Conversion to Islam in U.S. prisons
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Conversion to Islam in U.S. prisons refers to the contemporary high 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, where the population is 18 percent Muslim (compared to 1 percent for the general population); 80 percent of all prison religious conversion are to Islam.
Black Muslim organizations, such as The Nation of Islam and Moorish Science Temple of America, formally began prison outreach efforts in 1942. However evidence suggests that Muslims may have comprised a small fraction of the inmate populate in the United States as early as the 1910s. New research brought to light an African immigrant inmate at San Quentin State Prison named Lucius Lehman, who was proclaiming himself to be a Muslim religious leader during his incarceration from 1910-1924. Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad himself was incarcerated in the early 1940s when he was convicted of draft evasion. Elijah Muhammad's organization would later gain its most famous convert, Malcolm X, who took interest in Black Muslim movement while incarcerated.
Rate of conversion 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 growing Hispanic minority. According to a 2003 estimate by FBI, there are 350,000 Muslims in federal, state and local prison, about 30,000 - 40,000 more being converted every year.
Concern and characterization in United States
Muslims prisoners have been characterized as a danger or threat for radicalization in the media. Yet despite the fact of there being over 350,000 Muslim inmates in the United States, little evidence indicates widespread radicalization or foreign recruitment. Rather, research has shown that Islam has a long history of positive influence on prisoners, including supporting inmate rehabilitation for decades. An early example of this type of characterizations from the media is a article in The New York Times that alleged Imam Warith Deen Umar, Islamic chaplain for the New York State prison system, was reported to have praised the September 11 attacks; prompting members of Congress to call for an investigation. The article states that 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. In January 2010, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, chaired by Senator John Kerry, released a report that stated as many as three dozen formerly incarcerated individuals who converted to Islam in American prisons have moved to Yemen where they could pose a "significant threat". However no documentation or verifiable evidence was provided to back up the committee's report (even though the report stated the individuals traveled to apparently learn Arabic)—rather it was simply accepted and invoked as evidence. Another example of such characterization comes from Annenberg Professor of International Communication J. Michael Waller, who asserted that outside Islamist groups linked to terrorism are attempting to radicalize Muslim converts in prison, but other experts suggest that when radicalization does occur, it has little to no connection with these outside interests.
Notable converts to Islam in prison
- Malcolm X - A Civil Rights activist
- Abdul Alim Musa - Muslim-American activist
- Kevin Gates - 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
- 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
- Demetrius "Hook" Mitchell - basketball player
- Tray Deee - American rapper
- Greg Noll - A Civil Rights activist (prosecution pending)
- Terry Holdbrooks - Former GTMO guard, later became an author and public speaker.
- Conversion to Islam in prisons
- Religion in United States prisons
- Islamic Missionary Activity
- Jihadist extremism in the United States#Prison
- Islam in the African diaspora
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