By Shamshad Ahmad (267 pages)

A Book Review by Katherine Hughes, published in Fellowship Magazine Summer 2010 Issue

In a time and place where Muslims have learned it’s prudent to be silent, we should be especially grateful to Shamshad Ahmad for having the courage to write his book “Rounded Up.” The book opens with a quote from the Prophet Muhammad, “The highest form of jihad is to speak the truth in the face of an unjust ruler,” and Ahmad’s book is the embodiment of this quote.  Understated and powerful, with respect for fact, each page is testament to his belief that the truth can indeed set us free.

Ahmad’s perspective is unique because of the many vantage points he occupies simultaneously as, Muslim, immigrant, U.S. citizen, mosque president, and professor of physics.  “Rounded Up” tells of an FBI instigated fake terrorist plot that not only terrorizes a whole community, but also sends two members of the Albany, New York, Muslim community, Yassin Aref and Mohammed Hossain, to prison for 15 years each.

Using a National Security Administration (NSA) program that bypasses court approval, the government illegally wiretaps Aref’s home and the mosque where he is imam.  And, having failed to uncover any illegal activity, the government turns to petty criminal Shahed Hussain, a.k.a. “Malik,” for entrapment.

Already convicted of more than 80 felonies and facing prison, then deportation to Pakistan, Malik has nothing to lose and everything to gain in helping the government frame a case against Aref and Hossain. Despite inconsistencies and outright falsehoods in his testimony, Malik helps the government secure a “successful” prosecution. (Indeed, Malik performed these duties so successfully that the government dropped his conviction, gave him US citizenship, and employed him in another entrapment of unwitting Muslims in Newburgh, New York, in a case that has yet to come to court.)

Tragically, Aref and Hossain do not face a jury of their peers.  Not only is the jury culturally challenged, it is oblivious to the inherent difficulties of acquiring and conversing in a second (or third) language, and the government exploits this to the fullest. Although from India, Ahmad’s mother tongue is Urdu (the national language of Pakistan) and he also speaks, reads, and writes, in English, Arabic and Hindi.  Acting as a bridge of cultures, he guides the reader through the misconceptions and misunderstandings that contribute to this miscarriage of justice.

Government press conferences, political photo-ops, and news flashes about “terrorists” are juxtaposed with community disbelief and impotence to counter the effects of a frenzied media circus feeding on duplicity and omission.  Initial feelings of impotence are ultimately overcome by two bold initiatives from a diverse Albany community that has comes together through tragedy: the Muslim Solidarity Committee, which gives direct support to the two convicted men, their families and the local Muslim community, and Project SALAM (Support and Legal Advocacy for Muslims) which addresses the wider context of what is happening nation wide.

Not to be missed – and perhaps to be read first – are the appendices.  Taking samples from government transcripts of sting tapes, Ahmad illustrates how lack of context, omission, and mistranslation contribute to distortions of reality that are then fed to an eager press in the “war on terror.”  Thank you to Shamshad Ahmad for documenting this individual case of a cruel, tragic, scenario that is, unfortunately, being played out over and over again in cases across the country.

Katherine Hughes attended nearly every day of the 14-week trial of Muslim Dr. Rafil Dhafir of Syracuse, New York.  Dismayed by the injustice she witnessed, she has spent the last five years trying to educate the public about Dr. Dhafir’s case and the plight of Islamic charities in the U.S.  She is currently working on a documentary about his case.