Texas Department of Criminal Justice First Muslim Chaplain passes away from COVID-19

SAN ANTONIO – The first Muslim chaplain appointed by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) has passed away. Akbar Shahbaz died on April 23 after a nearly three-week battle with COVID-19.

When most Texas Muslims observe the first day of Ramadan fasting and wait for their first meal of the evening, they cannot stomach the news that Shabazz has disappeared. On April 3, Shahbaz began to feel ill with Covid-19 symptoms. He was taken to Methodist Hospital in Woodlands, Texas, where Shabazz passed away at 70 in the early morning, despite a nearly three-week battle against coronavirus. Years old.

Shahbaz became the first Muslim chaplain to be appointed to the TDCJ in September 1977. His career with the TDCJ continued for 40 years, where Shahbaz started out as a regional chaplain before volunteering to join the agency. In that capacity, he coordinated Friday prayer services and assisted with annual Ramadan rituals.

“Chaplain Shabazz is part of the foundation of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice,” said Bryan Collier, TDCJ Executive Director. “His faith, his family and his dedication to this agency will never be forgotten. I consider him a personal friend and a great loss to all. We hope the TDCJ family’s thoughts and prayers help ease the burden.”

Shahbaz’s work also reached out to San Antonio, a local resident and assistant imam Abdul Aleem Muhammad-Miles, 50, for mosque Bilal ibn Raba.

Muhammad-Miles said he first met Shahbaz in early 2000, when he detained himself and transferred to Livingston, Texas. And though their encounter was brief, it was enough to leave a lasting impression on him.

“I am in this unit. I am very familiar with the honorable Imam Akbar (Shahbaz),” said Muhammad-Miles. I spent a year and a half under his leadership there. “

The Muhammad-Miles unit was ripe for its punishment, but even in that accident, Shahbaz was able to exert considerable influence on him.

“Understand something: 98% of this unit has gang members, so you have a fight or death every day and the officers get frustrated because they don’t follow the rules and fight insanity,” he said.

However, through rehabilitation and reform under the guidance of Muslim shrines like Shahbaz, Muhammad-Miles stated that he did not think twice about returning to the criminal life.

“When you were surrounded by believers, Allah says in the Quran, you start to believe, but when you are surrounded by believers or hypocrites, you start behaving like one,” he said. “But Shahbaz’s leadership is crucial. Sure, I could learn to forget what I learned, but I didn’t, and because of that I was open to mentoring.”

According to Muhammad-Miles, Shahbaz was very direct, but kind as a leader and mentor.

“He was always a nonsense, practical guy,” he said. “There is a tendency for inmates to want to be right in the general sense and what I remember is that the imam doesn’t take too long to solve a problem and he taught us to do so.”

Muhammad-Miles described Shahbaz as a man of truth in relation to scriptural practices.

“He was serious about religion and order and he believed in architecture,” says Muhammad-Miles. “And when [Shahbaz] spoke, he spoke the truth and left it to you. He certainly has his own ideas but it is always in accordance with Allah’s will.”

Muhammad-Miles explained that this type of attitude is very important when educating and reforming criminals.

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“[Shahbaz] was always smiling and always ready and willing. In my opinion, he was not burdened with his knowledge or understanding,” he said. “” He takes the time to let you know how he came to that decision. “

Obama, Muhammad-Miles, said Shabazz had such an epidemic that affected not only him but also other prominent Muslims in Texas, who turned their lives around after they got out of prison.

“Some of the most powerful brothers we have in Texas and the United States are doing well because of that system,” says Muhammad-Miles.

When he heard the news of Shahbaz’s death, Muhammad-Miles thought he was behind bars again, but this time without the guidance of his mentor.

“It immediately took me back to prison,” Muhammad-Miles explained. You may forget what some say, but you can never forget how someone made you feel – and I reflected on that point. “

Muhammad-Miles continued by observing how he got a job at the Death Row Circuit, which, although painfully painful, was aimed at him from Muslim shrines like Shabazz.

“It’s painful to go through this place, just go in and just lay on the bedding for days or weeks and it’s humbling,” he explained. “I have to be honest. Imam Akbar’s belief in our leadership has allowed me to be taken seriously.”

Muhammad-Miles said that the loss of Shahbaz has encouraged his legacy to live on, because of how great he has been.

“If I had been where I am now, then I would have been a very different person,” said Muhammad-Miles. “When I hear that Allah has brought him home, I want to honor him.”

Muhammad-Miles concludes that he expects others in Shabazz to see what other Muslims in Texas have seen.

“When you want to measure a man’s success, you don’t look at his finances, the materialism he accumulates, you see his impact on society and society; He did what he could for the community around him, “Muhammad-Miles said.” And if we measure the success of the Imam according to that standard, he will be for everyone we see in terms of praise and love. “

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