The other day I was clearing out the front garden of my sister’s house when two men approached me. Both were smartly dressed Afro-Caribbean men, one in his 20s, the other in his 50s. As soon as I saw them, I knew they were Christian missionaries.
Years of living in the hostile atmosphere of prison among gang-members, drugs traffickers and criminals sharpens your intuition and inner instincts such that you are able to read a person’s character, history and intentions at first glance.
This is not simply a ‘useful’ tool to have; in prison, it is essential to your very survival. Trusting the wrong person or misjudging a situation can cost you your life. I know many people who are lying in a prison cell or a grave simply because they misread one person.
After exchanging pleasantries, the older man began to speak, “We all go through problems in life but when we read God’s words in the Bible, it gives us hope and…”
“I have read the Bible from cover to cover,” I said to him as he paused for a moment.
“It gives us hope and we all need to read it to reflect on it and…” he continued.
“Sir, you didn’t hear what I said,” I interrupted him. “I said that I have read the Bible from cover to cover, every single word and page.”
I didn’t tell him that I read the Bible after I was forcibly stripped naked and held in solitary confinement for two years in a Christian country whose leaders claim to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ, peace be upon him.
The man was surprised so he apologised for not hearing me and asked me why I read the Bible.
“I read the Bible because I wanted to get a better understanding of a religion followed by a quarter of the people on earth,” I replied. “When people learn about each other, they understand each other. And when people understand each other, they respect one another, even if they do not agree with them.”
“When people learn about each other, they understand each other. And when people understand each other, they respect one another, even if they do not agree with them.”
He then asked me what I thought of the Bible.
“I loved it,” I continued. “Obviously as a practising Muslim there are things in the Bible that I do not agree with but overall I found it to be a book full of goodness and wisdom.”
He asked me what I thought was the message of the Bible.
“I think the message of the Bible is similar to that of all the books that God revealed to mankind,” I answered. “Do not do unto others what you do not want done unto yourself.”
“Do not do unto others what you do not want done unto yourself.”
He then asked me an unexpected question: “Do you think that there is love in the world?”
I thought for a moment, then replied, “Yes, I do think that there is love in the world. There is definitely much love in the world.”
The man was as surprised by my answer as I was by his question. He did not think that there was love in the world. As the conversation came to a close, he gave me a leaflet about Christianity and I ended by encouraging him to read the Quran.
As I returned to work, I reflected on what he had said: “There is no love in the world.”
I thought of the air force pilots who drop barrel bombs on Syrian cities, killing and maiming young children.
But then I remembered the people who send thousands of shoe boxes full of toys and gifts and love for these very same children.
I thought of the smiling, ‘friendly’, soft-spoken, evangelical Christian prison officer, a former US soldier, at a Pennsylvanian prison who told me that there was not a word of goodness in the Quran (“a book full of evil”) and the end of the world would not come until America had “wiped out Islam.”
But then I remembered my American lawyer Kelly Barrett, also a Christian from Pennsylvania, who put her personal life on hold and worked on my case day and night for two long years so that I could return home to my family.
I thought of the racist American prison officer at a US Supermax prison who smiled as he once mocked me, “Do they still ride camels where you come from?” I smiled back as I told him: “Actually they do. And you know what? I’ve got my double-humped bactrian camel waiting for me when I get home.” He stopped smiling.
But then I remembered the American prison officer at the same prison who shook my hands to congratulate me after the judge in my case declared that I was not a terrorist. “I never believed that you were,” he said.
How can anyone know all this and believe that there is no love in the world? Yes, there are many evil people in this world. But we only have to look around us to see that there are certainly more good people in the world than bad people.
Today, many people ask me why I have no bitterness or hatred in my heart despite being tortured by police officers and then detained in prison for 11 years.
I reply to them: “For sure, much evil was done to me, but I also received much love. Instead of focussing on the wrong that was done to me, I have chosen to remember the good that was done to me.”
As I watched the two missionaries walk away into the distance, I thought about what Martin Luther King once said:
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that. And hatred cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
Do you think that there is love in the world?
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