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Emotional return for Imams

By DARCEL CHOY Monday, May 19 2014

It was a very emotional morning for the three Imams, who returned home yesterday and reunited with their families and friends, after spending 55 days detained in a Caracas jail.

The men, Imams Abdul Salaam, Hamzah Mohammad and Sheikh Hamid Hassan, were arrested in March along with 19 others, including Muslim women and children, and charged with terrorism and criminal conspiracy. The group was detained whilst attempting to process visa applications for a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia.

The Imams arrived at the Piarco International airport, Piarco, from Caracas aboard a Caribbean Airlines flight at about 11.18 am. The minute they walked through the doors, they were embraced by their families and friends. Mohammad was overwhelmed with emotion as he reunited with his family. He sobbed while hugging and kissing his wife, and their six children who formed a small circle around him while embracing him and they remained that way for several minutes. One of his daughters, was seen handing him a letter that had the words, “love you to infinity” and Mohammad looked at her, and burst into tears once more as he hugged her.

Hassan was met by his family and his Muslim brothers and was overheard saying, “I never get this kind of love in my life”. Abdul’s reunion with his family and friends was a bit subdued compared to the other men, as he was met by a few people and a short time after, he left.

Speaking with reporters, from a prepared speech, Hassan said the experience was one that brought many mixed moments.

“The days felt like more than 24 hours while we were imprisoned. At times, we felt hopeless, frustrated and depressed. Our detention was a traumatic experience. We would spend most of our time in the cell praying to God to bring the time and day for our release quickly. Our families and their welfare were in our thoughts all the time. Our concerns for our congregation and the people we live among were on our minds too. We felt like we may never be able to see them again. Every day we would look forward to the phone calls from our loved ones and listening to their voices did ease the grief and pain we felt within. The tears were sometimes difficult to hold back,” he said.

Hassan said for the first half of their detention, they thought they were forgotten as they did not know what was happening with their release.

“At times we lost trust in the messages we were getting to get us released. Plans of going to court and meeting without lawyers changed at the last moment because of the unstable political climate in Venezuela.

It was frightening to be locked up in a country where such unstable conditions exist and plus all the other challenges like the language barrier,” he said.

He added that the experience was a trial that would always remain in their minds.

Islamic Missionaries Guilds of the Caribbean and South America, president Imtiaz Mohammed who represented the Imams’ families while they were detained, was also emotional as he spoke to the media, he had to stop a few times to compose himself. He thanked God the men were able to return home and he also thanked Caribbean Airlines through the Ministry of Finance for donating the tickets for the men.

Five men, Dominic “Jamal” Pitilal, Joseph Battersby, Asim Luqman, Wade Charles, and Leslic Doisley, remain detained in the Caracas jail and they are now on a hunger strike until they are released

Mohammed expressed hope that they will also be able to return home. “We hope their lawyer work together with the Trinidad and Tobago Government and they will be able to return home safely as well,” he said.

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