Day 13: A personal account

We’re on a journey today. Don’t know exactly where we are going.  Allah has blessed me with a group of brotherss whom He, owner of the seven heavens, has picked especially for this task. One of the brothers has just told me that we are going to two camps…By Allah he is a beautiful soul, kind and always puts us before himself may Allah ease his affairs keep him firm in times of test and trials and give him Al-Firdous. Ameen.

Refugee Camps. Sounds like a horrible place. I feel distraught and incapable. Have we as an ummah become so detached from one another that we don’t feel the pain anymore?  No I don’t believe that. I believe that this is what shaytan wants and we have allowed ourselves to feel nothing for too long. With the permission of Allah the sleeping giant will awake; The muslim ummah will care.

We’re travelling through Antakya and people are just going on with their daily lives not comprehending that just a few kilometres away there is a place where you would never dream of being. A place where death is a reality every minute of the day. Most of the local people don’t even know what is going on because the media is selective in what it tells them.

We are at the Reyhanli camp which is a first stage camp run by the Turkish authorities. We can’t go in. The Turks are the only neighbour country that is providing for the refugees in an organised manner. The downside is that they will not allow any outside visitors, as they regard the situation to be overly sensitive. The only place we could go was to the toilets – that’s how far we got. I saw children that looked like they hadn’t had a shower for weeks. All I can see are white tents, like pegs in between mountains, covered with plastic sheets to keep the rain out. Imagine that. Imagine swapping our central heating and home-cooked meals for intense heat during the day and intense cold at night; for food in polystyrene containers; for plastic sheets to keep you dry from the rain.

People here are so calm in their approach; not complaining about the vile situation that they have been put in. I swear by Allah that they are more content than us living in Britain with all the mod cons. How long will we enjoy these casual pleasures without thought for others? Until tomorrow, until the money runs out, until death?  I saw a family sitting on the grass just relaxing as if they were under no hardship,  as if they were all chilling in their back garden in Syria while the children were playing. Some of the families in the camp want to sneak us in without the Turkish soldiers seeing us. They cut open a piece of the fence and tell us that that they will distract the guards but we can’t as they have seen what is happening and tell us to move. What would I see?  Maybe Allah the All Knower and All Wise is preventing us from going in to save me from more pain. I left the camp distressed knowing that I will never see these people again…

I pray to Allah that the Muslims there will testify for me on the day of judgement and that my pathetic little attempt to help may save me.  I will strive to do more to help my Ummah. I put my trust in Him as He knows what is best for me. He is the one who created me in the best form and never left me to my own desires. He gave me a religion to believe in, to live by and to die upon. I hope and pray that this suffering is put to an end and that these families can return to shade of their own trees in peace once again. Ameen.

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Day 13: The Wall of Hatred

We are still staying in Antakiya, waiting for the clearance to release the aid from our vans. The wall of bureaucracy that has confronted us has really sapped our souls. We are sitting on the trust given to us by people up and down the UK and beyond, we will not give up until we are allowed to distribute the aid we have been given with the love and care of all these families.

The people that are making our life difficult are Turks, yes, but something else too. Antakiya has a significant Alawi population, if not the majority. We have sensed the hatred and defiance on their part at every turn. At the Ataturk University Hospital we were prevented from simply sitting and offering our condolences to the injured refugees by a gang of Alawi doctors, overseen by Intelligence officers. Perhaps the Turks do not realise it but they have a fifth column in their midst. Many of the injured Syrians were afraid to speak in front of Hospital staff for fear of the Alawis present amongst them. Some had even shaven off their beards to play down their Sunni identity. The problems we are facing getting the aid from our vehicles to be officially cleared are orchestrated by Alawi officials, adamant on putting every obstacle in our way to helping the Syrian people.

Antakiya itself is not entirely a welcoming place. Sunnis young and old are happy to see us, however the reaction from Alawis is mixed.  We have had people shout at us on the street, telling us to go back where we have come from, people squaring up to us wanting to fight us. We have been turned away from shops and Barbers shops; one member of our convoy was turned away twice, perhaps because he was bald but most likely because he was not wanted.  It is an undeniable fact, Alawis here hate that the world cares about Syria; they hate that the religion of the oppressed and the oppressors has come sharply into focus and that things cannot just continue in the malaise that prevailed before the massacres – the false veneer of an equal society has been lifted – and they hate it. They have no-one to blame but their kinsman Bashar Al- Assad – the Butcher of Latikiya.

The suffering of the Syrian people may not be front page news back home, and that it is exactly what Bashar and his cronies want. Our convoy is simply about showing the Syrian people that we care, that we will not forget. The regime thinks that it can drown the Syrian people in their own blood; wash their stories away. We will never forget to pray for our Syrian brothers and sisters  and we ask Allah who controls everything that exists to bring all of His almighty power on top of the heads of all those who oppress the innocent. Ameen

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Day 12: Unverified Reports

We have now spent  more than two days in Antakiya witnessing the plight of refugees from the indiscriminate killing in Syria. We have been to hospitals, to a school for the refugees, to two camps. We have seen and heard things of unimaginable brutality. We hear a story that shakes us to the core only to hear another that is worse. But these are what would be termed ‘unverified reports’ so I suppose they don’t really matter. A personal account of a mass grave filled up with hundreds of innocent people, that can be smelled from two hundred metres away – an unverified report because the eyes of the one telling you the story, looking right through you to a pain you cannot imagine are not proof enough.  Account after account of innocent protester being fired upon indiscriminately from those who have escaped, including one from a young man paralysed on one side of his body and having
to defecate into a bag. A man recounting how is neighbour, a local imam, with no connection to any protests of any kind, mowed down whilst in prayer – another unverified report.  We met a man who used to be a filmmaker in Syria, pockets full memory sticks, full of clip after clip of dead bodies, of men, women and children, missing body parts, screaming in agony or, if they are lucky, lying dead.

We saw the whole cycle of pain and suffering. Protesters forced to flee, chased down. Only to risk losing life and limb on the border which has been scattered with landmines. We saw the border. We saw the checkpoints from the village of Guvecci , about two miles away, with the blood red Syrian flag flying unashamedly. We spoke to people who had been displaced, their homes now occupied by soldiers who just missed out on their chance to kill them.

In the hospitals, we asked those lying in their beds, with palpable embarrassment:  “ what do you want for yourself?” With every person, no matter how badly injured, no matter how badly their body was burned, no matter how long and deep the scar on their chest, one running from the bottom of the neck to the belly button, they all said: “leave us, we need nothing. The suffering we are going through here in Turkey is not 1% of those inside. Help them. Help them.”

The only question left to ask is this: What does a Syrian Muslim have to do to not get killed? The answer is nothing. There is nothing they can do, be they men, women or children, at home on the street, in the mosque, in the garden, on the run, in a group, with your friends, breastfeeding your new born baby, ruffling your son’s hair…There is nothing that the people of Syria can do against this criminal regime. We ask God almighty to help them and bring a swift end to their suffering. Ameen.

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Day seven: Waiting

 

We awake the morning with hope and optimism which soon withers away when we realise that our broken down vehicles will take some time to be repaired. Our group splits into two. Half of us go to repair our vehicles, the other half hang around the guest/house restaurant.

On the way to the mechanics yard  in central Tekirdas, with our vehicles in tow, we notice how many mosques there are even in this “westernised “ area of Turkey. On arrival we are greeted by dozens of mechanics each with his own garage and specialization lined up along one road. After jumping from one to another we finally arrive at one who can help us. I am struck by the general lack of art that the people we have met have; they are not looking to scam us, which would often be the case in many other parts of the world.

After our vehicles are fixed, later on n the evening we take our dinner right by the sea with our IHH hosts and then set off.

Driving in Turkey is nothing like Europe. Here drivers will happily cut across 3 lanes with a smile on their face. When we reach Istanbul, the chaos is multiplied ten times and we find ourselves packed in to a crazy herd of fast moving vehicles. Except that with our vans we are like rhinos and feel brave enough to take the Turks on at their own game.

We make it through the excitement to our resting place for the night. A religious hall run by the IHH staff. They are excellent hosts providing us with the now familiar sight of traditional Turkish meat with bread, washed down with a glass of Turkish yoghurt.

The night is spent mixing with our Turkish hosts and hearing their old adventures, including a harrowing account from one of the members of the Mavi Marmara convoy.

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A short history of the struggle

In 1924 the Islamic caliphate ended. Muslim countries were overrun and controlled by the colonial powers of Britain, France and Italy. This situation lasted for some years before these countries gained their independence. Nationalism took hold and soon after these countries slipped into dictatorships or Baathist regimes. During this time Syria was ravaged by over a decade of coup and counter coup. One group of officers would form a junta and take power, only for another to do the same a year or so later. This situation continued until an ambitious officer by the name of Hafiz Wuhush rose and took power. One of his first acts was to change the family name to the more becoming Al- Assad.  What made him different was the fact that he was from the Alawite clan and religion; all other suitors to power had been Sunni, and this was a Constitutional requirement. After an apparent conversion, he was to maintain power and implement it at a level of brutality and repression that no previous President could manage. He began by a gradual purging of the officer class from Sunnis. Any excuse would be sought to sack them and then replace with their Alawite colleagues. Young cadets from Sunni families were rejected entry from officer academies. Eventually the upper levels of the military consisted almost entirely of Alawites. Freedom of expression, which had hardly been the hallmark of previous regimes, was now completely dismantled. Any utterance against the regime, any suggestion, criticism resulted in imprisonment without hope of return. This was more than a shift in power but a complete overhaul of society by a tiny minority who previously enjoyed no such influence.

From the 1970s onwards, Sunnis everywhere realised this was a man and a regime that allowed no room for discussion or negotiation; the only option was to fight it. Open warfare began against the regime, marked by assassination of key officers by the Ikhwaan ul Muslimeen. Hafiz responded with one of the worst massacres in modern history in Hama where 40,000 inhabitants were slaughtered. An attempted assassination on Hafiz resulted in his brother killing over 800 prisoners by burning them whilst they were alive. The 80s continued to witness the struggle; Its soundtrack was nasheeds. As political emigrants fled the violence, this was the one connection they maintained with the revolution, it kept the hope alive. But as the Mafioso government became the norm, people became weighed down, despondency and despair took over and oppression was normalized.  Intelligence networks became entrenched in the city, normal people were employed in their thousands to spy on their friends colleagues and neighbours. In all institutions the party line was enforced. Islam was no longer allowed to be a religion of change and struggle but people were confined only to acts of individual worship – nothing that would encourage the community of conscience to develop. The culture became one of silence of acceptance. Poems and essays of intellectuals gathered dust as their writers were left forgotten in prisons. The nasheeds fell silent and people forgot the words.

Then in February 2011, a young graduate from Tunisia, unable to find suitable work, forced to sell vegetables, was pushing his cart along the street.   Having strayed into an area where we was not permitted to sell his produce, he fell under the wrath of a female council officer who slapped him. In Arab culture there is little more humiliating than being hit by a woman, but she represented authority and he had no power to speak, or act against her. He felt he had nothing left for his honour, dignity and life but to douse himself him in petrol and burn himself to death. This one act of a desperate man started a chain of events that lead to the flames from his body rising to a fire that spread throughout the entire Arab world.

A few months later one ember reached Syria. A young school teacher, calling her friend in Deraa, noted how swift the exit of Husni Mubarak had been, and hoped for the same fate for Bashar Al Assad. These words were to breath air into that ember, and the western educated and urbane son of the grotesque Hafiz, who by all accounts made excellent dinner -table company, would prove himself his father’s son. Her conversation just like hundreds of thousands of conversations was being tapped by intelligence services. She was arrested and subjected to unspeakable humiliation just like thousands of innocent people had been done for the three previous decades. Except that something slightly different occurred this time. Her class of 10 -12 years old students, as children usually do, had the audacity to write ‘bring down the leader’ on their blackboard. What would be a harmless piece of graffiti in any other country, caused the whole machinery of the Syrian state to be engaged. The schoolteachers informed the headmaster, the headmaster informed the local police sergeant, the sergeant informed the intelligence officers and the children were arrested. They were beaten, imprisoned in the station, and the nails were ripped from their fragile hands. As was expected the parents of the children gathered outside the station. They were completely used to their lives being monitored, to torture, and a complete lack of freedoms. But even to people so accustomed to this, an attack on their children was devastating. Perhaps even after such horrible crimes, if the children were returned the situation would have returned to normal. Instead the parents were told to forget about their children, go home and have sex with their wives to replace them, because they would never be returned, and if this was not possible to bring their wives to the station and they would do the job for them. This would have caused anger anywhere, but in Deraa where the people are known for their conservatism and great honour where there women are concerned, this had amplified effect. More importantly this situation still might not have escalated in any other city in Syria, but here tribal loyalties and affiliations are stronger, word spread quickly, and protest began. The regime responded the only way it knew how – killing. But the protests grew stronger with each attack and spread from Deraa to Homs and Hamma, Idlib and even Damascus and to the hearts and minds of the sunni population.

Homs became an example – a city that people took back as rightfully theirs. The fear was removed and when that happens it never returns. The regimes tactics was now pushed into overdrive. The normal regime of torture an art that the Syrian state had perfected simply could not cope – instead people were murdered as soon as they were captured, it was simply a fact that there was to many people to repress, it was easier just to kill to shoot and stab and hack their way through the people.

The situation has continued until now there is no turning back. The governments intelligence networks have been effectively destroyed. You only monitor people to anticipate dissent, once it becomes open and loud, for a regime that thinks like Bashar’s the only option is to kill.

The Alawites comprise no more than 5% of the population, they have conspired with outside powers to manipulate Muslims for hundreds of years, from their wild mountainous home, where they were banished to by Salahudiin al Ayyubi amongst others, they have now occupied a hold over an entire populous. The regimes killing of over 10,000 innocent men, women, children, babies, unborn babies, its imprisonment of more than 120,000,  has meant that there is no turning back. Every day Bashar kills hundreds of  people. A healthy turnaround as far he is concerned. Their actions are as desperate as they are fruitless. Effectively they want to kill as many people as they are before they are banished once more to the hole from which they emerged.

They are not however alone. They are part of a network that has not seen this amount of power and influence since the fall of the Fatimids some 700 years ago. They too realise what is at stake. It is therefore incumbent upon them to come to prop up this discredited regime for us long as they can. Alawites from Turkey, some 10,000, have joined the government in the murdering and raping, including Iraq, Hizbollah and of course Iran. The shadow of Israel is never too far. The first thing that Israel has done to harm the Syrian people is simply by being there. Nothing separates Syria and Libya except that the world has to take care that no instability should be allowed to jeopardise the state they have robbed from others.

We are at an historical crossroads that no man can take credit for having started. When Allah wants something to happen he says be and it is. It is Allah who had written down that in 2011 all the elements for a struggle that began 30 years ago would be in place; that Independent satellite news channels, the internet, mobile telecommunications and convoys bringing hope to the Arab world, would be the canvas which a vegetable seller from Tunisia would set alight. Words, profound in meaning but locked away, have now found their true meaning. The people have found their voice. Allah alone can grant them victory.

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Day 11: Inside the camp

Last night we were told that only four of us can go to the refugee camp. My heart sank thinking that I would not be picked. But Allah swt is the best of planners. I made Dua to Allah that I be amongst those whom will go. Sitting in the van, waiting to go somewhere, not knowing exactly where we would be going. If yesterday was anything to go by then it was  going to be an emotional day. I constantly overwhelmed by the strong emotions of sadness and loss maybe because that is what my people are feeling, seeing, tasting everyday…being usurped from their homes. Just imagine that your life, instead of living life, getting up, having breakfast, going to work was day after day of not knowing when the satanic army will come and kill your father and take your mother and sister into the other room where all you can hear are cries and screams. We can’t imagine it because it has never happened to us.

We’ve been told that we’re all going to Gevacci village where there are families who have been thrown out of their homes incapable of doing so and make it with ease & comfort and that’s it good for my life, deen & akhirah. Ameen….More and more Muslims will be killed today bombed, shelled, shot, beaten, tortured, blown up, skinned alive, raped…my heart is aching my mind is racing, every cell in my body is aching, my organs are hurting, and I have not felt even perent of the pain that these people suffer everyday. I keep making dua’ to Allah swt that he keeps me firm for the journey ahead. My whole body feels the pain that the soul feels it.

Oh Allah please do not hold me to account for the cries of my people. I feel lost, confused. Trying to get to grips with the whole situation just trying to digest what I’m seeing and feeling. All praise is due to my Rabb who choose me to be on this journey. To see and taste the reality…what I’ve seen or heard from YouTube and from other people in the Uk is nothing compared to this. I have Just seen a family of seven who have been thrown out of their land. I saw the children. They reminded me of my children.  The youngest who was 3 was so fragile but so full of beans and running with so much insh’Allah in front of her. I felt hopeless as I couldn’t physically do anything to help. It felt like being underwater with all your diving equipment but not being able to use or do anything to do with it.

 I saw the and check points of the Turkish make shift border with of Syria. The filthy army forces had taken over a chicken farm which was owned by a Muslim man. They had forced him and his family out. Just one small crime, in an ocean of crimes, every drop of which they will be held accountable for.  

Mash’Aallah Tabarak’Allah we got to go to a camp, not inside but outside, where we met children and elders. I saw children in whose eyes was hope, safety, security and pure contentment. With all they went through they were at  relative peace. At the same point my heart was tormented with pain due to their pain. I met so many parents and children all saying we don’t need your pity we don’t need you fancy clothes, your false promises, your so called help. We need you to give arms to defend homes, lives and families. The International community needs to understand that if they cannot protect themselves Bashar, the dog masquerading as a lion, will not leave them alive

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