Most Fridays now you can find me at a Connecticut state prison giving the Jumuah service; and sometimes I just don’t know what to expect. Speaking to men incarcerated can be very challenging. Their interests and culture are particular to a prison life which the chaplain does not live. However we have to try our best to speak not just for the sake of fulfilling the obligation of Jumuah prayer, but also make it mean something to the brothers we leave inside.
It is not just the content of the sermon, but also how the speaker conveys his words. It is even critical how you handle yourself before and after the sermon; they are constantly “sizing you up”. One Friday I was severely tested. After the sermon I sat to give a short halaqah; something I hoped could be of benefit since the brothers had very limited access to Islamic knowledge. Before we even began though something set off one of the inmates into a verbal assault against me. For almost half an hour I dealt with the brother. I had to walk a thin line demonstrating that I could defend myself verbally without provoking the inmate into a physical response. It was a difficult time and I felt like I was being tested for my “toughness”. Last Friday I returned to the same group to try Jumuah again and something very interesting happened.