After Addiction, a New Direction
Milati Islami Provides Islamic Solutions to Re-Entry for Former Inmates
By Farkhunda Ali
Muslim Link Staff Writer
He gets out of jail. He is looking for a new beginning. He wants to re-enter the regular American society and live like the average citizen. He wants to get married, have children. He wants to own a home. He wants to get full-time employment and be able to sustain it for a long period. He was referred to several drug rehabilitation programs. He tried all of them, but nothing worked.
Mikael Smith has been clean for six years since he joined the first Islamic-based drug rehabilitation and temporary housing program.
Milati Islami Human Services re-entry program helps individuals getting out of jail with transitional housing, food, clothing, drug rehabilitation, job training, and work placement.
“We help ex-offenders find jobs at local grocery stores and construction assignments. If they have drug addiction, we enroll them in recovery programs,” said Imam Bilal Prather, director of Milati.
Smith is one of the many living examples of ex-offenders who are now recovered drug addicts. He said the program was beneficial to him. Through Milati, Smith was exposed to Islam, which helped him end his addiction in six months.
Smith, 46, proudly told the Muslim Link, “I don’t have any feeling for it [heroin, cocaine] anymore. I now own a home in Maryland with my wife and work full time. This was the decree of Allah for me to gain my recovery through the guidance of Islam and the Sunnah,” said Smith, who is now a mentor for Milati.
Released prisoners may have a difficult time doing simple things like balancing a checkbook, or dressing for a job interview.
Prather said Milati assesses new enrollees of the program to determine what types of treatment, therapy, or training is needed in order for these ex-offenders to properly blend in with the normal society.
Milati is geared toward disciplining people through the guidance of the Quran and the Sunnah. Its enrollees are taught to pray five times a day, and make constant supplication. Milati shows these addicts the value preserving one’s life. Individuals with drug addicts are taught to love their creator and be thankful for every blessing.
Some of the trainings teach how to properly cleanse one body externally. During Ramadan, individuals practice fasting and learn the significance of internal purification.
The primary principle instilled in these drug addicts is their purpose of existence. Milati stresses the importance for Muslims to be conscious about acts that are haraam [forbidden] and halaal [permissible].
Currently, an estimated 80 individuals are receiving help through the program. Milati is unable to evaluate an exact time needed for one’s recovery. The organization believes each individual must be served according to individual needs. Some have been at Milati as long as three years while others have recovered in three months.
Prather believes Milati serves as a “bridge” from prison to the world.
Milati staff members network with the housing authority, employment commission, food banks, and government social services department to provide the ex-offenders with the best re-entry training. Their network is made up of doctors, therapists, counselors and psychiatrists.
When an individual leaves a prison facility, he or she is only given a bus ticket and spending money for one day. Many leave prison to return to the same environment which influenced them to offend in the first place.
But as they return, they often face additional barriers to re-entry. They face obstacles such as homelessness and unemployment. Under these circumstances, some vulnerable individuals will turn to committing crimes as a result of deprivation from basic necessities.
Prather said ex-offenders will most likely commit a crime to go back to jail when they are not referred to rehabilitation or a training program.
Most of Milati’s mentors are recovered addicts. Milati’s philosophy is that former drug addicts are best fit to help other addicts.
Prather, who is also an ex-offender and an ex-addict, believes he has been chosen to help others suffering from substance abuse. Prather got involved with the world of crime and drugs in the mid 1980’s. When he came out of prison in 1986, he accepted Islam and transformed his life.
He started working during the day and regularly attended an evening drug rehabilitation facility. Through hands-on-training, support of former drug addicts, and his constant prayer to his lord, he came out of this disease.
Prather received his bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of District of Columbia (UDC) in Washington, DC. In fall 2007, he will be enrolled in the master’s program in Islamic Education at the Muslim Teacher’s College located in Randolph, Virginia.
“I am a recovered addict and an ex-offender. I believe that people deserve a second chance. Those who have been faced with drug addiction are the ones who can give the best advice to the people who are going through similar problems,” said Prather.
Saleemah Akbar, 49, also a former addict and offender, said to the Muslim Link, “For me, the person who never walked in my shoes has no concept of what I went through---how I got addicted, while I was on the addiction, and how I got off the drugs---the most important thing one can do in trying to help a drug addict is to listen and that is what I do when I try to help others get off of their addiction. Akbar is a DC resident who is also a mentor at Milati.
According to Akbar, individuals recovering from drugs are in need of many things. They need moral support, spiritual growth, clothes for job interviews, shoes, educational and work training, food, shelter, and someone to communicate with. Akbar said she always makes herself available. She wants to make sure guidance is given at the right time, exactly when a person needs it.
Milati’s programs are designed to put an end to the root of the problem. According to Prather, when drug issues are ignored, they often lead to other bad social habits and foster long-term problems in families.
Milati plays a significant role in eliminating the root causes of drug use to safeguard the families of drug addicts from experiencing additional trauma such as domestic violence, loneliness, depression, starvation and lack of income.
Milati is a continuation of the Islamic based addiction recovery work that was established in Baltimore, Maryland by Masjid Al-Haqq in the early 90’s. Later on, late Maryam Funches of the Muslim Inter-Community Network brought the social service work to the capitol, where there are many Muslims getting out of prisons.
For over ten years, Milati operated out of an office at Masjid Al-Shura in Southeast, Washington, DC. A fire last October 2006 destroyed the office and interrupted the government funding.
In order for Milati to continue providing its services to the residents of the District, Masjid Muhammad gave one of its properties for rent. Masjid officials said this is their way of expressing their gratitude for Milati’s work.
“Religious expression requires a social context. There is no Islam without community life. The negative influence of the society has caused some Muslims to get involved in the world of crime. Milati is a respected contribution to society in the broader human community. We fully support their work,” said Imam Yusuf Saleem of Masjid Muhammad.
Milati has monthly expenses of $1,500 including rent and utilities. Some DC Area Masajid including Islamic Center of Maryland (ICM) in Gaithersburg, Maryland, Islamic Society of Washington Area (ISWA) in Silver Spring, Maryland, and Masjid Muhammad are supporting the center with food and by contributing house hold items.
Some DC Area businesses including USA Halal Chamber of Commerce, Sunoco Gas Station in Mt. Rainier, Maryland, and Al-Aladdin Auto Electric in Cottage City, Maryland have committed to monthly pledges to meet Milati’s monthly financial obligations.
Faizul Khan, the Imam at ISWA, is also a long-time supporter of Milati. Khan visits several prisons in Maryland to refer new Muslims with drug problems to the program each year.
“Milati gives basic training to help ex-offenders, who have been locked behind bars for several years, to get back into society. It would be wrong not to welcome our Muslim brothers from prison,” said Khan.
Currently, all expenses until the end of July 2007 are paid. Prather is in the process of writing federal grant proposals in order to activate government funding for this project.
According to Rahim Jenkins, director of the District’s re-entry initiative in the Executive Office of the Mayor, “Muslims not only have done a good job of placing drug addicts in the right training, but are doing adequate work with the limited resources.”
Jenkins stated there are approximately 2,500 members released from the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) every year into the District of Columbia (DC). An estimated 80 percent have drug addiction.
Prather said approximately 40-50 percent of this returning population is Muslim in the District.
According to Open Society Institute in New York, New York, there are more than 9,000 drug-induced deaths each year. Further, drug related arrests have significantly contributed to the doubling of the nation’s incarceration rate since 1985.
Drug addiction is one of the most common diseases in the United States. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) estimated that over nine million Americans need drug treatment. Placing dollar figures on the problem, smoking and illegal drugs cost the nation about $338 billion a year, with illicit drug use alone accounting for about $180 billion in crime, productivity loss, health care, incarceration, and drug enforcement.
NIDA is the world’s largest supporter of research on drug abuse and addiction. The center’s scientific research addresses the most fundamental and essential questions about drug abuse.
Milati provides rehabilitation services to everyone regardless of ethnicity or religion. In the past fifteen years, African Americans were the predominate recipients of its services.
Within the last five year, the trend of widespread drug use has forced many immigrant parents of Muslim children to come at the doorsteps of Milati.
According to Muslim leaders in the DC Area, the substance abuse problem is not restricted to one race.
Imam Johari Abdul-Malik, outreach coordinator at Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center in Falls Church, Virginia, said, “I have dealt with many parents on the side who have approached me to help their sons addicted on drugs.”
“Substance abuse is a global problem across all ethnicities. As Muslims, we have to support them to end these habits,” said Khan.
The person who was once an offender and an addict is now working to spread the work of Milati. As a mentor at Milati, Smith takes pride in helping others. He believes he’s been called upon from Allah to help Muslims get off of drug addiction.
Smith is now able to enjoy the fruits of life since he’s been clean. He enjoys working as an independent contractor in the home improvement business. He looks forward to going home to his wife after work.
During his family gatherings, he keeps his cell phone close to him. He said he does not want to miss a call if anyone in the Milati program needs his immediate assistance.
“Allah has provided me with a new life. I have much gratitude for this life,” said Smith.
After all, Smith was given a second chance to re-enter the world. Since his recovery, he is able to experience the simple pleasures of life.
He shows his appreciation for his new life by extending the same service that was provided for him when he came out of prison.