As a Muslim mother working in the dawah sector, you live with equal bouts of great faith and dependence on Allāh and great paranoia about the safety of yourself, your family and the Muslim ummah at large.
Researching and reporting on the unimpeded – nay, globally sanctioned – slaughter of Palestinians; the encroaching occupation by the illegal Zionist state of Israel; the indiscriminate slaughter of Syrians; the rape and torture of the Rohingya; the obliteration of African Islamic and pre-colonial heritage; the second-class citizenship of Indian Muslims; the bigotry of the Pegida; the inhumane torture of Muslim prisoners, and the state level racism of some US and UK laws, I am left to wonder, with utter disbelief, how such oppression, such criminality, is allowed to happen.
But then, with equal astonishment, I learn of the persistence and resilience of our incredible Muslim ummah: the unbreakable spirit of the Palestinian people defending their rights and fighting for their lives; the Rohingyan mothers who trek miles through hostile terrain to protect their children; the Syrians who defy the assault on their lands; the global protests, demonstrations, petitions, movements showing solidarity for the oppressed and opposing unjust and unethical policies such as PREVENT and undemocratic decisions on war; I see the growth of people coming to Islām; the growth in number of mosques, and Muslim pioneers. And with that I feel empowered and I realise, once more, that Allāh’s Dīn is His own, and no amount of attempted suppression, or abandonment, can blot it out.
Allāh tells us as much in the Qur’ān,
“And if you turn away, He will replace you with another people; then they will not be the likes of you.”
“Rather, We dash the truth upon falsehood, and it destroys it, and thereupon it departs.”
As such, I have learnt that with every difficulty facing the Muslim ummah, there will be ambassadors and activists standing to raise awareness and speak out against the injustice. One such situation plaguing the British Muslim community is the raft of the so-called “counter-terrorism” apparatus (which Prof David Miller famously called “the backbone of Islamophobia” in the UK), in particular the toxic PREVENT agenda.
In 2016, advocacy group CAGE was accused of scaremongering that the Counter Terrorism & Security Act would lead to families losing their children to the state based on their beliefs and political views. Right-wing press headlines read “Cage’s lies over new anti-terror laws […] warning Muslims police will take their children away”. Despite the accusations, a ground-breaking report recently has exposed this to be true.
The report shows many examples of how PREVENT seeks to remove children from their Muslim families in what many have said amounts to state sanctioned child abuse. It features real stories of parents being questioned by social workers and of PREVENT officers employing subjective and unscientific methods of assessing “radicalisation” and “extremism” which can act as cover for individuals’ personal prejudices. PREVENT has sought to remove children in family courts based on subjective and inaccurate perceptions of ideology and not on actual, credible risk of abuse. They have been exposed as employing academically debunked Extremism Risk Guidance (ERG) 22+. Even its creators have said the framework cannot predict risk with any certainty.
Despite its crucial weaknesses – which were flagged not only by CAGE but since then, have been called into question by lawyers, academics, psychologists and social workers – the ERG22+ is still the current method used to determine the outcome of family court proceedings related to “extremism”.
Report author and CAGE research director, Asim Qureshi, said:
“Besides the uncritical use of the ERG22+, despite widespread concerns about it, authorities have also attempted to remove children from their parents based on secret evidence. This means that parents are unable to see or challenge the evidence being used by the state to remove their children.”
“This report is a ground-breaking testimony to the encroachment of the state on the family unit. It is also a warning of the implications of this approach both on a legal level, for the rule of law, and on a societal level, for other families within broader society who choose to raise their children in ways that may not conform to state attempts at homogeneity.”
“We are fully aware of the weight of this report’s conclusions. We publish it in the hope that the stories of triumph within it will empower families facing similar threats. We also call for the review of cases where the ERG22+ has been or is being invoked to remove children – and we are confident the report will further invigorate the movement to end PREVENT.”
The report criticises the reliance on and implementation of a fraudulent system of intervention that seeks to police belief and analyses the rule of law implications and human cost of removing children from their families on an unwarranted basis. What follows are real-life accounts from CAGE’s report of Muslim parents whose children have either been taken away or threatened with removal under the pretext of “safe-guarding”. These stories reveal the nightmareish era we are stepping into as British Muslims if we do not challenge the use of such toxic, discredited policies.
These stories epitomise great trials and suffering, but they each also project strength and faith in Allāh. They stress the importance of knowledge and educating ourselves – understanding your rights and being confident in your innocence – not just for our sake but for the sake of our children who, may Allāh protect them, may be terrorised by men and women in suits, threatening to take them from their homes and their parents.
The Raid in the Birthing Room
“I was raided by counter-terrorism police in my birthing room, having just given birth to my son,” says Mariam. “I was not dressed appropriately. I did not have hijab on…”
“There were about three or four of them. Two were dressed in suits. The others were seriously armed and dressed up as counter-terrorism officers are.”
The men raided the room, everything was turned inside out, checking around her newborn son. They claimed they were there because of “malicious communication”. This meant nothing to Mariam, who had no idea what they were talking about.
After leaving having found nothing, two weeks later, a social worker, a ‘safeguarding’ officer and counter-terrorism officers insisted they enter Mariam’s home.
“I agreed, as I had nothing to hide. They did an assessment, and they asked a lot of questions about my religion, the children’s upbringing, and the impact of the father on the children.”
“From the start, it was not about investigating child neglect or abuse. It was all about our beliefs. They asked me if I send them to Islamic school, and other superficial, general questions about what I was bringing them up to believe.”
Her daughter now lives in fear of being kidnapped after overhearing what teachers were led to believe about her father. They invoked secret evidence against Mariam in court which the Judge later deemed ‘nebulous’.
“They were really going for me. I was weak because they were threatening to take my children away. It was constant using of the children as tools, so that I would implicate other people.”
This had nothing to do with radicalisation or extremism at all. And yet, after the final court hearing, a care plan was put together for Mariam’s children, influenced by the counter-terrorism police.
Mariam’s experience illustrates the dangerous reach of the CTS Act (and the immanent worsened version, CTBS Bill) that ultimately polices belief and Muslim practice, under the shaky pretext of safeguarding children from abuse. Mariam demonstrated no political leanings, no radical, extreme beliefs – which have been widely proven as having no bearing at all on ‘terrorist’ acts anyway – let alone violent tendencies in the name of religion. And yet, Mariam was made to feel she was forbidden to raise her children as Muslims for fear they be taken away from her.
No Political Opinion or No Kids
As a single mother of five, Yusra celebrates diversity within the Muslim community. She is also politically vocal and active. Quite by chance she came up on the radar of the State.
“They employed Section 47 assessment, which means it is urgent and that danger is imminent upon the children. This is usually employed in severe cases of abuse when the children are in serious, serious risk of harm.”
Four men took her 6 year old son into a room for interrogation without her consent.
They insisted they visit Yusra and her children at home. She had just moved home so had boxes everywhere.
“When CAGE published the ERG22+ report I knew how absurd the whole thing was in terms of what they look for in terms of “radicalisation”, and I knew the boxes would be a big deal; it would create the impression that I was about to leave the UK since I was a flight risk.”
“They asked me what I thought of ISIS and what I thought about democracy, whether it was a viable system to live under. It was all about my belief. I felt like it was my religion and belief that was on trial. It was not about whether I was caring for the children properly. The whole thing was led by the police. I saw on the form, the referral was made by counterterrorism police, SO15.
“During the interview, he was asking me questions about the Paris attack, and other incidents around the world at that time. It was November 2015 and there was a lot of attacks. He was quick firing me about what my thoughts were. I said to him: what has a terror attack in Paris got to do with a single mother in London? I said: your questions are irrelevant, as they have nothing to do with how I care for the children. In the end, I decided to not answer his questions.”
With the three years of constant harassment, and the stigma of being flagged by PREVENT and having her children on a child-protection plan, Yusra suffered a heart attack and ended up in hospital. It was after this, Yusra’s case proceeded to court.
“When it came to the “radicalisation” assessment, they said, you pick who will do the risk assessment, but I said: this is ridiculous; I would not even pick my dad, as it’s all based on the ERG22+ so it’s completely untrustworthy and the outcome is predetermined.
Once in court they tried to bully me through a court order to work with PREVENT and I refused.”
“Alhumdullillah, the judge was unconvinced at the evidence the police had to show that I was an “extremist”. The ruling was that I was evidently a good mother, as my children were provided for and cared for and had the “necessary emotional support” and “good living conditions”. The judge identified that I was a “religious” person but not an “extremist”.”
Yusra won the case. She cannot bring back the three years of isolation and rejection from some friends and family, the damage, and the potential impact on her family members’ lives, but her story offers multiple valuable lessons. The first is a serious social problem among the ummah that needs addressing – the forsaking of fellow brothers and sisters when anyone who appears to be an authority begins to chastise or harass individuals. They get chastised and alienated by their own community often for doing nothing, and programmes such as PREVENT actually thrive on this behaviour. If we are to bring an end to this injustice we must stand together as an ummah in solidarity for our harassed brothers and sisters, and in clear opposition of any form of oppression – government-backed or not. The second lesson Yusra’s story teaches us is of being aware and having a clear understanding of policies that affect Muslims living in Britain. Yusra understood what the ERG22+ was, she understood the relentlessness of PREVENT and the bias of the counter terrorism apparatus, and with this knowledge she refused to be pulled down the rabbit-hole of lawyers-speak and Schedules. She was not afraid of an erroneous system. She sought Allāh’s help and worked with her lawyers to clear her name and free her children and, in the end, she succeeded.
They Took my Daughter and Tried to Take her Islām
Ghada’s father is a doctor and owns a cycle tour company. His wife homeschools their eight children. His daughter wanted to be a doctor and was contacted on social media by some women in Turkey and Syria. They tried to convince her to join ISIS to which she refused. They thereafter promised her a fast-track to qualifying as a doctor.
“So she left without my permission. We called the police. I told them my daughter had disappeared. They took the details and traced her. They brought her from the aeroplane. I went to get her at 12 o’clock at night, then I took her home.”
Though it was he who raised the concern with the police and though his daughter later understood fully that what she had done was unacceptable, Ghada’s father became the lead suspect and focus of investigation, instead of the people who targeted her and tried to lure her using the internet. The social services informed him he was not fit to parent the children; PREVENT officers suggested he and his children were pleased with the Charlie Hebdo attacks, they raided his home and said his medical equipment was bomb-making material.
“Another three months later, they came back. This time they told me I had a big connection to IS. They thought I was planning to plant some bombs […] They checked my computer and they found that we wanted to buy kitchen knives, and they said we were buying kitchen knives to kill members of Mi5.”
“They told me I was a library of terrorism, that I am full of hate for democracy. During the proceedings, the court maintained that I guided the three Bethnal Green girls to go to Syria. The case for the removal of my daughter took place in that context.”
“In court, I found myself thinking that these people really hate Islam. They didn’t listen to anything I had to say. Even on my website, I was writing against IS, but when the judge saw this, he just said: “You are a liar.””
The judge decided his daughter had to be taken into care. They refused to put her into a Muslim family for fear they would “brainwash her again”. His daughter was placed in a non-Muslim foster family who consoled her with the promise of a local nightclub.
“After a year, the social worker eventually admitted that they had made a mistake. The judge was forced to say that it was the best thing for her to come back to us. When she came back, her character had changed. Her clothing was different. The environment was very bad for her. But when she came back, the social worker made a big speech and they said, “She’s much better.” She said it like they had achieved their goal – she never read Quran, and she never associated with any Muslim person.
But they admitted that she was in poor health. They offered me £200 compensation.”
After a very long process, and many reviews, eventually a final review led to the case being closed at last. The judge concluded that Ghada’s father and family did not have any “extremist” beliefs. But it was too late. His daughter had been away for a year and it was a very traumatic situation.
“I can’t get a job. Last time I was interviewed for a job, they called me and said: “We’re sorry; we can’t take you because there is pressure.” I said: “What pressure? From who?” They wouldn’t say.”
Ghada’s father has no income, no passport and was given no apology. But he has his daughter and he has his faith.
“I would like to tell any Muslim brothers and sisters that if they have the same problem as me with these people, they must simply pray, and leave it up to Allah.”
From Schedule 7 to Fighting to Keep my Children
Ahmed, his wife and 3 kids – the youngest only five – were arrested on holiday and separated into different prison cells. The Turkish authorities and the British denied they had been arrested. Ahmed’s brother and CAGE advocacy group could not get a hold of Ahmed and his family.
“It’s easy to see how people disappear,” says Ahmed.
It was a mistake, and they were released. And yet, when they returned to Britain, Ahmed and his family were once again taken in, separated, and questioned for hours about their beliefs and political opinions.
“The whole time, they wouldn’t give us much information about our kids, or what they were doing with them. It was very stressful. The Schedule 7 stop went from terrorism, to incitement to terrorism, to whether we left our kids alone in the house.”
A couple of weeks later, social services told the police there was cause for concern regarding Ahmed’s children and their parents’ ability to care for them. Despite being “cleared” by Schedule 7, evidently possessing no terrorist leanings, they were spied on, questioned and made to feel like criminals, even when one of Ahmed’s children was diagnosed with cancer.
“We missed one appointment, and they brought that up. But we had missed the appointment, and before we had phoned and rescheduled and we hadn’t missed the second appointment. But this just shows that the doctors and nurses were also co-operating with them.
“But you see, these were petty things. We could tell they were looking and looking – because they couldn’t find anything: there was no extremism, no problems with parenting and so on.
When they asked about why we questioned medications, I asked the head social worker if she would do the same thing if it was her child. Her face just went red. So, they took that bit out.”
Ahmed and his wife fought against the harassment and the presumption of guilt. They requested a report on the five-hour interrogation for the Schedule 7 stop but received nothing. They were told a specialist needed to assess his children. They refused, over and over. They were threatened “If you don’t agree, we will force it on you.”
At this stage, Ahmed and his wife contacted CAGE. An assessor eventually did come to the house and determined there was no cause for concern.
“We have nothing to hide, but still I was so worried that my children would say something that would be misconstrued. We felt like criminals.”
In the face of such a trial and incessant victimisation, Ahmed and his wife reached out to those with the capacity to help, and reached out to their Lord.
“Work with lawyers, work with human rights groups, and work with CAGE,” Ahmed concludes. “In the end Allah is in control. You do your best, and He grants success.”
Know your rights
It is imperative we, each and every one of us, educate ourselves on “safeguarding” laws, PREVENT and Schedule 7.
“Coercion is built into the system of removing children. [Parents] are forced to either accept there is an issue and not risk having children taken away, or to challenge the subjective views of those fearful of their beliefs.”
It is not just the business of those guilty “Muslims”, or those people interested in national and global politics. It is the business of all mothers, fathers, and children. It is the business of those who live in a society which doles out judgement based on an unconstitutional framework of assessment. It is the business of those with any faith other than an unquestionably secular belief.
Mariam was made to feel that her children can no longer learn the Qur’ān, Ghada’s father was given back a daughter with no attachment to her religion and told she was “much improved”, Yusra’s children were taken out of class and questioned, Ahmed’s every move was deemed suspicious. Each of them was innocent, but they each have had their lives entirely overturned.
Know your rights. Know what is and is not allowed. Know where to turn to for help in the event you are confronted with such a terrifying situation. If not for you, for your children.
“In the UK, various forms of police and security harassment against the Muslim community, with poor intelligence gathering and a system of profiling (which treats all Muslims as if they are terrorist suspects), has resulted in the most serious breaches of human rights.”
There are, of course, social workers and police officers of different types. Some see PREVENT and the ERG22+ as a green light to act on their most primitive and hateful prejudices; but there are also those who are uncritically ‘doing their job’. They perceive some Muslim families as nothing more than a means to get their statistics for ‘interventions’ or ‘prosecutions’ up to meet targets. This is sadly how many government and Civil Service Departments work – not based on reason or logic, but to meet targets and to be ‘seen to be doing something’. This entire system needs change and it requires people within it with the confidence to be whistle-blowers and push for change.
We are 3.3 million Muslims in the UK alone. We have the greatest potential and the greatest support and guidance in Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā). If enough of us know our rights and refuse to look the other way or acquiesce, then history shows that we will be victorious and those using Muslims as a political tool will have to go elsewhere to find a different scapegoat. Such inhumanity as experienced by Mariam, Yusra, Ghada’s father and Ahmed, and the dozens of other families like them, would not be allowed to happen. It is only when we do not stand up for ourselves and others that these injustices continue. If 3,372,966 of us stood as the citizens we are, unapologetic in our religious and political identities with the rights we have; supported organisations such as CAGE which stand against injustice, teach Muslims their rights and advocate on their behalf in the legal and political spheres, and if we challenged policy and authority which threatens to oppress our rights, there would be an outcry, there would be change. We would protect ourselves; we would end government oppression of minorities, and we would be the voice for those who could not speak.
 Al-Qur’ān, 47:38
 Al-Qur’ān, 21:18
 CAGE, “Separating Families; How PREVENT seeks the removal of children”
 CAGE, “Separating Families; How PREVENT seeks the removal of children”