Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Advise for Muslim Prisoners


Working for the better part of three years inside various correctional institutions as "the Muslim Chaplain", one thing we can say is that the Muslim community therein can be just as diverse and complex as any Masjid in the United States! Moreover, in doing this job, working with the brothers, as well as through consulting with others in the country who are likewise working in this field, it seems necessary to address certain issues in a way that will prove to be a benefit for our brothers. We have kept in mind the Prophetic maxim "Religion is sincere advise" [ Saheeh Muslim].

I'm a Muslim, so now what??

The faith is spreading rapidly in the prison system. The two main reasons are [a] the availability of Islamic literature, allowing readers to make educated decisions. [b] positive interactions with Muslim inmates, i.e. being impressed with the prayer regimentation, etc..

You, my dear brother in Islam, will notice that there is a great deal of diversity in the Muslim population inside, finding everything from the orthodox sects to groups such as the Moorish Science followers [who even have a 'different Qur'an'][ft.1], all of whom are claiming to be on the straight path. Confusion and perhaps a bit of disappointment is natural in these circumstances. Our advise is as follows:

[1] Be firm in the theological conviction that God is alone in worship, and that Muhammad was indeed his messenger!

[2] Make sure to structure your life, while serving your time, in accord with the spiritual necessities prescribed within the religion, such as daily prayers [Salaah], the fasting in Ramadan [Siyaam], and avoiding all together pork products.

[3] Evaluate all religious and theological claims with the Qur'an. To do that, you must be a consistent reader of the sacred text! This is especially important, as you will encounter many opinions written in books, tracts and by word of mouth. This function of the Qur'an, as a filter for religious truth and keeping out unsubstantiated assertions, is given within the Qur'an itself [see Q 25:1]

[4] Keep away from individuals and groups who clearly are out to create trouble by engaging in endless arguments, madh-hab disputations, and the like. Indeed, the Qur'an itself warns "Fitnah[ft.2] is worse than killing [ft.3]" [Q 2:191]

Released: know that Islam on the outside is different than that which was learned on the inside

There is an abundance of literature floating around the prison system, with attractive Arabic titles and seemingly giving all the right references to the Qur'an and Sunnah, yet many of these books are written for another time, place and context. Reading these books for years, upon release some of the brothers feel disappointed at the local Muslims ["On the streets"], seeking to argue down the Imams as those who are committing Bid'aah, "watering down" the faith, etc..[ft.4].

What happens next is sad, either the brothers stay away from Mosques, embracing an Un-Islamic life, or end up abandoning Islam all together! Of course, this is also in a worldly context, which we shall briefly touch upon.

Some more advise

[A] Before release, work hard to improve your condition. Get a GED, any training available that increases one's skills and abilities to get a job. Improve one's academic situation as well. Remember Malcolm X [Al Hajj Malik Al Shabazz], who copied the whole dictionary to improve his vocabulary, grammar and knowledge. Extend this advise to religion as well. Regularly read the Qur'an, and in particular a good biography of God's model for us, Muhammad [Peace be upon him]. We highly recommend The Life of Muhammad by Muhammad Husayn Haykal. The Sunnah is best exemplified in looking at the Prophet's life in context, rather than isolated quotes here and there!

[B] Upon release, stick to your local Masjid and all activities therein.

[C] Set worldly goals, such as job, housing, marriage.

[D] Do not associate with any people who engage in the activities leading to your imprisonment in the first place. In any way, shape or form, stay away from such. This means the alcohol, the drugs, the gangs, and we will go so far as to even add things such as cigarettes, the music and the style of dressing. Have the desire to be pure.

Wa Billaahit Tawfeeq


[1] The Moorish Science Temple of America have what they call The Holy Koran of the Moorish Science Temple. It's not the Qur'an, rather it is, mostly, material from the work The Acquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ by Levi Dowling.

[2] Fitnah has different meanings and usages, both in Arabic and within the Qur'an. This writer has done extensive research into the term, published in essay form in The Language of Revelation: Classical Arabic language instruction and exercises with Qur'aan commentary [pp.221-226], available from Arifin Imports, PO Box 70617, Toledo, Oh 43607, Here, in this verse, the meaning is that of anarchy. Ibn Katheer [Tafseer Al Qur'aan al 'Adheem, volume 2 pg 105 Aleppo edition] suggests that Al Fitnah here means idolatry. Allah knows best!!

[3] Indeed, this is a wise Qur'anic assertion, for we all will die, but the greater death is that of a society in which chaos and hatred abound.

[4] This writer recalls an incident in which, while delivering a lecture at the Mosque, a visitor comes, challenges whether we are really in fact Muslims and our Mosque is really an authentic Mosque because women were present. This stems from the questioner's reading of materials printed in an area of the world where, by local custom, women are not allowed to attend the Mosques. The questioner admitted that it was, in fact, his first time in a Mosque, since he had "just been released". The irony in this is that women fully participated in both communal prayers and public life, centered at the Mosque, in the time of the Prophet Muhammad in Madinah, and that neither the Qur'an or hadeeth literature outlaw women's participation therein!