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Life in Prison: How Islam Can Save Aaron Hernandez

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Ummah Sports

When the gavel came down on Aaron Hernandez — the former New England Patriots and University of Florida football star convicted on April 15 of first-degree murder in the 2013 shooting death of 27-year-old Odin Lloyd — a common narrative among traditional and social media was that two lives were now lost: That of the victim and that of his killer, because the mandatory life sentence given to Hernandez means his life is essentially over.

Before the murder case that turned his football fame into criminal infamy, Hernandez met almost every modern-day qualification for “having it all” in the dunya. He was young (23 at the time of his arrest), talented, rich and recognizable. He had won a college national championship at Florida and had played in Super Bowl XLVI with the Patriots, coming up just short of adding a pro football championship to his collection. He had an endorsement deal with sneaker and apparel company Puma, and a $40 million contract with the Patriots. Going into the 2013 season, Hernandez was ranked by NFL Network as one of the top 100 players in the league. He had a $1 million home with four stories and a pool. He had a fiancee and a baby girl.

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That chapter of Hernandez’s life has ended. There will be no more pro football, no more hefty paychecks, no more mansion, no more nightclubs. Hernandez’s life sentence includes no possibility of parole, and on top of that, he’s still facing another trial on murder charges stemming from a 2012 shooting in Boston that left two men dead.

Two days after his April 15 conviction for Lloyd’s murder, it was being reported that Hernandez was on suicide watch at the Massachusetts Correctional Institution’s Cedar Junction facility.

And why not? As many people have stated, Aaron Hernandez’s life is already over.

Reality, however, makes it clear how far that statement is from the truth.

Prison, even in the form of a life sentence, is not itself a death sentence. Incarcerated individuals can and do contribute positively to society, whether it’s writing books, performing community service, teaching and counseling and preaching to others inmates and youth groups.

More importantly, Islam teaches that even those prisoners doing life can still have a life. The purpose of our time in this world, in the dunya, is to worship Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), The Originator and The Creator.

And that worship can be done just as effectively inside a jail cell as it can be done inside a $1 million mansion. It can be done in a prison yard just as successfully as it can be done on a football field.

In “The Autobiography of Malcolm X,” the man known later as El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz tells the story of his conversion to Islam as a young man in prison. Recounting one particularly powerful experience, he writes, “Then all the rest of that night, I prayed to Allah. I don’t think anyone ever prayed more sincerely to Allah. I prayed for some kind of relief from my confusion.”

Malcolm X was not in front of the Ka’aba in the holy city of Mecca when he offered those life-altering prayers that night. He was not in a mosque, or in the home he would later make with his wife and children, or at one of the prestigious lecture halls or auditoriums he would later be invited to speak at as a representative of the Nation of Islam.

He offered those prayers behind bars in his cell at Norfolk Prison Colony — a facility in the same Massachusetts Correctional Institution system that now houses Aaron Hernandez.

Hernandez scored 20 touchdowns in three NFL seasons.

Hernandez scored 20 touchdowns in three NFL seasons.

The Holy Quran outlines one condition that so many men like Malcolm X, and so many men like Hernandez, have had to accept before the possibility of self-improvement is presented:

“Indeed, Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves. And when Allah intends for a people ill, there is no repelling it.” (13:11)

While serving a seven-year term for burglary, Malcolm X had to own the sins from the previous chapter of his life and be open to change before he Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) would change his condition. Malcolm X wrote: “For evil to bend its knees, admitting its guilt, to implore the forgiveness of God, is the hardest thing in the world. It’s easy for me to see and to say that now. But then, when I was the personification of evil, I was going through it. Again, again, I would force myself back down into the praying-to-Allah posture. When finally I was able to make myself stay down — I didn’t know what to say to Allah.”

After that, once he did figure out what to say, he wrote: “You couldn’t have gotten me out of books with a wedge. Between Mr. (Elijah) Muhammad’s teachings, my correspondence, my visitors … and my reading of books, months passed without my even thinking about being imprisoned. In fact, up to then, I never had been so truly free in my life.”

To those who have made their purpose in life the pursuit of money, material things and other markers of “having it all” in the dunya, a lengthy prison sentence would be like the end of their life. Although, ironically enough, some of the most rich, famous and “free” individuals in our society have said that wealth and fame can feel like a prison.

To those who have made it their purpose in life to worship Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), prison would not necessarily be a hindrance to reaching that goal.

The game has moved on without Hernandez. The Patriots just won another Super Bowl title without him, and the man that took the lion’s share of his playing time, All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski, has become arguably the best at his position in the NFL and a budding multi-media star.

It must be a hard pill for Hernandez to swallow, that feeling of not being needed. But he can still find purpose. The right purpose.

If I could speak to Hernandez, I’d tell him that much. I’d advise him to use his time to think and reflect about his history and his choices, to study his spirit and explore a different path. I’d remind him that while the glamorous part of his life is in the past, he could still have a glorious future ahead.

Perhaps that is why so many people have converted to Islam while in prison. Because when everyone else is telling you that your life is over, Islam is telling you that you still have a life worth living.

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Amaar Abdul-Nasir was born and raised in Seattle, Wash., and received his B.A. in Journalism from Seattle University. A sports writer and editor by trade, Amaar founded UmmahSports.net, which focuses on Muslim athletes and health and fitness in the Muslim community, following his conversion to Islam in 2013.

24 Comments

24 Comments

  1. Steve

    May 11, 2015 at 7:21 PM

    Malcolm X converted to the Nation of Islam while in prison and even claimed to have seen an apparition of Elijah Muhammad appear in his cell. Sorry, not the same as converting to a legitimate religion.

    • L I

      May 11, 2015 at 8:03 PM

      He converted to Islam (and out of the Nation of Islam) not long after, so regardless, the article’s premise rings true. There can be a good future for everyone.

      • Steve

        May 11, 2015 at 9:28 PM

        Malcolm began learning about the Nation of Islam while in prison in 1947 after learning about it from his siblings (Manning, pg. 77). He converted shortly afterward and didn’t accept Islam until visiting the Middle East in April, 1964 (Manning, pg. 307). Seventeen years is hardly “not long after.”

        I understand there are concerted efforts being made to find a seguebetween the broader civil rights movement generally focused on African-Americans and the more reactionary elements of the politicized muslims in the west. Whether this is done in good or bad faith historical accuracy would be appreciated.

    • Amaar Abdul-Nasir

      May 12, 2015 at 12:35 AM

      Especially for the purposes of this column and the points I’m trying to highlight about Aaron Hernandez, prison, and hope where others insist there is hopelessness, I think it’s more important to focus on Malcolm X’s intentions — as well as the intentions of all people who have and who will join the Nation of Islam — than to get stuck on the comparative differences between the NOI and pure Islam.

      For most (if not all) NOI converts, they don’t really know that the NOI is not true Islam. This was especially true in the pre-Internet era when Malcolm X joined the group, and in the era before Malcolm’s story was told worldwide. As far as they know, new NOI members are converting to Islam. They’re not told by their mentors, “Oh by the way, this isn’t REALLY Islam, but it’s close enough.” They are praying to Allah, they are reading the Quran, and they are following most (if not all) of the lifestyle changes and rules that true Islam teaches.

      In his autobiography, written after Malcolm X traveled to Mecca and discovered true Islam, he wrote: “I was to learn later that Elijah Muhammad’s tales … infuriated the Muslims of the East. While at Mecca, I reminded them that it was their fault, since they themselves hadn’t done enough to make the real Islam known in the West. Their silence left a vacuum into which any religious faker could step and mislead our people.”

      Also, in later years the man Malcolm believed he saw in nighttime vision was actually Master W.D. Fard, the man whom Elijah Muhammad considered a mentor. (At the time he actually had the vision, Malcolm said he had no idea who it was.) The vision appearing as Elijah Muhammad was something Spike Lee put into the Hollywood version of Malcolm X’s story for some reason.

      • Adam

        May 15, 2015 at 4:31 PM

        Brother Amaar; your article is appreciated. I wonder if you can use any type of 1st-2nd-3rd degree(s) of separation you may have with contacts that lead to Aaron Hernandez to share the article with him…you should.

      • Laurence Charles Ringo

        May 16, 2015 at 11:12 PM

        Mr.Amaar…While I get what you’re saying as far as it goes,there is one Quranic verse inre this situation that frankly I consider simply irrational,if not actually nonsensical,and that’s the verse you quoted. (I’ll read it from Yusuf ‘Ali’s translation)-To wit:…”Verily never Will Allah change the condition of a people until they change it themselves(With their own souls.)-Surah 13,ayat 11. Seriously,Mr.Amaar…What the what does that mean? If I changed my” condition”
        myself,what need have I of Allah? What exactly does Alļah do in the process? await your reply.

      • Amaar

        May 17, 2015 at 4:51 AM

        @Laurence – I take those words to mean that Allah [swt] will not change your condition until you are open and ready to accept change, until you show that you want it. Look at it this way: If you just sit on the couch thinking, “I want a job” but you’re not doing anything about it, nothing will happen. Once you get up and start applying for work, and maybe you even have to humble yourself to be willing to take a job that’s not ideal, that’s when Allah [swt] will make it happen for you.

  2. abu jones

    May 12, 2015 at 4:27 PM

    @dyyf
    Is this the same Muhammad of Mecca who did not raise a finger on those who persecuted him and when he returned triamph to Mecca, he forgave his conspirators and enemies…

  3. Pingback: Jail | Anas Khalifa

  4. Joe

    May 15, 2015 at 2:10 PM

    First off..Hernandez is Catholic and will not turn his back on the true savior, Jesus Christ. Who wants to join a religion that believes in killing innocent people.

    • Um Mariam

      May 15, 2015 at 3:35 PM

      Hi, Joe. Please don’t believe that ISIS and similar phenomena are the reality of Islam. True Islam abaolutely forbids killing innocent people and Prophet Muhammad defended the rights of both Christians and Jews & ordered Muslims to protect churches & synogogues. Muslim countries not affected by war/strife caused by outside factors still have the lowest crime rates and lowest murder rates in the world, plus the lowest rates of AIDS & unwed parents & “deadbeat fathers”–google it. Islam promotes peace and justice within homes and amongst societies. Racism, classism, discrimination, and injustice toward anyone are not allowed. Sure, there bad Muslims–but they are breaking Islamic rules. Islam does not allow injustice or oppression, let alone murder, and “terrorists” comprise probably .001% of Muslim. It is untrue, btw, that most terrorists are Muslim. Do some serious research & you will see. However–sad truth–fewer Muslims are obeying God’s laws than ever before, & so you will see many doing wrong–but in violation of Islam–not because of it! This is one of the signs that we are getting closer to the end times.

  5. Ammar Khalid

    May 15, 2015 at 3:18 PM

    Perhaps the last sentence can be rewritten as:

    “Because when everyone else is telling you that your life is over, Islam is telling you that your life has just begun :)”

    Truly, our life begins when our heart awakes. Being in prison or million dollar mansion is meaningless. True life is the life of heart and give an experience of bliss which cannot be described.

  6. Kent Bayley

    May 15, 2015 at 4:25 PM

    Why should we believe in Islam when its a divisive and violent religion by its own hand and within its own pages. Its the most divisive force one earth and Mohammed had a 6 year old wife…….I would never believe in or worship someone like that. Its a religion for the poor to give them false hope and so it marshals a crowd which will do anything to survive or they use it as an excuse to be angry and purvey evil. See it for what it is, a nasty baseless religion of dominance and the subjugation of women.

    • Amaar

      May 15, 2015 at 6:49 PM

      @Kent, Believing in Muhammad shouldn’t be hard for anyone, seeing as he was a real person and there is no debate anywhere over his existence on this planet.

      As far as worshiping Muhammad, if you really think that’s what Muslims do, then you literally do not know the first thing about Islam. The No. 1 pillar of Islam is to believe that nothing is worthy of worship except Allah.

    • Jeremy Ben Royston

      May 15, 2015 at 10:55 PM

      Divisive? It is the most unifying and tolerant. It calls upon Muslims not to revile those other faiths invoke other than God (Quran, 6:108) and the Quran confirms the scriptures of the Abrahamic faiths before it even though it supersedes them and calls upon a Muslim Society to judge (in court) by it when called upon to do so. Even so, it calls upon the Muslim society to tolerate within their lands the way of life of the other “People of the Book”. Why? They are of “The Book,” – the records of the revealed message of God.

      “For each (group) we laid down the Law and a prescribed program. Had God wanted, He could have made you into a single nation. Nay, so He may test you all according to what He has granted you. So rush onward and compete with each other for the righteous deeds. To God shall you all return! Then, He will tell you about all that you used to dispute!” (Quran, 5:48)

      • Ismail

        May 20, 2015 at 4:26 AM

        Akhy,barakAllah,you brothers are teaching me things I have been ignorant about when debating with non-muslims especially Christians.May Allah azza wa jal continue to guide you.

  7. Safiyyah

    May 15, 2015 at 10:10 PM

    Salaams: JAK for the beautiful article. It’s useful to mention to those “worried” that our brother accepted NOI in prison that often faith in prison is a journey; it starts there for some, continues when they get out as it did for our Brother Malcolm, and it continues to develop as it does for thousands of Muslims serving a life sentence. I’ve known many NOI who have come around to the Straight Path in prison. The bottom line is that, for sure, Allaah ta’ala has a plan for Mr. Hernandez, and Insha Allaah he will be guided to al-Islaam. Ameen.

  8. Sara

    May 16, 2015 at 12:27 AM

    Assalamo Alaikum Brother Amaar.
    Your article can serve as a life-saver for Aaron Hernandez, by the Will of Allah!
    As Adam stated above, it would be great if this article could reach Hernandez and others in similar situations.

  9. Haji Abdul Kareem Nandasena

    May 16, 2015 at 5:12 AM

    Dear Brother Hernandez.
    May ALLAAH Shower More Health, More Courage, More Wisdom, and More Patience upon You.
    Haji Abdul Kareem Nandasena.
    Sri Lanka.

  10. Mohammed

    May 18, 2015 at 1:16 AM

    Assalamo alaikom, very good read, brother Amaar, especially the part: “If I could speak to Hernandez, I’d tell him that much. I’d advise him to use his time to think and reflect about his history and his choices, to study his spirit and explore a different path. I’d remind him that while the glamorous part of his life is in the past, he could still have a glorious future ahead.”
    I think you can help that man enormously by saying that to him. You live in the US as him and if a human life is really important to you to save, no distance should stop you from reaching out to him and give him that message of hope, esp after knowing, according to your own article, that he’s now on suicide watch. Help him and Allah will help you.

    Your brother Mohammed

  11. Raji Ayinla

    May 18, 2015 at 4:25 PM

    The key is proper education. The people in jail cells tend to be easy pickings for radical-leaning Muslims.

  12. Aly Balagamwala

    May 22, 2015 at 3:55 AM

    Dear All

    The comments on this article have shifted extremely off the topic away from Aaron Hernandez. Kindly keep your comments on the topic.

    Best Regards
    MM Comments Team

    • Aly Balagamwala

      May 23, 2015 at 11:18 AM

      Thanks Tes for being understanding about this. Thank you for your comments and hope you will continue to read our content and comment on topic.

      Best Regards
      Aly

  13. Wael Abdelgawad

    May 31, 2015 at 4:13 PM

    All true brother Amaar, Jazak Allah khayr. Though in my experience, this is not the profile of someone who tends to convert to Islam. Usually you see converts among the poor and minorities. Someone like Hernandez would have to overcome a lot of privilege and entitlement to humble himself before Allah.

    Also, I tend not to be sympathetic toward murderers. Though I have known killers who became Muslim in prison and did much good afterward. And embracing Islam wipes out all sins.

    Last note: I think most of these comments from trolls attacking Islam should be deleted. They are irrelevant to the article.

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