Written By: Ali Asad Chandia
In the first part of this five-part series, Ali Asad Chandia a prisoner currently kept in a US supermax prison encourages us to not be sad about the ups and downs of life. An inspiring piece of writing from someone living under some of the most oppressive measures anywhere.
Background to Ali Asad Chandia
In June 2006, Ali Asad Chandia was convicted on three counts, namely providing material support to a DFTO, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LET), and conspiracy to provide material support to a DFTO. Chandia purportedly participated in the Virginia Jihad Network. He was accused of visiting LET headquarters in Lahore while travelling in Pakistan; picking up Mohammed Ajmal Khan, an LET official, at Reagan National Airport; and helping Khan deliver 21 boxes of paintballs and other goods to a shipping company in Virginia, where Chandia paid to have them mailed to Pakistan.
Chandia was initially sentenced to 15 years (180 months) in prison in August 2006. The trial judge determined at sentencing that he qualified for 3A1.4, on the basis that he provided material support to a DTFO “with the intent to influence or coerce government conduct”. Without 3A1.4, Chandia‘s advisory Guideline range would only have been 63—78 months. In October 2007, Chandia went before the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals to challenge both his conviction and the use of the terrorism enhancement statute in his case. Later that year, in January 2008, the Court of Appeals upheld his conviction but determined that the application of the terrorism enhancement statute in his case was inappropriate. The Court of Appeals sent the case back to District Court Judge Claude Hilton, to either justify his use of the enhancement statute or to re-sentence Chandia without its use. In its ruling the Court stated:
“Chandia’s convictions under the material support statutes clearly satisfied the first element of the enhancement. However, the PSR (pre-sentencing report) did not contain any factual assertions related to the intent element. Instead… [the report and the district court] both appeared to assume (erroneously) that the enhancement automatically applies to material support conviction….[the government] appears to suggest that we should infer the required intent from the basic facts that gave rise to the conviction…Unlike in some case where the enhancement has been applied, the acts underlying the conviction in this case were not violent terrorist acts…. Therefore, these facts cannot, standing alone, support application of the terrorism enhancement. Because there has been no factual finding on the intent element, and because the basic facts supporting the conviction do not give rise to an automatic inference of all the required intent, we must vacate Chandia’s sentence and remand for re-sentencing.”
The court sidestepped the issue of whether intent must be found by “clear and convincing evidence”, or merely by a “preponderance of evidence”, choosing instead to reserve consideration of this issue until it was given a “case where [it is] presented with relevant findings”.
In April 2008, the District Court re-sentenced Chandia to fifteen years in prison, which he appealed. In October 2010, the Court of Appeals again vacated Chandia‘s sentence and ordered the trial judge to hold another sentencing. At Chandia‘s second re-sentencing – in March 2011 – Judge Hilton imposed the same 15-year prison term. Chandia‘s defence team will challenge the sentence. If the Court of Appeals rules that Judge Hilton was again unable to justify the use of the terrorism enhancement statute, the Appellate Court can remove him from the case and transfer it to a different judge.
Part 1 – A Passing Thought
Shaddad Ibn Aws said,
O people! Don’t accuse Allah in His Decree, for verily He does not transgress against a believer. So if something befalls a believer that he loves, then let him praise Allah. And if something befalls him that he dislikes, then let him be patient seeking Allah’s reward. For indeed, with Allah is the best reward. Tafsir-ul-Adheem, (Surah 3:195).
The Special Housing Unit (SHU) – Commonly referred to as ‘the Hole’ by the prisoners – is a disciplinary or an administrative unit within every prison in the United States where prisoners spend at least 23 hours a day in a small cell. In 2012, at the Federal Correctional Institute at Terre Haute, Indiana, a young man was put in ‘the hole’ for not being able to function well in the general population. The young man was tired of being in prison and his patience had reached its limit. He released his frustration by self-mutilation with a razor blade. When the prison staff put him on a razor restriction he started swallowing dead batteries and was in constant need of serious and psychological attention. Various prisoners in ‘the hole’ tried to counsel this young man and his like, but the periods of calmness were only temporary.
After witnessing multiple instances of sadness and despair, I truly understand the importance of the supplications of Allah’s Messenger sallaAllahu ‘Alaihi Wasallam in which he would seek Allah’s refuge from grief and sadness and would also praise Allah for protecting him from the trials that He subhanahu wa ta’ala afflicted many others with. In various places in the Qur’an Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala warns the believers against sadness and despair and commands us to fight against these two damaging tools of Shaitaan. Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala says, ‘So do not become weak, nor be sad…’ (The Qur’aan 3:139)
Ibn Al-Qayyim said,
Sadness is (a state of) cessation and not progression and it contains no benefit for the heart. It is a most beloved thing to Shaitaan. He saddens a slave in order to disrupt him from his journey and to stop him from his path. (Madaarij-is-Salikeen, pg 356)
It is quite natural that certain events in one’s life cause a natural form of sadness. Even in such circumstances we are commanded not to allow that sadness to turn into despair. We are rather commanded to complain to Allah who alone has the power to removed sadness from our hearts. Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala mentions the grief and sadness of Prophet Ya’qoob ‘alaihi as-salaam upon losing two of his beloved sons, but he never complained to anyone but Allah. Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala says,
He (Ya’qoob) said, “I only complain of my grief and sorrow to Allah, and I know from Allah which you know not”. (The Qur’aan 12:86)
Even though the sadness of losing two of his sons caused him to lose his sight, Prophet Ya’qoob ‘alaihi as-salaam never allowed that sadness to turn into despair and strictly commanded his children against it. Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala states in the Qur’aan:
(Ya’qoob said), “O my sons! Go you and inquire about Yousuf and his brother and never despair of Allah’s mercy. Certainly no one despairs of Allah’s mercy, except the people who disbelieve.” (The Qur’aan 12:87)
We live in a time when Muslims are passing through multiple trials and tribulations. Shaitaan can further add to these trials and tribulations by causing sadness and despair in our hearts. After contemplating on some of the directives in the book of Allah and the Sunnah of His Messenger sallaAllahu ‘alaihi wasallam, certain thoughts passed through my mind and I thought of saving these thoughts in writing. Anything beneficial in this writing is from Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala and any errors are due to my own shortcomings and from Shaitaan. Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala and His Messenger sallaAllahu ‘alaihi wassallam are free from such errors. I ask Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala to make it beneficial for myself and for the readers and make us of those who adhere to His commands.
(NOTE: CAGE represents cases of individuals based on the remit of our work. Supporting a case does not mean we agree with the views or actions of the individual. Content published on CAGE may not reflect the official position of our organisation.)