Syria used to be an extremely peaceful country where only love prevailed. Although Bashar-ul-Asad’s father belonged to a different sect, he was a symbol of prosperity for the Syrians. A poor man was able to enjoy barbecued chicken with his family every night! Education was and still is free. Stationery and books were all provided free of cost. Hospital bills and medical expenses were minimal. They had discount bus pass to travel in public transport. Free lunch would be provided for students at school and more to be consumed at home. Each school would have approximately twenty-five hundred students in a state of the art building. Today, these buildings are providing shelter to the survivors.
Haya was born in a noble family in the city of Homs – a peaceful place where a woman won’t hesitate to travel alone in the middle of the night. Ninety percent of the men in her family were loyal servants of the army.
She was born to jubilated parents nine years after their marriage. Although both parents had children from their ex-partners, she was the first from this marriage. A source of happiness for the family of eight sisters and seven brothers, Haya turned out to be a super naughty kid, who would spark up the entire neighborhood with her mischief.
Her father loved her immensely and would joke around that: “One hair strand grays every day thanks to you!” Being a successful businessman, Mr. Abdul Jabbar had immense resources. He enjoyed the position of the chief in his tribe. He was also the minister of transport and ran an automobile showroom; a number of his buses revved throughout the city. Above all, he was a friend and a guide for his daughters, who could share petty matters with him more than they would with their mom.
Syria had a liberal culture. Although Muslim majority was found in all the areas, Islam was rarely practiced. Mix gatherings, music and modern clothing were cultural norms. Haya’s family was no different, and in spite of offering their prayers five times a day diligently, Islam was barely followed in other aspects of life. There was, however, her maternal aunt, who turned towards Allah (swt) after going for Umrah and preached the same to others in the family. Haya was highly inspired by her and yearned to learn from her, whenever she got a chance.
Being part of a traditional family, Haya got engaged to a guy as old as her father at the age of twelve. By this time, Haya had developed a deep interest in military matters and wanted to serve in the army. By Allah’s (swt) will, she had poor eyesight, which prevented her from fulfilling her dream. First the ambitious girl decided to pursue medicine as a profession. However, a deep desire of being a Muallima – an Islamic scholar – was also rooted in her heart. This was a fruit of her aunt’s efforts, and Haya wholeheartedly gave all credit of her religious achievements to her.
Her cousins and friends would mock her, whenever she would say it out aloud. In a country like Syria, a woman could only dream of becoming an Islamic scholar.
Her fiancé also belonged to a liberal family. Haya was cautioned by her aunt to reconsider marrying a person, who acted like an atheist. She was not at all in favor of this marriage.
Time flew. Haya was fourteen now. Her grandmother persuaded her to tie the knot, while Haya had clearly stated her intensions to her father. She was so serious about the matter that she even threatened to commit suicide in case she was pressurized. Before her father could take a decision, Allah (swt) resolved the matter for her. However, it was one excruciating way for her to endeavour.
One fine morning, as Haya was busy with matriculation papers, her father had a terrible accident. He was driving his bus with many passengers. The bus fell in a ditch killing many on the spot. Her father was saved. However, he had severe injuries, for which he was shifted to a hospital. He was held responsible for the accident and had to undergo a trial.
This was a tough time for the entire family, especially Haya, who was close to her father. She was mentally disturbed and was not focused enough to continue with the examinations. Although her father later came home healthy and with restored respect, Haya had missed all her exams, due to being traumatized.
Her grandma took hold of the opportunity and persuaded her father for the marriage. But this time, he took the bold step and finally dissolved the engagement.
After this turn of events in her life, Haya became determined to study Islam and become a Shaikh, as she put it.
Her ever-loving father supported her, and together they began to look for their options. Unfortunately, in Syria, there was no opportunity to acquire such knowledge, and thus the duo had to look for opportunities beyond the borders.
This is how their search brought them to Pakistan! With unending opportunities for the foreigners to learn the religion and a welcoming attitude of the people, Haya knew that her next destination was Pakistan.
However, getting there was not a piece of cake! Her visa was rejected, as she was underage. Haya’s father now used his resources and made it possible for her to travel within a span of three days. In those days, one had to travel from Syria to Iran, then back to Syria and then travel again to get to Pakistan. So Haya travelled to Iran, where she had a short stay with one of her teacher’s family members, before she could directly travel to Pakistan in the year 1994.
Little did she know that she would not be able to meet her parents for many years.
Although she was miles away from her loving family, life in Pakistan was quite good. However, her studies never let her visit her homeland though she remained in contact with her family over the phone.
Six years later, when Haya called her father, she asked his advice on the marriage proposals that she had received. Her father, being a man of wisdom, suggested her to do as per circumstances, believing that she could make the best choice for herself.
In a very short, time she was married to a Pakistani citizen. He was a practicing Muslim. Life became completely different for Haya. She was now a beloved wife and a loving mother of two kids.
Her siblings and relatives in Syria believed Haya was never coming back home. Ultimately, the family came to believe that Haya had died in Pakistan and that it is some imposter, who for the sake of her parent’s sanity keeps calling them.
In 2005, her husband chalked out the final plan. Preparations were made for the entire family of four to travel to Syria. When Haya informed her parents about her visit, they once again considered it as a false promise. Keeping the news from the rest of the kin, the parents made preparations to visit the airport and check for themselves, if there was such a passenger flying on the flight Haya informed them about.
It was the twenty-sixth of Ramadan, when the elated parents called up the kin for a family reunion. Buses and cars arrived at the airport carrying family and friends. One can only imagine what happened, as soon as Haya left the immigration booth and stepped out of the doors with her husband and kids.
The crowd cheered, and before she knew it, she was high up in the air. People were jubilating. The startled husband and the puzzled kids stood in a corner watching this unique welcome. This was an unforgettable moment of her life.
It took Haya some time to recognize her father, partly due to the illness she once suffered and partly because he had grown feeble and old by now.
During her stay, she literally did not do anything. All her chores were taken care of by her family, who were truly happy to have her back.
She got her kids admitted into a Syrian school, as the family had decided to settle in Syria. With the help of her father and brothers, her husband was able to set up a store, in order to earn the bread and butter.
Initially, her husband complained about the liberal environment they had in Syria. It was a norm for women to run markets and shop for daily household items as well. During this time, Haya offered to help her husband by running the shop, but also this was not acceptable for him.
In a nutshell, her husband returned back home to Pakistan, leaving his family behind to stay for as long as they liked, because he understood Haya’s feelings. However, in Arab society, it is considered quite offensive for a wife to live like this without her husband, so she also returned to Pakistan with a heavy heart and a million promises to visit soon.
She travelled to Syria several times after 2005.
Back in Karachi, Haya worked in a school as a teacher. Later, she went to another city as the principal of an Islamic school. However, this city did not prove out to be a beneficial place for her son, and due to his increasing illness, she had to return to Karachi and pursue her career at a renowned school before travelling back to Syria.
Her last visit to Syria was in May of 2011, and she stayed there for four months.
This was the time when death and destruction had seen its way into Syria. Small scale explosions, army positioned in towns and street to keep a check on suspicious activities. A few kidnappings were known to happen every now and then. People seemed to be scared. Mothers would send their kids to schools, bidding them farewell, as if they were not sure they would ever return. Public was scared to walk in the streets. Curfew was observed for several hours every day, during which hospitals and grocery shops were closed down. If you had run out of bread, you could be sure your kids would go to bed hungry.
Then the situation got intense. Girls were abducted and boys were kidnapped and mutilated. Dead bodies were found everywhere. People would spend the nights listening to the continuous gunshots, so much so that there came a time, when children took the deafening sound of gunshots as their lullaby. During the daylight hours, kids would play with empty bullet shells instead of marbles!
Despite of all this, people would start every day with a new resolution, sending their kids to schools and getting ready for their offices. Weddings were planned and jobs continued as usual.
By this time, two or three families Haya knew had already been martyred. Her cousin was just fifteen, when he was kidnapped. Later his mutilated body was found. People began considering the option of migration. In fact, many families had already migrated to Turkey. Under the prevailing circumstances, her father had to send her back to Pakistan, as safety was the key factor.
Haya came back to Pakistan but left her heart in Syria. She kept herself updated with the ongoing events regularly. Her family told her that on account of keeping the area safe, men would gather and keep a watch throughout the night.
One such outpost was set up at her own house. Her eldest brother was the part of the watch. He had recently got married. The very first night went by peacefully. Later, a rocket launcher hit. This one proved to be lethal, and before the ambulance would come to aid him, he breathed his last breath leaving behind a mourning family.
It was Thursday, December 29. Haya was at work. However, she had failed to concentrate. Her mind was all groggy and hazy. She had a strange feeling of depression in her heart. It became so strong that she got a fever and was sent back home to rest. This was when she received her sister’s call. All she said was: “Abu Jurair, Abu Jurair.” Haya asked: “Is he dead?” To this, her sister answered: “Not dead but martyred.”
After this phone call, Haya could not control her tears. Her fever elevated, as she sat absent-mindedly receiving condolences from the neighborhood. To Haya, Abu Jurair was more than just a brother. She remained in despair for six months.
Then one of her brothers called her and inquired cautiously if she had talked to Mahmood, her favourite brother. She told him that they had a telephonic conversation a day before. Her heart kept pounding, as he kept beating about the bush. Finally, she mustered up the courage to ask him clearly: “Is Mahmood no more?” The answer shattered her into a thousand pieces. Mahmood was shot in his own car, while driving his pregnant wife to the hospital. They were to have their first child!
This time she went hysterical, yelling Mahmood’s name. Ultimately, she broke into tears and mourned for another six months, until Allah’s (swt) decree descended. This time, it was her third brother. Her tears had dried. At that point, she realized that nothing was left in Syria, and nothing would ever go back to normal. Hopes were shattered!
Her fourth brother Hisham mysteriously disappeared. His car was found outside a cemetery with 3.75 million Syrian pounds. But it was no big deal, as Hisham was a businessman, and this was quite a normal routine. This brother left two widows to pray for his return or at least know his whereabouts. To date, her father, who now lives in a refugee shelter, has been unable to find Hisham despite searching for him in every hospital, asylum and jail.
Her fifth brother is still in Bashar-ul-Asad’s jail, which is considered to be one of the world’s worst jails!
This is not just the case with her family. Many men in her family have been falsely murdered.
They say Haya is an excellent speaker and can write books, but she herself admits that when it comes to Syria, she is dumbfounded. All she can say is: “I am done crying. What would my tears bring back? Not a single family in Syria has remained complete or unharmed. Everybody has left us, but I strongly believe Allah (swt) is with us. I believe in Prophet Muhammad’s (sa) Hadeeth, where he narrated that Syria would be reformed. I know that the Ummah would be lead from Syria, when the end of times is near. What is lost will never return. What comes next will be better than what is lost. It is Allah’s (swt) will, and we Syrians are obliged to His decree.”
She further says: Living in Pakistan causes a number of troubles and turbulences. Despite this, I love Pakistan and its people, as they have always lent me a helping hand. Pakistan is my second homeland and has made the intensity of my pain less. I request you all to remember me in your prayers. I know it would be a tough moment for me, when one day finally I would finally be able to go back to Syria. Ashes call me and I have to return to them, and I need constant support from my beloved Pakistan,” Haya prays on with courage.
This is just a story for you and me. But this is the reality for Haya and many other Syrian refugees across the globe.