A few months ago, we sent in-depth surveys to 40 Tayba students. The above question was on the survey and most of the prisoners had something to say.
We decided to publish their answers because they were addressing you, after all. Very few have been edited in any way, so you’re reading their words exactly as they sent them to us.
We organized the responses under a few common themes to make them easier to read. Check them out below:
We need your help
“It is important to the incarcerated Muslim to have a connection with the community out there, to feel a sense of belonging and acceptance. It is hard in prison for the Muslim. Whatever prejudices are experienced out there, they are amplified in here.
We would greatly appreciate and value volunteers to come up and speak with us, hold a ta’lim, give a khutbah, share with us what is going on in the communities.
We could use Islamic materials. All our libraries are supplied by the inmates’ personal donations. If we don’t buy the books and donate them, we don’t have them. The state does not provide a budget to purchase any additional materials.
It would be nice to have a familiarity with some brothers, so that when we get released we can feel like we are coming into a welcomed environment and brotherhood…
I just want to express my sincere thanks and deep appreciation to Shaykh Rami Nsour, Isa Abdullah, and all of the members of the Tayba Foundation for being dedicated in your efforts to provide incarcerated men and women Muslims with a sound and proper Islamic education. I feel like I have been given a second chance just through ‘ilm.
I also want to extend a special thanks to all those who donate to this organization so that it can continue its mission. I feel like with each donation, you are investing in me. And I am grateful to you, and may Allah (swt) reward all of you 100 times over for all of your efforts.
“I would hope for them to advocate for us to have a 2nd chance and vote for a bill to pass, everyone deserves a 2nd chance! Have some contact with Muslims in the prison by mail or email, now that we have email access through JPAY. Come and visit us in person. We had a group of Muslim men and women from Fresno and LA come to visit us.
Maybe, a speaker from some mosques should come to help answer our questions. Chaplains are not educated enough to answer.”
“There are people in prison who want to know about this Deen. A lot of people in prison need this knowledge to grow. I was at a standstill for so long because I didn’t have a good teacher. Better yet, I don’t understand and agree with her way of teaching. This study is probably the only study some inmates receive.
I am appreciative of this study. It is so helpful to me and for others around me. I have shared what I learned with other inmates. My studies aren’t in vain.”
“I wish Muslims in society would realize that Allah is oft-forgiving, most merciful, that many of us in here are new to Islam and therefore forgiven by Allah when we take shahadah. How many companions committed crimes before they became Muslim? I wish they understood that their support is the deciding factor on us staying sober and free of crime. We need more people and programs too in prison to teach true Islam, and couple that with resources when we get out. We need to know that we are not alone and the rest of this ummah of ours has our backs. Remember as the Prophet said, “Muslims are one body, and if any part of that body hurts the whole body hurts.”
“There are Muslims who are incarcerated that have been making positive changes in every area of their lives as a result of learning through Tayba how to properly implement their Deen… Therefore, continue to support us. I am not saying let down your guards because we are students of Tayba Foundation. Allow us as we enter back into society to earn your respect, trust, and love. Many of us understand that the real test of our faith will come once we enter back into the society. Our track record in prison is a good indicator of what you should expect. I always tell brothers who are going home that they are going to make it easy for people who receive us with open arms or difficult.”
“I want people to know that many of us are sincere about the deen. It’s not a pastime while we’re in prison. Prisons in the state of Illinois don’t necessarily have the support of the free Muslims in the state. Their support would contribute greatly to the development of incarcerated Muslims.”
“I would like for those Muslims out there in society know and understand that we are Muslim just like they are. It took prison to bring us to the deen and we are sincere in our religion and that we take it very seriously, some of us have even sacrificed our freedoms for this religion. I would say: reach back, in some shape or another. Donate books and time or whatever you can. We are still your brothers or sisters.”
“There are many in prison whose hearts are being reconciled, or that understand Allah (TA) is calling them to a correction. Islam is capable of guiding these people. Tayba Foundation understands this dynamic, but they need your help. We need your help.
Before my incarceration I could not imagine what prison was actually like. I only had stereotypical ideas from the news and popular media. Most of that turned out to be total propaganda. It’s likely that you are now, as I was then, and you only consider[ed] inmates as the outcasts of society, if you even bother[ed] to think of us at all. Allah (SWT) has cured me of such an arrogant, short-sighted, and foolhardy view.
Islam was built upon the outcasts of society.
Our nation accounts for less than 4% of the world’s people, yet we have over 25% of the world’s prison population. We must see this demographic as the richest of dawa opportunities.
Given the known prejudicial attitudes, socio-economic disparities, dysfunctional education system, rapidly declining moral values, and the drug crisis in our country, we can expect that prison reform is not a high priority for those governing. Therefore, we must all take an active role in resolving this crisis.
We cannot continue to under-support the Muslim community behind bars. Nor, can we fail to embrace our brothers and sisters returning as restored citizens.”
We’re not bad people
“I just want them to know that we are not bad people because we are in prison, so do not look down on us or belittle us. We are Muslims just like you and deserve to be treated as Muslims and not as rejects.”
“That we are your brothers and sisters like any other believers. Do not behave the way brothers of Yusuf (alayhi salaam) behaved. In no instance is justice meted out over people in this country, regardless of the supposed crime the individual is accused of. It is only the decree of Allah which imprisons some and keeps others free.”
“Assalamu alaykum wa rahmatullah! Muslims in the world consist of the most talented and most educated group of people. The same within these prisons. I believe it is due to the emphasis that Islam places on learning, establishing brotherly ties, and striving to make this world a better place. We Muslims in here or out in the free society are a reflection of each other. Prison walls cannot change that. We testify ‘la ilaha illAllah Muhammad rasulAllah’, we pray the same way at the same prescribed time, we fast during the holy month of Ramadan the same prescribed days at the same prescribed time, most importantly we pray to Allah (swt). Muslims in prison need the type of Islamic education that Tayba provides. Please help us by supporting Tayba Foundation. Our ummah benefits as a result. Thank you. “
“1. Allah (swt) forgives all sin except for shirk. Never turn your nose up at a Muslim because he/she were incarcerated.
- The majority of the Muslims that I know love Allah and his Messenger (saws). We need our own people (ie Muslims) to help educate while we are in prison.
- Believe me when I tell you, the brothers and sisters behind bars only have time. Help us use it correctly.
- The problems that the Muslims are going through all around the world, we feel the pain behind bars. Believe it or not, we are dawahing with the other inmates, staff to inform them that certain things that they see on tv is not islam. We are always being asked questions about what they see on tv. “
“There are some good, sincere practicing Muslims in prison. There are some who are not very good also. But there are some good Muslim brothers in prison also. Don’t think they are all bad.”
When you spend on prisoners, you’re making an investment
“I wish the Muslims in free society knew that we exist and that we exist in great amount. People come to Islam every day in prisons from big cities to the most remote rural areas, and they are in need of help and guidance so that their feet can land on proper and solid ground. There is so much misguidance in prison, and without courses like Tayba they will be ran in circles with the various ideologies and fringe beliefs that people practice in prison. “The believer is the mirror of the believer,” a prophetic hadith is translated as. We are all responsible for one another, and it is important that we care about the other Muslims.
Likewise, I want the Muslims in free society to know that these men and women who have become Muslim will get out some day and they will return to masajid across America. Would you rather them come out of prison learned, changed, and retrospect to whatever wrong they have done in their lives, or would you rather them come home misguided and misguiding?
I have seen Tayba change an entire community of Muslims person-by-person. While it is still a work in progress, it is unprecedented. I say this having 23 years in prison. “Whoever guides a person to good gets a reward for that,” another prophetic hadith is translated. The reward is given to the one who did it and the one who guided him to it. That is from the mercy of our Lord, and it is a blessing that they can offer by supporting Tayba.”
“When you first get incarcerated it can feel like you have nobody. Some people really do have nobody but it’s when you’re in a place like this you realize you were never alone. I found Allah(SWT) in prison. I know I always had Him but it was here I was finally able to see that, like the veil was lifted.
Allah saved me here and I see so many women here to take their shahadas. It’s truly a beautiful thing to see so many that lost hope find it again in Allah in such an unlikely place. It’s only when we are stripped of this dunya we can see the deen.
I feel like so many forget about men and women in the system but it’s a great place and wonderful opportunity to spread the call to Islam. So many lost souls are just waiting and Tayba provides what so many are looking for. Al-hamdulillah.”
“Some of the most beautiful brothers are produced and created in prison. Loving and knowledgeable brothers who can and will be an asset to the very communities that they are released into InshAllah. Just look at me and my situation as an example. I walked, talked, breathed, and lived kufr. I was the worst of non-believers. Now Allah has favored me by guiding me to Islam. I am a believing slave of Allah who only wants to grow, develop, and give Allah and the Muslim community the best of me. Only for the sake of Allah.”
“I would like them to know that there are many sincere Muslims behind bars who have a lot to offer the community once they are released.
That they need to invest in our Islamic education because their dollars would go a lot further as our room and board is already covered by the state. Most of the money they donate would go directly to educating the Muslims.
That we need their advocacy in helping to create an environment where Muslims in prison can meet and study together. Muslims in prison for the most part have a strong desire to learn and to make a difference when they get out. The problem lies in that there is no network set up to help with this in most local areas where Muslims will be released. “
“The American Muslim Convict is the future of Islam. Why? Because he was its past too… So Allah says to you: “Where are you going?” (At-Takwir) Allah says: “Don’t rebuff the orphan,” (Ad-Duha) and “To the prisoner they were hospitable” (Al-Insaan)… I say to you, dear brother, dear sister who is the orphan? Who is the prisoner?
What will you do when the time comes on the day of Qiyamaah those who have been given their Book of Deeds in their Left hands will say “Woe upon me! My prestige has left me! We were heedless with the heedless!” O heedless one! Yaa nafsee! What is wrong with you that you forget your brothers in prison!
The ummah needs you. We need volunteers, teachers, and imams. We need the attention and care that only our Muslim family can provide. We are coming out to live with you. Pray with you. Eat with you and become your son-in laws and your brother-in-laws. We are your family. Would you neglect your son? Your brother? Sister? Father? Mother? No, you wouldn’t, so why do you forget the Muslims in prisons?
I’ve written many a masjid, many a day and night. Imams, scholars, muftis and just regular Muslims, only to go without a response. But if I write my lawyer or the judge they will write back? Why? Because it is their job? Their obligation? But it is the job of every Muslim to his brother and sister. This is Islam. So why are we heedless?”
“The Muslims in the free society needs to ask themselves this question: ‘Do I want these Muslims coming back to us the way they were before they got locked up or do I want to be better?’
Just because we’re in prison doesn’t mean we aren’t or can’t be good Muslims we just need help, support, and guidance so we can be better. Give us the chance that many would deny us. Remember most of us are coming back home one day, do you want upright Muslims or deviant Muslims?
I would like for everyone to know that you do have guys in here who are hungry for knowledge of this din we just don’t have the help nor the resources to get it. And there are plenty who want to be upright responsible Muslims, just give us that chance.”
We feel abandoned
“In many respects I’m dismayed with my fellow Muslims in the so-called ‘free society’ and at other times disappointed with them … Due to their disregard of their fellow Muslims who happen to be incarcerated … Many times I feel that the Muslims in general look at us as less than Muslim as they are – that at best our sincerity in being Muslim is somehow suspect …
What gives me heart is that you have some uniquely beautiful Muslims like Shaykh Nsour and his Ansar at Tayba, Shaykh Keller, and Shaykh Hamza Yusuf among the isolated few who have reached into the prisons of this country to uplift their fellow Muslims and to show that they are not forgotten. These above good-intentioned souls prove that they are conscious of their duty as trust bearers – and reflect the prophetic ethos of not leaving one’s fellow Muslim in the lurch! These above named lights give form to 76:8-9 by feeding those imprisoned life-transforming ilm and tarbiyah solely fee sabil Allah, and I love them with a sense of certainty. As I love even those Muslims who seem to have ignored us unadulterated.”
“One thing that I’d like for my fellow Muslims who are in the dunya to realize is that you too are in prison … In fact the prison of the dunya is in many respects a worse prison than the dank cell I’m now in as I scribble these words, which I hope Allah motivates – if only one of you – to feel them in your heart and be given the tawfiq to act upon them …
Tayba Foundation is doing the work of upholding the Quran and Sunnah in their reaching into the prisons to their incarcerated Muslim brothers and sisters, being ever intuitively conscious that many of the ills which now assail the Jama’at of this country will be addressed and solved by those who are in the many prisons of this land, who yet spend long days in deep study of classical texts of din, who burn the midnight oil in deep reflection and keen delving into the usul of din – acquiring the necessary wherewithal desperately needed by so-called ‘free-world Muslims’.
As stated you too are in prison and will be given parole and sent to the ‘halfway house’ tended by Munkar and Nakir. How will you answer them when asked about how you treated your fellow incarcerated Muslim? Tayba Foundation and Shaykh Nsour need your help to continue and to expand the beautiful work that they are undertaking. Allah tells us that ‘Whosoever intercedes for a good cause will have the reward of it’.
Won’t you intercede on behalf of the Tayba Foundation’s efforts and complement such with your support? Tayba Foundation’s success means your reward in the now and akhira.”
“Many Muslims in prison have felt neglected and forgotten by other Muslims out there. Before Tabya many of us had no community support or scholars to ask questions to. We have made Tawba to Allah and many of us are serious about living as righteous Muslims.
Please do not hold our past against us when Allah doesn’t. Please support Tayba as without them your brothers and sisters in prison have no one teach them, in Colorado we make $5-$15 a month, we cannot afford Islamic materials with that. Please demonstrate your love for us through supporting Tayba.
Al-hamdulillah wa Shukrlillah, Allah has blessed us all with Islam, what a blessing indeed. May Allah give us the Tawfiq(suuccess) to share this blessing with others and to serve Him and His ummah.
I would like to pose a few questions to you: How would you feel to go 3 years without being able to get a question on Islam answered, with no access to internet or someone to call or write? How would you feel to have no other Muslims to share your problems with and get sound Islamic advice on issues spiritually eating at you, for years on end? How would you feel if you wrote many Masjids and Islamic organizations for help, just to be ignored as if you didn’t exist? And what do you think our Beloved Prophet(Sallah llahu ‘alayhi wa Sallam) would say to those who could help those in dire need but ignored them?
This is why we need to support Tayba Foundation. Please do so!”
“That not all Muslims in prison are connivers! There are some whom are sincere in their din and wish to grow spiritually. Some of us (myself included) are looking to fulfill our obligations of nikah but have no outside connections.
When the ‘free’ Muslims do not respond to letters sent to the masjids, it makes us feel as if we are not considered Muslim, like we are being alienated by the Muslim society for being in palaces like this. A little response goes a long way in places like these, especially if you have no family contact out there. I am fortunate to be still connected with my family, but there are brothers in here with no one in their corners.”