by Umaima Jafri
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the views of Brown Girl Magazine, LLC.
Ibrahim Zubair Mohammad is awaiting trial for two years at Lucas County Correctional Center. His trial has been postponed four times, the judge has been changed three times, and he has been denied bond twice. He is charged with conspiracy to provide material support and resources to terrorists, conspiracy to commit bank fraud, and conspiracy to obstruct justice. His wife and kids are petitioning his release on bond. A 72-page indictment can be found on Mohammad’s charge.
I got up this morning, got all four kids ready for school, dealt with a good deal of tantrums, and hustled them into the car so we could beat traffic and get to school on time. I came home, sat my toddler in front of the laptop to watch cartoons until nap time, which has now become a norm because I just do not have the energy or willpower to handle his three-year-old tantrums. Single moms can understand my struggle.
The monotony of routine, the hardship of providing, the loneliness—I won’t say it’s always hard, but some days are definitely harder than others. Lately, however, I feel the weight of time passing like a boulder on my chest. With each swing of the pendulum, I realize the gravity of time that has elapsed since they took him.
Rewind two years ago to November 2015 when life was quite different. My husband, Ibrahim and I had moved to Dallas three months prior from the Midwest. We were full of ambition, dreams, and plans. Then just like that, the fantasy of being closer to my family, having that six-figure job, finding that amazing school for the kids, and living in our dream home was gone in the blink of an eye.
They came in fourteen unmarked cars. FOURTEEN. Why so many to arrest one man is still a mystery to me. Ibrahim was holding our two-year-old son at the time when they stormed into our garage. Ibrahim was simply on his way to work. I was getting ready to take the kids to school. It was supposed to be a typical day. What was happening? I shouted at my three older children to go to their rooms; I did not want them to see what was going on in the garage. I ran out, sans hijab, and took our youngest son from Ibrahim. I demanded a warrant, which was initially denied but presented briefly thereafter. They did have a warrant, and this was no mistake. Ibrahim, along with three other Muslim men, was charged with conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists, conspiracy to commit bank fraud, and conspiracy to obstruct justice. In a nutshell, it’s what they charge any Muslim man with when they don’t know what else to conjure up.
Ibrahim blacked out. He was standing there listening to the barrage of legalities, the instructions given to me by the U.S. Marshalls: which court, what time, what steps to take, which lawyer. On and on they droned while Ibrahim’s life flashed before his eyes. Would he ever see our four children again? Would he ever get the chance to run around the house with them again? Would our toddler even remember him? Would he ever see his mother again? It was all too much for him, and he came crashing down.
My husband is built like a linebacker. Six feet tall, broad shoulders, strong as an ox. And he fell. I cannot recall what I did with our son, but in an instant, he was no longer in my arms, and I found myself at Ibrahim’s side beckoning him to get up. He was sweating profusely, soaked completely through his clothes. They called the paramedics, and then went on with business. It was just another day at the office for them, and a never-ending nightmare for us.
The U.S. Marshalls, I will admit, was somewhat considerate. They allowed Ibrahim to hug his kid’s goodbye, and they were considerate enough not to put cuffs on him in front of the children. But the children saw anyway. They watched, confused and horrorstruck, from the upstairs window, unbeknownst to me, as their father was taken in cuffs into the back of an unmarked car. I watched from the driveway, initially shocked and cold in the heat of a Texas autumn. My shock eventually turned into determination as fourteen cars drove my husband away.
That was two years ago. Ibrahim was extradited to Ohio for his case. This was the beginning of a witch-hunt akin to an absurd legal drama that includes problematic evidence, entrapment, deception, lies, and tragedy. We have been denied bond twice. This is the reality of the injustice that is incarceration. This is the reality of our ‘justice’ system. And we continue to await a trial that has been postponed and rescheduled at least four times already.
Each day I answer questions from our children about when Baba will be home, who took him away, and why they took him away. Our now three-and-a-half-year-old remembers what the others never saw. “Baba fell down in the garage.” He remembers, despite my desperate prayers that he forgets that one final image of his father. He thinks we go to Baba’s house during “visits.” Our visits involve hazy video chats transmitted live to a loud jailhouse lobby. We try to have normal conversations with Ibrahim, who sits somewhere on an upper floor in front of another hazy screen. This has been our contact. Nothing physical, nothing through a glass wall, but rather a low-quality video chat where I can only take one child per week for a maximum of 30 minutes. Ibrahim has watched his children grow from behind this video screen, seeing them only through the eyes of a camera, and from the pictures, I am able to send him.
For two years I have raised our children back in the Midwest, surrounded by old friends who have known Ibrahim and our family for over a decade. They stand by my side relentlessly. They show their support unconditionally. They love our children like their own. These are people who have known Ibrahim for so many years as a friend, a successful engineer, and a man who was obsessed with his family. He was that engineer who helped design elephant enclosures at the city zoo, he was that friendly neighbor who used to stop and chat with the neighbors, he was that man who everyone knew for his toothy smile, he was that friend who people could rely on even in the middle of the night.
We were that typical American family who cleaned out the garage when it was warm out, who washed their cars on the weekends, who went biking around the neighborhood, who went to Costco just to try the samples. Ibrahim was the husband who woke up early on the weekends so I could sleep in, made his famous omelets for the kids (four different types for our four picky eaters — well, five if you count me), sat down with the children and read Quran with them, prayed with his family at home, helped me with chores and dinner, and my favorite, put the kids to bed. They loved his bedtime stories. The ones that had adventures galore and lessons to be learned, the ones I thought were much too long. After these nearly hour-long bedtime stories, it would finally be our turn. Chai and cookies, and just us.
Now, our days consist of the standard breakfast (only one type of egg for our four picky eaters), the mundane routine of school, homework, and me counting down the minutes until bedtime. There are no bedtime stories, no imagination left for me to conjure up anything, nothing that will ever come close to matching Baba’s adventures. After putting them to bed, I head to our bedroom, alone, no chai or cookies, no us. Two years of going to bed alone, dreaming about Ibrahim and then waking up alone. Two years of being mom and dad, provider and comforter. Two years of waiting, struggling, hoping, and more waiting. Two years of being emotionally and physically drained. Two years and he’s still not home.
Ibrahim, as I write this, is still awaiting trial, our family’s life is still in limbo, we are still holding on to the hope of bail until said time. How things turn out in the near future, how they turn out eventually, at what point any of this comes to an “end” is known alone by God above. In the meantime, we carry on, doing our best and fighting the good fight.
Umaima Jafri is a Houston, TX native living in the Midwest for the past 11 years. She is a graduate of the University of Houston. She spends her time these days role-playing as a chef, chauffeur, referee, maid, all the while trying to maintain her sanity for her four young children.