During Eid in 2010, the Imam for Faarooq’s prison invited some speakers, including a representative of a certain project, to address the assembled group after the prayer service. The worker gave a 10-minute talk, outlining the services available to ex-prisoners via his organisation. During the celebration meal, he chatted with 21-year-old Faarooq, and invited him to get in touch if he needed some support after release.
Faarooq had started stealing bikes as a kid, and over time it had escalated to cars. He came from “a good family” and attended mosque regularly; he just “got bored”. There wasn’t much for teenagers to do where he lived; he enjoyed “the buzz” of his crimes and the camaraderie of his peers. Faarooq couldn’t reconcile his Islamic faith with his criminal behaviour. He knew that what he’d done was haram (sinful), but also recognised that sometimes, “stuff just happens”. The prison where he served most of his sentence had a good interfaith network and support structure. Faarooq resolved to leave his previous “errors” at the gate.
Faarooq was in in custody for a lengthy period. In prison, Faarooq met Muslims who, like him, had “trouble with the idea of citizenship”. He heard negative views regarding British foreign policy and its impact upon his brothers. In “certain circles” he discussed anti-government and anti-establishment ideas.
When Faarooq was released he was welcomed back to his family home, but his criminal record “didn’t go down too well in the local community”. His father was a regular at the local mosque, and Faarooq went with him, but “the shame culture” meant that it was awkward. Some people gave attention to “worrying about what people would think” rather than to offering support.
Faarooq decided to get his own place – somewhere close to home “but not so close that it was always in your face”. Faarooq was an intelligent young man with qualifications; he set about building his life. He kept his head down and within six months had a home and a job. After spending so long in an institution, he felt isolated and he was having trouble adapting to his day-to-day routine. When he visited his family, he avoided his old mates.
The prison Imam that Faarooq knew from inside gave regular sermons at the mosque Faarooq now attended, so he went to hear him speak. The project worker was also there; they chatted about an activity the project was running that weekend and Faarooq was invited. After their initial meeting, Faarooq and the project worker attended a gym together. Once familiar with other project members, Faarooq joined their football team. He completed a whole season, “made a host of new friends”, and accessed volunteering and training opportunities. Faarooq had referred himself, but he was under probation supervision, so the project worker informed them about how much positive activity he was undertaking.
Four years on, Faarooq continues to volunteer at project events. He says that the project has shown him “that I can be a Muslim and a British Citizen and be proud of both. Despite many people’s views, Islam is not anti-British and the West is not anti-Islam”. His involvement has “helped me assimilate back into society, developed my skills and supported me through this road I am traveling on”. He’s seen as a positive role model for others. Once he has gained the relevant qualification, he’s been invited to help run one of their new initiatives.
Tagged with the theme: Diversity