Addiction to drugs and alcohol has become a common affliction in the United States, costing nearly $300 billion and an incalculable toll on every segment of American society. Considering that 60-70% of inmates, whose numbers have tripled over the last 20 years, have tested positive for substance abuse, these figures should come as no surprise. But increasingly popular Islamic programs in prison have proven to be a strong anecdote to this alarming trend.
A Brown University study estimates that with the current exponential growth, there would actually be more people in prison than out of it by the year 2053. Thus, even with the greatly expanded prison capacity that consumes billions of public tax money, it will not be possible to accommodate such an increase. To mitigate this situation, reform of drug laws have been proposed, but this will result in the release of thousands of offenders giving rise to more crimes in the streets.
In order to break this vicious cycle, drug addiction is now increasingly viewed as more of a disease than a crime as drug courts favor treatment over incarceration. Studies have shown that by employing coercive abstinence, i.e. using the threat of jail to motivate substance abusers to get help, may help solve the nation's problem. Those who are forced into treatment do better or at least as well as the addicts who enroll voluntarily. Drug court judges often give defendants the options of staying in treatment or returning to jail. Results of one particular drug treatment program, the Phoenix House, have shown to be promising. This mandatory 12-month residential treatment program has had a 75% success rate, with those graduates gaining employment and staying drug free and out of jail for at least five years out of the program. Such programs are less expensive than prisons, even when the costs of drug court are included.
A study released by the Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse further substantiates the success of such programs. A recent report shows that states are spending 100 times more on drug-related crimes. Meanwhile, a similar report from the Rand Corporation showed that every dollar spent on treatment saved seven dollars in crime-related services.
But overcoming addiction is not simple. Certain treatments for heroine abusers are not affective for cocaine addicts. The risk of relapse is very high and roughly half of patients return to their addiction within a year of treatment.
The fundamental problem is with the approach adopted in Western behavioral sciences. The studies are performed on small samples of population that over-generalize the secular causes without touching on the moral and ethical issues, which are real origins of these social ills. Furthermore, interference is only considered appropriate after the problem becomes manifest and only 'abuse' is perceived as a disease to be treated rather than a problem to be eliminated. The term abuse itself is an admission that total abstinence is not attainable, and the treatments substitute one harmful drug with another equally addictive drug.
Simply looking at addiction as disease or illness is not recognizing its full dimension. Such reliance on external strategies without changing the hearts, minds and values of the vulnerable will not have much of success. The ideal of Islamic anti-drug campaign is not just to prevent abuse but to completely stop drug intake. Indeed, from the viewpoint of Islamic Shariah there is no difference between taking and abusing a drug: both are sins and equally punishable.
Behavioral studies clearly indicate that, for example, alcohol addicts can be 'social drinkers' only for a very brief period after which they succumb to their earlier behavior. Thus the only way to help them is to insist on total abstinence by appealing to their hearts and minds. That is the reason for the greater success of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) than treatments not utilizing these tools.
Countless cases of African American Muslims provide clear testimony that Islamic spiritually motivated anti-drug campaigns are more successful than modern Western prevention endeavors. Worldwide large populations of Muslims abstain from alcohol, which is the most prevalent drug in Western societies taken by itself or in combination with other drugs. And although the use of drugs is much less prevalent among Muslims, ignorance along with secularization of their societies is taking its toll among those who are weak in their faith.
Refusing to drink alcohol but taking drugs comes from a misunderstanding also. The Qur'an prohibits khamr calling it an abomination and Satan's handiwork (5:90). Khamr is not only wine and alcoholic drinks but also intoxicants. The word khamr comes from its Arabic verb yakhmur, which means to cover or curtail. Khimar derived from the same root word is the Muslim woman's cover of her head or face. The prohibition of khamr is because tit curtails the proper functioning of the mind.
Furthermore, Islamic systems not only provide regulations but also aim at motivating an individual with strong incentives. The basic motive is iman (faith) in God, the psychological state that appeals to the heart and mind of a man and directs, educates and influences his behavior in this life. Thus invitation to follow the system is accompanied by a desire and yearning (ragbah) for good actions leading to God's acceptance and pleasure (rida). Likewise, fear and awe (tarhib) accompanies bad deeds that cause God's anger and chastisement. The Qur'an describes the reward of Paradise in eternity of the Hereafter in detail as if the believer is looking directly at it in his mind's eye, the same way it describes Hell and its burning flames. Taqwa (God-consciousness) directs him towards the best and is geared for control over his desires leading to personal growth and development.
The success of Islamic regulations in contrast to man-made regulations depends on developing taqwa. Thus a sincere and conscientious effort is generated, seeking fulfillment of these regulations rather than looking for ways to avoid or contravene them without getting apprehended. Islam also adopts a realist attitude toward man as a human who is susceptible to fall into sin and error. To the fallen individual, it offers the motive of tawbah (repentance), not only to erase those sins but also to change them to good deeds.
A little known group, Millati Islami, originating in Baltimore, Maryland in the 1990's follows the above approach in dealing with a variety of addictions. Their 12-step recovery process is a modification of AA/NA. The group consists of recovering addicts who commit to re-establish their faith in God with the belief that He provides cure and healing. They strive to submit their wills to the practice of Islam in their lives, and refresh their commitment to abstain and take an inventory 5 times daily after the obligatory prayers.
So as the debate rages on over President George W. Bush's faith based initiatives, it is clear that faith is in integral part in healin,g the nation's wounds. Washington should ,be encouraged by such programs.
Dr. Siraj Mufti currently serves as an Islamic consultant for the Correctional Corporation of America in Arizona. Previously he worked as a research professor at the University of Arizona and a chaplain with the U.S. Department of Justice.