Dealing with Autism

I wanted to write something about the topic of Autism, because when I looked back I have never seen this topic addressed by anyone in our Muslim community. Autism is a growing issue in the world as one in 68 children are diagnosed with this condition. I wanted to address a few issues about dealing with Autism in hopes that it may help someone who is a parent, loved one or a friend of someone with a child who has Autism. I’m not going to go into what Autism is exactly, because that would be a lengthy discussion and there are plenty of websites and books dealing with this topic. I will just say briefly that it is a neurological disorder that affects ones social and communication skills. It is termed as being on the spectrum, because there are so many different variations of Autism that every child is different and they all have different needs according to how many of the indicators the child has.

When a young couple gets married they have hopes, plans and dreams for the future. They want to travel the world, find a place they can call home, raise a family, etc. Once they are blessed to have a child their world turns upside down in a good way. What I mean by that is they are so happy to now have a child that everything in life is now all about their little bundle of joy. They stop thinking about themselves and just plan and daydream on what their child will be when they grow up and all of the things they want to teach them. After a few years they start to notice that their child isn’t reaching the milestones that the other kids their age have met, but still remain optimistic saying he will catch up. As time goes by, they start to notice that maybe their child doesn’t respond to his name when being called, is reclusive, repeats actions over and over again like flapping their hands, spins in circles over and over again, lines all of his or her toys in a neat row side by side instead of playing with them the regular way a child would play with them, the child cant understand things when you are asking them to do something, doesn’t speak or tries to speak but has trouble getting the words out. These are all signs that a child with Autism may have. After the long wait to get an appointment with a Child Development Specialist they find out that their child, who is their only concern in this world, has a condition that doesn’t allow them to think and process information like the rest of the kids. He thinks differently and can’t be taught by the traditional way and style of parenting that most are familiar with. This can feel like you have been hit with a ton of bricks and is overwhelming to say the least! All of the things you wanted for your child to become seem so far out of reach now. You are having trouble just getting him to communicate with you and to understand you when you tell them that you love them. Do they know how you feel? Yet worst of all is that your child is going through so many difficulties and is unable to express himself through words and you are unable to do anything. You want to be there for him and help him but not sure what he needs and are just left feeling hopeless at what to do.

For a parent who is going through this struggle they really need a strong support system and someone to turn to. First and foremost, they must rely on God and then seek support from family, friends and community members. They may and will encounter all sorts of responses when they present their struggle to people surrounding them. Some will say it’s the Vaccines that you gave your child. This in no way helps the parents, because it makes them feel as if they were the ones who gave their child this and can cause one to start blaming themselves and going into a dark world of depression. After all, if a parent got their child vaccinated they were only doing what they thought was best in trying to protect their child from harmful diseases. How would they ever know something like this might happen? Some people in the family might blame the other side and go back and forth about whose fault it is genetically. This causes nothing but harm and fighting amongst family members. Who cares where it came from?! What matters most now is how we can come together and help this child who desperately needs our attention, support and love. Some may come and say your child has been diagnosed with this due to some sins you committed and God is cleansing you from the sins by this. I mean how does the person saying this even know that this is the reason? It is only an assumption on their part and makes it seem as if it is the parents fault for this and is very unsympathetic towards someone who is facing this difficult situation. After all Autism is by no means a curse from God, rather it is just a learning and developmental disability. This doesn’t mean the child is un-teachable, rather he will simply not learn according to the conventional methods of education and instead he would need an individualized learning plan that works for him. People with Autism think differently than we do, but in some cases they are geniuses. Some famous people in history have been suspected to have or had Autism such as: Albert Einstein, Vincent Van Gogh, Mozart, The creator of the television show the Muppets, amongst others. One famous person that I can think of during this era who has Autism is the famous actor and was also the writer of the movie Ghostbusters: Dan Akroyd. Lastly, apart from all of the other types of reactions I mentioned above, you will have people who will comfort you and tell you that they are there for you and your family in any possible way they are able to help. They encourage you to be the best parents that you can be and they love your child even more than before. This is the type of response that a family needs when they are going through this whirlwind of emotions.

It has been very hard for me to soak all of this in when I recently found out my son Ali, who is almost 3 years old, was diagnosed with Autism. As a man we are hardwired to fix problems when they arise. I just kept thinking that there has got to be a way for me to fix this. I have worked in DC and Virginia with adults who have Autism since 2008, but I only transported them from their homes to their day support programs or to their jobs. Even though I had interacted with them over the years I still was not fully aware of what Autism really was. So, I went to a bookstore nearby and bought tons of books on the subject in hopes to learn as much as I can. I am a researcher by habit and I was searching for the answer to this riddle. I found out that there is no cure for this condition, yet it can be improved through intense therapy sessions that are sometimes as much as 40 hours per week. I only want what’s best for my son and to be there for him as much as I can. I don’t know if he understands me all of the time, but I do believe that he knows I love him unconditionally. I often find myself driving in the car on my commute to work crying as I think about my son suffering through this and how frustrated he must be when he wants to tell us something, but can’t conjure up the words he needs. I watch him as he plays with other kids, but when they talk to him he just stares back at them, laughs and runs off to continue playing. One little 5 year old girl innocently asked me if he was okay and why was he acting weird. I assured her that he was okay, but deep down inside I couldn’t help but to wonder and be frightened at the thought of some other children bullying him when he attends school. I often, as any father would, think about all the dreams and aspirations I have for him and wonder if he will be able to overcome this obstacle and become whatever it is that will make him happy. I know and have faith that he can do it, maybe not by the traditional way of learning and doing things but through his own unique way he can overcome this. I will always be thankful, supportive and proud of him no matter what.

I feel that this is a test from God and I pray that he strengthens us through these times. I know that He can aid and assist my son to help Him overcome this challenge. So, I will always continuously call on Him and also do everything within my means to make my sons life the best that he could ever imagine. Knowing this brings to mind some verses and narrations that I would like to end this article with and I pray that this article will help and benefit those who read it:

“And know that your possessions and your children are a test, and that with God is immense reward. And know that your possessions and your children are a test, and that with God is immense reward.” Quran 8:28

Imam Sadiq (a.s) said: “A believer is reminded (of God) once every forty days by either a tragic event of a financial or physical nature for himself or his children, or a sort of sadness which he does not understand the reason for. Then he will be rewarded for this.”

“If a believer only knew what the reward for perseverance in the face of calamities is, he would always wish to be torn into pieces.” Mishakatul Anwar Hadith 1707 & 1713

By Mateen J. Charbonneau
aka Abu Ali
March 17, 2016


New Videos on Autism Awareness and Acceptance by Sheikh Mateen Charbonneau

Life as a Shia Muslim inside the U.S. Penitentiary

Thursday, May 22, 14

 Let me start by saying that I do not retell these penitentiary stories often. That was a very rough stage in my life that, through the grace of Allah, I was able to overcome. For those of you who have not heard my story on how I became incarcerated and what led me to accept Shia Islam, I would ask you to please watch the documentary about my life titled Journey of the Spirit filmed by Anwar al-Hussain TV in 2011. I was asked to tell about my experience by someone who is doing a documentary about life as a Shia Muslim inside U.S. Prisons. They asked me to elaborate on the situation of the Muslims in Prison, sectarian tensions, sectarian violence, and obstacles that Shia face in prison, etc. This is the purpose of me writing this article. I do not wish to promote hatred or further sectarian strife, but only to recap my interactions with people from the Sunni, Salafi and Wahhabi sects. I will tell a few of the instances that come to my mind and try to paint a picture of what the situation is. I was incarcerated for 9 years in South Carolina prisons. I can only speak for what happens there, although I have been receiving letters to an organization I work with that serves prisoners eager to learn more about Islam, 2nd Chance Books, from prisoners around the country saying they are suffering similar trials and tribulations.

In the majority of the prisons there are usually large Muslim congregations. The majority of these Muslims are from either the Sunni, Wahhabi, or Salafi sects. However, they all call themselves Sunni Muslims, but they say they follow the “Salaf-us-Saliheen” (righteous predecessors) and they study from the books of Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahhab, the founder of the Wahhabi sect, and Ibn Tamiyyah who promoted hatred and violence towards those who did not subscribe to his views. Throughout this article I will refer to them as Sunnis, due to the fact this is the term that they used for themselves. As for Shia Muslims there are usually a handful of people who converted to Shia Islam in each prison. They convert after reading and studying books about Ahl-ul-Bayt (AS) that made their way into the prison system through different organizations in the USA and Iran. The reason that there are so many Sunnis, Wahhabis, and Salafis in prison is because the majority of the Muslim Chaplains subscribe to one of those schools of thought. Also, they receive numerous free books from Saudi Arabia that they disburse throughout the prisons for free. They try to control the masses by telling them only what they want them to hear and pushing their own ideology and agenda. They send in books by Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahhab, Ibn Tamiyya and even go as far as disbursing books like the one titled “Demolishing the Creed of the Shia” and other books that call Shia Muslims disbelievers, insult our Imams (as) and provoke aggression.

The Shia Muslims are the minority and are oppressed by others for being so. The main point they criticize the Shia for is that the Shias’ adhan (call to prayers) and salat (prayer) are different than theirs. They also do not agree with the Shias following the Imams of Ahl-ul-Bayt (AS), the belief in infallibility and do not agree with the Shia for criticizing and scrutinizing some of the sahaba (companions of the Prophet). From my own experience the only way that they would leave you alone was if you could prove your beliefs and actions through books. This is why it was vital for every Shia Muslim to be well equipped with the knowledge to defend his faith. It is reported that the Prophet (SAWA) said, “One learnt Muslim is harder on the Shaytan than 1,000 ignorant worshippers.” If you could show them the source for your point of view, then they would leave you alone and let you practice, despite how upset and frustrated it made them. They would then ostracize you and tell all the rest of the community to avoid you, not to talk to you and most importantly not to accept words, advice, or literature from you. Even before the new Muslim knew how to pray they would be told whom to stay away from.

When I became a Muslim in 1999 the majority of the Muslims were Shia and the administration tried to break up our community. They sent many Sunni ulema (scholars) from the mosques around America into our prison to try to “correct our deviant beliefs.” Every time they tried to come and debate us we would defeat them through our knowledge and good akhlaq (ethics and behavior). Eventually they thought the solution would be to separate all of the most learned in the community. They thought if they could separate the head from the body that it would destroy the community. So, they relocated us to different prisons throughout the state. Little did they know, instead of killing the Shia belief in the prisons they actually spread it. At all of the prisons we went to we became teachers and educated whole communities of Muslims and taught the teachings of the Ahl-ul-Bayt (AS) to everyone we came in contact with.

I would like to discuss a few instances of oppression from my personal experiences inside the prison system as a Shia Muslim. After they started breaking up our community and they shipped our community leader to a different prison, the Sunni inmates took over and put one of their people in position as head of the community. The first Jum’ah (Friday) sermon he delivered was one and a half hours on describing the sins, faults and errors of the Prophet Muhammad (SAWA). (May Allah save us from their lies!) I couldn’t take it anymore. After all, my favorite sahaba (companion) was Abu Zar al-Ghifarri who stood up during the prophet’s time to publicly declare his belief in Allah despite the harsh oppression the Muslims were under. The idolaters beat him and he got up and did it again and this happened three times before the uncle of the prophet Abbas intervened. Also he is the one who defended the rightful position of Imam Ali (AS) as the successor to the Prophet (SAWA), after the three unjust Caliphs took his position by force. Abu Zar used to stand in front of the palace of Uthman and Muawiya and would publicly recite those verses from the Quran that cursed the oppressors. This eventually led to his exile and also his martyrdom. So back to the situation at hand, I stood up and started saying to the whole congregation that this man who spent over an hour slandering our beloved prophet (SAWA) was wrong and I refuted all his claims from Quran and ahadith. They got really upset with me and got prison security to make us all leave.

A few days later at the afternoon salat, the Chaplain had got word from the Salafi inmate that was running the prison community that we Shia were causing trouble. The Chaplain invited a Hafez of Quran (a person who has memorized the whole Quran) from Somalia. The Hafez said that he would like to debate us Shia, but would only debate one who knew the entire 12 Imams by name. Unfortunately not many of the Shia knew all of the names sequentially, but I at 18 years old stood up, named all of the Imams (AS) and gladly accepted the challenge. He said that Shia was a word that was not mentioned in the Quran at all, but rather a term and religion that came many years after the Prophet (SAWA). I asked the man if he was indeed a Hafez of Quran, which he replied in the affirmative. I then proceeded to tell him about the ayat in Quran where Allah says “And most surely, Abraham was among the Shia of him (Noah)” (Quran 37:83) and “And he (Moses) went into the city at a time when people (of the city) were not watching, so he found therein two men fighting, one being of his shia and the other being his enemy, and the one who was of his shia cried out to him for help against the one who was of his enemy” (Quran 28:15). I asked him to confirm if these were both in the Quran or not. He had to answer yes and admit that Allah called the followers of His prophets Shia. The Chaplain started making commotion and said the time for Salat had come in and started to call the adhan to end the humiliation of the scholar he brought to debate us.

The next day following this debate I was returning to congregational salat when my close friend told me that some non-Shias in his dorm had planned to stab me and another brother, who was my teacher, while we were praying our salat-uz-zuhr. He had heard from someone else that was not in agreement with the plot. So when we went to pray, my close friend, who is also Shia, stood back and didn’t pray congregation. He was concealing a knife as well and was going to stop anyone who tried to hurt us. They tried to get him to pray with us, but he told them that he had already prayed in the dorm and thus the plan was foiled. The day after that, they shipped me to a different prison and upon arriving to that prison the community made me their minister of education where I taught Islamic studies classes for the next year. I am glad to say that I am still in touch with this brother who was willing to risk his life for me. He is currently serving a life sentence and since my release I have been equipping him with all the necessary materials he needs to help him and the Shia community.

Another instance was in my last year of incarceration I happened to run into a guy that was my roommate 8 years prior. I taught him about Islam and actually taught him how to perform his prayer. Like I said earlier, I got shipped away shortly after that incident and the guy remained there and ended up learning all of his religion from the non-Shias that were now running that community. So now this guy was brainwashed by them and when we started to pray he got furious at me and said I was doing it all wrong. Of course I proved all of the Shia practices for him from the books that I had in my possession. Him and his goons said that we were not allowed to pray with them in the shared prayer room that we had in the dorm, unless we prayed the exact way they did with our arms folded, saying ameen after Surah Fatiha, etc. This was my last year and I was very close to going home so I didn’t want to preoccupy myself with this sectarian drama. I told the other Shia brothers in the dorm that we will just pray at a different time than they did, for example, slightly later because our Maghrib comes in at a later time. So we continued to pray in the prayer room at a different time than they did. This was not enough for them, so they said if we continued to use the room there would be consequences. I am not one to be pushed around and we had every right to use the room. I went into the room at prayer time and called the adhan loudly and said “Ashhadu anna Aliyan waliyullah” proudly as loud as my voice would allow. When I finished calling the adhan I turned around and the guy was in the prayer room waiting on me to finish. He was telling me to leave and I refused so he pulled a knife on me, but thank God my friend and fellow Shia brother came rushing in the room and said that if anyone wanted to hurt me he would have to go through him first and had a big knife in his hand. The guy got scared because he saw my friend was serious and he left the room. He went and rounded up the others and came back to try and team up on us. By this time it escalated into more than just Muslims. The people from our hometowns got involved and it was going to turn into a riot. Nobody wanted that to happen so when it came down to it both sides that rose up to fight called him and me into a room and wanted to see the real issue. I explained what happened and then the people from his hometown did not want to fight us over some religious dispute and convinced him to leave it alone, to which he agreed.

I was tired of these people trying to convert me to their violent version of the religion by force and I went and got the words tattooed on my arms Shia on one arm and Ahl-ul-Bayt on the other to show them that I would always be a Shia. They finally left me alone and considered me a lost cause for converting. About a month later I was sent to a pre-release center to prepare for my entrance back into society.


All of this violence and harsh behavior came from ignorance and lack of the true teachings of Islam taught to us by our beloved Prophet (SAWA) and his Family (AS). Saudi Arabia has used their wealth to print thousands of books and distribute them freely to prisons across the world. We as Shia need to step up to the plate and get these brothers the correct information about the Ahl-ul-Bayt (AS). It is our duty to help them and show them the correct way, the way of tolerance and peace. They can learn so much from the ethics and morality of the family of the Prophet that they could change their lives and become outstanding citizens.

This is why some like-minded brothers and I started an organization titled 2nd Chance Books, which Ahl ul Bayt TV filmed a documentary about entitled Faith Behind Bars. This program will provide the proper tools for change: Free Islamic books on belief, ethics, morality and family structure in Islam. They can use these books as a tool for self-development and to reform themselves and also their friends, loved ones, and communities upon their release. Some of the many benefits of this program are the changing of prisoners’ bad habits into good ones, achieving social reform by teaching the morals and ethics of the Holy Prophet and his Holy Household (AS), molding leaders, producing better citizens who will be active in helping their communities upon their release, promoting awareness of the true teachings of Islam as taught by Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) and his Holy Household (AS) and removing misinformation and misconceptions about Islam and Muslims from people’s minds. This program is funded by donations to our publishing company, Yasin Publications. A donation of $25 is used to sponsor sending a prisoner a package of up to six books.

We ask everyone if they are able to please visit to contribute and give the gift of knowledge to a person that could change their life and possibly the lives of everyone they interact with.

I hope and pray that this information was beneficial to the reader and that you gained a better perception about the struggles our brothers in prison go through on a day-to-day basis. May Allah grant them knowledge, guidance and protection from the oppressors. Please keep the prisoners, the forgotten believers of our community, in your prayers.

Mateen J. Charbonneau










A Scholars Advice to a Convert

A Scholars Advice to a Convert

I can recall what an amazing feeling I had on my first day in the Holy city of Najaf, Iraq walking through the streets and seeing the bright golden dome of Imam Ali (pbuh). The city of Najaf is ancient and everything seems to be a dusty sand color, but the shrine of Amir Al-Mumineen is so bright and vivid that it brings life to the whole city. It seems to be the very center of existence for the lives of Najaf’s inhabitants.


The second day I was there, we were walking with Sheikh Mustafa Akhound and a few friends when I noticed we were walking in a different way than usual. So, I asked where we were going as we were navigating through the back alleys of streets that were filled with low hanging electrical wires and air conditioning units protruding out of the walls. He said he wanted us to meet someone and that it was a surprise. Turns out it was his teacher and mentor Ayatollah Sayed Murtadha Shirazi. When we arrived at his door he welcomed us all into his home and had nice fruits and drinks for us. He allotted time out of his day to give us a small talk and to answer any questions we might have.


It was such a great honor to meet someone with such a high rank in Islamic knowledge. He was very nice and was genuinely interested to know about where I came from and how I chose to become a Shia Muslim. I spoke to him as much as I could with my broken Arabic and also Sheikh Mustafa would help with translating for me. He gave us a small lecture and then afterwards Sheikh Mustafa asked us if we had any questions that we would like to ask Ayatollah Shirazi.


I had come all of the way from the United States and found myself sitting in the house of an Ayatollah asking me if I had any questions. I decided to take this opportunity to ask for some very important advice that would help me throughout my journeys in life. I chose to ask him how could we get closer to our beloved Imam Mahdi (May Allah hasten his reappearance).

He answered me with several things that I will list here. I have been thinking about my visit and it prompted me to write about it so that others can read this and benefit as well.

The first thing he replied was that this is an easy thing to say, but in reality it is not an easy task to accomplish. He continued to say that we needed to pray to Allah and ask Him to open our container and expand our capacity, so that we can receive the knowledge pertaining to Imam Mahdi (pbuh). Being among those who are close to the Imam means having a very high level of knowledge and piety, so we must be prepared mentally and spiritually to understand, comprehend and accept this knowledge.

He proceeded to say that one of the ways that we can gain proximity to the Imam is to fulfill all of our obligations (wajibat) that Allah has asked from us. Next is to stay away from all of the things Allah has forbidden us from doing (muharramat). This reminds me of the first thing he told me when he said that it sounded easy but in reality, was not an easy task at all. Last of all he told me that to become close to the Imam we should be careful of how we treat others. We should always treat others well, with respect and give them their due rights. We should never be oppressors and mistreat people.


That was the advice I received from the respected scholar. I hope that all of us can apply these principles he taught that day and become servants of the Imam of our time.

After that, I left that great city of Najaf and started my walk towards Karbala to pay my respects to Imam Hussain (pbuh) and the Martyrs (Shuhada). I saw how so many people were lined up with stands giving away all they had to the pilgrims. They were giving away food, tea and sweets. They had tents and blankets for sleeping and were even massaging the weak and fatigued pilgrims. They were ready and willing to give away anything they had for the guests of Imam Hussain (pbuh). I started to think deeply about what I had to offer in the way of Ahl ul Bayt (The household of Prophet Muhammad), peace be upon them.


For those who have not seen my documentary Journey of the Spirit on how I converted to Islam, I chose to become a Shia Muslim after studying both Christianity and Islam while serving my first year in a maximum-security prison. This was when I was 17 years old, in 1999. In total I served 9 years before my release. Throughout this time I did not work and I chose to dedicate my time to reforming myself and to learning the religion of Islam. I would read one book from cover to cover then start the next one repeating this cycle for 9 years, al-hamdu lillah. I also learned Arabic when I was 18 years old. Since my release from prison I have been active within the Washington, DC community.

Getting back to the story at hand, I thought that the best way for me to help people and to serve the cause of Muhammad and his family (peace be upon them) was for me to use the knowledge I had gained while in prison to compile and write books on Shia Islam. I learned that the father of Ayatollah Sayed Murtadha Shirazi had authored around 1,400 books. His name was Ayatollah Sayed Muhammad Shirazi and he was one of the great Maraja of his time. I decided to take this path and to help spread what I had learned to my fellow English speaking people.


Since I have returned from the blessed city of Karbala I have published three books on Shia Islam; The Suffering of the Ahl ul Bayt and their Followers (shia) throughout History, Christians who Defended and Died for Prophet Muhammad and his Family, and The Mystery of the Shia. Also, on the same day that my son Ali was born (in March of 2013), I started attending Islamic Seminary (Howza) taught by Sheikh Mustafa Akhound at the Imam Ali Center of Springfield, Virginia. I plan to keep writing more books and inshallah (God-willing) one day translate some of the great Shia books from Arabic to English.


It has been about a year and half since I was in Iraq, but Ayatollah Sayed Murtadha Shirazi frequently asks Sheikh Mustafa about me and sends me his greetings. I feel very honored to have met him. It amazes me sometimes because I never would have thought while I was in that prison cell reading and studying about Islam that I would end up visiting the shrines of the ones I grew to love; Ahl ul Bayt (pbut). I also never would have thought that an Ayatollah would be sending me his greetings and taking an interest in me. It is very humbling and I hope to continue down this path of serving the Family of Muhammad (pbut).

Recently I heard that Sheikh Mustafa’s father, Sheikh Makki Akhound, was coming from Karbala to visit. I thought to myself that morning before my Howza class how great it would be if he could bring my books back to Iraq and present them to Ayatollah Sayed Murtadha. So, with this thought in mind I went to my class. Upon arriving at the masjid I saw Sheikh Makki and he asked me how my son and I have been doing. Before I could even say anything about him taking my books to the respected scholar he said “Mateen, Ayatollah Sayed Muratdha Shirazi sends his greetings to you and says he is very proud of the work you have been doing for Ahl ul Bayt (pbut). He wants me to bring your books to him.” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing! It was a great honor and achievement for me as a convert to Islam that an Ayatollah asked for my books.

I sent all three books back to Najaf with Sheikh Makki who presented them to him. He got a picture of the Ayatollah reading them for me and sent it to my email just this past week. I wanted to share this story with everyone and I hope that we all can take a look at what talents we possess and formulate a plan on how we can use these great blessings to serve the cause of Ahl ul Bayt (pbut) and grow closer to the beloved Imam of our time, Imam Mahdi (May Allah hasten his reappearance).


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