Tell us about your incarceration and your life leading up to it.
I was born in [town omitted] to two Brazilian immigrants. During my early years I live in a small beach suburban town. I often remember taking walks on trails with my Grandmother or going crab fishing. Those were the best years of my life.
It wasn’t long until my life took a drastic turn and my parents split. Soon, my mother fell in love with a Puerto-Rican man and we moved to [town omitted], a town renown and infamous for its drugs and gang violence. I cried all night when I discovered I would be leaving the peaceful suburb of [town omitted]. My Grandmother assured me everything would be alright, but how wrong she was.
My new house in [town omitted] smelled like armpits, urine, old cat litter, and cockroaches. The kids in school were very mature and introduced me to swearing, violence, and other perverse concepts unknown to me. Although this new life was torture, especially under a new step father that was extreme in discipline and beating children, I found refuge in Christianity, school, basketball, and video games.
I maintained good grades throughout elementary and middle school years much to the point where I showed Ivy League promise, but at 15 years old my life took another drastic twist. My mother once again split from my new step father who I learned to love dearly, and the rest of his family of whom I was a part of. Not only that but my mother also became lesbian, which to me as a strict Christian was shocking. The situation was an ordeal and drove my family insane as I had 8 siblings. I especially was hurt to be away from my niece Xianalex, who I called “”Guga””.
Life was tough and confusing living with two lesbian parents. I felt like all my morality was gone. I refused to go for it and started to rebel. I felt like I had to act like a man from my little brothers who were neglected because my mother was wildly in love with some woman.
After social services got involved, me and my siblings moved back in with my step father. Torn because my mother was no longer a part of his life, he became very lax when it came to his extreme discipline. As a teenager I soon took advantage of this. Confused and lost without my mothers wisdom and kindness, I soon started smoking Marijuana. Eventually my mother came back home to my step father, but embarrassed for having failed her children she tried to kill herself which also drove me insane.
Feeling like all hope was lost, I turned to the streets. I felt like I needed to sell Marijuana to support my basketball career and pay for sneakers, basketball camps and league fees. It was impossible to sell drugs in Chelsea without demonstrating bravery and the willingness to die for the cause, such as a gang. Soon I became a full fledged member of Bloods. After that I became an atheist, started shooting people, robbing and selling crack….well, the rest is history…..
After serving time in juvenile facilities and prison, I found Islam. After learning the fundamentals in prison of the deen, I tried to leave the life of crime alone upon release, I did salaat at home and went to the masjid. However, leaving the gang life and drug life just became too much of a challenge, although I had intentions to change, my old life caught up to me. Eventually I ended up getting charged with murder and sentenced to life in prison.
How did you feel about your incarceration when you were first imprisoned? Has that feeling changed and if so, how?
When I first came back to jail I was confused, lost, appalled and delirious. I always thought I was going to be someone and now it was very obvious I threw my life away. It was something I couldn’t come to terms with. I blamed Allah for leaving me to myself. Yet at the same time I knew I had to pray, so I started doing 5 canonical prayers again.
I was incarcerated in a place very far from the city that was close to the forest and carried fresh air from the woods which was great because it gave me a lot of time to reflect and soul search. Eventually, I had this vision of myself with a kufi, beard, and dhikr beads. I figured all that was left was to dedicate myself full fledged to Islam.
Soon I embarked on a great quest of seeking knowledge that I still am on today. I stayed up late at night reading books and Imam Ma’alam taught me tahajjud prayer. The more I read and understood the Quran with its hadith, fiqh, and tafseer. A new world started to unfold, I stopped dwelling in the seen, pitiful, materialistic, misleading universe and instead started to dwell in the unseen world of Islam and soon I felt like I was in Jannah.
Today I don’t feel like i’m in prison, instead I feel like I’m just basking in the Qadr of Allah and His magnificent plan. Everyday I reflect on His sunnah and acts. I just feel like it’s me and Allah. I feel like He is truly Al-Walee, the Protecting Friend.
How did you first learn about Islam?
17 years old I walked into my classroom high as a kite at [city omitted] high school. Suddenly, in the most glorious fashion, the “Autobiography of Malcolm X” was sitting on my desk. I heard of him but learning about Malcolm X intensively like Martin Luther King Jr. just was not a part of the [city omitted[ Public Schools curriculum at that time. So I decided to embark on the journey of discovering what this man was about.
The result was full submersion. During every class, history, English and science I was reading that book. Teachers yelled at me, but I didn’t care. I just related to Malcolm’s perspective and views on so many levels. At that time I was Atheist, but he made me believe in God again. Then I actually stole my first Quran from [city omitted] Community College and the first book on Islam that interested me, which I realize today was actually a Sufi book by the great Sri Lankan Shaykh M.R. Baha’-ud-Deen.
On top of that I started to actually study gang literature from my own neighborhood and found out our movement was actually rooted in Islam and started reading about Jeff Ford and people like that. Although I probably had a very twisted view of Islam and had no idea of the difference between N.O.I [Nation of Islam]., Sunni, Shi’a or Black nationalist, I considered myself Muslim.
What really convinced me was that I used to start praying to Allah. It’s like miracles and signs came at me from around every corner. Even as I sold drugs, hustled, robbed, and maimed, I was making du’a. Even though it was probably for haram and selfish motives, I think Allah was just trying to prove to me His existence through things that were already written in the Qadr, because all of my du’a was getting answered. It was even to the point where during a straight gang shootout I would make a du’a. It was so scary because I survived every time, so I kept gambling with death, playing with Allah, but when too many du’a got answered to the point past suspicion, I stopped the nonsense and submitted.
I searched for Islam wherever I could and soon enough met even crack addicts or drug connections that were Muslim. It’s amazing that even in the middle of a crack house, I started making salah with crack addicts or drug suppliers. As I kept going to jail I sat with the Muslims and then finally, in the summer of 2007 with a pocket full of cash and crack with a gun on my waist and “Jesus Piece” earrings I took my Shahadah with Brother Dawood right in the middle of the street.
Of course eventually I went to jail again as that was my 2nd home by this time, but it was the year where I actually learned the difference between a Muslim and black Nationalist since I thought they were all the same, so I resolved to stop selling drugs and gang-banging, then I learned the true proper salat of the sunnnah and my life began to change.
What made you take the plunge and convert? How did you feel once you became Muslim?
As previously explained, when I took my shahadah, all I knew was that I wanted to be Muslim. I didn’t know the difference between Al-Islaam, N.O.I, Five Percenters, and other sects. So remember, I’m still a knucklehead at this time, I’m going in and out of jail as I’m studying the deen.
Now, in the summer of 2007 I ended up going back to jail for guns and drugs. I ended up in the hole, “solitary confinement” and that’s where the war within myself started. I began to question why I was coming to jail. I thought, “Hey, I’m Muslim, if I keep coming to jail this must not be the right path.” So I used to read the Bible, slam it, yell at God, and beg for answers. I even started to think I was crazy for becoming Muslim and that I just should have followed the Christianity of my parents. So I got on my hands and knees and asked God once and for all “WHO ARE YOU?!!!” Are you Allah or Jesus? Is it Islam or Christianity…
Finally, I came back into population. I was desperate and I needed answers, I went to the first person I seen and asked him, “Hey you know any Muslims?”” and mash’Allah ta’alaa, by the Qadr of Allah this man says, “Yeah, me!”” Allahu Akbar!!! How clear of a sign it was! Then he introduced himself as “Unk” and his fellow Muslim “Sarge”, an Iraqi war veteran and convert to Islam of Irish descent.
I flooded them with questions and they gave me some pamphlets to read and basically told me to relax. It was two pamphlets that did it for me and mainly two proofs that convinced me of the truth of Islam: 1) When I saw the verses in the Bible that literally spoke of Muhammad 2) when I saw all the scientific proofs the Holy Quran prophesied about. After that, my prayers were answered, I took that as a true sign from God Himself about who He was and His path and religion. So I retook my shahdah again with Sunni Muslims for the second time.
So once I got the N.O.I. out of me and Sarge and Unk explained that it was haram to gang-bang and smoke marijuana, I stopped doing those things and my life started to change. But I really started to feel Islam when I got out from that prison sentence. There I was, 18 years old, fresh and new. I resolved to get a job and upon release the first thing I did was go to Jummah for the first time ever and I got released the day before Ramadan so I fasted my first Ramadan on the streets. I remember it like it was yesterday. I had no idea how to use the bus and train to get to the masjid in the middle of Boston’s inner city but I trusted in Allah. Eventually I found it.
I had my suit and tie with shiny shoes, I thought I was going to church. So here I am, I walk into the Masjid and the first thing I notice is the silence. The second thing was that most people were comfortable and dressed like they were at home. So I took off my shoes and sat on the rug with my fellow Muslims, then the adhan sounded… I never heard anything so beautiful in my life, it was surreal… I started to cry because of its harmonious melody, I knew it was from God, I knew that finally I was in His house… and then the sermon started. I noticed that I was the only one lugging this heavy Quran around with all these footnotes because everyone was relaxed and empty handed. I was expecting a super-duper study like the boring 6 hours sermon of church. But as soon as I sat down, the sermon ended, we prayed and it was over I was like “hey, is that it?”, and all the smiling Muslims reassured this new Muslim that it was.
I had been looking for a man named Isma’il who was famous for volunteering and giving da’wah in the prisons. Then I came to find out he was the brother with braids, a long gray beard, thawb and kufi sitting right in front of me. We spoke and I saw that he was a real brave and kind man, then I found a whole bunch of brothers that were in jail too, even the Imam and some Somalian immigrants, we all went outside and at some of the Imam’s wife’s legendary fish sandwiches and watermelon and told stories of jail and shared hadiths and ayats. It was the summer of 2008, one of the greatest days of my life… I just wish I knew that then, because it was a day that I’ve dreamt about over and over again since then… it was when I found my eternal home… Islam.
What were the hardships you faced when you converted and how did you handle them?
The biggest challenges I faced once I converted to Islam were not in jail but in the streets. I had trouble with former enemies who I had harmed who would not accept my recent conversion to Islam. I had trouble my old gang as they had a strict blood in, blood out policy, so it was hard to find the right time to disassociate myself from them of which that didn’t happen officially until 8 years ago when I returned on this prison sentence. I had trouble finding a halal job. I first started working as a bouncer at a club, the Imam at the Masjid was upset with this but it was either that or go back to selling drugs, which I had trouble not doing as well. It was hard to settle for a frugal life after having expensive habits as well as getting away from my old drug connections who still expected me to make them money and sell drugs for them.
It was also hard finding a halal place to live. Most of my family are not Muslim and they drink and party a lot at my house and a do a lot of haram activity, so it was hard to deal with that and do salaat there because there was always something haram going on and I had nowhere else to live.
The worst was dealing with women and marriage. I didn’t know or understand the concepts of marriage in Islam nor was I familiar with the laws of wooing women. There was a Moroccan sister who I had loved and was very interested in and her as well as I, but because I was too used to kufr I thought that us getting married would be like the Jews and Christians do i.e. live for a while together, have kids, and then get married. It was also hard to be around the sister because her brothers were always around plus she was so shy I never realized she was actually interested in me.
So already being exposed to certain nafsaani things and not being able to control my nafs and seek the remedy of nikah because I didn’t understand the Islamic rules of marriage nor was there anyone that explained this to me, I started dating and partying with non-Muslim women again which actually led to my incarceration. One of my greatest challenges as a new convert sad to say was women. There was actually no way for me to deal with these things at this time as I was inexperienced and didn’t know fiqh, so I failed. Of course now I would know what to do and I would be able to follow the signs of Allah and His guidance more effectively now, as I reflect on the many warnings and signs He gave me during those days and they have become like a reference in my head.
But these were some of the many challenges I face as a new convert.
How did Islam affect your relationship with others (family, friends, other inmates, etc)?
My Brazilian side consists of really strict Christians that follow a Pentecostal doctrine more extreme than Mormons or Jehovah witnesses. They gave me a hard time about my religion and still do until this day with a lot of harassment and extreme, forceful taunts and preaching.
My Puerto Rican side of the family didn’t really care and made a joke of the whole thing and called me “Bin Laden” but in all I guess they were just happy that I was no longer wild and crazy but instead I was making an honest effort to change my life. At family get-togethers they cooked beef and chicken for me instead of their famous “pork chops” (chuletas) and they never really harassed me because of my religion. My father actually supports my religion even though he is not religious at all.
My childhood and neighborhood friends actually were supportive of my Islam as well. Many of them have actually converted. To this day, my friends that I am in contact with ask many questions pertaining to Islam and love to hear Arabic quotes. I never really dealt with peer pressure when it came to my childhood friends. Most of my gang friends eventually respected my conversion as they matured in life, even though it was rough in the beginning. Some of them became Muslims as well.
Islam really helped with my relationship with my family in Brazil (not the extreme ones here in the States) because as a gang banger I never cared for my heritage. But after Islam showed the importance of blood relation to me, I connected with them. If it wasn’t for Islam, I would never connect with my long lost family in Brazil. Also, after doing the “Birr-Al-Walidayn” [Rights of Parents] course for Tayba I was inspired to find my biological father of which I did and that was great, because I was even able to reconnect with some siblings that I never knew I had.
So while Islam caused some of my family to become estranged from me, it also caused so them of them to become closer.
What difficulties did you face in prison (as a Muslim or in general)? What difficulties do you continue to face today?
Unfortunately, the worst problems I face in prison are for Muslims and because of Muslims and most of my stress probably is because of Muslims.
First there are the Muslim Chaplains who are either fresh out of the Nation of Islam and teach things that are not Islam and are too proud to have to learn from an inmate. Also, many of them excessively conform to the system and allow themselves to become puppets and refuse to fight for Muslims and their rights and this can often result in Masjid time, Ramadan, or other things being taken away.
Then there are those chaplains who are actually educated in the Sunnah, but they also have their culture. So sometimes they might inject their culture into Islam or be unqualified to speak on the dynamics of prison life. If a learned brother tries to help such chaplains because they can’t teach new converts because of their language barrier often these chaplains will take that as a challenge to their authority because as in most Muslim cultures the Shaykh has to be obeyed regardless of checks and balances.
Then there are the “jail amirs” who often run Islamic communities like a gang. Some of them might have read a lot of books on Islam, but the most of them are spiritually barren and don’t really go to the masjid at all even though they may look pious. They are even harder to deal with than the chaplains because at least the chaplains are gentle, but the jail amirs are very harsh and mafioso-like. So even if you decide to just go to the Imam’s classes and deen in your cell, jail amirs often feel threatened by Muslims that study and they try to get them under their grasp to act as their ministers and supporters. For instance, I really want the calm of mind to recite Quran and maybe author a few books on Islam, but I can’t because if I don’t at least show my face to the jail amir’s community, which is different than the Imam’s community and classes, then it can result in a loss of my seat in the cafeteria and then I will have to sit with gang-bangers and non-Muslims.
Then there are the gang-banging Muslims who could always potentially drag you into a gang-war, knife fight, or put you into a situation where you’re either involved in drugs directly or indirectly even if you don’t know.
After that is the administration. To them they don’t care if you pray 5 times a day, have been drug and fist fight free for 10 years, to them you’re just another convict. It’s hard to get hadith and Shariah books sent in because at any time the property officer may throw them away if he is in a bad mood. Then there are the officers that might constantly destroy your cell during a cell search, which can result in Qurans and legal work or Tayba’s homework thrown everywhere.
Finally, there are the non-Muslim convicts. Bump into them, look at them the wrong way, or just share a cell with them and that can also result in a gang war. I frequently still have problems with old enemies from past sins, sometimes it’s not easy using the Quran, Sunnah, and hikma dealing with old enemies from dunya, but so far I’ve been successful alhamdulillah.
Then last but not least, there is loneliness, despair, and regret. Sometimes there is no one to talk to or understand because most people here are crazy. Then there is the remorse one feels in front of Allah and the shame of not taking Hajj and getting married when I had the chance.
I wish I could just lock myself forever with an Islamic library and a pull-up bar, so I could author Islamic works, write to the Muslim world and recite Quran.
But with the help of Allah, He eases the burdens and if it wasn’t for Him, I wouldn’t be able to survive this.
How did you learn about your religion before Tayba?
Basically there these “Prison Shaykhs” like Shaykh Shaheed Mujahid who knew 3 juz, was an expert in Shafi Fiqh and was very well grounded in Ilm and Islamic understanding. So I would sit for hours on the floor while Shaykh Shahed recited Quran. Then he would sit with me and go over the makhraj of Arabic words for tajweed. Also we would go over aqeedah and tafseer using As-Suyuti and for fiqh we compared the positions of different madhabs and he would bother me until I mastered the shuroot of wuduh, the arkan of salaah, and other things.
Shaykh Shaheed’s teachings also included tarbiyah and adab. So he would yell at me for appearing publicly without a kufi or singing while using the toilet saying “Akhee! Stop dancing with the jinn!” He also would get mad at me for not studying fiqh because I would either be playing cards or reading Samurai books he would just shake his head like “Sulaymaan, just wasting time huh!?”
I had teachers like this from Algeria, Syria, Washington D.C. and other places. In addition to that there were some great Muslim Chaplains like Imam Ma’alam and Shaykh Abdul Lateef. But most of my learning came from myself. Especially during maximum security lockdowns when I had no television, I would stay up until 3 or even 4 in the morning read books of Ghazwa and Islamic history especially on the Khulafaa Rashidoon.
How did you find out about Tayba?
Brother Al-Ameen wrote me from another institution and told me about Tayba. Then I had a friend sign me up via e-mail and the rest is history.
What was your reaction to first receiving Tayba materials?
To tell the truth I was very excited especially once I saw the level of Ilm Tayba offered I was bouncing off the walls. It is ironic that me and Al-Hajj always spoke about becoming qualified to teach Islam during incarceration and Allah heard our du’a.
What Tayba courses have you completed? What are you currently working on?
I have successfully completed Iman 101, Iman 100, Adap 100, Adab 101, and Fiqh 102. Now I am working on Ihsaan 101 and Adab 102. My side projects include a modern urban translation of the Holy Quran, commentary on Aqeedah Tahawiyyah in Arabic and translation of Al-Ajooroomiyyah for other Tayba students.
How far do you want to take your Islamic learning and what do you want to do with it in the future?
I want to master the recitation of the Holy Quran in all the 7 qiraa’ats, read all of Sibawayh’s books in grammar and become a faqih who is an expert in tafseer and knows the ins and outs of the Noble Quran.
In short I would love to become an ‘alim who is pious and conquered the nafs. I also would love to be a Sufi Shaykh with a sisalah to Zain Al Abideen.
But I don’t want to be an Imam, I still want to be a common Muslim. I want to be an ‘alim and forget that I am an ‘alim. I want to be the brother in the corner of the masjid who is quiet and covers his face with a kefiyyah while wearing an Arabic desert cloak and reciting the Quran beautifully that only Allah could hear.
I only want to use my qualifications to bring peace and defend Muslims against Shaytaan, and I don’t want no one to know that I’m actually an ‘alim. So then somedays I will take off my cloak and kefiyyah and put on a fitted hat, jeans, white T-shirt and sneakers and try to walk around the mall and blend in and see if I could attract as many people with my akhlaq as I did with my kufi. I hope that my best clothing will be “libas at-taqwa”.
I also want to use fiqh to re conciliate between the Sunni and their differing schools of thought i.e. the madhabs vs. the salafis. I want to help spur the next Islamic revival and unite Muslims from Pakistan to Africa because I think it is foolish how each country think their madhab is better.
Then I want to take hajj, get married, and have Muslim kids. I want to also spread Islam in Brazil and Latin America. I hope that I love long enough to meet the Mahdee.
Last but not least, I want to volunteer and teach Islam in prisons and give lectures at colleges. I also would like to be a Muslim chaplain at a hospital.
Why do you study? Do you enjoy learning?
I love to study and I enjoy it very much in fact it is what I do with the majority of my day and the only reason why I continue to live.
When I lost trial there was a court officer who was Muslim with a big, brave, beard. He defended me and my mother from our enemies and when I got football numbers from the judge all he did was smile and tell a story of a Muslim who became an alim because he did 20 years in jail, even though he never committed a crime. When they asked this alim if he was mad at his enemies for incarcerating him he laughed and said no because of the fadhl he gained from Allah in learning about Islam.
It was a story that never left me. Ever since then I have dedicated all my breathing to studying Islam. Studying relaxes me. Nothing do I enjoy more than listening to Quran from reciters like Bandar Baleela and Abu Bakr Ash-Shatri, while drinking coffee or tea and doing an intense study. I especially love fiqh and learning the history of the tabi’een and all the different personalities.
Sometimes I feel like I’m in a different dimension. For someone who suffers from an injustice everyday and a system based on manipulation of the weak, it is soothing to hear the pious and hear stories of the early Islamic Era. It is comforting to know that there really existed peace on Earth at one point in history.
How did what you learned through Tayba help you deal with some of the difficulties you mentioned above?
First of all talking Tayba courses gives me more of an incentive to avoid trouble so that I can stay out of solitary confinement and access the resources necessary to do my courses. Because I daily beat myself up for ruining my life and bright career that I once had, Tayba gives me the chance to regain some of my lost potential and ambition. I’ve put all ambition into Islam.
The main thing is that in prison often the ummah is extreme and can even operate like a gang using hadith and tafseer to justify such criminal behavior. Tayba gave me the knowledge and tools to protect myself and defend myself from such tyrants.
How has what you learned through Tayba affected your character and/or day-to-day life?
Ever since Tayba, I wake up everyday like I’m on a mission. I sewed together a black and white thawb with pockets. Right after fajr and after I do my qira’at, I’m up and ready to conquer the day. It’s like I’m in Hogwarts or becoming a Jedi Master. I feel like I’m at Azhar or Madina University. I feel like I’m in the Old Baghdad or Andalusia. My day is Ilm and my night is ilm.
Tayba has helped me to become erudite in character. And through the knowledge and guidance of Shaykh Rami and putting the Shariah in its right perspective I’m able to be calm, collected, and ready to solve problems. I’ve learned how you need a trained mufti to deal with specific environmental and social conditions.
In jail, just to get a seat you have to be affiliated with a gang or race in the chow hall. Yeah, that’s what we go through just to eat a sandwich. Alhamdulillah there is a Muslim table. Unfortunately, the atmosphere is so influential that brothers may get into that convict mentality. So one day the Amir of the prison here and his cronies decided to start kicking Muslims off the table. I knew this was wrong. And although I agree that in prison there are some excessive individuals that the ummah should stay away from and distance themselves, sometimes this concession of Islam can be abused. It came to the point where even new Muslims, fresh from a life of gangs and drugs didn’t even have the chance to benefit from Muslim companionship and gradually change.
I publicly spoke out against this. A lot of new Muslims were scared of the more knowledgeable because they couldn’t research the Quran and tafseer to combat this injustice. Tayba taught me to be humble, real ilm was about khashiyah. But Tayba also taught me to use my tongue as a sword and books as ammo to combat evil the way the Prophet did and to be brave. I knew these clowns had no ilm, they were just manipulating thugs. They used the hadith and shar’i hukm to justify kicking Muslims off the table and forcing them to set with others. They said they were fasiqs.
Alhamdulillah, I used the commentary of Lumumba Shakur and Shaykh Hamza Maqbool to explain to the ummah that those fatwa were applicable in an Islamic society where someone may feel ostracized and repent. But when dealing with tajdeed (revival) and islaah (reform) no one should be estranged. Especially new Muslims or non-Muslims who show the sign of iman and interest in Islam that might become potential Muslims.
Alhamdulillah after this discussion I had with the ummah I believe even the “gangsta shaykhs” made tawba and reformed their nafs. Muslims stopped bullying and fighting each other. I was able to be the vehicle of Allah’s Plan through what I learned from Tayba. In fact, I can’t judge these brothers, I used to be same fake, wannabe mufti thug until Tayba changed my life and taught that knowledge was to be a better human being not a Shaytaan. May Allah forgive us.
Do you try to use what you learned from Tayba to benefit others? If so, how? What is their response?
I use Tayba to benefit my family, friends and Muslims. Most of my family is proud and supportive that at least I am getting a college education and trying to become a better human being. Ever since I’ve started these courses, all the Muslims in this institution started doing aqeedah, fiqh, and adab and have assisted the Imam here with what I’ve learned. The Tayba courses have been a major factor in establishing Islam at this institution and uniting the Muslims.
Tell us about your life situation today. How does it compare to when you were first incarcerated? How do you feel about it?
When I first came back to prison when I was wild, confused and lost. As soon as I was locked into a cell, I knew that I had to pray.
There was this big, angry, black man, that came into the 3 man cell who had just did 20 years in jail and had been free only for 6 months. He seemed bent on taking out his anger on everyone. I saw then that I had to keep my mouth shut, especially having been back to prison for murder and facing a life sentence. I knew I had to control myself around this individual so I did a silence fast and didn’t do anything for the rest of the day but pray. This angry man saw that I was silent and prayed for the rest of the day, somehow it was enough to humble him and we became the best of friends, it was then that I learned the power of religion.
As I proceeded through county jail fighting my case and going crazy, I had this vision of myself with a beard, kufi and dhikr beads. I decided to become a serious Muslim. I always taught Islamic classes in prison, even if it was just a Quran class, so I continued to lead prayers in the unit and teach.
The county I was in was very racist. It was a predominantly Caucasian jail with majority Trump supported who were anti-Islam and anti-black. We were not allowed to listen to rap, wear du-rags, or watch any “Black” television. I got into many fights and there were race wars often. I decided that I would be the vehicle to start Muslim services there, as there were none. Through patience and perseverance I was allowed to call the Masjid in Boston, who sent Imam Ma’alam Abdullah. He was firm, kind-hearted and witty. He was the guy we needed to bring Islam to the masses. The institution doubted us, said that only 5 people would attend services… they were wrong… on the first day 30 people attended and we even had a new shahadah. It was then that a new chapter begun in my prison career.
After that I finally went upstate. By this time I had a grasp on Arabic and fiqh. I was still a little bit of a knucklehead as I was used to being around an administration that suppressed Islam. But it was at maximum security prison that the lifers taught me to use my head and be wise enough to utilize conflict resolution to get out of crazy situations. For 2 years, I didn’t get into one physical altercation.
Later on, I was classed to the medium security. However, being a staunch Salafi, I had a very rigid form of Islam. It was then that I started taking Tayba courses. I guess my ultimate change started with aqeedah. I learned to stop being a literalist and realized the beauty of Islamic moderation between gentleness and strength. I learned when to sit and when to stand and that was when I learned good character and ilm goes a long way.
Finally, I could say I’m a changed man. But this process took more than 8 years and I still have a long way to go… Nowadays I don’t feel like I’m in jail, I’m just basking through Allah’s Qadr in the madrasah of Yusuf.
What is your Muslim community like? How do you participate in your Muslim community?
I think we have a beautiful Muslim community here. It is rather small with only 100 Muslims in the compound and less than half of that participate. I’m the wakeel of the masjid. So I clean, organize books and help the Imam with whatever else he needs to be done.
I teach in the masjid on Monday mornings Arabic grammar as well as fiqh in the units and tajweed on the weekends. I also go to classes that the Imam and other brothers teach. I try to be the best Muslim I could be everyday. I try to be patient and be a good example to Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
The best thing I try to offer is experience and advice to Muslims that perpetually go in and out of the system on how to conquer the jahiliyah of American cool-guy swag culture. I let them know most of our problems come from women and trying to impress them. We have to control our desires.
I try to use conflict resolution, hikma and diplomacy daily on dealing with gang culture. In prison you can’t use a phone, sleep, eat or even use the bathroom without being affiliated with a gang. I try to be the good Samaritan and give ear and understanding to the oppressed. I try to be a light and a lamp in a dark environment that has no one to help…
This place is hopeless. Daily the administration comes up with new rules that profile and discipline innocent and guilty alike with no discrimination. Just today my little brother was sent to the airport crying for not being able to visit me. But I try to be firm and find peace in Allah, the Prophet, and the stories of the Salaf. I’m hungry to redeem myself in Allah’s eyes, I won’t stop until a get out, make Hajj, put on a thawb and kefiyyah, master Quran recitation, learn from scholars, get the resources I need to comeback and help oppressed Muslims in here and around the world. I try to convey this honorable mission to brothers here and hope that they would feed off of my energy.
We were successful with one case: brother [name omitted]. He was a successful knucklehead and a successful boxer. He was my cellmate and not only a very rowdy Muslim, but a certified Gangsta Disciple who didn’t take crap. Just giving him a fiqh ruling I had to get ready to fight him because I wouldn’t know how he would react and this was someone who had so much energy that he literally use to dance and hump everything in the masjid. I had to be real firm with him. One day I tried to explain the beauty of wearing a kufi. Well this man got out. He got around the huffaz and scholars and not only wears kufi everyday, after he swore he never would, he wears a turban and thawb and even tries to enjoin the right on me now. He is on his way to Africa to study the deen and he has been out of prison for 3 years successfully.
This is one of many stories. I kick myself in the butt everyday for blowing the opportunity to get married and study with scholars when I was out. So I figured if the barakah of this dunya has missed me, the least I could do was find an investment for the akhira and help another to not make the same mistakes that I did that invite Allah’s Curse and Anger which is hard to redeem yourself from, if ever.
How is your relationship with non-Muslims? Do you have conversations about religion? If so, what are these conversations like?
I deal with non-Muslims a lot. This morning there was a person who I speak to often. He has no idea about anything in religion. Unlike most, he never went to Sunday school and doesn’t even know the story of Adam and Eve. He is completely unaware of history and politics and I had to explain to him what a Mongolian was for the first time. Unfortunately, this is not only the condition of non-Muslims, but Muslims as well in prison. So you have to be very patient and considerate when dealing with them.
We embarked on a conversation not only about religion, but of life. He expressed his frustration at letting his daughter down and not being a better father by coming to jail again. I explained to him the parable to the caterpillar. How the snake was cursed to walk on this stomach and how whatever walks in this manner is the sign of a lowly creature. I told him we were all caterpillars in this vain and lowly life, but then we would soon go into our cocoons of death for a time, so that our butterfly spirit may emerge into bigger and better things. He thanked me for being a human being he could talk to as he was frustrated for not being able to talk about his problems around all these macho men here.
Mostly I try to never debate or argue with non-Muslims. I try to have spiritual acumen and observe those who display the traits of a believer such as saying excuse me, thank you, bending their shoulder when they walk or giving off a good vive. People like this I try to attract by putting out a good energy and letting them know I am an oasis to them in this environment. Usually it results in great intellectual conversation about life and reality.
What do you hope to do in the future, in particular after your release?
When I get out I don’t want to be a man of games. I literally don’t play any games anymore in my life. I stopped basketball, cards, chess, and dominoes. I don’t every want to forget what happened to me and what I went through.
I’m going to take the Hajj, get married, go overseas, study with alims, master Arabic and fiqh and when I come back to America it will be with knowledge, resources and understanding and then I’m going H.A.M. (hard as a mu’min). All the Imams, callers, shaykhs, Muslim chaplains and civil rights activists we are all going to sit down. Because I’m sick of this evil. When I get out I’m not going to sleep one good night’s sleep. I still will be memorizing Quran and fiqh. Brushing up on my secular skills too. I go to college here as well, for Business and Marketing. I’m trying to learn the liberal arts, ethics, economics and law. I might even be the first lawyer to represent himself in a courtroom with a thawb, beard and kefiyyah. I’m going to walk around the streets of America with a West African Maliki Turban tied under the neck like the Scholars of Madina.
Latinos need to wake up. Cape Verdeans need to wake up. Jamaicans wake up. Trinidadians. I don’t care if I need to learn Khmer and go to Cambodia and open up a Hanafi Masjid, we are going to make it happen. The point is that there are too many Muslims in the word that need help. Too many human beings that need help. There is no time to waste. I will be going to programs, classes, meetings, seminars, colleges, hospitals and prisons. I want to get involved. I want to get involved in the action.
I want to help kids, young Muslims, and be a big brother to them. I want to be the brother in the corner you see doing qira’at and sunnah prayers with a beard and kufi, you know I’m trying to follow Islam to the best of my ability. But at the same time, I want to be the kind old shaykh you can relate to who doesn’t use the Quran as a baseball bat. I want to be the big brother that Pakistanis, Sudanese and Somalis call when they are getting picked on in the school yard. I want to be the force that combats the jahiliyah of hip-hop and foolish street gang culture especially now that I have reached its limits and seen how fake this whole charade really is. I want Mo to be proud to be Muhammad, Johnny to be proud to be Yahya, Al to be proud to be Ali. I want to give them hope, pride, and honor to be a Muslim. I want to be that guy, I want to be your Muslim brother. This is my plan. My tawfeeq is only from Allah.
How would you like to be involved with the Muslim community in free society once you’re released?
I want to do it all. I’ll be there. For the i’tikaaf, ta’leem halaqah, Jummuah and congegational salaat. I want it all. I want to help Tayba and work for Tayba will all my power as a token of gratitude so that the next Muslim can enjoy the succour and relaxation, the cooling of eyes that Tayba provided for me. I want other Muslims to feel that too. I would love to be a volunteer in prison even a Muslim Chaplain. I also want to be a chaplain at a hospital. For the rest of my life I will be dealing with prisons and hospitals, because that is what this dunya is, a prison and a hospital.
I remember when I was at the hospital, there was this priest, Father John, he spoke Arabic, Pashto, and Farsi. He was married to an Afghan woman for 30 years. I saw him, like “Hey look at the priest” he saw me like “huh, look at the Muslim.” At least I thought so… but little did I know there was a path where the priest crosses the Muslim on both of their ways to God, and this was it. He approached me with his kind, sweet voice. He had white hair, kind green eyes, and glasses and a faint smell of religious oil came for him. I sensed discipline, sincerity and truth from him. I knew right then that this wasn’t your average priest. He said, with his serene, croaking, soothing, grandfatherly voice, “Muslim brother, how are you?” I began to tell him of my Godly experience that I was having at the hospital and the spiritual harmony and Jannah that I was feeling in my heart. He was so interested, being a great listener he encouraged me to keep telling my story. Then he told his… He told me how he fasted Ramadan with Muslims in Sudan and how he did iftar. Then he said, “Muslim brother, do you know why I became a priest?” I said, “no”, then he carried on. He explained that at that time in Sudan he had met his wife, an Afghan woman. He loved her with all his heart and might. Then she died. He said that he could never love again… So he dedicated his life to God… Then he looked at me dead in the eye into the deepest confines of my soul. Here we were, two men of God, in a hospital, discussing divine truths, from two different faith perspectives. Then as we held stares, I saw his eyes water as he spoke about his wife and he said “there is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about…” I started to cry because I felt his pain, sorrow and despair, I felt like he had the love of Uways Al Qarani in him, so I said “Father, God Bless you”… trying to be polite, moderate, and not forceful with my beliefs, but he looked me right dead in my eye, with conviction this time and said, “as salaamu alaykum.”
Allahu Akbar! It was a story I will never forget that served as a reminder and reference in my heart everyday. Of who I am, what I stand for and my mission as a Man of God and Slave of Allah. In that hospital I saw Jamaicans, Haitians, Cape Verdeans and Nigerians that I saw needed God in their lives. I communicated with people in a way that they could understand. I felt great. I saw that a hospital, like prison, is a great platform and institution to give da’wah and bring light to the faces of Allah’s creatures. The same way that this priest walked around smelling like altar oil and just listening to people. I want to walk around with my Saudi kefiyyah and brown jummah smelling holy and Muslim and do the same thing: listen and understand people. In prison, hospitals, colleges to cops, inmates, patients, students, doctors, and nurses altogether. This is how I want to serve the Muslim community when I get out and help the Cause and Way of Allah.
What do you wish Muslims in free society knew about Muslims in prison? What would you like to say to them?
I want to tell the Muslims of free society to WAKE UP! There is a war on Islam and a high demand for da’wah. Allah ta’alaa says “Repel evil with what is better” (Ash-Shuraa). It is our job to spread this deen and lift the veils of ignorance from the Creatures of Allah.
Like Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, there has been a clash between East versus West for centuries. Islam is spreading at an all time high. America is the essence and center of Euro-Centric Colonial Culture. Being a land where the honest endeavor to verify Truth is honored and respected, us Muslims need to know and understand that Islam will spread in the West through prisons.
Prison has always been a place in Islamic tradition where the pious can get close to Allah. From Yusuf, to Shafee’, Abu Hanifah, Shamsul-A’imma, Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, Ibn Taymiyyah and Malcom X, prison was the place to be even to the point where many mureeds, sultans, disciples, students and scholars visited the prisons to get closer to Allah. Logic(rushd) means, “to take the easiest way to accomplish a task”. The easiest and most effective way to accomplish and relieve ourselves of the burden and demand to spread Islam in America is to do it through the prisons.
There are Ijmas, i’tikaaf parties, meetings, trips, congregations, dhikr halaqahs and a whole bunch more of wasting time and israaf(exces) out there. There are many da’i out there who look great on television showing off and using this holy deen to be celebrities, ha shaa lillah. And sure there is plenty good in all the aforementioned, I’m far from being so extreme as to not acknowledge that. But fact remains that most of these da’i, attendants of these functions are spiritually deplete and barren. They don’t know the fardh-ayn of what is demanded of all Muslims. They can’t fix their salaat if they mess up and many of them, yes, even those born into Islam whether they are from Pakistan, Somalia, Morocco, Sudan, or even Saudi, they don’t know what their salaat means in their native language. I’ve seen this personally from experience.
Our children are even forgetting Arabic. I got on the phone one time with a young Algerian brother and commenced to speak to him in Arabic Al-Fushaa… he had no idea what I was saying then he complained how his native Arabic was no longer the same because of French influence. This is the condition of the ummah today. The Prophet said the hour would not come until a man would say “la ilaaha illallah” and not know what it meant. That time is now. I’ve experienced it with my own eyes. But I remember a time when Afghans, like Ibraheem bin Adham, who not only worshipped like monks, but also made it a priority to speak Quranic Arabic, the language of the Ahlus-Samaa(People of Heaven) as taught to our Noble Messenger (PBUH) by the Archangel Gabriel.
Expertise in Arabic is the fundamental qualification for any faqih or theologian. Sulayman bin Yasar, Abu Hanifah, Mujahid, Ikrimah, Qatadah, Nafi’, Tawus, and many of the tabi’een, those who compiled the fiqh and hadith were all slaves. They were not pure born Arabs, but rather clients (mawlaa) who had to master Islam’s intellectual prowess to maintain relevance and stability in a society where lineage and tribal prestige dominated. But in accordance to the hadith of Rasoolullah(PBUH): “The Persians will attain knowledge even if it were on the Pleaides”, these theologians responded. They said “Labbayk, was sami’naa wa a’taanaa” and heard the call of the caller and established this deen.
How was this religion established though kings? Ministers? Sultaans? General? Mayors? Amirs? Politicians? Doctors? Scientists? NO! It was established though SLAVES!!! Non-Arab, lowly, insignificant, conquered, down-trodden, Turkish, Persian, Roman, Afghan slaves! So who are the slaves of today? Who are the slaves of the modern age? Who?! Dear brother, dear sister, I tell you the slaves of today, the next Abu Hanifah, Malcom X and Izz-Ad-Deen of this modern world are the prisoners.
Why? Why are the slaves the one Allah chose to establish this deen? The first sociologist in history, Ibn Khaldun explained this perfectly. Because Iraq was already a place where religious knowledge was exchanged and debated amongst Zororastrians and ancient Christians the Persians and Ajamis(non-Arabs) already came from a rich culture. They had a background in the Arts and Crafts, but the Arabs didn’t. So once these people got their hands on fiqh, it was over. The rest is history. So who is the Ajam of today? Those who have this background? E
xperience with arts, crafts, science, and societal injustice and oppression? It is not only the American Muslim, but the American Muslim convict. The American Muslim convict, just like the Tabi’een slaves, knows what it is like to come from a background of arts and crafts, being raised in American Public Schools. He knows what it means to suffer societal oppression and injustice being a Latino, Cambodian, Haitian or African American. He knows what it means to suffer from being deprived of love and stability in the household. Being raised without a father, which in ancient times was the biggest disgrace, a mother on drugs, brainwashed by Euro-Centric ideas and philosophy in schools and after all this having to adopt a gang ideology and social structure just because it was closer to Islam than what the American Muslim convict experienced. With the gangs praying to Allah with other of his brothers who were young Turks and Mohawks ready to die for one another and share their last morsel of food… This is what the American Muslim convict has been through.
Yusha Evans is an American Muslim Convict. Imam Ma’alam Abdullah is an American Muslim Convict. Shaykh Khalid Ya Seen is an American Muslim Convict. This is the world today. 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 wrote 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?
I want to tell the Muslims in free society that investing their time, effort, resources, and help in prisons is worth it. For this life and the Next. That I can guarantee. We need you, we look to you and we are coming for you. Because we love you. There are Muslims out in the Real world that mean so much to me because of what they did for me. I pray for them everyday. My name is [omitted], I’m accessible, you can write me because I’m here, I’m not ashamed of who I am and I am not hiding. Contact me.
Because I’m not looking for glory, I’m not looking for money, I’m not looking to be great or be a celebrity but I’m looking to be your brother. Your son. I want to be to your children the big brother I never had. The father I never had. I have love in my heart that I need to express, that prison drowns out everyday. But I won’t let them take my humanity. My personality. My heart. My Islam!
As-salamu Alaykum wa rahmatullah wa barakatuhu.
I LOVE MUSLIMS!!!