Here I am in the University of Manitoba, in Winnipeg Canada.
It’s the first day proper of the Muslim Students Association’s annual conference. The theme is “Return to the Deen.”
It’s been a busy day. I mean just a part of it would make an interesting article. Talks, coffee and cookies, lunch, dinner, meetings, questions, discussions with Muslims and non-Muslims…That’s one of the amazing things about coming for a conference like this, super intensive iman immersion!
All of this has been made all the more enriching due to the fact that I only got in here by the skin of my teeth!
I have learnt from experience that sometimes the very lectures and meetings that I feel the least like going to are the ones that end up being the most beneficial. Now thinking about this there is a simple explanation. Shaitaan and his armies spying everywhere know that this given place is really going to benefit from my presence, or that I am going to benefit from going there. So its big time wiswas.
I was tiered and really didn’t feel like coming to Canada. I mean. its like too to close to the US and the US is like too close to Guantanamo! On top of that I just don’t get excited about travelling like I used to. Travelling is a taste of punishment, said the Messenger (saws). You leave your family, and I really didn’t feel like leaving the family. You leave the comfort and familiarity of your home, the food you like, the bed you sleep in! Hey, I can understand why George Bush takes his favourite pillow with him! Why not? And then you sit in this cramped aircraft seat for hours, being served some pretty terrible food, and then at the end of it, you arrive at you destination only to be questioned by Canadian immigration for six hours!
Welcome to Canada!
Now I know that six hours of questioning is really pretty tame compared to what some have gone through, and at no stage could I say that any of the staff at immigration where rude, or threatening or anything short of what I would expect of someone trying to do their job. Still, by the fifth interview I was beginning to feel so mentally exhausted from answering the repeated questions I thought that I had been drugged! My answers were coming out without thought. Maybe that was the interview/interrogation method. But I had and have nothing to hide.
"Yes! I went to Afghanistan and fired some weapons during my two week stay with the Mujahideen during the mid eighties conflict against the occupying forces of the then Soviet Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, but I never killed anyone or even fired them at a person.
It was jihad approved by the Scholars of this Ummah and backed by virtually every Western country, in particular the USA. The mujahideen where heroes, at the front line against the evil communist empire! Now of course the word jihad and mujahideen has taken on a new and sinister meaning. Those same “heroes” have now been labelled “terrorists in training.”
This is what I had to explain to the Federal Officer (and three plain clothes secret service and customs officers) who was obviously trying hard to make sense of all of this!
When he read Afghanistan, jihad, mujahideen, martyr, what he was seeing was bin Ladin hide out and terrorist training centre, terrorism, terrorist and suicide bomber! I was trying to explain that it just wasn’t like that then.
"When I returned and told British Customs that I had been with the mujahideen, they didn’t even bat an eye lid. They were more interested in heroin smugglers!"
The other sticking point was last summers little incident when I was, for all practical purposes, refused entry to Australia, and the statements attributed to me by the Australian press claiming that Muslims and Westerners can never live in peace and the conflict between us is ordained in the Qur’an.
I suppose in retrospect I could have said that yes I did say stuff like that, and that was some time ago, and that’s not what I believe any more and that we can all live in peace and harmony and there really isn’t any difference between us as long as we are just good people and respect each other. I mean, in one way that wouldn’t be a lie, but it wouldn’t really be the truth either. What I said is simply a historical, civilizational fact, and for the vast majority of the last 1400 years it has been violent, but I had also clearly said that the conflict does not necessarily have to be a violent one. In others words the conflict between Islam and West is religious and ideological. That, of course, was not mentioned by the Australian media.
"Why not?" The federal officer wanted to know.
"Because that doesn’t sell news papers," I replied. "The media are masters at manipulating your words to make you say what they want, not what you want."
We went over this time after time after time. Five interviews, going over essentially the same things.
“Which countries did you visit?”
“ Who organised and paid for your tips?”
“ Do you get paid for this?”
“What weapons did you use in Afghanistan?”
“ How did you get there?”
“ Who organised it?”
“I can’t believe you just “turned up”! How can you go and fight for some people you don’t even know? There is no excuse for violence ever.”
“What not even to defend you home land? How about Hitler?”
“I’m asking the questions here.”
“The mujahideen were terrorists!”
“How can you say that?” I’m angry for the first time. “Are you telling me the US government backed, funded and support a terrorist organisation?”
“That’s politics and I’m asking the questions not you.”
“Terrorism is a crime, its not jihad.”
“So what would you do with Usama bin Ladin.” (secret service
question. They interject every now and then.)
Good question. Hard question, I think.
“George Bush should have accepted the offer of the Taliban to hand him over to a Shariah court in Pakistan or Saudia Arabia.”
Nods of approval from the secret service.
“What do you think of the Khalifa.”
“It’s a good thing for Muslims to be united under one ruler. Europe, the US are all seeking unity, why not the Muslims. When we had one Khalifa it was a glorious time for Muslim civilization.”
“Of course. How about Hizbut tahrir. Do you know them? Do you agree with them. Are they a violent organisation?”
“Yes, I know them.I agree with somethings they say and do and not others. They are definatly not a violent Organisation.” (The secret service guys know their stuff, not like the poor federal agent! He keeps asking me to write stuff down. "Can you spell that?")
“What groups have you been with? Have you belonged to any known terrorist oranisations. Have you, do you, give money to any such organisations.”
I answer negatve.
“Ok you can sit down.”
I move away from the interview area and sit and read. Toward the end the Secret service guys have gone. The customs officer takes me to have my bags searched. He’s a born again Christian, and it his opportunity to ask questions, but they are of a theological nature. He starts to look through my laptop.
Back to the Immigration Office. Sit down. Twenty minuets later I’m called again. More questions. Some the same, some clarifications., some new questions. Sit back down out side the interview area.
“Anthony (that’s what the call me, or Mr Green), can you come here please..”
“My concern is that you are going to go to the University of Manitoba and indoctrinate the impressionable youth with a call to violence.”
"No, no way. That’s not my message, that’s not what I’m about!"
"But you said, its right here, jihad is ordained, conflict prescribed?"
"But I explained that, that’s not necessarily what I meant.."
"It seems clear to me what you meant….."
I tell him agian that of course there is a conflict between the idea that we should live in accordance with God’s will and that that is the purpose of life and the almost purely materialistic ideals of Western society. Of course it’s a conflict, but I said, it doesn’t have to be violent.
"But you talk about jihad…."
"Now let’s look at this power point presentation on your computer here. Explain this!"
The customs officers swings the computer round. There was a sense of triumph!
I saw the heading:
“Du'a: Weapon of the Believer”
Of course, he had seen “weapon” but had no idea what du'a was.
So I explained. Dua was supplicating and asking God. It was the best weapon against adversity.
"Show me more."
So I go through the presentation. Slide by slide. His hand took over control of the keypad and he began to read, but by now I knew he had given up looking for “weapons” and he was genuinely interested as my presentation went on to explain what was du'a, and its benefits and how one should call to Allah and its manners and etiquettes. I could feel a change in his attitude, he seemed to have relaxed.
"You can go and sit over there and I’ll let you know my decision."
I waited. I didn’t really care. If they send me back, I’d be back home, if not then that’s what I came for. In fact I was really thanking Allah that he let me suffer this bit in his path.
Well after six hours and by the end of the fifth interview the Federal Officer told me his conclusion.
"You’ve been to Canada quite a few times before, you haven’t broken any laws, you gone some way to explain yourself, but I’m still not completely happy, but I’m going to give the benefit of the doubt."
"There is no excuse for violence. The recognised armies of countries fighting, yes, but not some bunch of religious fanatics taking up arms. There is no excuse."
I was beyond argument. The French resistance in the second world war came to mind, and of course the USA itself was born out of resistance and revolt against the legitimate British government of the time, but I was just too tiered. The hundreds of volunteers from all over the world who went to fight with the communists against Franco in the Spanish Civil war (George Orwell and Ernest Hemmingway being amongst them) might offer an insight as to how someone could go and fight for people they didn’t even know for a cause in which they believed, but what was the point?
I thanked the officer, genuinely, and assured him that if he listened to my lectures he would not be disappointed.
I’m given leave to stay for exactly the days of the conference.
I had missed my connecting flight by four hours. I was re-booked and for the first time in a long time had a sound sleep on an aircraft.