“May you always be the light of my heart and the joy in my soul”: A mother’s birthday tribute to her son facing execution in Saudi Arabia
Today is Ali Al Nimr’s 22nd birthday. It’s also the third birthday he’s spent on death row in Saudi Arabia. Ali was arrested at 17 after taking part in anti-government protests and sentenced to death after a grossly unfair trial based on “confessions” he says were obtained through torture. This is what Nasrah al-Ahmed, Ali’s mum has to share today, on her son’s birthday.
Remembering Ali’s birthday overwhelms me with emotion.
No matter how much I write, I will never be able to describe the way I feel; it is impossible for a mother to describe these conflicting and intertwined feelings on such an occasion. Between the joy of his birthday and the incomparable sorrow that strikes deep in the soul, I yearn to hug him and feel his warm breath.
He was detained as a teenager and now he has grown into a young man. I try to imagine what he’s like. With every passing day, my longing for him grows.
Ali’s birthday used to be the most joyous day of the year. He always loved that it fell around Christmas. We would celebrate it at our home together with the entire family. Today, with Ali away from us, it’s become the most difficult day of the year. We all miss him terribly and yearn to see him. Our son was taken away from us and with him gone, the joy was stolen from our eyes and the jubilation taken from our hearts. We are left to live a life torn between the fear of losing him and the hope of seeing him again. The thought of him surrounds us like air and we breathe it in. He is like the sun that lights our days, which have withered in his absence.
We miss his innocent face, vibrant, radiant and replete with hope for the future.
We miss his words and the way his sincerity fills you up when you meet him.
We miss his affection and his heart full of hope and expectation.
We miss everything about him.
His absence has exhausted us, but we find resilience in his strength. And yet, reality is terrible! There are a thousand and one barriers between us, a thousand and one hurdles. We want to tear them down and be with him again – to see him, to listen to his voice, and to celebrate his birthdays with him.
I remember his first birthday in detention when he was still held at the juvenile facility. We celebrated with him in prison hoping that he would be released soon. The years have passed and he remains on death row. In the Mabahith prison in al-Hair (General Directorate of Investigations), where he is currently held, everything is forbidden and prohibited, even a birthday celebration. Out of all the memories I have from his birthday, last year’s was the most painful. Around this same day, Ali was moved into a cell on his own in the death row section of the prison, rendering his execution more imminent. We were supposed to meet him on his birthday, but our visit was cancelled. I was about to lose him had it not been for the grace of God.
I spoke to Ali a few days ago and he said to me, “Don’t worry, mom. My birthday next year will be far more beautiful.”
I really hope you are right, Ali. On this day, I can only wish you a happy birthday, my son, and many more returns. May you always be the light of my heart and the joy in my soul.
Although I feel like the longing is killing me, Ali, I ask you to stay, as you have always been, steadfast in your faith in God Almighty. Keep clinging to the hope that you will pursue your university studies one day. You once told me: “I am a man living on hope; should it materialize, I will praise Allah for it. If it does not, I would still have lived happily with hope.” Ali, my dear son we are all very proud of you. We, and all the free people around the globe, will stand by you forever.
Finally to all those who have supported my son, I tell them that he is alive and turning 22 today because of the generosity and care of noble people like you. You, who learned about this injustice, have decided to support him and it’s meant he lives to see another year. You gave him so much of your time, activism, and efforts. So, we are ever grateful to each and every one of you. I pray that King Salman would pardon Ali and allow him to be reunited with us.
Happy birthday, Ali.
Your loving mother, Nasrah
Join us in wishing Ali a happy birthday