SubhanAllah: Glory be to Allah
Alhamdulilah: All praise is due to Allah
Allahuakbar: Allah is the Greatest
These three declarations –rather, these three absolutes– popped into my head one after the other during my first juvenile detention site visit through the Incarcerated Youth Tutorial Program (IYTP).
The drive up to Camp Fred Miller is a long, slow uphill trudge. You wind through the hills of Malibu, going higher and higher until the neighborhoods below you look like plots of land and grass nestled in the mouth of one giant valley. When you get to Camp Miller and step out of the car, you notice two things.
One: it’s very cold and it’s barely 5:00 pm. Two: the high barb-wire fences; the old, military-style intercom and the uniforms–the guards, the parole officers, the students.
Everyone is in uniform, 1,800 feet in the air, at a chilly 40ºF and miles away from the nearest cul-de-sac, the nearest movie theater, the nearest restaurant, the nearest street light. Miles away from anything fun, or happy, or even normal.
At this point, you try to imagine yourself in their shoes, but no matter how hard you try, you just can’t. At this point, you have merely been introduced to their plight, you’ve only barely become acquainted with their circumstance. Glory be to Allah.
When you first see the students, many of the truths you were once told about the inherent injustices of our government’s socio-economic tendencies and educational policies finally materialize, and any of the skepticism you once held against this fact vanish.
You witness for yourself the failure of the education system, the intricate racism of the institutional society we live in. You see the Black and the Brown, but not the White. The only white you see is the Porsche in the Warden’s parking spot. Then you sit down to begin your session.
You meet your student and start working on his trig, but then you hit a wall. We all believe firmly in our hearts and minds that we should be grateful for all that we have, but what about all that we know? When was the last time we felt grateful for knowing what a ‘ratio’ was, for what a ‘radius’ is? When was the last time we thanked Allah for knowing how to add and subtract, multiply and divide, because some of these kids sure wish they could.
How blessed are we to know these things and to have had the opportunity to learn and grasp these simple concepts? We are very blessed, but many of us are completely oblivious to this blessing of ‘knowing’ because we really truly take it for granted. All praise is due to Allah.
You sit down with your student with the intention of getting through 2 or 3 sections, but by the time you must get up to leave you’ve only gone through 2 or 3 problems. You think to yourself: Is it really that hard for him to solve that question, to even understand what it’s asking?
The answer is yes. It really is that hard for these students to evaluate problems we would find very easy. As you walk out and return to the van, you notice all the inmates are gone. It’s nearly 7:00 pm and they’ve been herded back into their dorms–it’s almost their bedtime.
One more time you try to envision yourself in their shoes, and again, you fail to. You wonder why they’re in the situation they’re in. You ponder why you’re in the situation you’re in. You think about the freedom Allah has given you to control your life (to some extent) and fix your own schedule. You think about the knowledge Allah has gifted you, even if it’s as small and simple as knowing what a diameter is.
And you think about the greatest favor Allah ever gave you: guiding you to Islam, and how that guidance kept you out of incarceration camps as this. Allah is the Greatest.
(Featured image credit: C.M. Gonzales)