The Devil is in the Detail
By Moraa Gitaa (Kenya)
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“I wonder whether Salman Rushdie would have written the ‘Satanic Verses’ if he had been born as handsome as Imran Khan”
I could smell fear the way one would smell imminent rain in tropical Africa.
I was in the custody of Kenyan ATPU (Anti-Terrorism Police Unit) and American FBI.
The muscled FBI operative removed my blindfold. I opened my eyes and took a minute or so to adjust to the sudden sunshine. Petrified I swooned and almost fainted when I realized that I was atop a skyscraper. On the roof actually. Mist and fog despite the sunshine floated hazily over our heads. We seemed to be almost twenty storeys up. Goose bumps riddled my arms and I trembled when I espied the KICC (Kenyatta International Conference Centre) the Times Tower and the I & M Tower in the distance.
The fact dawned on me that we had been flown from Mombasa to Nairobi the capital city of my beloved country Kenya. A country that was churning out this nightmare.
The Kenyan detectives stood in the background and it was re-affirmed in my conscious once again that what I had suspected these past couple of days that it was the Americans who were in charge was true.
I couldn’t feel the bullet lodged in my spine. The numbness set in three days ago and the surgeons said that in the meantime nothing risky should be tried as long as I was out of danger. Anyway, I did not have time to think of myself as I started wondering where they had taken my five year-old son Osman. The last I remember is that I was in the aero-plane with him and we were both blindfolded.
The tears sipped out, wet the black blind fold and trickled down my cheeks. I was handcuffed and helpless and at the mercy of these operatives.
The well-built American’s voice brought me back to earth, ‘’Welcome to Nairobi Al Qaeda!”
Why were they insisting on this line of questioning? They had almost killed me with the bullet in my spine.
Couldn’t they see that I knew nothing of my husband’s supposedly double life as a terrorist?
The operative pointed to the sky and continued, “We know that you believe that Allah is up there, but we need you to also know that we are the FBI and we are on the same level. As you can see neither Allah nor Osama Bin Laden are here to save you and your son, but I am, so you better start talking to me!”
I trembled at the blasphemy. The eerie feeling like I was standing before Jack Bauer in a re-enactment of American Anti-Terrorism TV hit thriller 24 permeated my being and I remembered that Jack Bauer doesn’t take or process your fingerprints – he takes your fingers!
My mind slipped back to the genesis of this nightmare…
It started when I took a break from my medical practice for normal business trips to the Middle East and Dubai to source for beauty products for my newly opened spa.
Intuition to me is the essence of a woman. A couple of trips each month and realized I was under surveillance. A Comorian national who is a family friend and a detective attached to Interpol alerted us, but I wondered why my family was under surveillance.
Mombasa, my home town is considered a narcotics conduit and a hotbed of international terrorism and to the natives and inhabitants of the port city the FBI crawling and snooping in every conceivable corner is a common day occurrence.
…My name is Latifah. It means ‘Delicate’ and ‘Sensitive’ in Arabic.
I’m a Dentist cum turned stay-at-home mom and beautician.
My husband and I are Kenyans. Born and bred in Mombasa.
My husband’s brother is a Kenyan citizen and a naturalized Yemeni.
I had long suspected that my brother-in-law was either peddling cocaine and heroine for one of the coastal drug barons or smuggling contraband through the old port near the ancient fish market, but then again on the other hand everybody has illegal deals going on the side to supplement his or her legal income due to the flagging economy.
The bustle of the sea front fish market makes me feel like I’m starring in a Bond movie
shot on location in Timbuktu.
Today, in the sleepy alleys of the old town near the old port and fish market, we had just
had a thrilling day at the open sea swimming gala held annually at the historic fourteenth
century Fort Jesus. The sound of the sea was soothing, the huge Fort Jesus looked
imposing. I imagined how it had looked in the fourteenth century with the Portuguese
barricading themselves from invaders.
My youngest son going on to six years old is turning into a champion as his tiny legs propel him across the channel in the freestyle.
Later as the crowds dispersed, Osman as always fascinated by crowds followed them
long the narrow alleys of the old town. He loved to reach out and touch the ornate
carved wooden doors with designs copied from ancient Portuguese dhows. We bought
cassava crisps powdered with ‘masala’ (red chili powder) in the narrow lanes full of
people with their wares.
In Mombasa’s old town there is always a bustle of activity with a magnetic pulse of its
very own. Indian shops selling sweetmeats opposite the Makinnon market the locals
call Markit long corrupted from the word Market.
The hawkers make the alleys seem even tinier. The old town is a kaleidoscope of color
with Swahili and Arab women dressed in bui buis, Indian women in flowing sarees, Asian
women in bohra dresses, Giriama women in lesos and men in kanzus.
Ancient buildings now gazetted by the Government as national monuments, most of the
houses are relics of the nineteenth century and house goldsmiths with thriving
business mostly serving a clientele of Swahili and Arabs with intricate jewelry.
We pushed and shoved and mingled with shoppers buying perfumes, meat, vegetables,
spices and thin vermicelli, women with sewing machines also lined the alleys offering
cheap labor for urgent repairs. Rowdy youths with spray cans decorated the walls with
graffiti. The Muezzin called for evening prayers and the faithful starting closing shop
We trekked through the old buildings on Kibokoni road, another twist, another turn and
more ancient buildings, glazed windows, empty shutters, a trellis on a verandah,
balconies supported by wooden brackets, aged wooden columns still standing firm,
ancient architecture that still holds your eye….such finesse. Shutters creaking
on hinges almost falling off. The hot noon sun had passed over into the afternoon,
women from the storied houses lowered down baskets on ropes to hawkers with hand
carts on the street with money in them, while shouting to the hawkers in Swahili or in
Cutchi for the Indians what they wanted to purchase, the hawkers put the vegetables
and their change mostly in coins in the baskets and the women pulled the baskets back
up. The spectacle amuses curious first-time visitors.
We had neared the oceans further beach and water was trickling down some open
drainage system into the Indian Ocean. Arab men with large brass urns on hot charcoal
were selling their kahawa thungu the very strong, yet sweet and scented coffee in small
delicate china cups.
The crowd swelled into what used to be the Old Government Square, now the Treasury
Square the location of several modern banks like Barclays and Standard Chartered
overlooking the old port and harbor.
The Mombasa Club next to the fort was open and nearby houses renovated by the
Friends of Fort Jesus and the owners in conjunction with the National Museums of
Kenya looked awesome. Some buildings may look decrepit, but Mombasa’s old town
was not a place to miss for holiday seekers especially as a choice tourist destination, it
teems with history. As the large crowds dispersed we parted ways with my husband at
the fish market where he had gone to join his friends for kahawa thungu and a board
game of karam. Our Swahili house albeit in modern architecture was just around the
corner and I was looking forward to a quite evening as I contemplated on whether to
prepare Chicken Pilaf or Mutton Birian for my family. But it was not to be.
I was uneasy when I pushed open our Lamu carved door for the police in civilian attire.
I couldn’t put my finger on it. A sort of sixth sense or Karma. Soon I found out the source of my uneasiness. American FBI operatives had accompanied the Kenyan detectives to our home.
In eerie re-enactments of American TV thriller ‘Threat Matrix’, they questioned me about my husband and his connections with Al-Qaeda cells.
They showed me copies of multiple passports with my husband’s face on them and asked me why he had different names and aliases. They had misgivings over my father-in-law’s vocation as an Imam.
I was shocked and I fainted for a couple of minutes. When I came to they didn’t believe that I knew nothing. There was pain in my heart at what I saw as a betrayal.
I had run away from a marriage I thought was doomed because my former husband was dabbling in the international vice only to get into another union with the same deception.
Yet I still insisted that I was only a wife and mother. My husband a Madrassa teacher, his brother a business man and father an Imam.
The FBI didn’t care squat about my convictions. They arrested me along with our five-year old son.
My husband came home and stumbled upon the scenario. Obviously he resisted arrest and tried to help us. Instead a bullet ended up being lodged in my spine.
Later, we came to learn that my brother and father-in-law had been alerted to the
situation in the house and had boarded a dhow at the old port that was bound for
Somalia laden with sugar and other exports.
I wondered silently why they didn’t rush to the airport or take one of the cargo or cruise ships docked at the main Kenyan port. The FBI operatives answered my unasked query by telling me that my husband, brother-in-law and father-in-law’s pictures have already been posted on the internet and are in circulation at all major outlets worldwide as possible terror suspects!
I asked myself questions in the police cell. It’s ironical. Somalis are fleeing to Kenya as war refugees and my brother and father-in-law exile themselves to Somalia!
My husband was not even denying the allegations and yet he was also not telling them that I knew nothing of his subversion.
I realized I have to be subservient to Western forces to survive this ordeal for our son’s sake. That is if human rights activists petition successfully for our release.
To be under surveillance the rest of our lives.
…I wondered why our Lamu door didn’t protect us today. I remember my late
grandfather who was a ‘mganga’ (medicine man) teaching us that in ancient
times all modern doors in Lamu had prominent shining brass studs and the
wooden doors were carved with the motifs of chains and ropes to chase away
djinns and evil spirits. The belief was and still is that the main door being
auspicious and is the entrance to the main courtyard, the house has to be
protected from evil intruders. It is believed that the compromise with the
prominent brass studs will warn the djinns and evil spirits that they will be pierced
and the ropes and chains will tie them up. It is known that they are so scared
they immediately turn away knowing that this is a protected house.
Our Lamu door has the brass studs and chain and rope carvings and it has not
protected us from the FBI!
…The police Initially indicated that they were holding us for irregularities in our immigration documents.
All I know is that my husband is a Madrassa Teacher at Masjid Toba Mosque in Guraya, Kaloleni. He graduated here in Mombasa at the Coast Islamic Institute. He later went for higher studies at Madina University in Saudi Arabia and then on to the African University in Khartoum. Interestingly, Saudi Arabia and Khartoum seem to pose a problem in the minds of the Americans. Otherwise why do they have my husband’s history and itinerary down pat for the last five years or so?
Strange that the Americans seem to have a problem with jet-setting Muslim intellectuals.
My spine had gone numb and I didn’t even feel the pain for my thoughts were on my son and that live bullets were flying all over our home!
Neighbors did not come to our aid despite being aware of our predicament and hearing the commotion. They are wary of the FBI incursions and missions in Mombasa’s old own and no one wants to be branded a terror suspect!
Deep into the night we were taken to the airport in a flurry of activities. I was not given a chance to telephone anywhere or let my family members know of what had befallen us.
The Americans and Kenyan police didn’t hide the fact that we were headed towards Mombasa West via the Kibarani Flyover and soon we were at the Moi International Airport. Once there, my husband, myself and our five-year old son were blind-folded.
Osman is excited. To him we are playing a game. He thinks we are playing Blind Man’s Buff or Hide and Seek. He calls out to me in the darkness. ‘Kibe?’ (Have you hidden yet?) And I reply back in the child-like manner ‘Bado!’ (Not yet!)
His five-year old mind is even more astonished with delight when we are handcuffed!
It seems we are deemed extremely dangerous. But Osman thinks we are playing cops and robbers!
My husband being a Madrassa teacher and his father an Imam, they attract all sorts of characters to our home.
I have gotten used to being victimized, even by my own government. In the late nineties in the buildup to fighting for democracy, my husband was arrested during unrests by the IPK (Islamic Party of Kenya)
Another time my father-in-law was taken in for questioning because he was suspected of knowing one of the men believed to be a mastermind behind the 1998 bombings of the American embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam as well as the Paradise hotel Kikambala North Coast of Mombasa targeting the Israelis. This fact only seemed to have marked us out as possible terror suspects.
Now, I sense that there are other ‘prisoners’ in the plane with us.
I can smell the almost palpable and tripled multiple fear.
I hear the Americans mentioning Baidoa and Mogadishu in Somalia severally.
I had only heard on prime time news and read of these ‘secret renditions’ of terror suspects in the dailies. Never had I thought that I would be a victim.
“Ma! Ma!” my son insistently called me tugging at my bui bui (Black Muslim covering from head to toes) “Paukwa?’’ he asked innocently in the traditional way, maybe seeking re-assurance that I was still with him as we were blindfolded and handcuffed.
‘’Pakawa!” I replied inviting him to tell me a story.
‘’Ya Mchele!’’ (For rice!)
“Hapo zamani za kale…’’ (Once upon a time…)
I started remembering how a close friend of my husband who is an Oman was recently ejected out of the country on claims that he was a terrorist.
Though I’m blindfolded and I know it is pitch dark, I sense a flurry of activities around us.
I wondered who our pilots were. Were they from the Kenya Army?
Didn’t they have a conscience or misgivings about transporting blindfolded and firmly handcuffed passengers? In case of an emergency we would be totally helpless.
But the FBI believe they are a super power above emergencies! They have forgotten 9/11! How could these handcuffed and blind folded Africans let these wazungu (White men) order them around?
I remember how I have struggled to become the dentist that I am. How far I have come. From escaping from that first marriage which was doomed when I was forcefully pulled out from school to be married off.
I reminisce again several years back…
Peeking from my veil, I remembered Allah is all hearing, ever merciful! Since the battle of Uhud, he has protected us and revealed it to Prophet Mohamed in the Fourth Surah Al-Nisa. Father married me off to a rich Yemeni. I was barely sixteen.
…The Muezzin was calling the faithful to prayer. There is no water. Afghanistan is semi-arid. Allah isn’t a dirty God nor should his followers be. The men scooping sand as a substitute for water, scrubbed their faces and hands up to their elbows and then heads and feet to the ankles.
I was young yet I knew no matter how much they scrubbed, they couldn’t purify themselves. Their attempts at purification were in vain as they ended up more soiled.
They can’t cheat Allah; he alone is owner of the Day of Judgment.
I knew something was not right with my global roamer husband.
I heard him talk of car bombs and suicide bombers.
The world has judged me. Yet I know nothing of his activities.
Allah the Beneficent, Most Merciful. He alone should I ask for help.
I prayed to Allah to get me out of my first forsaken marriage. Allah Akbar, guide me through the straight path, not the path of those who have earned your wrath or gone astray. Only on the last day shall we know from Allah whether I’ve been judged justly.
I’ve never gone astray; but now I have to pay for those who have.
Surah Al-Ma-idah, 33. ‘Who so judges not by what Allah hath revealed such are wrong doers.’
I submitted blindly to my first husband. Such a brutal finality. I was brutalized, knocked from existence. I sought my escape.
Me and the women in my life were the same. Mother and Aunt taught me about submission. They hid their emotions behind the veil. My life rotated around the same circle of nothingness.
I couldn’t talk. I was only to be seen, not heard. They saw the clothes I mended, food I cooked, sons I bore. But never me.
Until I ran away. And left my two sons with their father. I worked as a house-help in a foreign country to pay for a plane ticket and flew back to in Kenya.
A few years down the line and I am in another incorrigible nightmare.
Treated with contempt and opprobrium.
I come back to the present with a thud…
Islam is not meant to be a misogynous religion. But then isn’t that what it has become?
I stare at my son. Tomorrow we were supposed to go to Haller Park, Mombasa’s award winning ecosystem that has turned the fairy tale love story of Mzee the tortoise and Owen the hippo into a New York best selling children’s book.
It is the school holidays and I had promised him that after visiting the nature trail we would go to Wild Waters, Mombasa’s newest and most extravagant amusement park. But it is not to be. Instead we are on an aero-plane on a secret rendition to an unknown destination!
That is what negative US travel advisories about Kenya have done to my family.
Despite maneuvers by the American marines and the Super powers anti and sub-marines keeping vigil off and on Kenyan waters the fact remains that poverty has contributed to the proliferation of international terrorism.
KPA (Kenya Ports Authority) slogan over the years has been and is, ‘Gateway to East and Central Africa’ My foot! Only for the select few. The elite.
That is why people in coastal Mombasa believe in ‘juju’ and go to the most notorious witchdoctors and murder people who stand in their way of employment at the port.
It doesn’t matter that their offspring and maybe siblings secure employment in the blue collar section as ‘vibaruas’ (casuals) to earn three hundred shillings a day
Poverty. An incapacitating penury that makes it possible for bombs assembled in Somalia to be slipped into Kenya under noses of military personnel despite exchange of security intelligence.
No matter what IPK (Council of Imams and Preachers of Kenya) and SUPKEM (Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims) say, this impasse and persecution of innocents will continue and Islam will also continue getting an ugly polish when we continue to fight back.
This persecution would be worse when the Americans manage to convince our government to grant them permission to set a naval base on our waters. I don’t know about that. Grant is a nebulous term. At least former president Moi managed to keep them at bay and guarded our sovereignty jealously!
….Down to earth again. We are in the plane and the FBI guffaw as they watch the latest Osama Bin Laden video forwarded to them via the internet. Osama calling for martyrdom. They turn to me and ask me why I named my son Osman. They ask why the name sounds like Osama. They ask if Osama is his God-father. I shiver at the innuendo and insinuation.
Most people don’t appreciate the fact that terrorism is as complex as it is hydra-headed.
Crude as it is sophisticated. It always mutates but the common denominator remains the trail of devastation and the rivers of innocent blood which flows. Innocent blood of our children. I wonder. Does the Western world think that the blood that runs in our children’s veins is blue? Different from their children’s? Isn’t it all red? Don’t our children all feel pain?
My childhood flashes before my eyes at supersonic speed…
I am a descendant of the Chinese. An ancestry established when a ship capsized more
than five hundred years ago with a group of Chinese sailors off the Indian Ocean at Siyu
an island in Lamu. Their ship hit a large rock called Mwamba Hassan. They assimilated
into the local Swahili community and intermarried. They soon became fluent in Swahili
and Arabic. So my Great Grandmothers Great Grandfather was a pure Chinese. That’s
why my eyes tilt at the edges though I have Swahili features.
I wonder then at this terrorism hype and why my life is now subject to many vicissitudes.
Lamu, the Kenyan fourteenth century Islamic town.
A naked ancient postcard town where one gets yesterdays dailies today. And sometimes
get the Ethiopian newspapers before the Kenyan ones land and you listen to Eritrean
A place of Pristine beaches, a place you fly out to, sail to in a boat and ride on a donkey
as there is no access for vehicles! Only three vehicles available, the District
Commissioner’s car, a tractor and a motor bike belonging to one of the rich German
That leaves the rest of the populace to race around in donkeys and finally
understand where the saying that goes ‘as stubborn as a mule’ came from while
trying to squeeze through a narrow alley at the same time with two laden
My father’s two dhows. To and fro between the channels. Mirfat meaning ‘the star’ and
Al-Quamar which means ‘The moon.’
The only modern rest houses with pubs which serve alcohol are Jannat house
and Petley’s Inn. Lamu’s very own ‘Socrates’ one old man Mohamed Abubakar Kijumwa.
No wonder Lamu was inducted in 2001 into the exclusive UNESCO world
heritage sites. The fascinating Lamu and Manda island and the connecting
Mokowe jetty all the way to Shela beach. The Siwa, a long beautifully curved
side-blown horn made of bronze.
An actual splendour of heritage, the Maulidi festival commemorating the birth of
Prohet Muhhamad still intact. A wonderful festival Maulidi is. Not forgetting the
phenomenon the annual Lamu Cultural Festival has become. The seafront
packed throughout the days of the festival and the exhiliarating fun with what has
come to be known as the four D’s; the donkey race, the dhow races featuring
the jahazi, which is the bigger dhow and the mashua the smaller ones and the
dances, especially the ancient Kirumbizi dance, a fast and furious mock dance
with youth using bakora – a walking stick before finally tossing themselves with glee
into the open sea swimming gala where the youths dive Into the ocean with
abandon to accomplish the fourth D. The festival surpasses the festival of dhow countries held annually in Zanzibar.
The Swahili women clad in bui bui their black cloaks and veils and the men in
their flowing white kanzu dancing and moving tomusic which is a blend of Arab-
AfroBerber and Hispanic beats all borrowed from the colonial times and
interactions with the Portuguese and other visitors centuries back now
culminating into taarab and bango beats famous on the East African coast.
The way they have preserved their culture fiercely guarding their traditions from
Western influence, reminds one of Timbuktu in West Africa and Kathmandu in
My home town had grabbed world attention recently when the German Prince of
Hanover gave one of the millionaire foreign residents of the town a thorough
beating over a misunderstanding that had ended up in the Law courts amid name
droppings and diplomatic immunity covers!
Visitors are held captive by coastal Kenya’s mix of Swahili interior décor with the
mix of cosmopolitan and contemporary pieces. Artefacts and furniture from yore.
…The plane dips into a turbulent air pocket and I am startled out of my reverie…
All of us on the flight are now thoroughly terrified, not knowing exactly where we
are headed. What our eventual fate would be!
In Nairobi I was informed that my husband had been renditioned to Ethiopia, though
that’s not the term they use! After my threats atop the skyscraper, we were moved from
police station to police station so that the media and Human Rights Activists petitioning
for our release do not track us down. They never did! Of course the FBI couldn’t
take us to the Central Police Station – it’s the first place any novice would check!
We were all over Nairobi. From Industrial area police post to the leafy suburb that
is the Kileleshwa station to Hardy which is in downtown Nairobi.
And a night later off to the JKIA (Jomo Kenyatta International Airport) our secret
rendition’s Phase Two had begun!
Arriving in Mogadishu we could only believe that our fate was nigh; that no action
against us was a mistake.
We found ourselves being shipped off to two different detention facilities in Addis
Ababa. One of the American interrogators had several flight passenger manifests that I
had traveled aboard on recently!
From conversations aboard the plane, it emerges that a holidaying Omani Prince was
also mistakenly arrested!
This interesting snippet of information gets me reminiscing again…
In the wake of last year’s global conflagration sparked by publication of twelve
controversial cartoons offensive to Muslims in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten
depicting Prophet Muhammad as a terrorist, offensive cartoons, one of which depicts the
Prophet wearing a turban resembling a fizzing bomb and subsequently syndicated in
other Western dailies, many non-Muslims struggled to understand why the drawings had
caused so much offence.
In retaliation to the publications, Iran’s best selling newspaper the Hamshahri launched a
competition to find the best holocaust cartoon. They said it was designed to ‘test the
boundaries of free speech’ as the reason put forward by European newspapers for the
publishing of the cartoons. Such developments made moderate Muslims to claim
that the issue was being blown out of proportion and is an attempt by radicals to hijack
I sigh as I remember how I was educated that the Prophet even had a dark mole the size
of a pigeon egg between his shoulder blades symbolizing the seal of prophecy.
Nevertheless, it is also immortalized in the Holy Qu’ran that he didn’t advocate for
violence. According to diehard Muslim fundamentalists, to picture the Prophet or
to have graven images is akin to blasphemy.
We all know that there is no explicit ban in the Qu’ran, but according to Islamic custom,
to picture him would be to annex Allah’s power and to attempt to be like the sublime.
I was taught that Allah is all hearing and ever merciful. I could say it off-head. “In the
name of Allah the Beneficent, the most merciful, the most Gracious…”
My teachers insisted that Verse 36 of Surat–Ul–Nissa gives insight into the fundamental
side of life in the world of man “…Worship Allah and join none with Him in worship and do good to parents, kinsfolk, orphans, the poor, the neighbor who is near of kin, the neighbor who is a stranger, the companion by your side, the wayfarer and those whom your right hand possesses…”
Islam means “Submission” in Arabic, a Muslim is one who submits to the will of Allah, yet
it isn’t a misogynous religion.
Yet in the seventies despite chilling tales of honor killings from the Mid-East, we still
attended madrassa to learn all about Islam and the Quaran. The Sa baan Min al-Mathani
were drummed into my head, these are the seven of the oft-repeated verses as written
in the first Surah Al-Fatihah. While fasting during the holy month of Ramadhan,
I was taught that nowhere in the whole Qu’ran do the five piillars that is
Shahadah, Salah, Zakat, Saum and Hajj record that innocent civilians should suffer in
wars not of their making. I’ve been brought up to believe that these pillars bind the
Muslim community, Shahadah is the affirmation that there is only one God and
Muhammad is his Prophet. Salah are the five daily ritual prayers. Zakat is the giving of
alms through a poor tax. Saum, the dawn to dusk fast during the Holy month of
Ramadhan and Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca, which every Muslim should undertake at
least once in their lifetime.
Many times I came to a consensus with my Christian friends that Islam like Christianity
venerates the Prophets Abraham, Moses and Jesus. Angel Gabriel also appeared to
Prophet Muhammad as he did in the Bible. The Qu’ran also tells the story of Mary’s
Virgin Birth as in the Bible. Against the above five pillars we used to compare them to
the ten commandments Moses received on Mount Sinai in the Bible in Exodus chapter
twenty and the Beatitudes of Jesus in Matthew chapter five, our discussions never
did even once end in acrimony, but respect for each others faith and beliefs.
I ask myself why currently and in my generation Jihad is casing a lot of confusion and
anguish. What is Jihad? Prophet Muhammad urged his followers to ‘Struggle in
the path of God’ (Jihad) which they took as an order to expand the borders of
Islam in a Holy War, but after the Muslim Empire was established, the Doctrine of
Jihad acquired a more Spiritual meaning. It became an internal moral struggle
against temptation. Good works like cleaning the Mosque, helping the poor or
dressing more modestly are all forms of Jihad. Recently, however, extremist
Muslim groups have sought to return to a more violent definition.
And I ask myself again and again, is Islam an aggressive religion?
The answer is an emphatic ‘NO’. The Qu’ran teaches tolerance towards other faiths and
religions especially Jews and Christians. “The true Muslim,” Prophet Muhammad said “is
the one who hurts no one by word or deed.” Never once did he condone or advocate for
War is permitted only in self-defense and combatants are instructed to fight face to face
without harming civilians
Then Why does Islam my religion, one that I am proud of have such a reputation for
The Qu’ran, unlike the Holy Bible is meant to be the literal word of God, which means
that any attempt to re-interpret it is bound to be highly controversial.
I thank Allah that do a lot of reading and I know for a fact that a few Scholars have tried
to re-interpret the Qu’ran in a more contemporary light, but the rise of the Wahabi
Puritanism (read – a variant of the Taliban practice) has made this almost impossible.
Towards the end of the nineteenth century, the behavioral rules laid down in the Qu’ran
had been codified in legal manuals which most of us know as Shariah laws – such as
inferior status accorded women or harsh punishment to criminals which is increasingly
becoming unacceptable in the modern world.
And therein lies the thread of most of the intercinine wrangles!!
Most recently, one of my neighbors has changed the name of his shop from the one we
are used to, and baptized it ‘Al Jazira’ (The Saudi TV station) Cause for another debate?
Food for thought I should think!
Our children will continue dying if we do not change and embrace tolerance.
Already concern is being raised over fanaticism and advocacy for hatred for other
religions inserted subtlety in some Mid-East Elementary school curriculums.
Two days later I am flown back to Nairobi.
On the second day of my incarceration, I find myself Joined by four US uniformed
personnel. They ask me about one Abdulmalik Mohamed. They say he is my husband’s
friend and that he is wanted in connection with intelligence that they have received that
he is part of the East African Al-Qaeda cell planning an attack on the IAAF World Cross
Country Championships slated for later this month in Mombasa! I stare at them askance.
For the umpteenth time, don’t they seem to understand that I know nothing of my
husband’s other life? They ask me if I know another terrorist on their most wanted list
called Harun Fazul. I reply in the negative and I start shivering at the thought of what the
police are going to do with me.
One Kenyan official tries to absolve himself of any harmful eventuality to me. He tells
me, “Whatever you go through, be strong and understand why you have to go through
this. We are protecting peoples lives.”
Which lives? What about my son’s? What of the bullet lodged in my spine? Do they
care that in any eventuality of an operation to remove it I might end up paralyzed or a
All this time for the few days we have been under arrest we have not been given any
food or water to drink, apart from my son.
Some of the men in the plane stood all the way, even though they were blindfolded and
We file into dinghy underground cells. We are given Coca Cola bottles to pee into.
To some of the men taking a leak into Fanta bottles seems to come naturally to
them, or have they been here before?
It is stinking, dirty and dusty with rats all over.
In the meantime, IPK petitioned the Ethiopian government to release my husband.
He was not, but I was set free together with my son. With no explanation and no apologies.
A Judge ordered the anti-terrorism police to produce the purported terror suspect (my husband) in court, but they ignored his summons. Contempt of court? Your guess is as good as mine, but I knew for sure then that as Kenyans we do not have an independent judiciary.
I was simply told we had been released with no charge. It seems it was a case of mistaken identity. But for how long will this go on?
I wonder now that Salman Rushdie has been knighted by the Queen of England are the FBI going to retaliate against innocents?
Mombasa after all is regarded as a hotbed of international terrorism.
It is weeks now and my husband has sent word through the ‘network’ he and a
motley group of fellow terror suspects including male children after being detained at
several Nairobi police stations were now headed to a dangerous war zone.
They were then flown to Baidoa. To the crew of the flight it seemed this was an
important government-sanctioned mission to accomplish and it was all in a day’s job.
My husband later sent word that there were over twenty military personnel with them on
the plane with explicit instructions to ensure that my husband’s group was transported
from Ethiopia to Mogadishu overnight and handed over to the authorities there.
I am worried about the war in Mogadishu and rebels from Hargesia who have moved
into the capital city.
Several Ambassadors at several foreign missions tried in vain to have my husband
released to no avail. I fear for my husband. After a painful week of waiting in limbo for
word on my husband, I realized I was waiting for Godot!
The next I heard was that he had been transferred to the dreaded Guatanamo bay
detention camp in Cuba by the Americans.
Deep down I now understand why some people get gratification out of calling
Americans ‘Infidels’. They have justification.
The Honorable Minister of State of immigration is busy deporting people left centre and right without investigating the genesis of the proliferation of terrorism in our region.
His counter part in Internal Security is not helpful either. The devil is surely in the detail.
Are the Americans in charge here? Mass secret renditions have become the order of the day. MUHURI which is Swahili and translates to ‘stamp’ in English is an acronym for ‘Muslim Human Right Forum’. They have filed a suit in the High Court on my behalf.
Now I’m being told that we are awaiting for the ever smiling Attorney General to file a replying affidavit.
Some of the sympathizers just go along and turn a peaceful demo into a fracas by shouting ‘Takbir!’ ‘Takbir!’ which translates to ‘Praise God’ and somehow seems to make matters worse.
I’m a dentist so when they start talking about the aim of the affidavit being out to prove that the people who have been renditioned to Somalia and Ethiopia were actually out of the jurisdiction of the Kenya government, I don’t really understand most of these shenanigans.
The UK- based Reprieve and CagePrisoners were onto our case too.
Personally, I think that the terrorism bill should not be passed in our parliament. The
August house representatives should guard against such harmful bills sneaking their
way into becoming a law. Innocents like me will rue the day that such a bill sails through.
Other nationals with linkages with the Islamic Courts Union and who seem to be on the
receiving end of America’s short stick are Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and Tunisia.
Of course there is no sovereignty in Kenya, other wise would my husband have been
extradited to the dreaded and notorious Guatanamo bay camp by the Americans?
If we are sovereign, would these secret renditions be taking place? Of course not!
Aren’t Kenyan judges competent?
My prayer is that Allah will never again let me fall into the hands of Kenyan, American
and Ethiopian or Somali agents.
Kenyan Muslim leaders will continue to be up in arms against what they term as gross
mistreatment and blatant abuse of Kenyan Muslim citizens basic human rights and
especially more so their followers by security agents, but that’s the much they can do.
That is, be up in arms. Against the odds that is.
It is time we realized that instead of healing, playing religion is now hurting people.
Case in point is my husband’s Guantanamo bay transfer. The American Ambassador
knows nothing of my family but there he was on live television describing my husband as
the devil reincarnate. He said that my husband is a dangerous man, an international
terrorist and a man of dubious nationality. Dubious nationality my foot! We have
witnesses who grew up with him in Majengo the Swahili mtaa (hood) he was born and
grew up in! Even the mkunga (mid wife) who assisted his mother at childbirth is shocked
at the allegations of dubious nationality!
Words are binding and can surely never be taken back, ‘’Pursuant to a common
understanding between Kenya and the Transitional Federal Government of
Somalia, some of those who have been captured have been…” such an official
document embossed on Kenyan Government paper with our coat of arms gives America
carte blanche to destroy our lives and kill our children’s spirits. Does the FBI think that
your husband wakes up one morning, cheerily smiles at you and says, ‘You know what
honey? I’m a terrorist and I bomb Americans and their allies for fun.’
It is now a year and half. My family has been destroyed. I have not heard of what
happened to my husband , nor have I heard from my brother and father-in-law. I do not
know what hope to offer my son, who asks for his father everyday. My neighbors are
scared of being branded terrorists and they shun me. They don’t go to my beauty salon
and they don’t come to my dental clinic. I have no income now. I am already developing
complications with my spine. The bullet is still lodged there and the doctors fear to
tamper with its location, though a tentative date has been set and a delicate surgery
scheduled. Will the American government compensate me for disability and
loss of income? Am I and my son going to starve to death? Should I now actively involve
myself in terrorism or peddle drugs to survive?
My life has become a nightmare. My younger sister who works in the front office of a
hotel in Dubai sent me money last week for the operation that will relieve stress on my
As I went to pick up the money which was in American dollars at a forex bureau near
Fort Jesus. The FBI pounced on me. They wanted to know who had sent me the seven
thousand American dollars and what it was for. They wanted to know why I needed an
equivalent of almost half a million Kenya shillings. They insisted on asking me if the
money was from another contact.
I asked them why they didn’t use Interpol to track the money. I can’t even receive money
through Western Union or Money Gram without the police snooping around me!
It pains me that the FBI can think that I can have anything to do with murder most foul,
causing pain to families and maiming innocent civilians. Today is the tenth anniversary
of that dastardly bomb attack in Nairobi. Kenya’s own black and bloody Friday. I
remember how Kenyans lives came to a standstill as we mourned collectively, how we
hurdled in groups and cried at the hundreds of lives lost. Simultaneous bombs that
targeted the American embassies in Nairobi and Dare es Salaam. To me as a mother,
these terrorist outrages knew no rhyme nor reason.
Yet four years later the 1998 attack was followed by another that destroyed the Paradise
Beach Hotel in Kikambala, North Coast of Mombasa. A hotel which had Israeli
connections and more than a dozen Kenyans lost their lives. I shivered when I
pictured the cold-blooded simultaneous car bomb attacks with one aiming a missile at a
civilian aircraft that had just taken off form Mombasa’s Moi International Airport for Israel.
Luckily it missed. It would have been a catastrophic tragedy. The launched missile was
found miles away by villagers in Jomvu in Mombasa West. We had watched the prime
news in the evening in shock and awe, wondering at how such a missile had been
smuggled into Mombasa. Poverty rears its ugly head again. The devil is surely in the
Travel advisories from the American government notwithstanding, we must stop knee-
jerk reactions whenever a bomb detonates, coming out to protest against affronts on
‘our people’, ‘our kinsmen’, and ‘our religion’. We forget that we are all vulnerable to evil
machinations of these merchants of global terror.
Nowadays, the only time I get to interact freely with other Muslim women is during
Ramadhan, Idd Ul Fitr or the Lailat Al Miraj where we celebrate the night journey and
ascent of Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) and the Revelation of Salat (ritual
prayer) when he traveled from Mecca to Jerusalem in a single night on a strange winged
creature called Buraq, ascended to heaven, met earlier Prophets and eventually God
told him of the duty of Muslims to recite the Salat five times a day.
Nowadays, I’m even scared of going to the airport because once the security agents scrutinize my passport, they ask me to leave my queue and join another one which resembles one for terror suspects. They have this Israeli kit which helps identify a suspect who has recently handled a grenade! They put me through it.
Next I am taken to another new portable device they have. They say it is a hundred percent accurate at deciphering checks!
It can detect explosives hidden in shoes. They call it the MagShoe Metal Detector.
They tell me that it is the latest hi-tech smart technology to catch fraudsters and terrorists like me.
I have no wish to die and so I can’t be a suicide bomber, I plead, but they do not listen to me.
The general election is a couple of months away and it is good though that at mosques, preachers and Imams at Friday prayers have been urging the faithful that it is payback time for a government that carries out these renditions. These renditions are going to be this governments undoing. Unless, of course they rig the polls.
My people now know where to place their votes. And it is not in ballot boxes for a government that caries out unnecessary renditions when our country has competent judges who can preside over these trials.
…Now I pray and wait for the Prophet to come on a magical carpet or another Buraq and
sweep me away into the sky form all this pain just like in my childhood favorite stories of
Alladin and Arabian Nights…
I live with nightmares of another possible ‘Rendition’ and wake up in the middle of the
night panicking and screaming.
No doctor or prescription can cure the fear induced by thoughts of anti-terrorism police
and a secret rendition. I have been to hell and back. That’s how I know that the devil is
surely in the detail, because this is a war not of my making…