan and ascertain their predicates and forms." His lessons would receive a great response and interaction from the individuals of his party, among whom were the old and young, the educated and uneducated, the doctor and teacher.
Cooperation, obedience of the leader and the like were apparent traits of this group of prisoners which I witnessed from living among them. And they were bold in expressing their views. I recall one of them becoming sharp in a discussion with one of the military officers, letting loose his tongue against the governing regime of the country. The officer swiftly lodged an official complaint against him as a result of which he was tried in a court of the state security force and sentenced to six months jail, adding to the two years he was previously sentenced to. Thus he was sentenced to prison whilst being imprisoned!
For this, he received rebuke from the other prisoners making fun of what occurred to him, saying to him, "You staying here is better. You aren't able to control your tongue for even a second, you and your party. You're only active in talking." So he responded to their rebuke with one more severe, accusing them of cowardice and weakness, saying to them that they fear even their own shadows and are not of the level whereby they could raise the word of truth and suffer in its path. He would repeat to them, "The truth wants men and not all people are men."
Hizb ut Tahrir believed – and continues to do so – that gradual change is a waste of effort and that one must begin from the peak of the pyramid, not its base, that one must severe the head of the serpent from its body to terminate its harm once and for all. As for the means to do this, it was possible to seek the support of those who can be trusted of the military officers to undertake, for instance, a military coup. While they did not believe in using material force to overthrow the regimes, they did justify seeking help from others to make these changes which necessarily required material force.
Ikrimah often used to like debating with them, and if he did not find one of them to listen to him he would come to me giving me a headache, as was his habit, by debating their ideas with me. He would say, "The problem with Hizb ut Tahrir is that it is rigid. They want to apply policy suitable for a bygone era in ours. They are people of ready-made templates." Holding a cup in his hand he would say, "They want to shove the cup into the bottleneck...they don't want to understand that 13 years in Makkah at the time of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم is not 13 years in Jerusalem, Amman or Beirut, nor even 100 years..."
Sheikh 'Ata was modest without being degrading of his self, humble without being self-effacing. He was wont, for health reasons perhaps, to keep some cucumbers under his bed. Often I saw him extend his hand, grab two or three pieces, wipe them with his hand, and then extend one towards me inviting me to partake in his banquet of cucumbers.
3. A testimony sent to me by Brother Muhammad Ali Abd al-Hamid (Abu Bakr) from the Shabab of the Hizb, Amman.
In the name of Allah, most Compassionate, most Merciful
"A Testimony from a Fair Man"
A few days after 'Ata Abu al-Rashtah assumed the leadership of Hizb ut Tahrir, and after our leaving Zamili Masjid in Amman after performing prayer in congregation, the engineer Salih Abdullah al-Jaytawi (from the Muslim Brotherhood) came to me and warmly shook my hand saying, "Congratulations, may Allah make it blessed." "For what?" I asked. He replied, "For our brother, the engineer, 'Ata Abu al-Rashtah assuming the leadership of Hizb ut Tahrir, and by which I am now certain that Hizb ut Tahrir is a sincere party, because it allowed 'Ata Abu al-Rashtah to reach the ranks of leadership. I know this man very well. He was a colleague of mine and a very dear friend."
"I know him since the days of secondary school. I accompanied him to Beirut for the entry examinations to the American University in Beirut. However, Allah did not will that we would enter that university. We then travelled to study engineering in Cairo and lived together there and completed our engineering studies together. I bear witness that during this time that I knew him, he was an exemplary man in his taqwa, morals and refined etiquette. We later used to visit each other in Amman. If you see him, pass him warm greetings from me."
Perfect is your Lord, the Lord of honour, above what they attribute him with, and select peace be upon the messengers, and all praise is for Allah.

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