Sunday, July 9, 2017

Letter from a prisoner - Stripping down the facts

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I understand that social media is abuzz and tempers are flaring due to the events that happened at Sun City (Johannesburg Correctional Center B) on youth day coming to light. Naturally, the overwhelming response is one of disgust but how do prisoners themselves view this incident? 

A warden showed me the pictures last week and even as an inmate myself, I was shocked. I did not think that something so public and brazen would happen in that way. Fellow inmates reacted in a similar way. 

Like the rest of the country, prisons in the country are absolutely corrupt from top to bottom. I see corruption happening before my eyes almost every single day. Generally what happens in prison, stays in prison. The public gets exposed to only but a handful of isolated incidents. Preferential treatment of Oscar Pistorius and the pre-release party of the Waterkloof 4 are 2 such incidents which also garnered much attention for the wrong reasons. 

Almost every prison has a Sports, Recreation, Arts and Culture committee (SRAC). Committees consist of a chairman, a warden, and inmates. The primary objective of such committees is to encourage responsible behavior through activities initiated within the prisons. As with any activity, it costs money even in prison. SRAC committees get a yearly budget which does come from your tax money but most of the money is raised through the prison itself or is raised through sponsorship. Every prison has a kiosk which sells snacks at visits and a shop selling basic groceries within the prison, directly to inmates through their own prison accounts. A portion of the profit is channeled back to inmates through SRAC activities. Soccer tournaments, gym equipment, pool tables, board games and televisions are some of the regular activities paid for by SRAC committees. 

Events such as the now infamous Youth Day celebration are also arranged through SRAC. For these functions, inmates arrange sponsors to donate whatever may be required and also approach celebrities to either entertain or give motivational talks. Events take months of planning and even then, most end up being a disaster. Before any event can go ahead, approval must be obtained from various offices, including security and the head of prison. For this particular event, all necessary permission was obtained. The dancers were approved. 

In the world we live in today, music and dance is an integral part of the lives of youth. Nobody really complains at the lewd lyrics or provocative music videos that even school children cannot get enough of. I am certain that many who are irate at the events making headlines have children or they themselves enjoy music or music videos which are absolutely immoral. To me, some music videos are nothing but soft core pornography. 

If the world is enjoying this type of entertainment then why is it such an issue for prisoners to enjoy it? Why not object to prisoners playing soccer, watching television or reading magazines in which so much more is seen? Why not become mad that prisoners in this country have cellular phones? Why not get irate that some prisoners are able to have sex even in prison? In many places in the world, prisoners are allowed conjugal visits, is it such a big issue then to have dancers in a prison? 

As a prisoner myself, I know all to well about escapism. Every prisoner finds his own way of escaping his reality. Some get lost in a book, studies, religion, gym, drugs and others in music and dance. Should all these avenues be blocked? 

At the Center I find myself at, there are also a few events a year. At almost every event, time is afforded for traditional Zulu dancing. The women who participate are not clothed any more than those in the pictures circulating social media. They wear a tiny skirt that shows their panties when they dance and their bosoms are covered by what is nothing more than a bra. Such events are attended by senior management and famous members of the public. I have never heard of any complaint regarding the dress of women during such dances. So why the double standards? Why is it acceptable in the form of traditional dance but not in the form of another genre? 

Yes, prison is meant to be punishment. And trust me, it is punishment. Prison houses the absolute worst of society, but one day, the same men in here will be standing next to you in a queue, be serving you, be your client or even be related to you. That is the reality of the justice system. Everyone, no matter how grave the crime. is entitled to freedom at some stage or other. By depriving a man of everything, are we going to make them better or worse individuals who will enter society? 

Personally, I am upset at the events that occurred. I am not surprised by provocative dancing as that is a part of contemporary society. I am upset that whilst some inmates were getting a show, I am having to fight the same authorities to enable me to continue with my university studies. I am upset that while some can get it right to have exotic dancers, I am unable to have basic religious rights, as allowed by policy. I am upset that some can get entertainment but others who do not belong in prison do not have a voice. I am upset that some die in prison because they do not get the attention that strippers get.

In a country loosing the battle against crime, strippers in prison may be taking things too far and I doubt that anything remotely like it will occur again. This incident should not be what scares the public, rather it should sensitize them to the deeper, underlying issues with the system as a whole. It is easy to get angry and even demoralized by the system, and the country as a whole; but the system and the country will only change if we stop being reactive but rather be proactive. 

Monday, July 3, 2017

Please forgive me

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So this is something I've always wanted to write about but just didn't get down to 
doing it. Why is it that when a big night or an auspicious time of the year approaches
that people find it necessary to bombard your phone with forgive me messages.
Nowadays a new trend has also emerged with regards to people going for hajj and
umra. One impersonal broadcast message is sent to all contacts asking for 
forgiveness. Whilst residing in the Kingdom I use to love spending time with "Baba"
in the desert riding camels. This morning being a Friday I thought about him. After 
Friday prayers, Baba would pick me up and off we went into the desert where we met
up with other members of his family.May Allah grant him jannah. He was super wealthy
due to the large herd of camels that he owned, yet he worked as a driver in the hospital
to learn English from the expat staff. The Bedouins I met were simple and kind. They 
resided in their own simplistic world. Baba use to always say, "Lead your life in such a
way that there is no need for you to ask anyone for forgiveness.
But if you have wronged someone then before the sun goes down at Maghrib Salaah
you should go up to the person you wronged and ask for forgiveness with the intention
of never wronging the person again. In so doing you will never have any accountability
in the presence of your Lord when it comes to matters pertaining to people."
In Arab culture there is etiquette when it comes to seeking forgiveness. You 
approach the person and talk about the problem face to face. Once the person
is forgiven and the apology accepted, the matter is done and over.
It should never be brought up again.These whatsapp messages that are shared
over and over again is absolutely stupid and idiotic.
Today, you asking for forgiveness because its a big night or a big day
but the rest of the year you continue to oppress and behave in a cowardly
fashion. What utter rubbish. Please do me a favour, save your data and remove me
from your forgiveness list!

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Letter from a prisoner - I saw the sunset

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At some point or other, each one of us has marveled at the majestic sight of the sun setting. Like the majority of things in our lives, it is one of the daily occurrences that we simply take for granted. 

The last time I saw a sunset was over 7 years ago. The last one that I remember was the weekend before I came to prison. I watched the sun set over the Kruger National Park, an incredible image that is etched in my mind. I was blessed to witness sunsets in spectacular locations all over the world. In Ramadhaan, I cannot help but reminisce over the sunsets of Madinah, a seemingly otherworldly experience. Those images though have recently been replaced by the view of the sunset that I have been seeing for the last few evenings, albeit from the confines of the prison yard. 

The daily prison schedule means that I am locked up in my cell, well before sunset. If I want to see the night sky, I have to contort my body to catch a postcard sized glimpse of the night sky through the flap on my 5 centimeter thick steel door. For the past few weeks, I have been allowed to be out of my cell during sunset. After years of trying, Allah finally softened the hearts of prison officials and they now allow me to go to the kitchen 30 minutes before iftaar to warm food for those fasting. This has made a huge difference to us. It means that we are able to break our fast, in our terribly cold cells, with a hot meal, everyday. Previously, we resorted to using kettles and clothing irons to warm food, but now every fasting person is given a hot plate of food shortly before iftaar, in a dignified manner.

I am often asked what we as prisoners have for iftaar and sehri. Unfortunately, we all get caught up in being more specific about what we eat in Ramadhaan than out of it. It is only when you don't have the choice of what your heart desires, that one truly realizes what is important during this sacred month. That said, the barakah of the month transcends the prison walls as Allah blesses us every year with more than we usually have during the year. 

On the first evening that I delivered food for iftaar, I found myself in one of the prison courtyards and my gaze shifted towards the sky. For those few moments with my eyes fixated on the sky, I was absolutely mesmerized by the beauty that I saw. The sky was a pallet of pastel shades. Warm hues of orange lit the horizon whilst the clouds seemed to be edged in every shade of violet. In this desolate, cold, grey concrete building that is my temporary abode; it was incredibly moving to witness the splendor of my Lords work. 

Every evening since then, I have had the opportunity to witness the sunset from various vantage points within the prison. I have even had the chance to take a moment to break my fast whilst being enthralled by the spectacle above. 

For me, sunset represented another day that passed. Another day that I endured this trial that my Lord has given me. And another day closer to being free. Seeing the sunset has changed that mindset. As humans we get so caught up in the endeavors of life that we forget to take a pause and appreciate the beauty that is all around us and in everything around us. 

The ultimate goal of Ramadhaan is to attain taqwa. Our illustrious ulema enumerate what taqwa actually is and how to attain it. One such definition is that it is the consciousness of Allah. In watching a sunset, it is only natural to realize that there is a Lord who through His Grandeur allows us to witness one of the infinite bounties that He has bestowed upon us. I believe that if we are to see the beauty in everything and everyone around us, we would truly be seeing the beauty of our Creator; and thus acquiring taqwa effortlessly. 

Throughout my life different experiences and different people have affected the views I have on happiness, love and life. Recently, a friend was the catalyst to life changing decisions and becoming an uncle gave me such unexpected passion for life; but it was a sunset that brought me closer to the Lord of the sunset. To many, and even to myself at my lows, I have nothing and am in a terrible position. However, despite it all; I chose to see the beauty in everything and everyone, and that, that means that whilst my body is imprisoned my mind and soul are truly free. Then which of the favors of your Lord will you deny? 

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Eidukum Mubarak - كل عام وأنتم بخير

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It is with mixed emotions that we approach the end of Ramadhaan. I am extremely thankful and grateful to Allah Ta’ala for allowing us to benefit from the enormous spiritual benefits of Ramadhaan, the fasting, taraweeh salaah, charity, recitation of Qur’aan etc. At the same time I am sad that this Mubarak (auspicious) month has come to an end. For a true believer everyday of his or her life should be spent like how we generally spend our precious time in Ramadhaan, full of virtuous acts.

Let us formulate strategies and ways to uphold this spirit and actions.Remember true and eternal happiness, bliss and joy can only be achieved by leading our lives according to the Commandments of Allah Ta’ala and following the beautiful and noble lifestyle (sunnah) of His Beloved Messenger Muhammad (salallaho alaihe wassallam).

We should also remember that whilst we celebrate the joyous day of Eid-ul-Fitr there are millions of our brothers and sisters who are being oppressed and persecuted unjustly.Let us not forget about them.Take some time out to remember the Muslims in Burma, Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Pakistan, Syria and Palestine. The ummah is in distress and hence if possible let us contribute in whatever way possible whether it be financially or by way of your sincere duas Let us enjoy this day of Eid in a manner pleasing to our Creator and Sustainer Allah Ta’ala.

Eid Mubarak to you and your family and May Allah Ta’ala bless and grant you barakah (blessings) in this world and the akhirah(hereafter) ...May Allah accept your fasting and duas. Make dua for those who have passed on....May ALLAH grant relief to those in need, May Allah ease the plight of so many that are downtrodden,& oppressed ...May Allah grant Shi'fa (cure) to those that are ill and may ALLAH grant us a death with Emaan (faith) and true success in both this world and the hereafter…Ameen

Forwarded to me by my uncle M.I.Mehtar

Monday, June 19, 2017

Rey's spicy mince curry

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1 Chop up 1 onion

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Add to your pot
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2. Add 1 teaspoon jeera

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3. Add 5 tablespoons oil

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4. Add 1 whole green chilli

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5. Wash a half a kilo mince and cut up
2 potatoes

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6. Braise the onions on low heat until
medium brown
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         7. Add in the washed mince to the
 braised onions

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8. Add 1 full teaspoon ginger garlic 

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9. Add 2 teaspoons turmeric powder

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10. Add 2 teaspoons garam masala

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11. Add 1 cinnamon stick
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12. Add 2 teaspoons garam masala

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13. Add 4 teaspoons fresh/dry red 

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14. Pour a little water to braise the
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15. Chop up 2 medium tomatoes.
Blend well
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16. Add a handful of tuvar to the mince (optional)

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17. Add the potatoes

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18. Add the tomatoes blended

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19. Now add water and cook on medium
heat until potatoes are soft
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20. Voila! Bon appetit. Can be 
served with roti or as a side dish
with kari kitchri