Speaking to incarcerated individuals can be very challenging. Their interests and culture are particular to a prison life which the chaplain does not live. However, as chaplains we have to try our best to speak not just for the sake of fulfilling the obligation of Jumu’ah prayer, but also make it mean something to those we leave inside.
It is not just the content of the sermon, but also how the speaker conveys his words. It is even critical how you handle yourself before and after the sermon as I have felt constantly “sized up.” One Friday I was severely tested.
After the sermon I sat to give a short halaqah; something I hoped could be of benefit since the brothers had very limited access to Islamic knowledge. However, before we even began, something set off one of the inmates into a verbal assault against me. For almost half an hour I dealt with the brother. I had to walk a thin line demonstrating that I could defend myself verbally without provoking the inmate into a physical response. It was a difficult time and I felt like I was being tested for my “toughness”. Last Friday I returned to the same group to try Jumu’ah again and something very interesting happened.
Though I had made a dua’ for a successful khutba, there seemed to be so many distractions. Every five minutes it seemed there was an announcement on the prison’s intercom system and as soon as I started the sermon one brother stood up to give his sunnah prayers. The brother insisted on not only praying 2 rakahs, but 2 more, Dhuhr prayer, and another two! I could not believe it, he prayed through my whole sermon!
It seemed that little if any was getting through due to these distractions. I was disappointed but I tried my best to get what I could across. You would think that my dua’ was not answered, but it only given a new direction! After the service the same brother, who prayed through the service, leaned forward to ask me if what he did was wrong. Thankful for the opportunity to correct his action, I sought his permission to speak about it as a group so we all could learn. It turned out that all these distractions, and even the prior incident, made for an excellent halaqah on the etiquettes of Jumu’ah prayer.
The brothers had many questions and, as it turned out, not just about prayer but also on the differences of juristic opinion and the history of Islamic law. By the end we had covered many subjects which, I believe, were very beneficial for our brothers inside. We accomplished through that short sitting what I could not have accomplished through one or two khutbas alone. Allah had taken my dua’ for a successful khutba and gave me, and the brothers, something greater in return.
As a chaplain, I never know what is going to happen during Jumuah, or a halaqah; or even just spending time together with those I care for. But like any action I truly do believe that if you have a good intention you will either achieve it or obtain something even better.
Most of the time things don’t go as we expect them, but if we hope for our reward with Allah we will always be successful. Whether we are chaplains, volunteers, mentors, family members, or friends we have to try our best to think of the needs of those we help, which is often times very difficult to discern and we ourselves are even tested in our efforts. However it seems that even if the ways we thought could help seem fruitless, if we are sincere than Allah will provide a better way.
To each is a goal to which Allah turns him; then strive together (as in a race) towards all that is good. Wheresoever ye are, Allah will bring you together. For Allah hath power over all things [al-Baqarah; 2:148]