An intruiguing story about how one may set out to follow “the path of Allah” and end up doing things that Westerners don’t ordinarily associate with religious fervor. “A House Divided,” from Egypt Today, with thanks to JS:
Three brothers are in jail for plotting an aborted terror attack on Khan El-Khalili. Guilty or not, their fate has set mother against father.
Anyone Visiting El-Gozlani family’s modest flat in Kerdassa is accustomed to hearing 60-year-old Aisha Abdel Salam Saleh sitting in her room, sweet-talking one of her three sons. She could be murmuring to Mohammed, her eldest, about God; to Essam, the middle child, about her fondest memory of him as a kid; or to Abdullah, her youngest, about why he can’t decide on which faculty is best for him.
When she finishes with the boys, the tiny woman sometimes heads back to her large, sparsely furnished living room. The family doesn’t get many guests, so that’s where her husband, El-Hajj Nasr El-Din El-Gozlani, 70, spends his days in a large bed, his aluminum walker at his side.
Little conversation passes between the two. Instead, she sits on the floor near him, reading from an open mos’haf (Qur’an) on its wooden stand. El-Gozlani says he likes the fact that he receives as much sawab (blessings from God) just by listening to his wife recite as she receives for making the effort.
Later, when she tires of reading, Saleh retreats to her bedroom to sit on her prayer mat and have an even longer talk with God.
The only problem is that while God might be listening, her sons aren’t: The three boys are split among two prisons, each serving time on charges of terrorism.
“God is my only companion these days after they snatched my sons from me one after the other,” Saleh says. “Their punishment is more tolerable than mine, which is to face the possibility of death without any of them sitting at my bedside.”
For Saleh and El-Gozlani, life as they knew it came crashing to an end when their three sons, all alleged members of the Egyptian-born extremist group Al-Jihad, were tried along with 57 others and sentenced to terms ranging from a few years to life in prison in a series of rapid-fire trials. Ayman El-Zawahri, now Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden’s number two, but then the undisputed leader of Al-Jihad, was sentenced in absentia to death by hanging in one of the proceedings that followed.
Some of those sentenced were charged with simple membership in a terrorist organization, others with plotting against the government of President Hosni Mubarak. Mohammed, Essam and Abdullah faced the additional charge of planning a bombing campaign against tourists in Cairo’s fabled Khan El-Khalili commercial district.
Spend even a few minutes with them, and it’s clear El-Gozlani and Saleh have almost diametrically opposed views of the world and of their sons’ places in it. The pain they share is the single delicate thread that keeps their marriage together.
Saleh is convinced of her sons’ innocence. El-Gozlani is equally certain the younger two boys were made scapegoats for the actions of Mohammed, denying him grandchildren to keep him company as his days on earth wind to a close.
In the meantime, El-Gozlani sits and wonders where things went wrong while his wife rages against what she says is the injustice of it all.
“Mohammed, my eldest, was arrested before,” she admits. “They said he had burned down video-rental shops. But I swear he did nothing! He was just hanging out with those who did. Anyway, he was sentenced to three years in jail. Then, the security police started paying us regular visits, so the Old Man” as she consistently refers to her husband “feared for himself and came here to stay away from trouble. I joined him only when he got sick. I don’t know what happened. We’re peaceful people by nature; we mind our own business.”
Peace was shattered in 1996, when State Security officers picked up all three El-Gozlani boys in quick succession, taking them to Lazoughly and Gaber bin Heyan police stations for questioning. Eventually, the three were charged with membership in Al-Jihad, a banned terror group, and of plotting to bomb Khan El-Khalili.
The arrest, El-Gozlani says, “was a complete shock to me. It was Mohammed, my oldest son, who led the others down this path. He’s always been labelled as a jihadi. He was a lawyer and wanted to join up with the human-rights lawyers [active in the Islamist movement]. I told him, ‘No, stay away from trouble. I don’t want you to be arrested or shot.’
“But he didn’t listen. His two brothers, though, are innocent. They had no idea about the plot, they weren’t involved in anything.”
All three were tried by a military court. Mohammed and Essam were sentenced to 15-year terms, while Abdullah, the youngest, was declared innocent, then promptly detained again, the family alleges, because State Security feared he was a threat to national security. Mohammed and Essam were first sent to Cairo’s maximum-security Tora prison, then transferred to the even tougher Abu Zaabal, where they’ve remained ever since….
Over the course of our conversations, it quickly became clear that El-Gozlani is a moderate Muslim with a sharp sense of humor. Niqab is not a fard (religious duty) unless the woman is a “femme fatale,” he says with a smile, like one of the knockouts of yesteryear, “maybe Brigitte Bardot or Sophia Lauren,” he explains with a chuckle. Educated in Catholic schools, El-Gozlani says he has nothing against other religions or peoples and absolutely rejects violence as a means of social or political change.
State Security already knew that, he says with confidence, and he claims not to mind their watchful eyes.
“Actually, the State Security officers are really quite nice and decent. I’m not being sarcastic I mean it. They have never done anything bad or demeaned us. They investigate people before they do anything, so they know that I’m against any kind of illegal act. Had I known that any one of my sons was following a different path, I would have been the first to stand against him. I would have forced him back onto the straight and narrow.”
Saleh will hear none of that. The only path her boys have ever followed, she cuts in, is that of Allah.
“What crime did they commit? What sin?” Fury flashes in her eyes as she continues: “But what can I say when their own father claims it’s all because Mohammed led the other boys astray? People are confused: None of my sons have done anything! They’re being jailed because of their intentions, and that’s unconstitutional. Even the judge who tried them said theirs was a case in which not a single bullet was fired. There’s no evidence against them!
“My eldest son told them he’s not a qiyadi (a leader in the jihad). He told the court, ‘I’m a person who wants to build, not destroy. We have a tourist district in our neighborhood and we’ve never hurt anyone there. Why would we want to bomb the Khan?’ ”
As Saleh sees it, her son’s only crime was being a committed Muslim, teaching local children and teenagers from a book called Raheeq El-Makhtoum. (The Sweetness of the End)….