Sunday, August 30, 2009

Language - The Mysterious Access to Allah?

As Salaamu Alaikum and Greetings of Peace:

Ramadan Mubarak to my Muslim readers, and hello to everyone else.

I have been so busy at the prison, trying to get everyone, staff and inmates, settled in for the month of Ramadan. The holy month creates a huge change in prison routine, so you can imagine how the initial week or so makes everyone a little crazy, lol. So, forgive me if I have not responded to comments and such. Anyhow...

I have been thinking about language a lot lately. Why? Because I just ordered a Qur'an with French translation for a Cambodian inmate.

Inmates (as well as Muslims in the street, especially re-verts) try to pepper their speech with Arabic. For example, if I ask an inmate "how are you?" I am likely to get "tayeeb" as a response. The correct response for a woman would be "tayeeba" but "tayeeb" is what inmates learn through the various generalized Arabic books and Arabic expression charts that they have access to. I also get "naam" as a response to questions I ask. Or, "shukran" as an expression of thanks or gratitude.

Inmates are always asking me how-do-you-say questions about the Arabic language, to which I have to tell them I-don't-know-but-I-can-find-out-for-you-insha-Allah."

Personally, I have learned how to make salaat in Arabic because it is required. (Anyone who disputes this, perhaps it is a post for another time.)

And I have learned my surahs in Arabic. Granted, I do not know many, but the ones I do know I feel that I can recite as perfectly as I am able, Alhamdulillah.


I admit that I am resistant to learning Arabic for any purpose other than religious ones. Why? Well, it's not that I have anything against Arabs or the Arabic language, it's just that it's not a priority for me. I did make it a priority to learn how to pronounce the letters of the Arabic alphabet properly, and it is a priority for me to learn more surahs, but not to speak the Arabic language in general. I refuse to run around replying "naam" or "lah" to questions asked of me.

Perhaps this resistance has roots in my childhood. My father was Jewish, and my mother was Catholic.

In the synagogue, children were pressured to learn Hebrew.

And in Catholic Sunday school, children were pressured to learn Latin.

All synagogue services were in Hebrew, and Mass was celebrated in Latin (although the Catholic church has changed that).

Is access to God dependent upon one's ability to speak a certain language? Especially one that is not their own? Jeez!!!

Before anyone accuses me of being a Muslim heathen, can you answer the following questions?

Are we, as Muslims, required to learn the Arabic language? Do the People of Paradise speak Arabic? Will Allah speak to us in Arabic in Jennah?

Many Muslims will answer "yes" to these questions.

But, I did a little investigation.

According to Shaykh Al-Munajjid from Islam QA, specifically, Fatwa No. 83262:

"There is no mention in the Qur'aan or in the saheeh Sunnah - as far as we know - of which language is spoken by the people of Paradise. What is narrated concerning that is a hadeeth which is not soundly narrated from our Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him), and some other reports (athaar)."

Here is the hadith that has been narrated:

"It was narrated by al-Tabaraani in al-Awsat, al-Haakim, al-Bayhaqi in Shu’ab al-Eemaan and others that Ibn ‘Abbaas (may Allaah be pleased with him) said: The Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “Love the Arabs for three reasons, because I am an Arab, the Qur’aan is Arabic and the speech of the people of Paradise is Arabic.”

You can read the full discussion of this hadith in the fatwa, but it also relates:

"Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyah (may Allaah have mercy on him) was asked: in what (language) will Allaah address the people on the Day of Resurrection? Will Allaah address them in the tongue of the Arabs? Is it true that the language of the people of Hell will be Farsi and that the language of the people of Paradise will be Arabic? He replied: Praise be to Allaah, the Lord of the Worlds. It is not known what language the people will speak on that Day, or in what language they will hear the words of the Lord, may He be exalted, because Allaah has not told us anything about that, nor has His Messenger (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him). It is not true that Farsi will be the language of the people of Hell, or that Arabic will be the language of the people of Paradise. We do not know of any discussion of that among the Sahaabah (may Allaah be pleased with them), rather all of them refrained from speaking of that because speaking about such a thing is discussion of something unnecessary… but there was a dispute concerning that among later scholars. Some people said that they will be addressed in Arabic and others said that the people of Hell will respond in Farsi, which will be their language in Hell. Others said that they will be addressed in Syriac because that was the language of Adam and from it stemmed all other languages. Others said that the people of Paradise will speak Arabic. There is no basis for any of these ideas, whether on the grounds of common sense or in any report or text, rather they are mere claims that are devoid of any evidence. And Allaah knows best and is most Wise."

Hmmm ...

Arabic is the language of the Qur'an, so we must study enough Arabic to accomplish the goal of reading and comprehension of the Qur'an. And there is sound saheeh hadith to that end:

The People of the Quran are from Best of People:

‘Uthmaan said that the Prophet said: “The best of you are those who learn the Quran and teach it to others.” [Al-Bukhaari]

There are Ten Rewards for Every Letter Recited from the Quran

As a Hadeeth (prophetic statement) in At-Tirmithi proves: “Whoever reads a letter from the Book of Allaah, he will have a reward, and this reward will be multiplied by ten. I am not saying that 'Alif, Laam, Meem' (a combination of letters frequently mentioned in the Holy Quran) is a letter, rather I am saying that 'Alif' is a letter, 'Laam' is a letter and 'Meem' is a letter.” [At-Tirmithi] So increase your recitation of the Quran to gain these merits, as well as the following ones.

The Reciters of the Quran Will Be in the Company of the Noble and Obedient Angels

‘Aa'ishah related that the Prophet said: “Indeed the one who recites the Quran beautifully, smoothly, and precisely, will be in the company of the noble and obedient angels. As for the one who recites with difficulty, stammering or stumbling through its verses, then he will have twice that reward.” [Al-Bukhaari & Muslim]

So dear brother or sister Muslim, do not let the Shaytaan (Satan) give you false excuses, such as 'I am not an Arab.' or 'It is not in my language.' This Hadeeth is a firm proof against these whisperings.

Dedicate yourself to the Book of Allaah, whether you are an Arab or not! The excuses have been eliminated and the pathway has been cleared for you to embrace the Book of Allaah without holding back or offering excuses! Surely you will not hesitate to seek a teacher or a study circle for the Quran once you hear the last and perhaps greatest benefits of reading and contemplating over the Quran.

One's Position and Rank in Paradise is Determined by the Amount of Quran He Memorised in this Lifed compehending the Qur'an.

For all of you non Arab Muslims like me out there:

May your rewards be doubled as you increase your Arabic knowledge of this deen during this blessed month of Ramadan/Ameen!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

A Morning of Weeding

While I was growing vegetables and herbs, and tending to my garden, look was what piling up in my flower beds:

Here's an example:

Flower bush (forgot the name) before (yeah, there's one underneath all of that!):


After I cleared the above bush away, I then started to pull the brown leaves from the day lilly bushes - until I saw this guy (look in the middle of the picture):

Mostlypurple: is this a Praying Mantis? Does it bite or sting? Ewwwwwww ...

Oh oh! I think "it" saw me! Time to move on.

See this hole in the cement?

Heres a close-up of it:

You'll never believe it, but there was a small fragile weed in there. I merely reached in and easily pulled the weed out. When you think about it, this is truly a miracle from Allah (swt). A little tiny fragile weed - but so strong that it can push itself up through cement and actually crack the cement. SubhanAllah!

I also saw a HUGE spider, no lie, about the size of a silver dollar (remember those?) with a little "thing" on it's tail that was the size of a small black bean!

When I pulled the weeds from around the lavender, I discovered bumble bees sleeping under the weeds. So, thats where they go at night! They weren't real happy that I woke them up :)

I never wear gardening gloves, and I usually garden with those rubber clogs on, but after today, trust me, I will be wearing gloves, shoes, and socks!

It's a shame, because I enjoy having my hands in the earth, and having skin contact with what I grow. In case you're wondering about the risk of getting Poison Ivy from gardening this way, don't worry! I bought some special soap in the gardening center. It contains Jewel Weed which is the only thing that cleans off the oils from the Poison. I use it immediately when I come into the house from gardening.

But Alhamdulilah. All the work and gardening "dangers" are truly worth it when you get results like this:

(I just noticed that Blogger uploads the images a little darker than they are. My originals do not look this dark. Oh well.)

Monday, August 17, 2009

Canadian Geese

What a lovely surprise I encountered during my hot summer morning bike ride!

I'm not sure what they were eating, but imagine my delight that they let me so close to them with my camera!

I live on an island. Yes! An honest-to-goodness island! Allah (swt) has truly blessed my husband and I to live here. I was born in the Bronx and my husband was born in Philadelphia. We discover new miracles every day that we are here!

The Canadian Geese are a refreshing change from the pigeons of America's large urban areas.

I did know a man from the Bronx once who fed the pigeons by hand. Every morning they would fly through the window bars and hang out on his living room floor.

He really loved his "friends."

"Do they not look at the birds, held poised in the midst of (the air and) the sky? Nothing holds them up but (the power of) Allah. Verily in this are signs for those who believe." (16:79)

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Finally! The Tomatoes Turn Red!

Remember this post? Where I was lamenting my green tomatoes in my garden? Fearing they wouldn't turn red before the critters got a hold of them?

Well! Look now! After making a huge pot of spaghetti from scratch (including with green peppers and basil from the garden), eating tomatoes at every meal, and giving bags of them away to the neighbors, I still have these on my sun porch:

I'm running out of sunny places to put them, Alhamdulillah!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

What Attracts Inmates to Islam?

("Shahadah" - Image from

In my previous post, Mezba commented that he is curious about what attracts inmates to Islam. Mezba: I thought that your question merits a post of its own.

Why inmates "convert" to Islam or any other religion is a complex issue. Insha Allah I can attempt to address a few of the factors here.

When people come to prison, many, for the first time in their life, are presented with opportunity. They can take a good look at themselves and gain insight into why they ended up in prison. They can then take advantage of the programs that are available in many US prisons. I am aware of the fact that many prisons have no programs or other means of improvement for inmates, but most prisons have some. And practically all of them have a chapel or a chaplain.

Where I work (state prison), we have an awesome chapel program, Alhamdulillah. If inmates are committed to a prison where there is a Muslim chaplain, part of the Muslim chaplain's job is to "be there" for all inmates, regardless of their faith group, or even if they have no faith group. The Muslim chaplain often develops deep relationships with non Muslim inmates, so it is natural that some inmates may become attracted to Islam through their relationship with the Muslim chaplain. State and federal prisons are a little different than city lockups and county prisons because inmates are incarcerated for longer periods in the state and federal facilities. Thus, inmates have an opportunity to be exposed to Muslims and Muslim chaplains.

In city lockups or county prisons, inmates are usually exposed to Islam and Muslims through other inmates, or programs provided by outside Islamic groups. Sometimes, inmates come to chapel programs and activities for something to do, and then Allah (swt) touches their hearts, and they give Islam a closer look.

In a state or federal prison, inmates sometimes come to Islamic chapel activities (Jumuah, tahleem, Arabic classes, etc.) to get out of their cells, or to be with their friends. Sometimes, inmates come to Islam because they want to participate in the Eid feast. Many Muslim chaplains have observed that inmates desiring to be Muslims increases during Ramadan. In women's prisons, some inmates will desire to be Muslim so they can have a hijab. Further, some inmates want to be part of the "other." Some inmates see Islam as an anti-establishment religion, and want to be part of it.

But, those are some of the nefarious reasons. For the most part, inmates change their religion because they are seeking. Because they are lost in life.

Many inmates (and even people in the general public) have problems with the religion they were born into. When an inmate tells me that they want to change their religion, I ask them why they want to leave their own religion. Sometimes, people have had negative experiences as a child with religion. Many inmates reject the tenants of their own religion. For example, many tell me that "I never did believe that Jesus was God anyhow."

Inmates have challenges in all major areas of their lives, and the spiritual area is no exception. Some inmates believe that changing their religion is the answer to their problems. Some don't realize that if they don't change themselves, they merely enter their new religion carrying all of their baggage from their lives into the next faith tradition.

Islam can bring structure and discipline into a person's life. It also affords a person an opportunity to accept personal responsibility for their life. The very essence of tawheed is the Believer's direct relationship with Allah (swt) with no partners, intercessors, or helpers. In Islam, a person is only responsible to Allah (swt).

But - the biggest reason that inmates are attracted to Islam?

It is because inmates give dawah! Big time, Alhamdulillah! Either directly, or indirectly by example.

Some inmates give dawah by setting a positive example of being a Muslim. Believe it or not, many non Muslim inmates never really knew any Muslims well before coming to prison and ending up being cell mates with a Muslim. If the Muslim inmate is a person that exhibits good Islamic character, prays five times a day in the cell, etc., where the non Muslim can observe all of this, well, it makes the non Muslim see Islam and Muslims in a different light - perhaps for the first time in life. It provides the non Muslim with an opportunity to ask questions.

Why are inmates (or anyone else for that matter) attracted to Islam? Well, as Muslims, we know that Allah (swt) makes Muslims. A person can give all the dawah he wants, and if Allah (swt) puts a veil over the person's eyes, ears, and understanding - well, that person is lost.

Whatever reason, the Muslim chaplain is blessed to be in the unique position to see the miracle repeated over and over again, Alhamdulillah.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

When it Rains, it Pours!

(Photo copyright 2009 by S. E. Jihad Levine, All Rights Reserved)

"By (the winds) that scatter dust; and (the clouds) that bear heavy weight of water; and (the ships) that float with ease and gentleness; and those (angels) who distribute (provisions, rain, and other blessings) by (Allah's) Command; Verily, that which you are promised (i.e., Resurrection in the Hereafter and receiving the reward or punishment of good or bad deeds) is surely true. And verily, the Recompense is sure to happen."

Surat Adh-Dhariyat 1-6

Some of you who have read my blog for awhile know that I am a Muslim chaplain in a state prison for women.

I work on Fridays and Saturdays, usually about 8-10 hours a week.

On Fridays, I have individual sessions every fifteen minutes or so from 10:00 am to 11:00 am.

Yesterday, it poured down rain in central Pennsylvania. It was a real jihad driving to work. Many cars were pulled over, waiting for the storm to let up some so they could continue driving safely. But, alas, it didn't let up. So, I plugged along slowly figuring that I would sit in my car once I reached the prison parking lot, and pray for Allah (swt) to let me at least get into the facility without getting soaking wet.

Alhamdulillah, when I arrived, the storm slowed to a steady drizzle and I was able to get to the Chapel relatively dry. I had planned ahead and brought extra socks, so I was cool!

We had our tahleem from 9:00 am to 10:00 am, and the women were able to return to their buildings before the rain started coming down again. REAL HARD!

I settled into my office, figuring that my appointments would not show up, and fired up my computer so I could get some paperwork done. Imagine my surprise, when three out of my four appointments arrived.

Why did these women brave a super thunderstorm to come to the Chapel to see me?

Well, the first one wanted to say the Shahadah.

So, did the second one.

And ... so did the third!

All three wanted to become Muslims, Subhan'Allah! So much, that they were willing to get drenched in a thunderstorm to say the Shahadah!

Oh, I was so thrilled! Allah (swt) has blessed me abundantly. But, there is no greater blessing for me than to be able to look in the eyes of someone who has just said the Shahadah, into the eyes of someone who has no sin, who is a spiritual child.

I always tease them after they say the Shahadah. I do the usual, "Mabrook! You're now a Muslim," to which they respond with a huge smile. We hug, and then I gently touch their chin and tilt it toward me. I say, "Did you know that when a person enters Islam by saying the Shahadah, that all of their sins are forgiven (believe it or not, most of them don't know this)? Let me gaze into your eyes. I love to look into the eyes of a person who has no sin!"

It is an intimate moment. You can't imagine. And I have been blessed as a Muslim chaplain to see it over and over and over again, Alhamdulillah.

When inmates write to me and tell me that they want to become a Muslim, I send them a package of materials, and I schedule them for an individual appointment with me (I have to change prison records). More importantly, I include a note that says something to the effect of "I will see you on Friday, at 10:15 am, Insha Allah, but don't wait until then! If you are sure that you want to become a Muslim, all you have to do is say the words of the Shahadah, with conviction, that are on the handout in the package I am sending you. Then, we will talk more when we meet, Insha Allah."

For some reason, most inmates want someone to witness their Shahadah, to "give" them their Shahadah. Although this is not required in Islam, some new Muslims feel more comfortable saying their Shahadah in front of me, or at Jumuah in front of all of the Muslim women.

I believe this comes from their Christian heritage, where baptisms or "being saved" are witnessed.

Anyhow, three women came to Islam at our prison yesterday!

Allahu Akbar!

In the almost two years that I have been a Muslim chaplain, I have seen our Jumuah list double, Alhamdulillah!

When it rains, it pours!

"When comes the Help of Allah, and Victory,
And thou dost see
The People enter Allah's Religion
In Crowds,
Celebrate the Praises
Of thy Lord, and pray
For His Forgiveness.
For He is Oft-Returning
(In forgiveness).

Surat An-Nasr 1-3

May Allah (swt) bless and reward our new Shahadahs and all of our incarcerated Muslims/Ameen!