Connect with us

Opinion

Br. Tariq Mehanna’s Letter from Prison

Published

17th of Dhu al-Hijjah 1429
December 15th 2008

Bismillah, was-Salamu ‘alaykum wa Rahmatullah wa barakatuh,

My dear brother,

Keep supporting MuslimMatters for the sake of Allah

Alhamdulillah, we're at over 850 supporters. Help us get to 900 supporters this month. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

It was absolutely refreshing and reassuring to have received a letter from you, and the brothers and sisters from all over. You have no idea what a letter from the outside world means when one is here. The whole psychological makeup of prison is such that it is designed to remove your individuality, instead turning you into nothing more than an identification number. Everyone wears the same color prison uniform, eats the same food, is subject to the same regulations, etc. So to receive a message marked with your actual name on it, written specifically for you — this is a reminder that you are an actual person with an actual life and actual family and friends. So, having [so many] letters slipped under my cell door reminded me of how fortunate I am to have received support from people who mostly know nothing about me except that I am their brother in faith, and [these] letters never leave my side.

One thing I would like to point out is in regards to how many brothers and sisters, when writing to a prisoner or any other Muslim in need, will start off the reminder with ‘you already know this,’ or ‘I can’t say much you don’t already know.’ In Surat al-Hashr, Allah says in one verse: {“O you who believe, fear Allah and let every soul look to what it has put forth for tomorrow, and fear Allah“}.

So, the same injunction was made twice in the same verse to fear Allah. Imam Ahmad pointed out that patience is mentioned in the Qur’an over ninety times. So, there are certain concepts that have to be drilled into our heads constantly for us to truly understand and internalize and apply them properly in our lives. Reflect, also, how you have been and will continue to recite Surat al-Fatiha at least seventeen times everyday for the rest of your life. Shaykh ‘Uthaymin once pointed out that the Qur’an and the reminders it contains are such that every time you read some verse, you come away with a deeper meaning than the previous time you read that same verse! Now, in an environment such as this, the concepts of patience, tawakkul, etc. take on completely new meanings. So, every reminder boosts morale and strengthens resolve, and helps you look at the situation in the right light.

The greatest asset in here is the ability to remember Allah no matter what condition or situation I am in. When I was handcuffed and couldn’t use my hands to pray, when I was in solitary confinement and had no contact with human or book, when shackled by my hands and feet during the hour-long rides back and forth between court and prison hunched over in the dark, stuffy prison van, etc. — when all sources of material comfort have been taken away, it is then when you realize exactly how essential dhikr is to your sanity and survival. People here place so much reliance on the skills of their lawyers, the mercy of the judge, etc., but looking around at them all, I laugh at how easy it is for me to call upon the One who controls every atom in the universe compared with how hard it is for an inmate to get what he wants from those on the outside that he places so much reliance on, who are not always placing him on their list of priorities. Ibn al-Qayyim‘s ‘al-Wabil as-Sayyib‘ contains great parables and expositions on the virtues of dhikr. But the reason I mention how helpul the act of dhikr has been here is to encourage you all on the outside to realize its true value and take proper advantage of it now, and not just if you happen to go to prison, because if you remember Allah in times of ease, He will help you in times of hardship, guaranteed! It’s the easiest act of worship!

I spend my time reading whatever I can get my hands on. Every Tuesday, the library cart is supposed to get some books to my unit, but they are extremely inefficient here when it comes to such services, and the cart has only been around once in the past few months. I picked up and completed a 700-page biography of J. Robert Oppenheimer (the so-called “father of the atomic bomb”) called ‘American Prometheus.’ It was quite a revealing story of how the man who essentially handed America the nuclear bombs by which she sought to bring the Soviet Union to its knees was blacklisted by the FBI and excommunicated the minute he voiced his opposition to the thirst of zealots in the administration to build even deadlier weapons. I also just completed a history of the Colombian cocaine trade that had its peak in the ’80s, and last night completed a book about the topic of celibacy as debated in the Vatican. There are also old issues of National Geographic Magazine floating around between inmates here, so I try to read those whenever one comes my way. I think they are popular around here because they contain more pictures than words :) . I had a copy of Yusuf Ali’s translation of the Qur’an for a while, but I had lent it to an inmate interested in Islam who was released on bail before he could return it to me. So, I’ve been relying on the Qur’an I have memorized when it comes to recitation.

Despite the fact that this is a maximum security facility and the restrictions are at times cumbersome, I really do not have much I can complain about. I have a place to sleep, three meals a day, and I can pray whenever I want in peace. I can think of millions of people around the world who cannot claim the same luxuries. On top of that, one sometimes needs a place like this to achieve clarity of mind. So, as the cliché goes, this has been a blessing in disguise in that I’ve been able to benefit from various aspects of incarceration that would ordinarily seem undesirable. I can only think of the countless imprisoned Muslims in the jails of tyrants around the globe and hope that if it is not Allah’s Decree to free them in the near future, that they taste the sweetness that Allah has placed them in prison to taste… May Allah free our sisters sooner than all…

I would like to end this letter by reminding all who read it to realize what you have been blessed with before it is taken from you: the warm hug of a loved one, the company of righteous people, the ability to see the sun and moon, a breath of fresh air, praying in a mosque, hearing the Qur’an recited, reading a good book of your choosing, taking a shower with clean water whenever you feel like, even something as simple as being able to open a door and walk out of a room! If there is one lesson that everybody can learn in here – be they Muslim or kafir – that is to take the initiative to appreciate the value of the luxuries you are blessed with before they are taken from under your nose. We hear this in every khutbah but one unfortunately cannot truly appreciate this advice until all these delights of life are out of reach, in actuality. (I highly suggest Cummings’ ‘The Enormous Room‘ in this regard, if you can find a copy, where he describes, in candid detail, life in a French prison camp stripped of all the material possessions that were once within easy grasp.) Indeed, prison only makes the Muslim stronger…

Was-Salamu ‘alaykum wa Rahmatullah wa Barakatuh,

Your brother in the green jumpsuit,
Tariq Mehanna

See Also: Tariq Mehanna: ‘Catch all’ uses of ‘al-Qaeda’ and the Sudbury thought criminal

Keep supporting MuslimMatters for the sake of Allah

Alhamdulillah, we're at over 850 supporters. Help us get to 900 supporters this month. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

..
..
..

Ramadan Video Series

MuslimMatters NewsLetter in Your Inbox

Sign up below to get started

Trending