WAUKEGAN, Ill. — As Muslims around the world embrace the spiritual month of Ramadan, a North-suburban religious leader makes it a point to share grace with those spending the special time of year away from loved ones.
“Mosques across the world are packed in these blessed nights. The community is standing shoulder to shoulder in prayer, breaking their fasts together, there is a lot of joy. But the Muslim community often forgets to ask, ‘How is Ramadan for Muslim Inmates?'” Imām Azfar Uddin said.
Imām Uddin, a religious guide to the Islamic Foundation North community in Libertyville, wants to provide Muslim inmates the community that they are often stripped of when they enter the system.
He visits the Lake County Jail once a month to provide a Friday sermon to Muslim inmates. Once the pandemic hit, Imām Uddin was limited to only speaking to them through a glass wall — a barrier that turned to a bridge.
“When I was first told about our new arrangements, I was upset. But I realized I was able to connect to them on a deeper level. They were able to be more vulnerable,” he said.
During these one-on-one conversations, Imām Uddin shared he was able to listen to their goals in life from being a better father to career paths once their time is up.
“Society looks at them as criminals first but when you take the time to listen to their stories and look at them eye to eye, you will realize this is a person just like me,” he said.
When Imām Uddin visited the inmates in February, he was pleased to see the group establishing goals for the sacred month, from managing depression to establishing plans for when they are released.
Many of them gained wisdom from reading the Quran as well.
“Despite being separated from community, they have always seemed hopeful,” he said.
There were approximately 25 Muslim inmates at the Lake County Jail with limited spiritual support, an issue that is exacerbated during a community-focused month like Ramadan.
Imām Uddin said that instead of fasting the usual 14-15 hours, inmates in the U.S. fast longer, up to 20 hours even, if their eating times were not accommodated for.
Despite the binding circumstances that many faith-practicing inmates have faced, Imām Uddin is moved by their level of gratitude.
“A lot of times I visited the jail with the intention of helping people who have been neglected by society at large yet it is they who have taught me to become a more grateful person.” Imām Uddin said.
Imām Uddin plans to deliver his second Friday sermon in three years on April 7.