Fulfilling the Religious Needs of Muslims in US Prisons
According to a report by the U.S. Department of Justice – Bureau of Statistics, there are an estimated 1,430,800 prisoners under Federal or State jurisdiction.
Without reliable data available it is difficult to know the actual number of incarcerated Muslims in the US. There are reports stating that Muslims are overrepresented in the prisons, with about 9% of the inmates identifying as Muslim in some states. This is higher in some states such as Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Jersey, and D.C. with more than twenty percent of prisoners identifying as Muslim.
The religious group most commonly cited as being underserved by volunteers is Muslims, and in facilities where no Muslim chaplain is available, religious services for Muslim inmates are provided by Muslim volunteers, contractors, or sometimes the inmates themselves.
As a consequence, the need to cater for their religious requirements is great. We encountered similar sentiments with some of the chaplains we interviewed as they mentioned the difficulties Muslim inmates face with regards to attaining Islamic books, resources and support.
Undoubtedly this highlights the importance of bridging this gap, by getting authentic Islamic literature sent to the prisons and assisting with the religious needs of our incarcerated Muslim brothers and sisters.
So, how do we help fulfill the needs of our incarcerated brothers and sisters? Alhamdulillāh since launching this initiative, we have set up fundraisers, to get books at wholesale prices to four different facilities. Our model is based on raising funds for specific copies of various titles which are then purchased from the publishers, in bulk, at wholesale prices and shipped to the prisons.
We reach out to chaplains directly, perform an interview and assess the needs of the Muslim inmates in their facility. Through this, we are able to gather information such as the number of inmates, classes held and general condition of the Muslims in that facility.
Alhamdulilāh it should be noted that there are others like Masjid Sunnah IAP and DarSalafiyyah PBD who also provide this much-needed service by sending books to Muslim inmates at retail prices. So no one should assume that we are setting a standard for them, and because we are able to organize purchases at bulk rates, they as well should do that. That is not suitable for their goal of what they are doing as they cater to specific orders for specific inmate requests. The more studious inmates need their libraries developed more than others. They send a single copy of 5, 10 or 20 different titles to a specific inmate that needs it for his specific research and development, so both of these different approaches are necessary and important. There’s nothing wrong with that and it is a beneficial project which has its scope. We hope everyone supports it as our brothers and sisters in prison are very much dependent on your kind generosity. We should be cooperating together and aiding both these projects as they are much-needed and do a great service to our Ummah.
In summary, the number of inmates accepting Islam is growing walhamdulilāh, and so does the need to get authentic books on Prayer, Creed and Jurisprudence to them for their learning and growth. The non-Muslims and people of innovation are actively propagating their beliefs by sending materials to the prisons, let us counter this and spread this pure and pristine Da’wah all over the prisons. With Allah is the aid and success we seek!
(1) Bureau of Justice Statistics 2019, https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/p19.pdf
(2) Muslim Prisoner Accommodation in State Prisons 2019 https://muslimadvocates.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/FULFILLING-THE-PROMISE-OF-FREE-EXERCISE-FOR-ALL-Muslim-Prisoner-Accommodation-In-State-Prisons-for-distribution-7_23.pdf
(3) Religion in Prisons 2012 – A 50-State Survey of Prison Chaplains, Pew Research Center https://www.pewforum.org/2012/03/22/prison-chaplains-exec/