A retired British Pakistani banker from Sparkhill in Birmingham, Mirza Azmatullah Begg (Azmat Begg), was known for the three years (2002-2005) he spent campaigning for the release of his son Moazzam Begg, a former British
Mirza Azmatullah Begg
A retired British Pakistani banker from Sparkhill in Birmingham, Mirza Azmatullah Begg (Azmat Begg), was known for the three years (2002-2005) he spent campaigning for the release of his son Moazzam Begg, a former British Pakistani Guantanamo Bay detainee. During the course of his campaign he travelled all over the UK, addressed audiences and the media, frequently breaking down into tears at the plight of his son. He even travelled all the way to the United States where he gave a press conference outside the US Supreme Court in Washington DC.
One of his most distressing moments was during a 2004 BBC Panorama documentary that was made about his efforts to free his son. At one point in the documentary, the BBC presenter Vivian White informed Azmat Begg that the UK Foreign Office has just announced (in January 2004) that four British men are to be released from Guantanamo. Azmat Begg asked him, “Do we have the names?”
White replied to Azmat in a sympathetic tone: Mr. Begg, I am afraid it is not the news you are looking for. Upon hearing this, Azmat, full of conviction and hope, calmly replied to him: “Don’t worry. It will come one day.”
And, just as he was so sure of it, one day did come, a year later in January 2005, when his son Moazzam was released from Guantanamo Bay and reunited with his family. What makes Azmat Begg remarkable is that on the face of it he was an ordinary person. He was neither a leader nor a speaker nor an activist. He did not have a long list of medals and achievements to his name.
But in his long life of 77 years, it was those three years in which he discovered his mission and his moment. It is for those three years that thousands around the world now remember him. And it is for those three years that people consider him a hero. There are times when the magnitude of the situation is so great that even heroes are afraid to stand up to the mission. It is precisely at moments such as this that ordinary men must go where heroes fear to tread.
Azmat Begg must surely have departed from this world proud of the five sons he left behind, in particular his son Moazzam. The word ‘Azmat’ has many meanings in Arabic, Turkish and Urdu: glory, high reputation, distinction. But for his acquaintances, one of the meanings of Azmat’s name sums up his entire life: Respect. May Allah have mercy on his soul?
Azmat Begg died on Saturday 27 August, 2016 in a hospital in Birmingham, UK. At the burial several former Guantanamo detainees and other prisoners were present. The presence of all these men in one place on one day was a miracle in itself, one that was unthinkable many years ago but one that the man now buried helped to make possible.
Azmat Begg was there for Moazzam Begg during the most important moments in his life and Moazzam was present at the most important moment of his life, at the burial of his father. Azmat Begg was proud of his son and the person he is today.
After the burial of his father, Moazzam Begg said:
I was blessed to be able to take part in the burial of a great man. I always dreaded, during the years that I was taken away and imprisoned in many countries, hearing the news one day that my father had died. Every night I prayed that I would not receive, like I saw many others receive, the news that my father had died. I am truly blessed by Allah to be able to be here today and bury my father.
My father showed me the way to dignity, hope, courage, resilience, patience and faith and fought for me in ways that few ever could during the darkest of times. I will never forget his teachings and will pass them down to future generations. He was loved by the inhabitants of this world. Let that love pass to the inhabitants of the next. May Allah ease his passage into it? Please remember him and us in your prayers.