Hearing that the Spokane Islamic Center had an empty teaching position at the Airway Heights Corrections Facility, Alaaeldin Aamer quickly offered his time and knowledge. Aamer, who runs the gyros and falafel stand on the first level of the EWU PUB, already had experience having volunteered at Pine Lodge Corrections Facility about 10 years ago. Every week Aamar goes to the facility to teach on Wednesday evenings and hold Jumuah (Friday) prayer services. He also has a contract with the Coyote Ridge facility in Connell, Wash. for approximately 7 1/2 hours a month, which he makes time for on the weekend.
The inmates that Aamer teaches are at all levels in their understanding of Islam. Some come with a friend and have no background in Islam, some have already converted but are limited in their knowledge and some are committed Muslims with extensive knowledge. “When you read more you, you get knowledge for yourself and plus you can pass it on (knowledge of Islam) to the other people,” said Aamer.
On Wednesday, he teaches how to be a good Muslim, how to perform prayers and Islamic laws to make sure that purification and prayers are valid. One of the most important steps he teaches is the memorization of the Soorah Al-Faatahih, the opening chapter of the Quran. “Every Muslim, whatever nationality, whatever he speaks, he has to memorize this in the Arabic language and he can say it in his prayers because he does it in every Raka’ah,” said Aamer. A Raka’ah is one unit of Islamic prayer. Muslims are required to pray five times a day and each prayer will contain two, three or four Rakaat.
The program is made possible because the government recognizes that religion classes help in the rehabilitation process. Along with classes for G.E.D.s, art design, job skills and hobbies, religion classes give them the tools they need to lead more productive lives when they are released. The main reason these programs are offered is to help inmates leave the program as productive citizens who don’t pose a threat to the security or safety of other citizens.
“Despite what we hear sometimes from the media about Islam and terrorism, statistically along time ago they found when some Islam teachers enter the facility to teach the inmate, they found that the behavior of the inmate is changed,” said Aamer.
He expressed heartfelt gratitude to the governor, secretary of state, the superintendent of education and the correction facility for giving him this opportunity to teach.
Inmates are not the only people Aamer would like to see learning about Islam. Aamer thinks it is important for everyone to educate themselves about the world’s second largest religion before making judgments about its value. “You have to read. If you like Muslims or don’t like them, you have to read about Islam. If you think this is your enemy at least you have to study it to know how your enemy thinks- but if you think they are good people- you have to read it and try to see what is the best of the Muslim and Islam,” said Aamer.