A British woman has spoken of her shock at discovering her mother is an influential jihadist who helps suicide bombers and is known as Mama Shabab.
Amal Farah was stunned when police knocked on her door to tell her that Faduma Jama had become a pivotal member of Al Shabab, the Somali jihadists behind the Westgate mall massacre in Nairobi.
Mother-of-two Ms Farah had cut off all contact from her strict Muslim family five years earlier and fearful for her life, had changed her number, her name and hidden her whereabouts.
Describing the moment she was told, Ms Farah told The Sunday People: ‘The man and the woman were from the anti-terror unit. It was utterly devastating.’
Known as Mama Shabab, Faduma Jama allegedly ran a safe house for suicide bombers and Western fighters recruited into the militant Islamic organisation.
The police officers told Ms Farah, 34, to Google her mother’s name if she wanted to know why she was in trouble.
She said: ‘It was not until I got to work that I could Google her name. There were all these pictures of people injured by suicide bombs.
‘As I read about what she’d done I felt so alone. I couldn’t just turn to my colleagues and say, “Guess what? My mum’s a wanted terrorist.”
‘I couldn’t believe my own mother was involved. I cried non-stop for days after that.’
In the three years since that earth-shattering day in July 2012, Ms Farah said: ‘I’ve grieved for her. It’s brought closure to any romantic idea about one day things being better with my mum.
‘I’ve accepted I’ll never see her again. How could she ever explain that she’d joined Al Shabab?
‘It’s too terrible. I fear that one day I will see her on TV or I’ll get a knock on the door to say she’s been killed. But despite all the terrible things she’s done, she is still my mother.’
For her own protection, we are not disclosing the details of Ms Farah’s current location or that of her family.
But using contacts she still has in Somalia, where she was born, she discovered her mother married one of Al Shabab’s leaders.
She added: ‘I don’t know about my mother’s involvement with Western recruits like Samantha Lewthwaite but I know it’s alleged. I think Mama Shabab is a horrible name.’
Oddly, though, Ms Farah can see how her mother might have earned the chillingly affectionate title.
She explained: ‘She could be very kind and charming. I can see how natural it would be for her to be that motherly figure.
‘She is utterly devoted to what she believes in and being a wife of a jihadist is a way she can help as a woman.’
the image of her mother as Mama Shabab is a long way from the woman of Ms Farah’s earliest memories.
She said: ‘When I was little my mum loved fashion. She had these fantastic hairstyles. Her brother lived in Geneva and she would visit him and bring back all these amazing clothes.
‘Mum was an independent, educated woman. She even divorced my dad because she wanted to travel.’
Ms Farah’s father was a colonel in the Somali army under military dictator Siad Barre.
When she was two he went into exile in Ethiopia to campaign for democracy and a year later he was killed by a landmine.
By then Ms Farah’s mother had become more religious and her childhood more restrictive – being forced to wear the hijab at the age of six.
When she was ten her family fled Somalia after being granted refugee status in Canada.
She could be very kind and charming. I can see how natural it would be for her to be that motherly figure. Amal Farah on her mother
But any hope of a Western upbringing was quashed after she was enroll
ed in a strict Islamic school.
She said: ‘Suddenly I was wasn’t allowed to play with my male cousins. We weren’t allowed to listen to music.
‘Anything that was deemed frivolous, anything that took you away from the importance of Allah, was forbidden.’
When she was 15 her mother split from her latest husband and took her and her five younger siblings to live in Leicester.
It was only when she began studying for a degree in molecular biology that a new world opened up.
‘It was a revelation,’ she said. ‘I met atheists, Christians, Jews, Hindus – they challenged me about my views, and I about theirs. It was an incredible sensation to be able to discuss ideas without fear.’
She felt in her heart that to be true to herself she could no longer call herself a Muslim.
Recalling the day she broached the subject with her family, Ms Farah said: ‘My mum’s first words were, “You’re going to hell!” Then my uncle flew over from Saudi Arabia and for three days I was locked in the house and forced to listen to him.’
When she failed to change her mind, her mother cut off all contact with her. She even left Britain and took the family to Dubai.
She explained: ‘She was petrified that the rest of my siblings would leave Islam like I had. I was a sheep lost to the wolves and she had to protect the rest of the flock.’
Ms Farah got an evening job in a call centre and with the support of friends built a new life for herself. She stopped wearing a headscarf and started listening to music.
The last time Amal saw her mother was at Leicester train station in 2005, shortly before she left.
She said: ‘It was my dream to get out and finally I had escaped.
‘It was a haze. I didn’t know it would be the last time I would see her. We hugged but she made it clear I was putting her through a lot of pain. She was genuinely worried for my soul.’
At that time her younger sister Asia was also leading a double life.
‘She’d had a secret part-time job as a waitress and had a wardrobe of shorts and miniskirts. Mum found them and I knew Asia was in trouble’, Ms Farah adds.
I knew I would never be safe, that I was a thorn in my family’s side. So I changed my number and made sure they didn’t know where I was living. Amal Farah
‘I panicked and emailed her, saying no matter what, she must not to go to Somalia. I knew she’d never leave if she did.
‘I was told to butt out if I knew what was good for me. A few weeks later my mother called me to say Asia was getting married in two days’ time. Just like that. I was heartbroken.’
The last time Ms Farah spoke to her mother was in 2007.
She said: ‘She was preaching to me to over the phone. She kept saying “Are you praying?” She couldn’t accept that I had left Islam.
‘I asked where she was and she said, “I can’t tell you, I’m being pursued by your infidel uncle.” She meant a friend of my father’s who was then president of Somalia. I realise she must have been in the thick of Al Shabab even then.’
By then Ms Farah had met her husband, a Jewish lawyer, at university but she had a sense of dread.
She explained: ‘I knew they would do what they could to prevent us being together.
‘I knew I would never be safe, that I was a thorn in my family’s side. So I changed my number and made sure they didn’t know where I was living.’
At their wedding in 2010 none of her family were present.
Ms Farah said: ‘It was tinged with sadness. I would have loved to have seen my mother there but there was no way she would ever have approved, especially of someone Jewish.’
Death threats followed soon after. She revealed: ‘It was frightening. I was sent death threats telling me to come back into Islam or else. I became paranoid. Leaving my house and going to work made me scared.’
Since finding out about her mother Amal has become a member of the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain, speaking against radical Islam, and of One Law For All, a campaign group.
Her life now is one that she never thought she would have as a child.
She says: ‘All my dreams have come true. I have a wonderful family, an incredible husband and I just feel so fortunate. Sometimes I pinch myself. It’s the life I never thought I’d have.
‘But I miss my siblings, especially my sister. I hope wherever they are that they are happy. I love my mum but I will never be able to make sense of the terrible things she has done.
‘It hurts knowing I won’t see her again but she has made her choice.’
Author: Liban Farah
Editor of Faafiye.com
Host of Faafiye Show
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