By Ferya Ilyas
Eliza (aka Bruise, her gay name) was weeping outside the dining hall in her prison. Her heavily tattooed-cum-pierced body was surrounded by prison officers and some of her side-kicks, when a female Muslim chaplain passed by. The Muslim chaplain, who has been a regular target of Eliza’s racist remarks and swear words, stopped at a distance and assured Eliza that she is around for any help needed. Eliza, surprisingly, agreed upon a chat with the chaplain, not knowing that it would change her life forever (and for better).
The chaplain always replied to Eliza’s hatred with goodness and that’s exactly what eventually brought Eliza towards Islam. She is now a totally changed person; in fact, she is a practicing Muslim, Alhumdulillah. Her acquaintances are overawed by the transformation she underwent – from being an evil and aggressive person to being kind, polite and friendly.
The Muslim prison chaplain Farhana Seema Qureshy has the honour of helping inmates of English origin and some British Africans held in the HMP prison, UK, to convert to Islam, including Eliza. She works as a chaplain in a female prison with inmates numbering two hundred, from age of nineteen upwards. Out of two hundred, eighteen are Muslims. The prison shelters prisoners from the UK, Germany, Brazil, Italy, Poland, Africa and the US.
Farhana, being an Imam at the prison, gives Dawah to the captives there and provides interested prisoners with books of knowledge, guidance and then Shahadah, as a part of her job. That being the case, Farhana doesn’t take the entire credit herself. “Some of these people became Muslims watching my relationship with other people in the prison, especially the Muslim prisoners. However, most of them watched Muslim prisoners praying, reading the Quran, fasting or experiencing their commitment to address their moral standing, their love and respect for others and so on. It was not always me who influenced them, but rather, others did,” says Farhana.
As a routine, Farhana holds two hours of Quranic circles every Friday. On Saturdays, she does Seerah. “I do faith counselling; I also provide a listening service, which is the most important service I can provide to the prisoners, and I do conflict resolving. I also offer
an advisory service for the new prisoners, as to how best to spend and deal with their sentence,” reveals Farhana. “These services are open to all prisoners,” she adds.
Attracting people towards your faith isn’t an easy task, but Farhana does it very well. Her approach is to follow Prophet Muhammad (saw), the best teacher in all matters, and propagate Islam the way he did. She explains: “He was always concerned that people should embrace Islam, but he never forced anyone towards it. His approach was, firstly, to recognise and understand whom he was dealing with, and then very gently, he would invite them to Islam. However, mostly our beloved Rasoolallah (saw) invited them by his actions.”
Her stint in the prison has made her realize that life in a jail, with its endless monotony, is one tough thing, and she feels that Muslims should visit prisons often, in order to support prisoners and their families. She also asks Muslims to help prisoners with resettlement, once they come out of the prison. As for Muslim converts, she says: “New Muslims are very lonely on their journey of Islam, and they need our support greatly.”
Farhana acknowledges the sacrifices made by her family during her chaplainship, especially her husband, who has been very supportive throughout. “Without my family and especially without my husband, I am nothing. This is all by the mercy of the Most Merciful,” she admits.
When asked to give a message to the people, she bluntly replies: “How can I give any message when ‘the Message’ has come and that is Islam?” She, however, adds: “We sincerely need to understand Islam, we need to serve it with sincerity, we need to stop looking at others with criticism, we have to stop judging others and we need to show compassion, patience and tolerance. We must do everything in our power to unite the Muslims and lead the world to good and peace. It must begin with us.”