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Conversion to Islam in prisons: Map


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Conversion to Islam in Prison is a topic that has drawn attention because a very small percentage of the large number of prisoners who have converted to Islam while serving time have subsequently committed acts of terrorism.

In the 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 Universitymarker, 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.

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 country. J. Michael Waller claims that Muslim inmates comprise 17-20% of the prison population, 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.

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