TORONTO - Seeking to provide religious and spiritual help for inmates in Canadian prisons, Muslim chaplains are discussing the role of the community in helping those who have lost their voices and rehabilitating the offenders.
Pay attention to the factors that lead to incarceration, Imam Michael AbdurRashid Taylor, Executive Director of the Islamic Chaplaincy Services Canada, told OnIslam.net.
It is important for our community to be proactive rather than reactive.
A chaplaincy awareness forum was hosted earlier this week at the Islamic Institute of Toronto in Scarborough.
The discussions focused on means of providing religious and spiritual help to inmates and ways of reintegrating the offenders into society.
The chaplains also discussed their work and how the community can provide support to incarcerated prisoners.
The challenge of all faith communities is to run chaplaincy services given the cuts in government funding, said Imam Abdul Hai Patel, President of the Ontario Multifaith Council and the Canadian Council of Imam's Interfaith Relations Director.
The forum was held to offer support for the growing number of chaplaincy services such as those offered by the Ottawa-based Islam Care Center which has been at the forefront of supporting chaplains in Ontario prisons.
The Center provides two permanent Muslim Chaplains to all the federal penitentiaries in Ontario.
Working in partnership with Correctional Service Canada and the Ontario Multifaith Council, the Center has fostered an environment that allows for prisoners to develop themselves while serving their sentences and then to reintegrate back into their community.
The Islam Care Center (ICC) ensures that inmates receive a prayer mat and Qur'an, in a language of their choice, as well as access to other Islamic literature, and monitor that their religious rights are preserved.
ICC also tries to ensure that inmates who are released can re integrate into society in an easy manner.
The forum saw a moving testimony by Ahmed Habhab, who was sent to prison after being convicted for drug trafficking.
I was involved in ecstasy trafficking, said Habhab.
I thought I would never get caught.
Habhab was arrested and served a prison sentence but turned his life around while on bail.
He talked about being ostracized by the community after being released and he had an advice for Muslims.
Be conscious of the day when you will stand before your Lord.
A special message was delivered by Jim Karygiannis, the long-standing federal Liberal Member of Parliament for the Scarborough-Agincourt riding.
You have to get involved and make a difference, Karygiannis told the audience.
Do something so that at the end of your life, your life would not be wasted.
We've to accept each other as equals, he added. There are four words I want you to remember - respect, accept, celebrate, embrace - [these words] make us part of the human race.
Reverend Harry Nigh, a Mennonite minister and chaplain, asked the audience to provide assistance to inmates once they leave prison.
You hold the key to freedom for people coming out of prison, he said.
Community volunteers can make a difference by making men and women feel that they belong, said Nigh, a founder of the Dismas Fellowship, a bi-monthly meeting that provides assistance to individuals who have recently been released from prison.
Imam Yasin Dwyer, a Muslim Chaplain, emphasized the need for community support of Muslim inmates.You can judge the value of a community on how they deal with the marginalized, destitute, needy and poor.