Conversion to Islam in U.S. prisons

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Conversion to Islam in U.S. prisons refers to the higher rate of conversion to Islam in American prisons, for which there are a number of factors. It is the fastest-growing religion in U.S. prisons (when conversions to Protestantism and Catholicism are not combined).[1] The US prison population is 9 percent Muslim[2] (compared to 1 percent for the general population).

Rate of conversion to Islam[edit]

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.[3] These converted inmates are mostly African American, with a growing Hispanic minority.[4] 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.[5][6][7]

Concern in the United States[edit]

Concern over jailhouse conversions to Islam first rose in 2001 when Imam Warith Deen Umar, Islamic chaplain for the New York State prison system, was reported to have praised the September 11 attacks; in response members of Congress called for an investigation.[8] 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 chaplains, but rather unsupervised inmates.[8]

In 2006, then FBI director Robert Mueller described the Islamist conversion movement operating throughout U.S. prisons, to a Senate committee. He said that prisons were a “fertile ground” for Islamic extremists, and that they targeted inmates for introduction to the militant Wahhabi and Salafist strains of Islam.[9]

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.[8]

In January 2010, John Kerry released a report that stated: "Three dozen U.S. citizens who converted to Islam while in prison have traveled to Yemen, possibly for Al Qaeda training."[10]

Notable converts to Islam in prison[edit]



See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Religion in Prisons – A 50-State Survey of Prison Chaplains". 22 Mar 2012. Retrieved 31 May 2018.
  2. ^ "Mean religious affiliation of inmates in U.S. prisons, as reported by prison chaplains in 2011". 2011. Retrieved 31 May 2018.
  3. ^ United State Senate, Committee on the Judiciary , Testimony of Dr. J. Michael Waller October 14, 2003
  4. ^ SpearIt, Raza Islamica: Prisons, Hip Hop & Converting Converts August 3, 2010 (revised February 27, 2013).
  5. ^ a b "Statement of 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. Archived from the original on May 12, 2009. Retrieved 2009-06-05. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  6. ^ "Testimony of Mr. Paul Rogers, President of the American Correctional Chaplains Association". United State Senate Committee on the Judiciary. 2003-10-12. Archived from the original on August 28, 2008. Retrieved 2009-06-05. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  7. ^ "Special Report: A Review of the Federal Bureau of Prisons' Selection of Muslim Religious Services Providers – Full Report" (PDF). US Department of Justice. April 2004. Retrieved 2009-06-05.
  8. ^ a b c Wakin, Daniel J. (2009-05-24). "Imams Reject Talk That Islam Radicalizes Inmates". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-06-05.
  9. ^
  10. ^ Great Britain: Parliament: House of Commons: Home Affairs Committee (2012). Roots of violent radicalisation: nineteenth report of session 2010-12, Vol. 1: Report, together with formal minutes, oral and written evidence, Volume 1. The Stationery Office.

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