Sunday, August 5, 2012

Ramadan Challenge Day 17 - Heba Dabbagh (Prisoner of Assad's regime)

Just Five Minutes!

Nine Years in the Prisons of Syria

It's been a journey of much awe-inspiring learning for me. I have been hearing and reading about women's rights in Islam as I have been interested in the topic but I would have never realized the strength women in Islam have had throughout history since the last 1400 years until I started this Ramadan Challenge. 

Last week I wrote about women who participated in battles in early Islam and this week I thought it would be a great idea to reflect on the women of contemporary history displaying similar strength of character and mind in the political field. Yesterday we talked about Zainab al-Ghazali who endured horrendous torture and persecution at the hands of her own government in Egypt, and today I reflect on a similar experience of a woman from Syria. Heba Dabbagh,  over 30 years ago was asked by agents from Assad's regime for just five minutes of her time. What she ended up giving away were nine precious years in the prisons of Syria!

Heba Dabbagh was a university student and preparing for an exam, when secret agents raided her apartment and asked for five minutes of her time. This was a time when Syrian armed forces were clashing with Islamic opponents. Her older brother had to escape from his house as he was falsely accused of being part of “The Muslim Brothers’ Society” but Heba had no political affiliations at all. Heba was imprisoned between 1980 and 1989 and during this time, her parents, eight brothers and sisters were all killed in the collective massacres that Syrian armed forces undertook in February 1982. 

Pen testifies against evil:

Like Zainab al-Ghazali's "Return of the Pharoah," Heba Dabbagh put together her memoirs from her time in imprisonment in Syrian jails for nine years in a 239-page book called "Just five minutes - nine years in the prisons in Syria". It is a record of an era when any form of political opposition was silenced immediately and ruthlessly and where human rights and international laws were violated to no end. The Mukhabarat, secret agents of Assad's regime, hunted down anyone remotely opposed to the regime and held them hostage for years until they gave testimony, whether false or true, against those who were in the anti-authoritarianism camp. Heba Dabbagh was one such hostage. 

During her imprisonment she was attacked with verbal and physical abuse, beaten with bamboo rods and eloctrucuted. Her book testifies her faith in Allah and her strength of mind that kept her strong and allowed her to survive in the face of false allegations and disturbing torture. She uses the power of pen to put together a record of the prisons of Syria, torture chambers and the types of prisoners she came across in her cells (ranging from Communists to spies, her own family members and even children.  

Dabbagh takes us on a journey through the prisons of Syria and reveals the nightmares that come to life in the Mukhabarat interrogation and torture chambers. During her nine year imprisonment, Dabbagh shares cells and stories with members of the political opposition, communists, spies, children and even members of her own family. She saw women made nude, hung upside down from ceilings and sexually assaulted. Coupled with this they were given insufficient food and medical help. The book shares harrowing experiences but is a much needed raised voice against oppression. 
Whether it is the examples of families putting emphasis on their daughter's intellect and education, or the strength of mind and character these women had, or the power they possessed to rule and strategize, or the practicality in the following of Islam, I have learnt that today we have successfully managed to complicate the following of religion and as a result moved away from the resilience, the essence, and the focus of what Islam as a way of life was meant to teach us.  

Download Heba Dabbagh's book "Just five minutes - nine years in the prisons in Syria"


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