Nonetheless, a great number of these
authors have never lived in one of these institutions, or even seen the inside.
While numerous letters have been written about prisons, and many theories abound
on what the prison experience is like, very few of us know first hand what it is
like to live inside a prison cell. Very few prisoners talk about the things they
saw in that place. To understand what it means to be a Muslim while doing time,
or what it means when a prisoner converts to Islam while behind bars, we must
understand what happens inside so many of the prisons in the U.S.
A prison, for the most part, is a place where some of the worst people in
society are allowed to victimize each other. Firstly, things that are frowned
upon in the free world are common occurrences in this place of pure hatred and
segregation. Drug use, homosexuality, gang violence and racism are no longer
vices, but simply a way to survive. While a man locked up for rape is shunned by
society, an inmate who rapes another is often looked up to or feared. Fights,
stabbings and harassment from the correctional officers happen everyday in
prisons across the nation.
At the same time, of all places in America, it is in the prisons that you can
find some of the strongest and most knowledgeable Muslims. Here, you will find
men who stand up against the norms of the prison culture to practice a
completely alien path. They leave behind the state of ignorance which had
plagued them to embark upon the road to true guidance. As stated in the Holy
Qur'an, "And Allah guides those whom He wills, and lets go astray whom He wills
Many comment that it is amazing that Muslims who are incarcerated can take up
the task of learning a new language and memorizing the Qur'an. In and of itself,
this is not amazing -- what is amazing is the fact that many of the "free"
Muslims are not doing the same thing. For the Muslims in prison, Islamic
knowledge is a priority. For the Muslims who are free to study, Islamic
knowledge is a hindrance and something that is left for the elderly. It is truly
sad that the Muslims who are free in this society do not seek out scholars, yet
for many incarcerated Muslims a scholar would be seen as a blessing from Allah.
It is in prison that groups of people come together simply for the pleasure of
Allah, with no concerns of race and creed. To do so, they must battle not only
the negative environment around them, but also a prison administration that
often wants to destroy them. On the other hand, we have Muslims who are free to
practice Islam as they wish, disregarding other Muslims or Islam as a whole, and
divided by nationalism, race, ethnicity and cultural differences. Yet does not
Allah say in the Qur'an, "We have created you into nations and tribes not that
you may hate each other, but so you may know and love each other? (4:13)"
I became a Muslim inside of prison. It was not only the words of Allah that
attracted me to Islam, but also the brotherhood that I saw. From the moment that
I made it known that I wanted to learn more about Islam, I was welcomed.
Normally, this would not need to be mentioned, except for the fact that I am a
white American who was entering a predominantly African-American community. This
was something that was looked upon unfavorably by both sides, to say the least.
Yet these same men took me in as one of their own, risking their lives to teach
me about Islam.
I wish I could say the same about how I was treated when I walked into a mosque
for the first time. I was stared at, ignored, and betrayed. I had to wonder if
the Qur'an I had been reading was actually a whole different book.
When I left the prison and those brothers who had become my family, I was sad. I
know that I would not see most of them again in this life. I left there making a
promise, that I would not forget what I had learned. I haven't. Often I am
reminded of those bars and the brothers that I left behind.
The saddest part of leaving prison was entering a community of Muslims where
most people have a chip on their shoulder. While I read verses of Qur'an about
brotherhood and unity, what I saw in many a case was a look of pure hatred when
a "brother" looked into my face, if he even bothered.
In a way, I had expected such treatment. While I was locked up, I had written
many letters to mosques trying to get Islamic literature. More often than not, I
would not even get a response. I had been unable to understand this considering
the Qur'anic verses regarding treatment of those who have migrated to Islam.
With all the knowledge and resources at hand, those who were free ignored my
pleas for help. When I was released, I came to find out that many others like me
had gone through the same thing.
For some reason, people who were raised as Muslims by their parents cannot
figure out that there are many hardships that come with separating oneself from
the beliefs of one's parents. Those who are locked up are often abandoned by
their family and friends. Worst of all, when they are released, these people who
fought for their Islamic identity find themselves shunned by the free Muslim
As Muslims, we have no right to look down on anyone. It is an injustice to the
Muslim Ummah (global Muslim community) and to Islam as a whole to isolate or
ignore any person just because of where he is from or who his parents are.
I did not choose the religion of my parents. None of us chose the land in which
we are born or the color of our skin. These matters are from Allah, the Creator
of all things. Do any of us know better than the One who has created us?
We as Muslims have the duty to form a unified Ummah. We can not truly call
ourselves Muslims, or say that we love each other, if we separate ourselves from
each other. In the relationship between those who are imprisoned and those who
are not, as Muslims, we must come together. Not only is it important that
communities visit the Muslims in prison, they must also form a support system
within the community that can give these new Muslims a chance to reenter society
after their release. After all that Muslims must battle in prison to simply be
Muslim, it is not right for them to have to fight for the respect of their
As to those who are imprisoned, learn as much as you can and stick together.
Learn from and love each other. You can succeed but you must strive continuously
to move forward --never retreat, never surrender. Ignore all of the people who
say anything negative, and never give up hope in the strength and mercy of