A Brotherly Bond
Talha Ahsan has been detained without charge for six years in an extra security jail. He suffers from Asperger Syndrome – an autism spectrum disorder. He is due to be extradited to the US, although no charges have been brought in the UK.
There will be a demonstration outside Downing Street on Saturday 23rd June 2012, 1-3pm
Talha and Hamja Ahsan were two brothers growing apart until Talha was detained without charge, and Hamja found himself fighting for his freedom.
When we were children, my brother and I had our own language. For example, to say “crow” we would wrap ourselves completely in a towel and to say “Thomas” we would pull up our trousers as high as possible. Yet as we got older, we developed largely solitary pursuits and consequently drifted apart. We went to different schools, made different friends and, ultimately, took very different directions in life.
Our differences were accentuated by me being extremely tidy and organised. I kept all my books alphabetically by author then according to year of publication. My brother prefers to regard his room as being more “organic.” Admittedly, our different commitment in practising Islam still causes the greatest tension in our relationship. As the more practising one, there is a greater duty upon me to exemplify the values of tolerance, kindness and forbearance – allowing for the occasional rant.
Despite our different paths, we would still connect over our shared passion for justice and art. We are more like Moses and Aaron and less like Cain and Abel; we both despise hypocrisy, double- standards and ‘might- is-right’ thinking. We also happen to admire the same artists and writers.
Over the years we have been deeply concerned by the American government’s radical understanding of promoting freedom. Through campaigning against their injustices we have met the likes of Guantanamo survivor Moazzam Begg, an inspiration to us both. It is perhaps sad irony that the last rare joint activity I had with my brother was attending a demonstration for Babar Ahmad outside his High Court hearing. A week later I was arrested.
Yet, despite these challenges, I am grateful that my life has been largely problem free. Though I grew up struggling with the effects of Asperger syndrome – a form of autism— I have found that the sacred balance in achieving well-being is through meditating on Divine Beauty and the Grace of God.
What I most admire about my brother is his loyalty to me throughout these difficulties. He has been relentless in campaigning for me whilst I’ve been in prison. He experienced intimidation when the police searched our house and he even travelled all the way to Edinburgh from London to organise an event.
How fitting the verse about Joseph, “He betook his brother to himself and said, ‘I am your brother, so grieve not for what they used to do.’” (Yusuf 12:69)
My brother and I are only a year apart whilst our sisters are considerably older than us. This small age gap meant that we only had each other to play with while growing up and we became close; waking up early every Sunday morning to watch cartoons together was always something to look forward to.
We both grew up liking the Fanzines once sold in the classfied of the NME. They opened up worlds that would not otherwise be available to sons of Bangladeshi immigrants from Tooting. I even once made a Fanzine called Nausea that had Talha’s baby photo on the cover. We also used to enter radio competitions together. Once, we won tickets to an exclusive acoustic session with Radiohead but were too young to enter the venue.
In spite of our bond, the older we got the more apart we grew. Each of us increasingly preferred being alone. I liked art. He preferred writing. My brother was also more religious than me and would also study Islamic subjects. I was, and still am, also much more easy-going than my brother. I prefer spontaneity and letting things take their natural course. My brother prefers structures and routines in his life. The states of our respective bedrooms demonstrated this!
Even then, my brother and I always found a way to connect. The arts, despite progress, are still viewed with suspicion by a lot of Muslim communities. The fact that my brother and I still found such activities worthy of study gave us a common bond. In fact, he was one of the few people in the community to support my exhibitions.
Although my brother and I have our differences, I think we both admire each other’s devotion to improve our knowledge of the world and to help those less fortunate than us. My brother likes being updated not just on the plight of others but also on new books and events when I visit him in prison.
His absence is very painful for our family. My father, who is over 70 and has eye problems, is still working so that the family business is still there for my brother to inherit. My mother prays for him every day. My brother would always give me informed and honest critiques of my work. Talha’s absence from my life has made me realise how just important his presence was to my life.