Free my husband: A Somali who considered Saudi Arabia his homeland

Zakaria Mohammed Ali

Fatima Zahra calls for the release of her husband who was detained by the Saudi authorities after openly speaking about philosophy and societal progression.

The homeland is a place where you make your first steps in life, where you grow up, where you have your first memories, make your own world and friendships, live your own adventures, and have your own secrets and experiences that shaped your own character, conscience and mind.

It is also the place where you feel a sense of belonging, the place you are in love with, and the place where you are engaged with its issues and problems.

If the above definitions of the “homeland” are correct, Saudi Arabia was the real homeland for my husband – Zakaria Mohammed Ali.

Life in the Kingdom

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Zakaria is originally from Somalia, but he lived all his life in Saudi Arabia, in different regions and cities there. He first lived in the south, where his family settled more than thirty years ago. He spent all his childhood and boyhood in a city called Khamis Mushait.

Then he moved to the east, where he studied accounting at King Fahd University of petroleum and minerals in the city of Khobar.

Finally he moved to Riyadh where he settled and worked in the fields of Auditing & Insurance and practiced his cultural activities.

He was the chairman of the Voluntary Sakura group of Kingdom that aims to benefit from the Japanese experience in the areas of renaissance and development. He also wrote for the Saudi press.

This movement between these three regions which are far from each other, has helped Zakaria to promote his link to Saudi Arabia, and his understanding of the local culture, to the point that he was even more knowledgeable in terms of Saudi culture than some Saudis themselves, who have not had the chance to settle for long periods in other regions.

I was told by more than one of his friends how impressed they were by Zakaria’s knowledge and understanding of their local culture until they used to forget most of the times that he was not of Saudi origin.

Interest in philosophy

Zakaria was also interested in intellectual and philosophical issues.

His motivation to seek knowledge was mainly due to his passion and belief in the need to generate thought and reason for exploring human thought and philosophies, and then deploying them for the improvement and development of society.

Zakaria believed in the centrality of man in the renaissance of human societies, the values of freedom, tolerance, and the importance to re-evaluate religious heritage in the progress of change towards a brighter future.

Freedom is tightly restricted in Saudi Arabia
Freedom is tightly restricted in Saudi Arabia

Zakaria wrote for the Al-Bilad newspaper and the Journal of Almajala about the Japanese experience, the renewal of religious discourse, the affairs of Islamic thought and philosophical issues, the concepts of secularism and liberalism, modernity and freedom.

Sometimes the language of his writings was strong but it was within the context of the Kingdom’s reality. He never criticised the Saudi government’s policies and he was not involved in any political organisation opposed to the regime, therefore everyone who knew Zakaria was shocked when he was detained.

It seemed clear that any interest in the deep issues of cognitive thought and philosophy was a risk-filled mine in the Arab world, because Arab communities and governments including Saudi Arabia are worried about any speech criticising the predominant cultural or intellectual patterns of their society.


Saudi General Detectives took Zakaria from his workplace in Riyadh to an unknown place on 20th  April 2013, without a legal warrant of arrest.

After one month of his absence, Zakaria contacted his parents for the first time to tell them that he was in the custody of the General Intelligence Service and that he will be extradited to Dahban detention centre in Jeddah.

It has been more than six months since Zakaria was arrested without any charge, without being brought before a judge or trial.

His parents visited him a few times in the detention centre and they were deeply saddened, thinking that every visit would be the last visit in expectation of his release.

The detention of Zakaria at the notorious prison in Dahban (which is infamously renowned for its high profile prisoners) in addition to the general course of investigations throughout the past six months makes us believe that the price paid by the individual in Saudi society who wants to pursue intellectual independence is a very high one.

Free my husband

Zakaria was arrested one day after my trip to Doha and then to Mogadishu for a family visit. I was shocked and saddened, but what hurt me the most was imagining Zakaria’s feelings after this shocking betrayal of a country that he never thought would harm him by word or action.

In fact he was so grateful to that Saudi Arabia that he always remembered that it was the nation that embraced him and took him in.

We wake up to the horrifying fact that states “freedom” is always under threat in our world and that “human rights” in many countries of the world are merely nice terms which aren’t really experienced.

I really don’t know when Zakaria is coming back to me or his beloved ones. Nothing is clear or logical enough to comfort me with the answers I need.

The fact that Zakaria is a Somali citizen causes complexity to his arbitrary detention. He originates from a country that is politically and economically weak to represent on behalf its citizens and able to take effective measures against the violations they might face overseas.

I pray that the Saudi authorities will listen to the voice of reason and humanity, and release my husband Insha’Allah. His arrest was illegal and inhumane, he didn’t commit a crime against anybody, and what happened to him cannot be justified.

When Zakaria is released with the help of the Almighty Allah (swt), I will tell him that the term “homeland” means above all where human dignity and freedom are not taken away unjustifiably.

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