Conversion to Islam in U.S. prisons
High rate of conversions to Islam
In addition to immigration, the state, federal and local prisons of the United States may be a contributor to the growth of Islam in the United States. J. Michael Waller claims that Muslim inmates comprise 17-20% of the prison population in New York, or roughly 350,000 inmates in 2003. He also claims that 80% of the prisoners who "find faith" while in prison convert to Islam. These converted inmates are mostly African American, with a small but growing Hispanic minority. Waller also asserts that many converts are radicalized by outside Islamist groups linked to terrorism, but other experts suggest that when radicalization does occur it has little to no connection with these outside interests.
Concern in United States
Concern over jailhouse conversions to Islam first rose in 2001 when Imam Warith Deen Umara, Islamic chaplain for the New York State prison system, was reported to have praised the September 11 attacks. This prompted members of Congress to call for an investigation of Islam in the nation’s prisons.
In a 2004 report, the Justice Department faulted the prison system for failing to protect against “infiltration by religious extremists.” However, the report made clear that the problem was not radical chaplains, but, rather extremist inmates running worship services.
Mark S. Hamm, a criminologist at Indiana State University, describes a phenomenon he calls "prison Islam." This consists of "small gang-like cliques that use cut-and-paste versions of the Koran" to give a religious patina to violent and criminal activities. Hamm has identified five such examples since 2005, notably the 2005 Los Angeles bomb plot.
Notable converts to Islam in prison
- Malcolm X - A Civil Rights activist
- Abdul Alim Musa - Muslim-American activist
- B.G. Knocc Out - an African-American rapper
- Charles Brooks, Jr. - convicted murderer; converted to Islam before execution
- Flesh N Bone - A member of the award-winning rap group Bone Thugs N Harmony
- H. Rap Brown - former Black Panther; currently in prison for murdering a police officer
- Jeff Fort - former Chicago gang leader; convicted in 1987 of conspiring with Libya to perform acts of domestic terrorism
- Jeffrey Mark Deskovic - served 15-year wrongful imprisonment sentence; exonerated by DNA evidence
- José Padilla - convicted of aiding terrorists in the "Dirty Bomb" plot
- Kevin James - ringleader of the 2005 Los Angeles bomb plot
- Mike Tyson - former heavyweight boxing champion
- Bernard Hopkins - former middleweight and light heavyweight boxing champion
- Montel Vontavious Porter - professional wrestler known in WWE
- Ashleigh Crocker - poet
- Demetrius "Hook" Mitchell - basketball player
- United State Senate, Committee on the Judiciary , Testimony of Dr. J. Michael Waller October 12, 2003
- SpearIt, Raza Islamica: Prisons, Hip Hop & Converting Converts August 3, 2010 (revised February 27, 2013).
- "Statement of Donald Van Duyn, Deputy Assistant Director, Counterterrorism Division, Federal Bureau of Investigation, before the House Homeland Security Committee Subcommittee on Intelligence, Information Sharing, and Terrorism Risk Assessment". 2006-09-20. Retrieved 2009-06-05.[dead link]
- "Testimony of Mr. Paul Rogers, President of the American Correctional Chaplains Association". United State Senate Committee on the Judiciary,. 2003-10-12. Retrieved 2009-06-05.[dead link]
- "Special Report: A Review of the Federal Bureau of Prisons' Selection of Muslim Religious Services Providers - Full Report". US Department of Justice. April 2004. Retrieved 2009-06-05.
- Wakin, Daniel J. (2009-05-24). "Imams Reject Talk That Islam Radicalizes Inmates". New York Times. Retrieved 2009-06-05.