Healing Radicalization in Prisons: AR Visits UK Therapeutic Prison

Dear Friends,

Last year when we came to England Ghassan and I spoke at a Quaker meeting. One of the attending Quaker ministers there, Yvonne Dixon was so moved by our talk that this year she arranged for David, Ghassan and I to speak at Grendon Prison where she is a chaplain.

Grendon Prison is the United Kingdom‘s only therapeutic prison community for the treatment of serious sex offenders and violent criminals.

Below are some excerpts from an article about typical inmates at Grendon Prison that I read to prepare myself for my experience there. The article is about “Adam” and “Eddie (not their real names).”

“Hello, I’m Adam. I’m serving life for murder. I killed my

daughter.” (His daughter was about to turn four when he killed her).

I wasn’t expecting that, I was prepared for “I killed somebody”, or “I killed another gang member”, or “I killed my best friend because he was sleeping with my wife”, even. But this was something different. For the next few minutes I couldn’t think about anything else. His words echoed round my head as he carried on talking, telling me how much time he’d already served (eight years) and how much time he still had to serve (seven years).

“But the thing is”, he said, “I’m having to come to terms with what I’ve done because I have to talk about it every day with the guys here. I have to talk about my feelings and re-live the events leading up to the moment it happened.

“It’s what I signed up for. I knew the only way I was going to get through this was to come to Grendon (prison) and try and turn my life around by facing my demons.”

So what is next for Adam? A man who killed his own child in revenge for his wife’s infidelity?

“I’m going to be taking part in psycho-drama soon”, he tells me, “which is where we act out the crime with the other inmates. I’ll have to go over the night I killed my daughter in detail, not only from my perspective but from my wife’s and my daughter’s.”

He looks absolutely terrified at the prospect.

At the end of his trial the judge told Adam: “You will have to live with what you have done for the rest of your life.”

But by coming to Grendon it’s even harder than that. He has to re-live it every day.

“Eddie”, a former gang member from Birmingham, is in for murder.

“All I had ever known was how to be part of a gang”, he said. “It was normal for me to have a gun in my hand. It was normal to be violent. When I got sent to prison my mates were already there.

“Coming here is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done.  (Here) You’re asked to talk about your feelings – something you never do in a gang. You’ve got to accept people who are different, and you have to control your anger. If you’re violent you’re out. It’s the complete opposite of being in a gang.”

This is the story that most of the inmates tell. The decision to come to Grendon is not an easy one.

To us on the outside it seems like a no-brainer: a high security jail surrounded by violent and desperate men or a prison where violence isn’t tolerated, you can wear your own clothes, and take part in therapy? But we haven’t lived the lives they have.  *

 

As we drive through the loops of barbed wire to enter the prison grounds, Yvonne explains that the Grendon Prison grounds also house the Spring Hill Prison, which was used during the Second World War as a radio transmission centre for Special Operations Executive .  I am stunned to realize that my spiritual teacher’s sister Noor Inayat Khan, who was trained as a radio operator sent her radio transmissions to these very grounds throughout the war. After the war, theses facilities were converted to become the UK’s first open prison. And in recent years the gymnasium here was dedicated to, and named after Noor Inayat Kahn.

I feel her hand reaching through time and space to guide this experience as we sign in and enter a chamber where we, and our bags are searched. They confiscate my jump drives and my pack of chewing gum.

“Some one could use it to make an impression of a key,” they explain.

We are escorted through hallways hung with excellent and very detailed artwork done by the prisoners with lots of time.

We enter a large and very cold gymnasium to set up for our presentation. We are told that our program is “very popular” and over 65 inmates have signed up to come. More chairs and benches are brought in. The prison therapists, clergy and staff also want to see what we are presenting.

We are introduced to the prison’s Imam and other clergy members.

As people file in and take their places, I can’t keep myself from trying to identify who is the staff and who are the inmates. Many people in the audience wear religious symbols, necklaces or beards that identify their religious affiliations.

David and Ghassan each speak eloquently about the work of the AR. When Ghassan speaks in Arabic and references the Quran and other Islamic texts, the Imam and various audience members light up and nod.  When David speaks from the heart people around the room respond with profound recognition and applause.

I show the power point, and explain our activities, and afterwards there is a question and answer session. The questions are deep and heartfelt, and are followed by refreshments and an opportunity for the audience to speak with us individually.

A young Muslim inmate filled with light introduces him self.  He tells us our work of bringing people from insular religious communities to meet with others was so important. He describes how growing up in an insular Muslim community in London had led to his radicalization and ultimately to this destiny.

We were told that in the after math of nine eleven he had murdered someone in retaliation for the media’s portrayal of Muslims, and he has been in prison since that time. I try to feel back through the years to nine eleven and consider what I had experienced in my own life since then and I try to imagine what he had experienced….

He said that in about 5 years perhaps he would released and it was his dream to be able to work with an organization like ours to promote interfaith harmony.

Another man approaching middle age with a long beard introduced himself as having an English, Jewish Mother, and a Muslim, Pakistani father. He shared had been in prison since the age of 17. He didn’t expect to be out soon.  He wondered if he could work for the Abrahamic Reunion from within the prison. He said he had good computer skills and this work was exactly what he had been looking to do. He wondered if there was a way he could be of use to us, and to our work.

Others who had been involved in religiously motivated hate crimes came forward to express their support and admiration and share how important they felt our work was.

Chaplains came forward to ask how they and the inmates could learn to start an AR inspired interfaith study program.

As we rode the train home each of us described how profoundly and deeply moved we were by our experience there. We shared that it could potentially be a life altering experience for each of us personally and perhaps for the Abrahamic Reunion in general.  We joked about presenting to a “captive audience” but our joking was an attempt to alleviate the profound sense of responsibility that each of us was experiencing as we continued to imagine how the Abrahamic Reunion could serve this community, and as we recognized the potentially far-reaching effects that work could have.

When I arrived home and opened my computer I had inquiries waiting from the directors and chaplains at the prison explaining that ‘radicalization’ in prisons is a very important topic that needs to be addressed and wondering how we could work together in the future.

We are absorbing this.

 

Really thank you.

Loving Regards

  Anna Less
International Executive Director

* To Read the full Channel 4 Article Click Here:https://www.channel4.com/news/prison-jail-offenders-therapy-grendon-jail-video 
 


Praying together In Jerusalem April 2017

Thursday night, March 30th, leaving directly from the Praying Together in Jerusalem event, I brought our Abrahamic Reunion delegation of Palestinians from Nablus, Jericho and Bethlehem to join in a weekly public dialogue session, called “The Meeting Place” in Zion Square in central Jerusalem. This initiative of the Yerushalmi Movement and the ‘Living Together Task Force’ creates a “brave space” for intersectoral dialogue on broader issues affecting Israeli society, creating a model to be used in other public spaces in Jerusalem and across the country. City Councilman Rabbi Aaron Leibowitz welcomed our delegation, and then invited us to join circles facilitated in Hebrew, English, and Arabic. Joining were Jews, Christians, Muslims, right-wing, left-wing, religious, secular, Israeli and Palestinian, men and women.


Spring Fundraiser: 14th Annual Multi-Faith Ramadan Iftar Dinner in the Holy Land

Donate to support the Abrahamic Reunion’s 14th Annual Multi-faith Ramadan Iftar Dinner in the Holy Land

 

 

The Abrahamic Reunion’s 14th Annual Multi-faith Ramadan Iftar Dinner

“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment
before starting to improve the world.”
― Anne Frank, Anne Frank’s Tales from the Secret Annex
Dear Friends of Peace,

As a supporter of the Abrahamic Reunion, you already see how incredibly important it is to uphold the torch of optimism and hope amidst the prevailing darkness that insist peace is possible.

Did you know that for the last 14 years the Abrahamic Reunion has hosted a large Interfaith Ramadan Dinner each year? In this event, Christians, Jews, and Druze help our Muslim brothers and sisters to break their day of fasting with a joyous meal and ceremony.

2013 Iftar Celebration in Nazareth

 

 

 

 

 

(Left: 2007 Iftar in Yafia, Right: 2015 Iftar at Tantur)

Religion as a Force For Building Peace

Modeling the healing that is hoped for in the Holy Land is powerfully important work of the AR Peacemakers. By bringing religious people and leaders together to honor Ramadan and the Muslim faith, religion becomes a force for fellowship, harmony and ultimately, peace in the Holy Land. Our unity serves as an example of hope for the world.

Holding Hope and Unity Amidst Trauma and Separation

Separation and segregation born of decades of trauma keeps Muslim, Jewish, Druze, and Christian Palestinians and Israelis from interacting with each other deeply and safely. This is a cycle that creates further separation, distrust, division, hatred, blame, violence, terrorism, and oppression – the AR peacemakers steps in to bridge the divide between the various peoples of Israel/Palestine – all four major religions, major ethnicities, and citizenries.

“In safe, joyous gatherings, we have witnessed those have been hardened into a separatist view of life in Israel be overwhelmed by the love and beauty exhibited in this evening of coming together.”

 

Building Trust and Peace through Encounter

We who live in our highly-integrated Western culture can’t fully realize how rare and valuable meetings are that foster cultural and religious integration. In safe, joyous gatherings, we have witnessed those have been hardened into a separatist view of life in Israel be overwhelmed by the love and beauty exhibited in this evening of coming together. In response, they have changed long-held policies that have institutionalized separation.

(2014 and 2013 Ramadan Iftar celebrations in Nazareth)

Ramadan Karim!

A traditional greeting during Ramadan in Arabic is “Ramadan Karim!” meaning, “Generous and bountiful Ramadan!There is a long tradition of generosity and support during the time of Ramadan, especially for those in any kind of need, which is why we offer the dinner to all who participate across religions, political parties, and all across Israel and Palestine.

This year it seems so fitting that the dinner will be held just outside Nazareth, where the Prince of Peace grew up, hosted by our next Holy Land Muslim Co-Director Sheikh Khalid Abu Ras and attended by 200 people including cultural, political, and religious luminaries, and national and international media representatives.

The budget for this event including staff and lead-up is $15,000 – and we hope that you are able to contribute generously to further the cause of peace.

Besides providing the food (kosher and halal for all) and the venue, we also provide transportation for our Palestinian guests and for those traveling a great distance – we will rent a bus. We obtain permits for Palestinians to join the program, and the event requires people working for 6 weeks in advance to plan and execute.

A donation of $25 puts food on the table for one person, $75 or 75€ will fully support one of the 200 guests for this dinner and all that the AR puts into holding this event – $750 will support a table 10.

Please donate generously, and all of us in the AR and friends of the AR deeply appreciate your efforts.

It is helpful if you would spread the word to friends and family about our work.

In Peace,

David Less
Board Chairman of The Abrahamic Reunion

How To Donate

  • Online in America: Click Here
  • Germany / EU: Click Here
  • US Checks can be made to “The Abrahamic Reunion” and mailed to 2372 Arden Drive, Sarasota, FL 34232
  • UK / England:  Bank Transfer to Lloyds Bank A/c No: 47911460, Sort Code 30-98-97, Name: Abrahamic Reunion (England). Checks made out to Abrahamic Reunion can be posted to 3 Drummond Drive, Stanmore, Middx., HA7 3PF

A few more from the Archives…




Thank you for your support
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2017 Passover & Easter Peace Messages from the Peacemakers

The Abrahamic Reunion Peacemakers would like to offer messages of peace during Passover and Easter Season 2017 – from Rabbi Yakov Nagen, Father Nael Aburahmoun, and Sheikh Khalid Abu Ras.

Passover message from Rabbi Nagen

The Passover Hagada – The wise son returns to the questions

by Rabbi Yakov Nagen, AR Board Co-Chairman

“The Torah speaks of four children: One is wise, one is wicked, one is simple and one does not know how to ask.”                The Haggada

 The four children represent four different types of personalities. Because life is dynamic, each person, during the course of his or her lifetime, often  incorporates aspects of all four of these personalities. The transformation between the different identities may be confusing and frustrating, especially when it is from a “positive” personality, to one which is considered  “negative”. This is why it is important to understand that each of the four personalities mentioned in the Hagada reflect four stages of spiritual searching. Sometimes, a person has to pass through each of them. This idea may help guide us through life’s journey.

“He who does not know how to ask…”

Asking questions is the basis for growth. One who asks questions gets a chance to see the world from a new point of view, and is willing to learn and change. This motivates him to search and discover. Without the ability to ask, a person remains stagnant in the same place and at the same level. He is aware only of the familiar, and the rest of the world remains a sealed book. The Mishna opens the discussion about the mitzvah of telling the story of the redemption during the seder by describing “… and here the son asks his father, and if the son has insufficient understanding, his father instructs him…” (Pesachim 10, 4) What does the father teach his son? We would think that he tells him the story of the exodus from Egypt. Instead the mishna continues with a list of questions: “Wherefore is this night different from all other nights…?” In other words, the father’s job is to teach his son how to ask!1

“He who is simple…”

The simple one knows how to ask. However, because of his great simplicity, he is ready to accept simple answers. These simple answers are at times caused by the limited knowledge of the responder, and often, by that of the asker “…and according to the knowledge of the child, the father instructs him…” (Ibid) Either way, the answers that the simple son gets are all banal, and don’t deal with the depth and complexity of the questions. Nonetheless, this is why he lives in a harmonious world where everything is orderly and understood. At first glance, there is charm and grace in this naïve life, but it is only an illusion. The world and the reality is complex, and one day the child will grow up and realize that not everything is so simple.

He who is wicked…”

The possibility that questions can be more convincing than the answers can cause a crisis. The wicked son feels cheated. He is upset at all those who have been feeding him lies, and despises those who still believe the answers, which seem to him shallow and unsatisfactory — if not fake. He loses trust in the society wherein he was raised, isolates himself, and refuses to accept anything from those who disappointed him. When he was more naïve, he believed everything, and now he does not believe in anything. That is the tragic process of the wicked son in the Hagada. He is no longer interested in the search, and his questions are for defiant purposes only. “The Wicked Son, what does he say? ‘What is this service to you ?’ To you, but not to him. Since he has excluded himself from the community, he has denied himself the essentials of our faith.” (The Hagada)The denial of faith begins by stepping out of the question and answer dialogue, which is so essential for the continuation of Jewish life.

“He who is wise…”

The difference between the three previous sons and the wise son is that none of the above tries to view the world through spectacles of questioning and searching. The first son does not know how to ask, the second son thinks that all of his questions have been answered, and the third son thinks that his questions have no answer — so there is no point in asking and searching. As opposed to them, the wise son returns to the questions. He is willing to return and re-ask the questions.

Where did this ability to start over come from? Just like the wicked son, the wise son understands the complexity of reality, but this comprehension leads him to opposite conclusions. The world is complex and the expectation for perfect answers has never been anything but an illusion. The answers are limited because of the nature of the world, so the responders cannot be blamed and looked down upon. The wise son understands that just because adults, including his parents, do not know everything — does not mean that they do not know anything. In fact, there is much to learn from the people that he used to degrade. As Mark Twain put it, “When I was fifteen, I discovered that my dad was dumb. When I was twenty, I was amazed by how much the ‘old man’ learned in the last five years.”

The world is complicated and full of contradictions, and for this reason, even if the person feels that not everything he used to believe in is true, it doesn’t mean it is a lie. The easiest way out is to dump everything. It is much harder to look for the little bits of light and truth that are hidden in everything and everyone, which make it all meaningful. 

The wise son of the Hagada did not get his name from his sharp answers, but because of the questions he asks. He is the only one out of the four sons who knows that he does not know. He approaches the world with modesty. A world that is so beautiful because of all the secrets it conceals. The wise son hears God cry “Seek  for me always,” and knows that the search is the meaning of life. He returns to the naiveté that is mentioned in the Hassidic saying, “Innocence is greater than wisdom, but how wise does a person have to be, to become innocent.” 

Easter & Passover Blessings from Fr Nael Abu Rahmoun

Salaam Shalom Peace and greetings to everyone from Nazareth,

Passover is a call to remember the crossing of the people of God from slavery to freedom.

Easter is a call to remember the passing of Jesus Christ from death to life.

So we are then reminded that Life, Joy, liberty, Reconciliation, Justice and Peace will have the last word.

In these days we continually hear bad news of violence and wars and racism against humanity, but celebrating these feasts we will renew our faith in God and hope to a better life and future.

It is time for religions and spiritual leaders to contribute more than ever in peace building… Easter Blessings to you

Christ is risen  He is risen indeed… Alleluia

المسيح قام   حقا قام  هللويا

Happy Passover Feast  חג פסח שמח

 

Fr. Nael Abu Rahmoun

Anglican Priest

Christ Church Nazareth

 

Passover Blessings from Sheikh Khalid Abu Ras

Al-Salamu Alaykum , Shalom

Wishing you joy and many blessings Passover and throughout the year.

Passover is a Jewish festival celebrated in commemoration of the release of the Hebrews from the brutal slavery of the ancient Egyptians.

ALLAH God bless you and our world, and give us to recognize this

Experience.

you always be blessed with peace and happiness.

Wishing you and our world a Happy Passover.

Chag Sameach.

Love you

Khalid

 

Easter & Passover Blessings from Shahabuddin David Less

Each of the religions of Beni Israel have developed out of the breast of the prophet Abraham. His message was clearly to appreciate the wisdom and love of the one G*d, the G*d of and in all peoples, and to worship G*d by loving the creation of that infinite being. As we love each other and as we love nature we are worshiping the truth and wisdom of Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar.

The teachings of all the prophets can be found in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. There are different traditions and different ways of expressing the connection with G*d, but the underlying theme of each religion is to love G*d and appreciate that G*d is the creator of all human beings. During the time of Easter and Passover and soon Ramadan, we have an opportunity to remember that although our ways of worshiping might differ we all worship and love the same perfect G*d and G*d’s creation – the human being.