Interviews with people who work with conflict
about the spiritual foundations of their work
A research process done by Michael Bischoff
Emily Hughes | Abdul-Hakim As-Siddiq | George Lakey | Marcelle Martin
Introduction | Reflections on the Research Process

An Interview With Abdul-Hakim As-Siddiq, 10/16/00

Why did I interviewed Abdul-Hakim?

I met Hakim six years ago when I first went to a prison for an Alternatives to Violence Project workshop. Five years later, Hakim was released from prison, and I recruited him to work with me at Friends for a Non-Violent World. Hakim has a disipline and solidity in his connection to God that has taught me immense amounts. Hakim continues to work at Friends for a Non-Violent World, where he coordinates the Alternatives to Violence Project in prison and for adults in the community. He has a special emphasis on working with other people coming out of prison.

What metaphors or images would describe your spiritual foundation at work?

What I am doing is opening doors for others to follow behind me. I sat in prison for twenty years, and I did a lot of things to better my life and straighten out my life. And there are the things I have done in my efforts to promote peace. It is like a rite of passage. Other guys are using the same pattern I am using to get out the door too.

We have a responsibility to not only to help ourselves, but we also need to help our fellow man. If you are able to help yourself, you are able to help others. In Islam, it says that there is always a blessing for that. If you help a brother, and you bring that brother to a situation where he can help himself, there is a blessing for you. And the time that next person helps somebody in the same way, then not only does he get a blessing, but you get a blessing from him and from the one that he was able to help. So it is almost like a pyramid effect. So the more people that are helped by you, you continue to get that same old blessing. And they just increase. That is how it affects me spiritually. I feel good when one can help another and help that person to the right place.

I want to open doors for guys that have been in the same or similar positions, especially those guys that have got a long time in prison and they don't see no hint of freedom. If they don't have that hint of freedom, they say, "what good is it trying to work for anything." If they see somebody that they know personally that is out here doing things and making things happen, they will say "hey, I can do that too." So that gives them a sense of responsibility, a sense of self-worth. All of that to help them to get to the right way. Ya know, I made that 180 degree turn, and they say, "this man is nothing like he used to be. So there is something worth changing your life for."

What ways do you open doors for other people?

By walking the walk. You just can't sit up there and say you got to walk that walk, sitting up their boasting about "I'll get out and do this and do that." You got to get out and really walk it. It is not about what you say, it is about what you do. Just by walking the walk and doing what I am supposed to be doing gives other people a sense of "I can do that same old thing."

I get out and talk to 'em, help 'em, send 'em letters, let 'em know I am here for them. Come on out and you can better your life. I encourage them to keep on doing what is right. Like going to treatment, going to AA, using all of the positive programs that are out there.

Shortly after I got out of prison, I was driving to work. I passed this guy on the street who was waving his arms at me, but I didn't recognize him. I stopped next to him, and I realized that I knew him from prison and that he had also recently gotten out. This guy said that he was there on the street corner praying and asking God to come and find someone to help him. He didn't have a job, a place to live, or anything, and he was thinking of suicide. All of the sudden I drove up and helped him. I was able to take him some place and get him a job and get his life back together. By God putting me in that place to help him, I was able to save his life for that moment. I don't know what happened to him since then. But for that moment, I was there to help him.

What was your spiritual life like when you were on the streets before you went to prison?

I can honestly say that I always had a spiritual base, that is, I always believed that there was a God. However, before incarceration, having a spiritual base was last on my list of objectives. I was was money-centered and self indulged with the corruption that goes on in the sub-life (underworld) of our society. Instead of being caring and concerned for others, I looked at them as prey. I was like an eagle who selects his meal from the sky. I didn't discriminate. Everybody was a victim in my distorted view of things. Before incarceration, my heart was hard as a stone and twice as cold. I took everything for granted and thought that I deserved everything I obtained be it right or wrong.

I was on an one way mission to self destruction, and the only thing that could stop me was the Divine intervention of God and a long, long, rest in prison. The life of crime was very exciting to me. I got high off of the suspense! I was in the true sense an endorphine addict. I didn't need alcohol or drugs to alter my ability to act wrongfully. I did it because it was fun and the only risks was either success at getting away with something or imprisonment. At that stage in life...I didn't care. Now that I can look back I can see that those were some real dangerous choices I made. I don't condemn myself for it because I believe my acts were out of ignorance. Today now that I know the difference between right and would be hard to make such decisions because I know the consequences to my actions. Youth is can never get that back again.

How does your discipline relate now to your job?

It has a lot to do with my job (laughter). Like I say, walking the walk and having the discipline is like staying at peace with myself. If things get too frustrating at work, I can always take time out, go and make Salat or find peace with myself. Or also we have our weekly staff prayer time where I can find a time for our own spirituality there. Muslims are supposed to be peacemakers and striving to promote peace and well being. I am a leading example of that by doing what I am doing at work.

What kinds of things do you get out of doing the staff prayer times at work?

It is something different every time, but, a lot of times, I get spiritual feelings. There are times when you can get insight. There are times where you can get a lot of fun and a lot of play out of something. Insight on the job, insight on you as a person. The walks are good, especially for my legs. And also it is a chance to just think about things about the job or surrounding the job so you understand what is going on or you csn help others understand what is going on.

If you were to paint a picture that was about your spiritual life, what might the painting look like?

Almost like this painting I did that is hanging above my desk in the office. I am moving from where I was to another dimension, from prison to Mecca, from prison to a freedom of the mind. Like moving on forward to the East, and acquiring knowledge and understanding and the focus that I need to make my path shorter and more at ease.

How did you come to find your own path and find what is right for you?

First and foremost, I always believed in God. But I just never could find the right path to take for me to serve God. Or to allow God to serve me. In my journey, I went through so many ways of trying to justify my belief in God by doing all kinds of silly things. What happened is, that some of those things I had done led me to prison. Right before I got convicted, I said my prayer to God and said, "If it is meant for me to get out of here, please let me, and if it is not, help me to be able to learn more about you and help me to be the best that I can be." When that time came, and they said it wasn't time for me to go, I knew I had to some work to do. When I went to prison I started to really study Islam. I went to school to try to enhance my education and understanding. I did all the things that I was doing to better my relationship with God. As I went and learned those things, that is what helped me to be patient and be more understanding and tolerant, be more forgiving--not only of others, but of forgiving myself. Learning how to restrain my anger. All those different aspects of a man's life, I learned through Islam to have a certain discipline.


How do you think that your working life could be more God centered?

Probably it would be finding more time to sit down and read my Koran while I am at work. I have been getting away from reading my Koran since I have been working out here on the streets. I have begun to neglect that responsibility, since the work is first. Seems like Ramadan is the only time I can break the pattern that I have and find a half hour to just read the Koran.

I think that when you feel in your heart that you are doing something that is right and you are not doing it for your own sake, but you are doing it for the sake of God, and to promote peace, that in itself is the real power to transform conflicts. If you are not doing it for yourself or for anybody to pat you on your back--you are doing it all for love of God and the love of mankind.

What kind of things do you think could make your organization more spiritually centered, or centered on God?

That is a big question. If you ask me, have them all believe that there is nothing but one God and strive to serve that one God. Or have them become Muslims! I think that people just need to be more God conscious. I know that some are more self centered around feelings aspects and emotions as far as processing things. They also need to be a lot more God centered.

What would be an example of that?

Being more focused on doing things to please God and then everything else falls into place. Outside of a few people, I don't know if all Quakers are God-centered people. I hear them talking about peace and justice and trying to do the right thing, but I haven't with my own eyes, seen their process of worship. I can't really say if they are or aren't.

Is there anything your coworkers could do to be more supportive of your spiritual life?

Continue to support me. By that, continue to let me be who I am, let me continue to grow. I need to grow and also support that. They don't have to believe in everything I do, just support what I am doing. Cause whatever I do is for the benefit of the job, and for myself. All I am trying to do is to enhance the work I am doing and make it better.

Anything else you want to say about your spiritual life and how it relates to your work?

Its just got to be consistent. Consistency is the most important part about it. And also being patient. I should always keep a positive attitude, even if things don't go the way they are supposed to, still keep a positive attitude because God is in contrrol. He put those trial in front of you to test you and your faith. You have to stay strong and continue to be that way.

Spirit in Conflict
Interviews: Emily Hughes | Abdul-Hakim As-Siddiq | George Lakey | Marcelle Martin
Introduction | Reflections on the Research Process

Please let me know your reactions to this project or tell me about the spiritual foundations of your work: Michael Bischoff,