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Ramadan in Captivity
By British Political Prisoner Babar Ahmad, MX5383
Woodhill Prison
25th October 2004

Allah (SWT) said in (2:185): “The month of Ramadan is that in which was revealed the Quran, a guidance for people, clear proofs of guidance and a criterion (to judge between right and wrong).”

It was reported by Abu Said al-Khudri, that the Messenger of Allah (SAWS) said: “Whosoever fasts one day in the Path of Allah, a distance of seventy years journey will be placed between him and the Hell Fire.” (Sahih Muslim)

The Pious Predecessors would spend six months of every year preparing for Ramadan and the other six months asking Allah to accept the deeds that they did in Ramadan.

Preparation for the prisoners to receive Ramadan begins a couple of months before Ramadan, with brothers starting voluntary fasts once a week or so. Once Shabaan begins, the frequency of these voluntary fasts increases to twice a week and more approaching the days just before Ramadan

Voluntary fasts are different in prison as you will, depending on the time of the year you fast, always be given your food either significantly before or significantly after your fast has opened. In other words, either your food will be cold by the time you get to eat it (there are no microwaves or cookers here) or you will have to wait about an hour or two to eat. Since you are allowed a watch, but no alarm of any sort, it really is a ‘hit and miss’ what time you have suhoor. Ramadan is different because of the large number of Muslim prisoners fasting and so you will get your food more or less on time and if the gap is too large, some prisons will give you a flask to keep your food warm.

Officers on each wing are usually instructed by the Imam to wake up fasting Muslim prisoners for suhoor, about 30-40 minutes before Fajr. Suhoor here consists of a ‘pack’ that you are provided the evening before and it contains cereal, milk, dates, a sandwich and a fruit. There is no hot suhoor.

After completing suhoor and making wudu quietly (taking care not to wake sleeping non-Muslim prisoners who neighbour you), brothers will normally sit and make dua in the tranquil, pre-dawn time whilst waiting for Fajr. Once Fajr begins, a quiet adhaan is followed by individual prayer in your cell. If you are near other Muslim prisoners, you may hear their recitation during their Fajr prayer. Fajr is followed by morning duas and some prefer to sleep until the morning.

The day passes quickly. If you have a strict programmes of remembrance duas, Quranic recitation/memorisation and extra prayers to do, there is little time for much else once showers, phone calls, washing clothes etc are factored in.

Towards the end of the day, whilst brothers are collecting their food, they might return to their cell to find a chocolate bar, or a fruit, or a snack etc. left by an anonymous donor who wishes to follow in the footsteps of the Prophet’s (SAW) Sunnah by being more generous than the fleeting wind in Ramadan. Since these eatables need to be purchased via a weekly ‘canteen’ order system based on limited spending quotas, the actual value of the chocolate or snack far exceeds its monetary value. It is not like a supermarket where one can buy limitless supplies of groceries. Indeed, these canteen groceries are the ‘currency’ between prisoners which they use to pay each other for favours etc. Therefore, since the reward of a deed is commensurate to the intention behind it, such small acts of generosity have the potential of great reward. The additional benefit of such anonymous generosity is that the recipients will always make dua for the donor whilst opening their fast.

The last half-hour or hour before Maghrib is spent alone in the cell, in remembrance, duas and seeking forgiveness. As the time of Maghrib enters, brothers give the adhan individually. Sometimes, a recorded adhan can be heard echoing around the exercise yard adjacent to the wing. One’s fast opens in peace and tranquillity, proceeded by more duas for the fast and the deeds of the day to be accepted by the One for Whom they were performed.

As the fast opens, there is not the feeling of guilt usually associated with opening a fast on a table full of all types of food. Some brothers said that they would always feel guilty when opening their fast outside prison, at a table spread with all types of food and drink. They would feel guilty when thinking about what poor and needy Muslims or Muslim prisoners would be opening their fast with. However, when one is on the other side of the guilt trip, with nothing but dates and water to open the fast, this feeling disappears, more so when one is a captive for the sake of one’s deen and not due to the committing of any crime.

After praying Maghrib, you will sit to eat your food. Sometimes the food is not enough so you might supplement it by adding cold grated cheese or cold hard boiled egg (both provided sometimes for suhoor) to your plain boiled rice. Alternatively, a bowl of cereal or peanut butter sandwich (if you have previously purchased peanut butter in your weekly ‘canteen’) also does the trick. Though this food might not reach the quality or quantity of what you might eat outside prison, this food has the taste of honour and dignity, which cannot be purchased outside prison, even with gold or silver. You are further grateful when you think of Muslim prisoners around the world, such as in Guantanamo Bay, where the iftar meal is purposely served two hours after Maghrib, or America, where the food of Muslim ‘terror’ suspects is thrown into their cell via a hatch and they need to scoop it up from the floor before eating it. [The above are not rumours but based on actual testimonies.]

Soon it is time for Isha and Taraweeh prayers. This is one of the most enjoyable parts of Ramadan in captivity. Brothers pray Taraweeh individually by reading from their Qurans and there is no limit to the time that you can spend on your prayer. The nearby cells of Muslim prisoners praying Taraweeh resonate with the humming of their Quranic recitation: a recitation which comes from the heart and reaches the heart. The Quran means more in prison than outside and you have feelings whilst reciting the Quran in prison that you do not have outside. Each verse becomes alive in prison and it has a direct relevance to your individual situation. Whilst in Taraweeh, you can stop to think about a particular verse or repeat it over and over again as the Messenger of Allah (SAW) used to do. You will not experience this pleasure with the Quran if your heart is rusty and full of the darkness of sins. The Quran is pure and only a pure heart can derive maximum benefit from it.

Eventually you retire to sleep with the full knowledge that, if Allah accepts your fast for that day, you will be rewarded by moving away from the Hell Fire a distance of seventy years. The hadith mentioned earlier on refers to a fast whilst striving or struggling in the Path of Allah, not as is mistakenly believed, just any fast. Of course, fasting anywhere has huge rewards but this hadith specifically refers to a fast ‘fee sabeelillah’ (in the Path of Allah). The occurrence of good dreams increases in Ramadan whilst in captivity. The only sadness you feel as you nod off is that there is one less day remaining of Ramadan and it will never return.