I first met Ahmed Abu-Ali at the Dar al-Hijrah Masjid when he was a young teenage student at the Islamic Saudi Academy. He was a bright student and went on to become the class valedictorian.
Ahmed would sit at the back of the Dar al Hijrah Masjid in Falls Church, VA and study his school books and then read the Quran and books of tasfeer. He was a shy young man with a baby face and he didn’t like to talk too much. It took me a few times of meeting with him to really get to know him. He was born in America and came from a prominent Palestinian family in the DC area who are very active in the Muslim community.
Over the years I got to know Ahmed much better as we would hang-put on occasion and attend the same classes at various Masjids. One year we also worked together as camp counselors at the Dar al Hijrah Youth Camp in Virginia and we shared our frustration in dealing with unruly and spoiled suburban Muslim kids.
Originally Ahmed had planned to go into medical school and become a doctor; but then he decided that he would devote himself full-time to religious studies and he began attending the Institute for Islamic and Arabic Sciences in America in Fairfax, VA and would later attend the Islamic University of Medina in Saudi Arabia.
I never knew Ahmed to be a violent or extreme person, as a matter of fact he once held me back from attacking a group of Sudanese Dinkas who at punched a Muslim brother in front of the Sudanese embassy, but Ahmed was searching. Like many young serious Muslims who grew-up at Dar al Hijrah or around MAS circles (Muslim American Society) he was frustrated by their lack of adherence to the Sunnah on a number of matters and felt their ideology was overly political. When he began attending classes of Salafi scholars and lectures he appreciated the knowledge of the Sunnah they presented; but didn’t like their almost total ignoring of the political. When Ahmed was accepted to school at Medina he hoped to make the most of his opportunity and gain knowledge that would be beneficial to himself and the Muslim community. I believe, that if he would have completed his studies that Ahmed would have been a major scholar of the deen in years to come.
For those of you unfamiliar with his story he was arrested while taking his final exams in Medina in 2003. He was held in Saudi custody for two-years where he claims he was tortured, and medical professionals have attested to that fact, and eventually sent to the US for prosecution; and this is where things get complicates in my opinion.
There are certain Muslim organizations and leaders who I believe wanted to make the case of Ahmed a cause celeb and wanted to highlight some particular issues on the back of Ahmed. Rather than having his welfare foremost in their minds they had their political agendas in mind.
The government of Saudi Arabia stated that they held Ahmed for two-years at the request of the US and were ready to release him at any time. Representatives of Ahmed in the US demanded that he be released or charged. The government, who until then were content to have him in a Saudi jail, had no plans to charge him, but when their bluff was called they came up with a terrorism indictment that alleged while in Saudi Arabia Ahmed became involved with al-Qadea members who discussed terrorist attacks in the US with him including a plan to kill the President of the United States..
In their rush to get Ahmed out of Saudi Arabia, where they believed he was being tortured and where they believed his rights as an American citizen were being denied, the supporters of Ahmed forgot that if he came to the US it was almost a guarantee that he would spend the rest of his life in an American jail. In Saudi Arabia Ahmed would have eventually been released and been able to go to Jordan. That is the culture of the region; few spend life in prison for anything and many are relesed when the rulers change. These brothers showed a faith in the US criminal justice system based on fantasy; any Muslim going before an American jury, for anything, in these days is in big trouble. When you are going before a jury on terrorism charges in the backyard of the capitol then you are almost guaranteed to be convicted and we have seen that time and time again over the last three years.
Those around Ahmed failed him in this regard. However his family only had the best intentions in their hearts and were just given bad advice by those around them. I am afraid that when his mother walked into an American courtroom wearing a full-veil and his father with a full beard and their son named Ahmed sat on trial it was all over before it started.
This is a tragedy, and I am not talking about in the sense of innocence or guilt, I am talking about the tragedy of a brilliant young man who will in all likelihood be spending the rest of his life in an American prison who at most mouthed off a little bit, but never hurt anyone.