Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Day FBI Raided My House

Tuesday, November 19 2013 begins benign enough; we wake up for salaat, Mahaa Zainab and her mother return to slumber and I proceed with pushups and other exercises, run-up to a six – seven mile run later on, after giving breakfast and dropping Zainab to school. It is 7AM and I have just completed my pushups so my heart is already pumping somewhat when simultaneous loud banging at the front door, the back glass door and side windows rattle me. Tasneem screams there are men with guns outside and not to open the door; my heart goes on overdrive.

I run to peer through the front door keyhole; there are about seven men with signs of FBI, DEA and others on black t-shirts standing outside, two of them have their guns draws. Mamma-mia! Now, I have been in pretty dicey situations before, what with my travels for CAI taking me to far-flung and dubious countries globally. But this situation involves my family, involves my daughter Maaha Zainab, so I am plenty rattled. My heartbeat goes haywire, I feel my heart is at all places in my body, not unlike a person possessed by the shaitani of Kilwa, kicking and jerking around, completely out of control. I fling open the door.

Rough hands pull me out. Is there anybody else inside? Someone shouts at me. Dazed, I do not answer, gawk at three men, two with their guns drawn enter the house. Tasneem has already joined me by the entrance and we scream at Zainab to come. She does, annoyed at her best-time-to-nap interrupted, drunk with sleep. Tasneem yells at her to go back and wear her hejaab. I engulf Zainab into an embrace once she returns to the door, hejaab intact. I see men after men, in thick black boots enter and invade my home, where nobody, without exception, is allowed to enter wearing outside footwear, especially the place where I recite salaat; this invasion is pretty painful; a colonoscopy is readily preferable.

After the initial scare, things calm down. The invading guys are firm but polite and courteous; I am assured I am not under arrest. They have a warrant to search my house and seize all documents, computers and cellphones. Why? It is alleged that I have been concealing money from the US government. Okay. Then why is the DEA and other agencies that go after the real bad people here, why with guns drawn? I tell the lead IRS agent I was expecting them, but not this way, with guns draws and an invasion of my house. He looks at me, puzzled. Expecting us, why? Well, with the amount of aid money CAI moves to countries like Afghanistan, the US government would be curious what is going on (although CAI annual tax returns do detail these activities). But I was expecting more courteous method of investigation; an inquiry letter, a visit request to IRS offices perhaps. The agent nods and smiles, assures me these kinds of raids is procedure they follow. How would they know we are not armed, destroying proof or prepping evidence if not a sudden raid? I guess not all of us are Ahlebeyti Muslims...?

Thus ensues about two hours of searching and questions. The house is thoroughly searched, paperwork, passports and electronic devices seized. Maaha Zainab is allowed breakfast, keeping the agents on their toes (especially women agents), busy with rapid questions about the FBI. For Zainab, this is far from scary, why, an adventure really. She is obsessed with being an FBI agent in the future and spends a good deal of her allowable TV watching time looking at detective shows that solve crimes. When I caution her FBI has to use some pretty mean methods to solve crimes, sometimes at the expense of innocent victims, she remains unconvinced. Lets see if the end of this saga results in changing her mind.

True, our lives are greatly shaken up by this invasion and I remain cautious on many fronts. I am absolutely convinced there will be nothing the authorities will find unlawful or incrimination, insha’Allah. CAI or I have broken no laws; in fact I have gone an extra mile, every time, to ensure all transactions are transparent and accountable. Since I do what I do for the pleasure of Allah in serving His downtrodden humanity, I rely on Him to see us through this period of uncertainty; the verdict, however, should be total vindication of all allegations. Insha’Allah.

The home of Hasnain Yusufali, my nephew, dedicated Secretary and Treasurer for CAI is similarly invaded; documents and electronics seized.

I broadcast this so that you, our donors and well-wishers are well informed about what happened. CAI and personal bank accounts are not seized; travel and CAI activities are not restricted or affected. Our mission continues insha’Allah.  

I must add that both the IRS and FBI (DEA’s role was irrelevant) were very polite and courteous immediately after the initial few minutes their operations commenced. Maaha Zainab’s I-Pad and cellphone are not seized, my passports and ID are returned the very same day and the rest of our electronic devices are returned in good order within a week of seizure.

There is a profound question by one FBI agent late on the day of the raid, when a team of five agents arrives home to return my passports and ask more questions. The Agent, a young man, asks me if I will notify the FBI if I knew of another 9-11 in the making, since they are all about preventing a repeat of that tragic, fateful day. I am flabbergasted at the question, a bit angry even. But then I realize where he is coming from, so my reply is appropriate.

First and foremost, I am a man who tries hard to follow the commands of my religion: to protect a life in danger, any life. Period. Two, I am a US citizen, duty bound to the constitution and laws of this country. Three, I live here, earn my living here, my family lives here, my daughter grows up, goes to school here. Surely, the question is redundant?