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Finding Faith in
the Depths of Darkness

By Sheikh Salman Baruti

"Whoever works righteousness,
man or woman, and has faith, verily
to him will we give a new life,
a life that is good and pure
and we will bestow on such their reward
according to the best of their actions."
XVI:97, Holy Koran.


Religion plays an integral role in the lives of many inmates. From juvenile halls to the nationÍs toughest penal institutions, religious services of all faiths are often filled to capacity. There is a saying among inmates that "God lives in prison." If this is true, it is also a fact that for many incarcerated individuals, once they arrive at the gate, God is left standing, as they make their way back into the community. As a student of Sufism and a social worker who works with both youth and adult offenders, I have been interested in the reasons why faith is so strong inside of jails and prisons, but faith does not sustain inmates as they transition back into the community. What barriers and obstacles exist that make religion less appealing to those who once saw it as salvation for a life gone astray? I am very interested in helping individuals transform their lives and become more productive citizens. If faith is a useful tool in this transformational process, I am supportive of their endeavors. On the other hand, if the way in which faith is practiced is just a game to occupy time while incarcerated, as a form of manipulation, then is there a better way for inmates and free citizens alike to gain more from their religious practices?

Faith is a word frequently associated with religion and spirituality and implies belief or trust in someone or something. Faith is defined in the dictionary as believing without proof, trust or confidence. The writer of Hebrews begins the eleventh chapter of this Biblical book with the oft quoted verse "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for; the evidence of things not seen." Many inmates and other people who struggle with the life of the world offer prayers to God to help them in their daily lives. However, when the evidence of their praying is not forthcoming, it may lead to more frustration, self blame and in the case of many inmates, to re-incarceration. Once having returned to jail or prison, the cycle begins anew, sometimes with more religious fervor, with the hope of succeeding the next time around.

"For Him is prayer in truth: any others that they call upon besides Him hear them no more than if they were to stretch forth their hands for water to reach their mouths but it reaches them not: For the prayer of those without faith is nothing but wandering." XIII:14, Holy Koran.

In looking at the idea of faith as presented in religion, if faith is believing without proof, it is little wonder that for many, faith is fleeting on the one hand and illusive on the other. Someone once asked Amir al Momenin Ali, "Do you see the God that you worship?" He replied, "Would I worship a God that I did not see?" For Hazrat Imam Ali, faith was not believing without proof, rather it was proof that confirmed his belief. When one experiences the Divine in this way or has this type of faith; fear, doubt and hesitation, the enemies of faith, begin to disappear and are replaced with self confidence.

In the latter verses of the eleventh chapter of Hebrews, the writer gives many examples of prophets: Enoch (Idris), Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Samuel and David; all of whom faced major tests and by their "faith" endured. What was unique about the faith of these prophets? The Prophet Mohammad (swa) and Hazrat Imam Ali fought and won many battles, though greatly outnumbered and Jesus held onto His faith on the cross. Hallaj proclaimed his faith all the way to the gallows.

The apostles said to them: "True, we are human beings like yourselves, but Allah doth grant His Grace to such of His servants as He pleases. It is not for us to bring you an authority except as Allah permits. And on Allah let all men of faith put their trust." XIV:11, Holy Koran.

Although the writer of Hebrews did not explain the meaning of faith experienced by these prophets, my experience with Sufism reveals that certainly their faith had to be based on knowledge, the Light that Allah pours into the hearts of the believers. On the other hand. . .


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