Nadir wasn’t raised in a bad environment but made some bad decisions that led to his arrest at 16. He was held in jail until he turned 17 and then sentenced to 15 years in adult prison.
He spent a few months in a juvenile facility until his 18th birthday, and then moved to a maximum-security prison, full of hardened criminals.
I was really stressed out at the beginning,” he told us. “We had minimal contact with family, so I’m there basically alone, an 18-year old amongst these men…
In this harsh prison environment, Nadir had to be constantly on his guard to avoid physical confrontations and even life-threatening situations. He also had to endure un-ending monotony.
It’s often hard to remember which year something happened in,” he said, “because every day in prison is like another, so there’s very little to distinguish different events by.
Nadir was introduced to Islam through his father’s side of the family, who were involved with the Nation of Islam. He knew the Fatiha, would occasionally make du’a, but didn’t yet pray his daily prayers.
So when he was asked if we wanted to fast in Ramadan, he said yes, even though he didn’t yet know that the fast included abstaining from water in addition to food. And it was through Ramadan that Nadir became connected to other Muslims.
I met a brother named Shareef who taught me a lot, like my salah and beginner tajweed.
It was Shareef who influenced Nadir to take his shahada as a Sunni Muslim a few days after that Ramadan.
Nadir embraced his new religion with a passion. A shaykh who would sometimes teach at the prison taught him Arabic and then forwarded him to Tayba Foundation.
Through Tayba, Nadir covered the texts of Al-Akhdari and Ibn Ashir in Maliki Law, the Aqeeda Tahawiyya in Theology, and a number of other Tayba courses. He memorized everything he learned and received an ijaza (permission to teach the material) for it as well.
Nadir’s studies helped him overcome the challenges of prison: both the monotony of his days (by having access to new knowledge every day), and his violent surroundings (by helping him stay calm and control his tongue in dangerous situations).
He also began to teach others what he learned. And unlike most Muslims behind bars, when he didn’t know an answer to a question (or simply didn’t know how to answer it), Nadir could easily reach Tayba faculty with a phone call.
Alhamdulillah, Nadir rejoined free society in Ramadan of 2019. His first residence was a half-way home, which prevented him from attending the late-night taraweeh prayers, but he took it in stride, focusing on re-establishing his life.
Having trained as a car mechanic while in prison (and was even allowed to work at a shop during his sentence), he hopes to finish his certification and find employment.
And in the long-term, he hopes to get married and get involved in his community. In particular, he wants to work with at-risk youth to diver them away from corrections.
At the end of our interview with him, we asked what helped keep him going behind bars. Nadir’s answer was simple:
Iman kept me smiling. Studying and reading the Qur’an helped me get out of prison mentally.
UPDATE: Nadir was married in early 2020, alhamdulilah. Please keep him, and his family in your dua.