Across the Muslim World, governments are experimenting with a new exercise in offender management. A groundbreaking program that seeks to utilise the great transformative power of the Qur’aan to reform convicts and regulate prisoner populations.
From the UAE, to Palestine, Saudi Arabia and even Iran, the memorisation of the Qur’aan or some parts of it, is being set as a benchmark for the commuting of prisoner sentences or even securing outright freedom. For the detainees, it is an opportunity to redeem their public image and reap the high status that has been promised for the Haafidh, both in this world and the Hereafter.
Sayyidina Abu Hurayrah (RA) reported the Messenger of Allah (SAW) as having said,
“On the Day of Judgment, the man who has memorized the Quran will come to where the Qur’an will say, ‘O Lord! Adorn him.’ Therefore, he will be adorned with the crown of Honor. Then the Qur’an will say, ‘O Lord! Increase hint (in adornment).’ Therefore, he will be clothed with the dress of Dignity. Again, the Qur’an will say, ‘O Lord! Be pleased with him Therefore, Allah will he pleased with him and it will be said to him, ‘Read (the Quran) and occupy higher degrees} Each ( Qur’anic ) verse, moreover will add a reward for him. “[At Tirmidhi]
On the Day of Judgment, this honour is not just restricted to the people of the Qur’aan, but the blessings will be extended to their parents as well. In this connection, Buraydah RA reported that the Messenger of Allah (RA) said,
“Whoever reads the Qur’an and learns and acts according to it, will he adorned on the Day of Judgment with a crown of Light whose gleam is like that of the sun, and his parents will he dressed in two garments that the world can never he equal to. Thereupon, they will question, ‘For what reason are we dressed in these garments?’ It will be said, ‘This is by virtue of your son who memorized the Qur’an. “[Haakim]
Below follows details of how the Hifdh offender program is being implemented in various countries across the Middle East:
United Arab Emirates(UAE):
According to a decree issued by the UAE Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, any prisoner languishing in a UAE prison is eligible to participate in the program which has been organized by the Dubai International Holy Qur’aan Award.
The number of Surahs of the Holy Quran completely memorized translates into a number of years cut off from the sentence. An inmate, for example, who memorizes fifteen parts of the Holy Qur’aan will get ten years cut off his sentence regardless of the severity of his crime. The more an inmate learns, the greater opportunity he has to get out of jail early. However, murders and inmates on death row are not eligible to participate in the program.
The gesture is anchored in the Hadith of the Prophet Mohammed (SAW) which states that all humans are capable of sin, but the best are those who repent.
The decree was issued bearing in mind the predicament faced by many families of prisoners. It also reflects the philosophy that, that which cannot be healed by the medicines of life can be healed by the medicines of the Holy Qur’aan.
Since its launch in 2002, the program has helped commute the jail terms of hundreds of Dubai inmates.
“As many as 1 634 men and women prisoners have benefited from the Inmate Quran Programme over the last 11 years; they have their imprisonment reduced and are more disciplined now,” Ibrahim Bu Melha, adviser to the Ruler of Dubai told the Khaleej Times in 2013. He added that prize money of up to 10 000 Dirhams and appreciation certificates have also been gifted to each of the three inmates who have managed to completely memorise the Holy Qur’aan.
Statistics show that in total some 11 553 inmates – 1 635 women and 9 918 men – have taken part in the Qur’aan recital programme since its launch in 2002.
“The programme, held under the patronage of His Highness Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, has turned the prison into a real educational and correctional institution for the benefit of the whole society.”
Lt-Col Dr Adel Al Suwaidi, Director of the Inmate Education and Training Department, said the programme started, in its first session with 233 inmates – 221 men and 12 women. “Only 17 of those were pardoned while the others failed to score the 70 per cent level of memorisation required.”
“The jail terms commuted for successful inmate memorisers includes a cut of 20 years for memorising the Holy Quran in full (30 parts), 15 years against 20 Juz, 10 years against 15 Juz, 5 years against 10 Juz, one year against 5 Juz, and six months against 3 Juz.”
Inmates go through tests every three months, following which a release or jail term cut is decided. “However, some prisoners may not be pardoned until they pay pending debts or settle down the litigation with the pursuers,” he said.
Detainees benefiting from the program’s provisions are usually speechless with joy on the day’s stipulated for awarding them and commuting their sentences.
A.M., a 26-year-old UAE national inmate sentenced for life, is among the inmates who were released due to the program.
“I spent four-and-a-half years in jail and memorised the entire Quran. My goal after getting out is to help my family and get married,” he said.
“How unfortunate is the person who forsakes the words of his Creator. If I understood the true values and teachings of the Holy Quran, I would not be where I am today,” said Mohammed Rafiq, 48, a Pakistani, who was sentenced to 10 years in jail and fined 100 000 dirhams.
Hamood Al Zaman Afzal Ahmed, 27, who received life imprisonment for drug-related charges, said that the programme helped dispel the inmates’ normal feelings of passive antagonism and dread, and enables them to come into contact and discuss what is on their minds with the prison staff.
One of the most uplifting stories to come out of the program is that of a Cameroonian woman jailed on drugs charges in the country. She converted to Islam, learnt Arabic, memorised the whole Quran and was released after being rewarded 10 000 Dirhams.
Under the program, Dubai prisons have become enlivened by the Qur’aan with memorisation sessions of upto three hours being held daily from Saturday to Wednesday under the supervision of Ulama.
Reports indicate the Ministry of Interior in this country has previously rewarded dozens of prisoners by releasing them from jail for learning the Holy Qur’aan by heart.
As part of a gradual Islamisation programme, Hamas had initiated in the Palestinian territory it had governed, inmates in the Gaza Strip’s main prison could reduce their sentences by one year if they memorised five Juz from the Qur’aan.
The Qur’aan Hifdh program sought to encourage prisoners “to behave according to the Quran’s law,” said the prison governor, Col. Abu al-Abed Hamid, in a 2007 statement.
According to Reza Sadeghi, head of Endowments and Charities in the Isfahan Province, 16 death row prisoners held in Central Isfahan Prison—five women and 11 men—were pardoned after they successfully memorized the Qur’aan. Of those pardoned, 15 were released entirely, and one prisoner had his death sentence reduced to 15 years imprisonment.
Sadeghi said that in accordance to a nationwide directive, prisoners who memorize the Quran can get reduced sentences and be pardoned from heavy sentences even including the death penalty.
According to the General directorate of prisoners of the Ministry of Interior in the Saudi Kingdom, prisoners who memorise chapters of Holy Qur’aan in prison are eligible for a release subject to certain conditions. This practice was initiated by a royal decree during the reign of the late King Fahad Bin Abdul Azeez.
A primary condition for acquittal is that the prisoner has to have served half of his sentence. This concession is not available for the prisoners who are convicted for less than 6 months.
‘The Holy Qur’aan House Centre’ for males was established in 1984 in a central Saudi prison called the ‘Guidance Center’ with the aim of tutoring prisoners in the rules of reciting and memorizing the Holy Qur’aan.
This Center provides them with tools for practical living – from teaching the Shariah, imbibing within them Islamic morals and conducting their Tarbiyah.
The Holy Qur’aan House center encourages prisoners to make use of their spare time to memorise the Qur’aan. The stated purpose is illuminating the prisoner’s mind and helping him to see that life is too precious to spend indulging in crime. Through the Qur’aan, the system endeavors to transform the criminal from a destructive and dangerous element of society into a good and useful one.
In 2012, it was reported that a Saudi father pardoned his son’s killer if he successfully memorized the Holy Qur’aan.
Rabiâa al-Dousary, father of the slain young man named Abdullah, promised to pardon the convicted felon, Faisal al-Ameri, if he successfully memorized all of the Holy Quran before leaving prison, al-Yawm Saudi newspaper reported.
Ameri was sentenced to death for killing Dousary during a quarrel that erupted in their neighborhood.
The Higher Committee of Correction in the Eastern Province of the Kingdom had persuaded the father to forgive and pardon Ameri.
The father, who refused to receive any blood money, to teach the Ameri a far more valuable lesson, insisted on one condition: the killer fully memorize the Quran before his acquittal from prison