Author: Babar Ahmad
I used to judge people based on their outer appearance. Until it happened to me. And then I didn’t like it one bit.
I used to think every white man with a shaved head and tattoos was a racist. Perhaps I might be forgiven for thinking that way.
Growing up in 80s Britain, the racist 80s, those who called me “Paki” were… you guessed it, shaved head white men with tattoos.
When it comes to Islam, most ignorant Muslims judge everyone else except themselves. I was no different.
I would judge other Muslims based on their outward appearance. I would consider a man with a long beard, in traditional clothing, with “inshallah” “mashallah” flowing out of his mouth, a righteous person.
I would consider every woman in a hijab or niqab to be devout and of good character.
I wouldn’t think much of others because I was quick to form a judgement about them, even though I did not know a thing about them.
During the 1980s US-backed anti-Soviet Afghan Jihad, Saudi Arabian Airlines offered a 50% discount to any Saudi citizen or resident wishing to travel to Pakistan for the purposes of waging Jihad against invading Soviet troops.
Yes, those were the days, some might say. Today, false death cults have hijacked the concept of Jihad and turned it into something alien to Islam.
A Saudi friend once shared with me an anecdote of something that happened to him. During the late 1980s, he was travelling to Pakistan from Saudi Arabia with 100kg of items for the Afghan freedom fighters. It was food, batteries, torches, items like that.
The luggage allowance was still 20kg. While checking in at the airport he began to search for the official who appeared to him to be the most devout, with a view to getting the luggage through without having to pay excess baggage charges.
He spotted an airline official with a big beard, a prominent mark of prostration on his forehead, trousers above his ankles and a “tasbeeh” “rosary bead” in his hand.
My friend approached him and explained the problem to him. Wrong decision.
The “devout” official began to rile off excuses, saying that the Government had ordered that every single kilogram has to be paid for in full. The official gave a receipt to my friend and asked him to pay it at a certain counter.
When he arrived at that counter, he found a young Saudi Airlines official. Clean shaved except for a moustache, a packet of cigarettes showing from his chest pocket. He did not look religious in the least.
The young man looked left and right as if it see if anyone was listening. He then whispered to my friend, “Is this all charity?” My friend nodded to say yes.
“I’m really sorry that I have to charge you because the other official gave you this receipt, but I’m only going to charge for you for 5kg, not 80kg excess baggage,” the young man whispered. “I’m so sorry I can’t do more than that.”
My friend was surprised. What happened next was even more surprising.
The young man went into an office and another airline official, also clean shaven and smelling of cigarettes, came out to my friend.
“Are all these things for charity, to help the Afghans?” he asked. “Are you yourself going there?”
My friend said yes. The official then glanced to see that no-one was looking, took out a 500 riyal note (equivalent to say £200 in those days) from his pocket and discreetly put it into my friends’s hand.
“Please give this to charity on my behalf when you get there,” he said.
My friend later told me that he felt ashamed that he had allowed himself to judge those officials based on their outer appearance alone. It was as if Allah wanted to teach him a lesson, that He alone has the right to judge people.
I had similar experiences during the 11 years I spent in prison.
Some of the best prison officers I met in both British and American prisons, the ones who were kindest to me, were… shaved head white men with tattoos.
And some of the people who treated me the worst in prison were clean-cut, well-spoken men in suits, with no tattoos.
A hijab wearing “Muslim” female lawyer, together with a hijab-wearing “Muslim” female psychologist fought hard on behalf of the UK Prison Service to keep me and other Muslim detainees in isolation.
Meanwhile, a Jewish (yes, Jewish) lawyer fought hard on my behalf to try and prevent this from happening.
We lost the case and I eventually remained in isolation for a total of six years.
Of course, many of the people who campaigned for me for years were also hijab-wearing Muslim women.
It was uniformed police officers who violently tortured and assaulted me in 2003. And it was another uniformed police officer who offered me water and later testified in court in my favour, saying my handcuff injuries were the worst he had seen in his 35-year long career.
Most Muslim paedophiles and rapists that I saw in prison had long beards and white skullcaps. But then many of the people in my community who campaigned for me for years also had long beards and white skullcaps.
The rat who made up false allegations against me as a result of which I spent 11 years in prison was… a hafiz of Quran, student of knowledge, Arabic-speaker, teacher and Imam, with a beard and traditional clothing.
And the person who fought day and night for two years to defend me against this “hafiz” rat’s allegations was a short-skirted fashionable young white American woman lawyer.
After my experience I am now hesitant to judge other people. Not only can looks be deceiving, they actually are deceiving and don’t say anything about the person.
“Do unto others what you want done unto yourself,” is known as The Bible’s golden rule. Or, put another way, “Don’t do unto others what you don’t want done unto yourself.”