(RNS) – As the prison systems were closed due to the pandemic outside of the visitation, a Muslim chaplain is working to close the gap between detained Muslims and their families.
Founded by former prison chaplain Tricia Pethic, who Muslim prisoner project donates gifts to the children of imprisoned Muslims for the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan in late May.
Many government systems have suspended All visits, as well as the Federal Prison Office, to prevent the rapid spread of the coronavirus among prisoners who are confined to cramped conditions, sometimes with poor health care and hygiene.
This has given Pethic’s work a new sense of urgency.
“In the past, you could only see your mother or father once a week,” said Pethic, who officially included the project as a nonprofit last year. “Now you can’t see her at all until further notice. That is why it is so important that we ensure that these children know that their parents are still thinking of them, especially when Ramadan is imminent. “
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Last year, Pethic sent gifts to 24 inmates’ children in five facilities in New York and New Jersey. This year the initiative raised about $ 17,000 after being supported by prominent U.S. Muslim figures, including Imam Zaid Shakir, Imam Suhaib Webb, Ingrid Mattson, and Sheikh Faraz Rabbani.
The group is now planning an expansion to help children of inmates in 25 facilities.
Gifts are customized for each family. Among other things, they distribute Barbie dolls in the guise of Muslim Olympian Ibtihaj Muhammad, Mark Gonzales’ children’s book “Yo Soy Muslim” and products from the Muslim “edutainment” series Rafiq & friends.
“Masses have a profound and lasting impact on the children of imprisoned people, which in turn adversely affects our communities,” said the founders of Rafiq & Friends, the married couple Justin and Fatemeh Mashouf, in an email. “We believe that it is a responsibility and an opportunity for us to give children a sense of community, identity and joy to walk in the prophetic example.”
The Eid gift campaign, which takes place in the second year, was inspired by the Christian initiative Angel tree, a family service program run by Prison Fellowship to deliver Christmas gifts to inmate families.
“Muslim inmates should not have to go to Angel Tree and other Christian organizations to get help,” said Pethic. “We really need to develop comparable services for inmates.”
Memphis-based Imam Adrian Kirk, who also serves as a prison imam for the faith-based anti-relapse group ANSAR 101Muslim attitudes towards detention continue to develop, but are often “uneducated”.
“Some of them will say things like,” If you’ve committed the crime, do the time “regardless,” he said. “These are people. Some of them may have committed crimes, but that doesn’t change the fact that they still have needs. Their children and families also have needs. “
Groups like Believers Bail Out, Link outside and the Tayba Foundation have emerged in recent years to serve detained Muslims. But Kirk said he started volunteering for the Muslim Prisoners Project because of the “incredible uniqueness of the program” within Muslim communities.
“It is so urgently needed that it shouldn’t be that unique,” said Kirk. “It’s just a no-brainer. It affects us, whether we know it or not. The trauma that these children and their parents are exposed to can really affect their character. If a community reviews them and directs them in the right direction , this can really change society. “
Because about 90% of the detained Muslims have been converted to Islam behind bars, Pethic sees her work as an inter-religious service.
“Many families who care for the children of these prisoners are not Muslim,” said Pethic, noting that she is calling each family to ask if they are ready to accept the gift. “We recognize that not everyone who receives gifts and passes these gifts on to children is part of our faith. It is sometimes an introduction to Islam for the family. “
In addition to their annual fundraiser, which takes place every year before Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha, the main task of the initiative is to provide Muslims and their chaplains with appropriate religious literature – not just brochures and donated books with poorly coherent English – as well as a resource for mosques to support local detained Muslims.
When Pethic quit her job in a women’s institution in New York, she decided to found the organization to provide resources to Muslim chaplains and inmates, as well as mosques that could not help inmates and formerly detained Muslims who were looking for help.
Pethic, who lives in Rochester, New York, studied Islamic Counseling at Hartford Seminary. When she looked at her specialization options – including serving in a hospital, university, military, or prison – she chose her path on a whim.
“I literally looked at the words” Prison Minister “on my screen and thought, why not?” She said.
However, when Pethic began working in detention centers in Danbury, Connecticut, and Albion, New York, she quickly realized the importance of the job because of the lack of Muslim chaplains and resources to support Muslim inmates.
“Not many Muslims really think that there is this whole” hidden ummah “(Muslim community) that we don’t see because they are not in our prayer lines,” said Pethic. “But every day they get up and imagine that one day they will be in our prayer series. I think if they knew what kind of unrequited love and desire there was, they would just pounce on it. “
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A report The civil rights group Muslim Advocates found last year that around 9% of the state prison population identify themselves as Muslims. Earlier data shows that Muslims make up about 12% of federal residents, while Muslims make up only 1% of the American population.
Still, these detained Muslims often face serious challenges when given religious shelters, Pethic said. The Muslim lawyers’ report, which examined 163 Muslim prisoner lawsuits over a 15-month period, found that the state prison system guidelines regarding housing are extremely inconsistent. A Muslim prisoner files a federal lawsuit every three days for insufficient religious accommodation. Most are about access to religious diets, often during Ramadan, or obstacles to prayer and worship.
Last week, 20 faith groups led by Muslim lawyers sent a letter to the prison administrators asking them to take prisoners’ religious needs into account during the outbreak, especially as Ramadan approaches.
“We remain deeply concerned that prisons will use this crisis as an excuse to deny basic religious shelters to prisoners under their care,” the groups wrote.
But a defect Muslim chaplains, who not only provide spiritual guidance and guidance, but also serve as advocates for Muslim inmates, only make such challenges possible, said Pethic. In 2009, there were only eight Muslim chaplains certified by the board across the United States. according to to the Association of Professional Chaplains.
This has left much concern for Muslims who need help for interreligious chaplains or Volunteers Muslim chaplains.
“It shouldn’t be the case that a prison administrator tries to find a volunteer from the Muslim community,” said Pethic. “We should be ready to take on this role.”
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