Monday, April 1, 2013

In the belly of the Beast: questions on Islamic devotion in prison

[1] There are so many ideas associated with Islam, and countless books, CDs, and brochures published by different sects. How can we determine what is correct?

Answer: Obviously, the two authorities for Muslims are the Qur’an, which is the book of Allah, and the goodly model that is present within the example of Prophet Muhammad, Sall Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam. It’s true that all the sects say this, and it’s also true that there are countless books with fancy Arabic titles and proposing to present all of the solutions to our questions. In our view, the following methodology is needed, especially for the New Muslim, but it’s just as relevant for a veteran Muslim as well. [1] Have faith in Allah, understand that he is one and alone. The God concept of Islam is easily found within the Qur’an, a few examples are 2:255, 24:35, and 112:1-4.  [2] Be regular in Salaah [daily [prayers]. This also requires learning how to offer it. There are many brothers in all the prisons from whom it can be learned, it’s largely uniform across sectarian lines, and an abundance of books, pamphlets and instructional materials are also widely available. [3] Be a consistent reader of the Qur’an. Have it be your ultimate authority on what’s authentic, because it is often the case that ideas spread word of mouth are not only contrary to Islam, but also dangerous in one sense or another.

[2] Are we allowed to be friendly with Non Muslims?

Answer: The Qur’an only forbids friendships with those who would be detrimental to us spiritually and who display enmity towards Islam! Thus, Allah says: “and when you see those engaged in vanities about Our signs [i.e. Quranic revelation] , then turn away from them until they turn to a different way of speaking. If Shaytaan [the Devil] makes you forget, then upon being reminded, sit not with those who are bent on being a people of wrongdoing.” [Q 6: 69]. Another verse reads “...when you hear the verses of Allah rejected and ridiculed, do not sit with them… if you did, you would be like them.” [Q 4:140]

It is often said that Islam forbids relations with Non Muslims, but this is simply not true! This misconception stems from an incorrect translation of the word Awliyaa’ [singular Waali], found in the Qur’an 4:144, 5:57 and other texts. These verses are to be understood in context, and to be seen in context of patron-client nation states. Muslims are forbidden in these verses from taking as protectors those whose enmity has already been proven, a common sense teaching! 

Here, we should remember that the Qur’an itself allows us to eat the food of Non Muslims, which means dining as well, as well as marriage with Jews and Christians [ Q 5:5]. Moreover, a just and fair way of dealing with those who deal with us in a similar way, even though there are religious differences, is the command of the Qur’an in 60:8-9.

[3] Do we cut relations with Non Muslim family?
To cut relation simply due to religious differences is not correct. Islam sees as extremely important the family ties. Indeed, remember that the Qur’an directly uses parents as an example, if they want us to commit idolatry, we can’t obey that, but we are to keep goodly ties with them in life.

[4] Interactions with Pseudo Islamic groups [Nation of Islam, Five per centers, Moorish Science temple, etc...]

Admittedly this is a tricky question. Without doubt, the God concept and the racially oriented teachings of such groups are contrary to Islam. Yet, usually such beliefs are adopted out of ignorance about authentic Islam, and once they are exposed to what’s true, their hearts turn towards that. We recommend dealing with such people in understanding, compassion and patience. Keep in mind the following verse: “  And it was by God's grace that thou [O Prophet] didst deal gently with thy followers, for if thou had been harsh and hard of heart, they would indeed have broken away from thee. Pardon them, and pray that they be forgiven.." [Q 3:159, Muhammad Asad translation]

[5] Is Salaatul Jumu’ah [Friday prayers] valid in prisons?
The Qur’an and Hadeeth literature both give us the conditions for Friday prayers. It’s purpose, like all the other prayers, is “the remembrance of Allah” [Q 61:9]. It also serves as a social function, in the sense that hearts are united and relationships established by attending the services and praying together. Thus, we find the argument that Jumu’ah prayers are invalid in prisons due to lack of public access as baseless. We have to remember that many of the views advanced by some jurists, yesterday and to some extent today as well, are views that were shaped in circumstances different than today’s prison system. Historically, the Madhaahib [schools of jurisprudence] had different ideas as to the number of attendees necessary for Friday prayers, the Shafi’ees held that at least 30 are needed, whereas some Shi’ah authorities in Iraq, Iran and even Lebanon held that Friday prayers were invalid when the ruling government was unjust [Ghayrul ‘aadil].  In any case, it has to be remembered that the Prophet, Sall Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, said that the whole earth is a place of prayer, and this certainly includes prisons! The conditions for Friday prayers are well known and established, [1] It is recommended to bath beforehand, wear one’s best and clean clothes, and to smell good [ Bukhari 11:3], [2] To listen attentively to the Khutbah [sermon] and be silent during [ Bukhari 11:35] [3] The Khutbah is divided into two sections, with a pause for Du’a between them. Those brief moments between the Khutbah’s first and second parts are important moments in which Du’a is heard and accepted by Allah [Tabaraani].

May Allah keep our hearts firm upon his deen, we seek his forgiveness, mercy and guidance.