ISLAND IN A SEA OF IGNORANCE:
by Robert Dannin
Photo Essay: CONTOURS AND DIMENSIONS OF THE PRISON MOSQUE
by Jolie Stahl
II. Early history
III. Islamic education
IV. Islamicization of prison space
V. Struggle over the prison umma
VI. Islam and the culture of resistance
GLOSSARY OF ARABIC TERMINOLOGY
GLOSSARY OF PRISON TERMINOLOGY
(c) 1992 Jolie Stahl
1. Door to Masjid Sankore at Green Haven prison.
2. Portrait of Sankore's minister of information.
3. Friday prayers at Masjid Sankore.
4. Inside Masjid ut-Taubah at Green Haven prison.
5. Portrait of Sheikh Albert Nuh Washington.
6. Muslim prisoners meet in council.
7. State-appointed chaplain in Masjid ut-Taubah.
8. `Id prayers at Wende Correctional Facility.
9. Imam Rashid with Qur'an and aromatic oils.
10. Displaying Al-Mujaddid, Sankore's newspaper.
11. Welcoming guests to the 'Id festival at Wende.
12. Prisoners and guests play basketball at Wende.
13. Shu'aib Abdur Raheem and wife.
"Islam allows you to look beyond the wall."
- Umar Abdul Jalil 1991
Narrative has long served as the main source of cultural transmission for African Americans. In the 20th century one of the most compelling and popular narratives has been The Autobiography of Malcolm X (Malcolm X & Alex Haley 1966) which tells of the religious conversion of a petty criminal nicknamed "Satan" who emerged from prison to become an eloquent orator and international political figure. This work, however, has never provoked a serious inquiry into the phenomenon of Islamic religious conversion in the prisons of the United States despite hundreds of similar testimonies describing symbolic death and rebirth, sacrifice and commitment to Islamic worship among African American prisoners. Why have those at the bottom of the social hierarchy, not just the misfits and dropouts, but state prisoners, some guilty, others falsely accused or wrongly convicted, chosen to reconstruct their lives on the basis of Islamic worship? Many of them would agree with the enthusiastic statement of a man like Imam Salahuddin A. Rashid, who concluded his khutbah at Green Haven prison on November 11, 1988 by
saying, "I was happy to come to jail! I love it because Allah has chosen me to become a good person. How many guys got 50-years-to-life and can smile and laugh every day? However long we've been in jail, adversity is a nourishment. We are physically slaves and Allah has made us winners." 
One can get a reasonable indication about the popularity of Islam among African American prisoners by looking at the statistics in New York. In 1992 (1989 figures in parenthesis) the New York State Department of Corrections (DOCS) counted 10,186 (7,554) registered Muslim inmates residing in 82 different prisons, annexes, and reception centers. The local jama`a ranged from as few as 5 or 6 in the temporary reception centers to as many as 523 at Coxsackie. These figures represented greater than 16.9% (15%) of the total state prison population of over 60,000 (50,000) and better than 30% of all incarcerated African Americans. The prisons we visited during this study with their Muslim populations are Sullivan 84 (112), Green Haven 348 (286), Auburn 310 (234), Attica 388 (327), Wende 125 (74) and Eastern 175 (135). About 30% attend (Friday) juma`a services regularly, and about 10% form the core group from which are drawn the imams and other members of the (council) majlis ash-shura in each prison mosque. There are also approximately 305 Muslims registered among the women inmates at 8 different penitentiaries. Finally, this study does not take account of the numerous Muslims at New York's municipal Rikers Island, a massive facility holding over 15,000 prisoners where there has been a very active (missionary) da`wa program for many years, apparently under the auspices of a group of Muslim corrections officers.
Each correctional facility materializes as an imposing sight. The older "max" prisons are surrounded by 18-foot high brick walls punctuated by medieval guard towers. Prisons like Green Haven and Attica surprise the motorist, their walls erupting violently from the rolling landscape. On his first visit to an American prison, Michel Foucault ridiculed Attica as "a phony fortress á la Disneyland. And behind this ... scenery which dwarfs everything else, you discover it's an immense machine" (Simon, 1991). The newer "super max" prisons like Sullivan and Wende resemble concentration camps, long cellblocks whose perimeters are enveloped by massive jumbles of razor-wire unfurled in double- or triple-rows of shimmering coils and sandwiched between walls of chain-link fence. The whole exterior is under permanent surveillance by a watchtower guard or closed circuit cameras monitored behind the large window pane above the front entrance.
In reality this limbo-world is a dense urban entity composed of racial and ethnic minorities, subjected to the rule of a predominantly white, rural labor force. The prison dominates the immediate environment like a small city propped onto a country hill. It evacuates the surrounding rural ecology and substitutes a hulking, rectilinear form. Some commentators imagine the state prison as simply a vast warehouse for human bodies. Inside the gates, a metallic smell is pervasive. Heavy iron doors, bars, gates, fixtures, locks and jangling keys connote the idea of a behemoth, permanently-moored cargo ship. Paint is thick and ugly, color nearly absent. Windows are dirty glass or scratched translucent plastic. They admit flourescent light in a low-energy glow, which equally characterizes the guards' hazy stares as they transact prison business across dingy furniture modules.
Foucault theorized detention, work, and surveillance as the functional components of the complex social division of labor known as the penitentiary (1979:122). Detention, he wrote, removes the criminal from society and subtracts his freedom of movement. It confines him to the compartmentalized prison architecture divided into a series of cells, rooms and corridors through which he weaves his way en route from one compulsory activity to another. The buildings, cellblocks, exercise yards, workshops, chapels, offices and fields become the fixed points of simulated urban space as evidenced in one prisoner's description of his arrival at Attica. "A block, B block, go down to `Times Square'. Go to D block, E block this way, D block is straight down. Alright. When I got down there again, I was in the yard, and a Muslim called to me ..." (Account of arriving at Attica. Umar Abdul Jalil, 29 December 1991). There is a detailed schedule that dictates a nearly absolute control of his quotidian activities.
Their whole concept of the prison system [is] they are going to tell you when to wake up, when to go to sleep, when to shower, change, shit, eat. We're going to tell you the whole thing. We don't want you to make no decisions. We don't want nobody to run [anything] because we have hired G.E.D.[high school equivalency diploma] morons [guards] out of the countryside. We know they can't think, but we can't have no prisoners making decisions (Abdul Jalil 1991).
Prison work transforms the convict's energy into an act of submission. Whereas his labor may be used to produce some small commodity, license plates or office furniture for example, the really significant aspect of a prisoner's work is that of "an empty economic form" constitutive of a power relation which conditions him to expect more pain and suffering if he refuses to capitulate (Foucault 1979: 243).
Surveillance exerts a pre-eminent role with respect to both detention and labor. It defines the ubiquitous, inhuman eye which forces the prisoner to undergo constantly a series of frontal inspections and examinations: body counts, call-outs, lock-ins, lock-downs, body searches, interrogations, psychological tests and parole reviews. The prisoner is permanently visible and without genuine privacy. Normally there are five counts per day, and the prisoner must be fully visible to the guard, not just lying down in his cell. This conditioning is so great that after a ten-year sentence, a man can be physically returned to society yet still feel as if he were "on the count", meaning that he sporadically feels the need to be closed-in and by himself (in order to comply with the count). The machine is nothing less than authoritarian discipline rendered incarnate by the prison architecture and its rules (Foucault 1979:148).
Foucault and others (Cloward et al. 1960) maintained that the 20th century prison evolved from ideals of 18th century social reformers who meant for punishment to transform or convert. Organizations such as the Quaker-inspired American Prison Reform Association had an apparently unyielding belief in the salutary effects of these distinctive archaic forms and routines supplemented with "bibles and other books of religion [and] clergy ... and any other edifying person [who] may have access to the prisoners at any time. Work on the prisoner's soul must be carried out as often as possible." (Foucault 1979:125).
Such models were generally applied in 1948 in Massachusetts where Malcolm X was imprisoned. "At Norfolk we could actually go into the library, with permission - walk up and down the shelves, pick books. There were hundreds of old volumes, some of them probably quite rare" (Malcolm X & Alex Haley 1964:157). "The prison's superb library had been willed to the Commonwealth by State Senator Lewis Parkhurst of Winchester, who had devoted his career to penal reform... Malcolm pored through the books on Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Christianity" (Perry 1991:114).
At first Malcolm seemed interested in the Jehovah's Witnesses (Ibid.:114), but then decided to follow the path of his siblings into the Nation of Islam. He became a model prisoner.
For the next years, I was the nearest thing to a hermit in the Norfolk Prison Colony. I never have been more busy in my life. I still marvel at how swiftly my previous life's thinking pattern slid away from me, like snow off a roof. It is as though someone else I knew of had lived by hustling and crime. I would be startled to catch myself thinking in a remote way of my earlier self as another person (Op.cit.,170).
He eventually became a self-disciplined, spiritually attuned intellectual, just as capable of grandlioquence before the Oxford Debating Union as a fast, smart rap on a Harlem streetcorner.
Could Senator Parkhurst have imagined his library contributing to the formation of a stalwart Muslim convert? Would he avow his reformist ideology in the description of another prison conversion nearly 25 years after Malcolm X?
I was in 'A' block, and I had seen a group of orthodox Sunni Muslims praying. And at that point I was just drawn to Islam. It was like a natural conversion. Before anyone had said anything to me. I didn't know what they were doing, but I thought, whatever that group of men were doing, I was going to be a part of it. That was on either Tuesday or Wednesday. On Friday I went to the masjid (Abdul Jalil 1991).
Here is a counter-force to Parkhurst's reformist ideal of stringent discipline in an extraneous yet captivating counter-discipline that excites the sensibility of a young Los Angeles gangbanger.
Islam has changed my life tremendously. It has caused me to be disciplined to an extent I never thought possible for me. I came out of a culture that revelled in indiscipline and rebelliousness, etc. So to go the opposite direction was major for me....
I firmly believe and see that for the 90s and beyond, Islam will be an even more dynamic force and alternative for many prisoners, especially the confused and angry youth who are more and more receptive to the teachings of Islam and the self-esteem, discipline and respect it provided them in abundance not to mention the knowledge" (Al-Hizbullahi 1991)
Our problem was to identify the sources of Islam's popularity in the prison system and to understand how the concatenation of Qur'anically prescribed activities might structure an alternative social space enabling the prisoner to reside, as it were, in another place within the same Disney-like walls. If it is true, for example, that Muslim prisoners can invoke certain formulations of sharia (Islamic law) to restore order among themselves (and by extension to the rest of the prison), then does this realm of scriptural enforcement equal the dar al-Islam (the house of Islam or house of peace)? Can the Islamic prison jama'a be referred to only as an "imagined community" or might it not also serve as a legitimate representation of the real Muslim community at-large, the umma? Does such sacred territory constitute a suitable realm of the inmate who seeks to escape from the dominant, oppressive space of the penitentiary?
While is it beyond the scope of this present article to offer a detailed examination of Islamic legitimacy and authenticity, we can certainly assume that Islamic worship has already affirmed its bonafide role in the history of the state correctional system as the following ethno-history illustrates. It is also evident that the Qur'an furnishes a dramatic stage upon which the plight of individuals can be acted out in the brutal reality of state prison.
Early history of Masjid Sankore and the Dar Prison Committee
Early attempts to establish Islam, albeit unconventional Islam, in prisons can be inferred from reports in the 1930s about the imprisonment of members of the Moorish Science Temple and the Nation of Islam who were jailed for draft evasion (Cleveland Plain Dealer 1935). These "Islamic-nationalist" cults drew their adherents from an alienated segment of northern blacks who voiced open rejection of white-dominated American culture. They also regarded the Black Church as an essentially rural institution which failed to redress increasingly complex social problems arising from the Great Migration (ca. 1917) and the rise of the urban ghetto (Fauset 1944; Bontemps and Conroy 1945; Frazier 1963). In prison the "Moors and "Black Muslims" represented cultural and religious predilections that made them a minority among black prisoners, a situation that did not appear significant until the mid-1960s when people of African and Hispanic descent began to outnumber Euro-Americans in state and federal prisons.
Activities of these proto-Islamic cults among black prisoners reached an apogee in the years following the 1965 assassination of Malcolm X, and soon there were several thousands of inmates across the country changing their names and declaring themselves "Muslim". Some prison administrators regarded this as a legitimate religious affiliation and valued the Muslim ethical code of hard work and sobriety as congruent with prevailing corrections philosophy of personal rehabilitation, but few wardens or Christian chaplains were ready to sanction this form of worship notwithstanding their awareness of the constitutional issue of religious freedom (Caldwell 1966). Even today, administrators at prisons like Green Haven, keenly aware but also puzzled by the stunning growth of Islam among prisoners, have tried to establish a procedure which requires any prisoner intending to convert to a new religion to first consult with the chaplain of his old faith in order to justify this decision.
As a popular culture with militant rhetoric, the Nation of Islam influenced several generations of African American prisoners. For all its problems as a personality cult, climaxing in the assassination of Malcolm X, the Nation of Islam produced some rudimentary cultural forms and succeeded in transferring some of its material wealth across the wall in support of the prison followers of Elijah Muhammad. The Ministers and Captains of the Nation of Islam used prisons as fertile ground for recruiting new members from the legions of "dead souls". As an organized prison sub-culture, the Nation of Islam was thus in a position to assume a predominant role within the developing inmate hierarchy. On the one hand, there were prisoners of all ethnic, racial and religious backgrounds. On the other hand, there was an elite corps of Black Muslims, who took care of themselves by reigning supreme over the others. Ironically, their power was a way of readjusting the lines of social stratification to correspond more accurately to the changing demographics of the prison population.
As for the role of Sunni Muslims in the prison system, the earliest concrete report comes from Philadelphia in 1955 when more than 60 shahadas (pronouncement of the attestation of the faith) were given through the work of fellow inmates Abdul Raheem and Sulaiman al-Hadi, assisted by the director of the Islamic Center of Washington, D.C. who had responded to al-Hadi's letter inquiring about Islam by sending him a Qur'an and a book entitled, The Religion of Islam by Ahmed Galwash. Within three months, the Muslim prisoners were housed together in contiguous cells within a single block. They established salât (congregational prayer) and tried to maintain the canonical halal diet as best they could given the obligatory prison menu. After brief negotiations the warden authorized the community to hold jum`a services and also allowed Raheem to conduct classes which included Arabic lessons. Although there were some members of the Nation of Islam in the same prison, they did not have a temple and neither did they associate nor identify with the Sunni community.
Between 1962 and 1968 Sunni Muslims began to worship openly in New York state facilities. At Green Haven a community of Muslims assembled under the leadership of Yusef Abdul Mu`min. These prisoners were not yet formally organized nor were they recognized by the administration as a legitimate religious community worthy of a mosque. In 1968 Mu`min wrote to Imam Yahya Abdul Karim of Brooklyn's Yassin Mosque asking for outside help in ameliorating the conditions for incarcerated Sunni Muslims at Green Haven.
Imam Yahya was the popular leader of the Dar ul-Islam movement, an indigenous Muslim organization that had developed among the African-American followers of Sheik Daoud Faisal, founder and imam of the Islamic Mission to America, more commonly known as the State Street Mosque in Brooklyn. Beginning in 1963 the Dar ul-Islam movement's goal was to build an urban Muslim community in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn. The "Dar" eventually grew into an indigenous Sunni Islamic network with powerful contingents in Washington, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Newark in addition to Brooklyn. Under Yahya's dynamic leadership, the Dar took on the task of trying to create an authentic American jama`a which synthesized fundamentalist Islam with ideas of social and economic justice in a predominantly urban, African-American setting.
Yahya responded to Mu'min's request by dispatching his assistant, Bilal Abdul Rahman to Green Haven to learn about the conditions facing Sunni Muslims there. Rahman reported that the Muslims needed assistance from their brothers outside in order to negotiate legitimate "ministerial" privileges with the prison's top brass. A second Dar emissary, Sheikh Abdul Raheem Ismail, discovered that Green Haven's Muslim prisoners were forced to worship in a space beneath the facility's theater. Salât and talim (educational) groups were often interrupted by the clamor of inmates' cheering and stomping above. As a result of his visit, Sheikh Ismail negotiated an agreement for the first permanent prison mosque located in an old sporting equipment storage room. Sheikh Ismail began to make weekly trips to Green Haven acting on a volunteer basis to assist the Muslim prisoners in their relations with the prison administration as well as the outside world. His efforts were complemented by an Indian immigrant named Amirullah who worked as an engineer in a nearby IBM plant. This was the beginning of the Dar ul-Islam's Prison Committee. Green Haven's Sunni Muslims now took the name, Masjid Sankore, after the African Islamic center of learning in Timbuctu, Mali, seat of the Songhay empire (AD 1496-1591).
Sankore rapidly outgrew its cramped space, eventually taking over the prison's old tailor shop which was a comparatively spacious area with real pillars. The prisoners devoted much time and effort into making the space into a genuine masjid and a place of refuge from the drab confines of the rest of the prison. "When you walked in there, it was another world. You didn't feel like you were in Green Haven in a maximum security prison. Officers [guards] never came in. It was like going into any other masjid on the outside; you felt at home," commented Sheikh Ismail. Figure 1 , Figure 2 Among his other first impressions of Islam at Green Haven, he recalled that both the Sunni Muslims and the Black Muslims (Nation of Islam) practiced a cadenced march through the corridors as if to mark out their own militant counter-disciplinary tradition. That was the only thing they shared however. The Nation sought and demanded their own mosque [Figure 3] and competed fiercely with the Sunnis at Sankore for new initiates.
From 1968 to 1970 the Prison Committee received correspondence from Muslims in other prisons which detailed both the conditions in which they worshipped and the competition and hostility that Sunni Muslims faced from members of the Nation of Islam. Thereafter the Prison Committee expanded its range of operations to encompass many other prisons around New York with Masjid Sankore serving as the standard against which Islamic religious freedom in prison was measured. As prisoners who learned their Islam at Sankore were transferred to other prisons, they demanded some of the same privileges and amenities that they possessed at Green Haven. Often they were assisted by the Dar to negotiate diplomatically with the local warden. Until 1972 the Prison Committee functioned on a strictly volunteer basis. Between 1972 and 1976 there was a contract between the State Department of Corrections and Yassin Mosque in Brooklyn whereby the Dar was paid by the state to reimburse the Prison Committee for its expenses and educational services. The committee was active in bringing outside Muslim visitors to the prison mosques as lecturers and entertainment, for example, prison concerts by Sheikh Sulaiman al-Hadi and his Last Poets, precursors of today's rappers, whose music represented a fusion of Islam, the prison experience, and 1960s radical politics.
By 1970 Yusuf Abdul Mu`min was succeeded as the leader of Sankore by Jamal Pasha Blaine who "wore a red fez and looked like a Moroccan sultan". He continued the militant tradition of what the Prison Committee referred to as joint-Islam to denote the different practices compared to orthodox Muslims outside. Jamal pushed for as many privileges as he could extract from the administration. Rasul Abdullah Sulaiman, bodyguard and sometime confidant to Malcolm X succeeded him as Sankore's third imam around 1972. He had participated in Muslim Mosques Inc., the religious arm of Malcolm X' movement. Rasul capitalized on his association with the slain martyr and parlayed this charisma into a status heretofore unrivalled by any Muslim inmate. Soon after he became imam, Rasul invited Imam Yahya Abdul Karim to visit Sankore in a gesture calculated, apparently, to confirm his accession to power in Green Haven and enhance his standing both within the facility and among Muslims beyond the wall. Resisting some of his feelings concerning joint-Islam, Yahya paid a visit to Sankore and gave the jama`a three bits of advice: "Practice the Islam you know; teach it to others; learn more than you already know". For his part, Rasul recuperated some of Yahya's charism too and thus firmly established Sankore's reputation as the "Medina" of the prison system. According to records from the Islamic Center, Sankore had more converts to Islam than any other mosque in America during the years 1975 and 1976. Some of the converts were outside guests or even corrections personnel who would often volunteer to work Sankore religious events without pay (Mustafa et al. 1989). Other successful prison mosques were eventually started in Attica, Auburn, Clinton, Comstock, Elmira, Napanoch, Ossining, Shawangunk, and Wende.
By 1975 the Dar ul-Islam movement began to pull back from its prison da`wa activities. Sheikh Ismail resigned as the head of the Prison Committee, and in 1976 the contract between Masjid Yassin and the Department of Corrections was not renewed. The state wanted to hire Muslim chaplains as direct employees of the Ministerial Services division of DOCS. Imam Yahya and most incarcerated Sunnis did not want the Prison Committee to lose its autonomy by submitting to state control. "When you're doing it as a volunteer, then you're practicing your religion straight up and down not because you want a paycheck" (Hajj Muhammad 1992). Al-Amin Abdul Latif succeeded Sheikh Ismail as the head of the Prison Committee and reversed policy, briefly signing with DOCS until Imam Yahya ordered him to quit. The Prison Committee returned to its previous mode of operation as part of the volunteer services program in the prisons. In 1978 the Dar changed its position again and Al-Amin and Sheikh Ismail shared the single remaining position being offered by the department. There were two members from the Dar and two from the Nation under direct contract to the state to supply services and counseling to Muslim inmates. This policy of balanced hiring continued unofficially until the distinctions between Sunni Muslims and members of the former Nation of Islam began to blur.
These developments occurred after Elijah Muhammad's death in 1975. Warith D. Muhammad, his son, began to dismantle the Nation of Islam by liberating his followers from their allegiance to Elijah's personality cult. He instructed the members of the Nation of Islam's prison communities to begin to learn salât and the Qur'an from their fellow Sunni prisoners, resulting in some cases in successful unification of the prison jama'a. Despite lingering antagonisms all but two New York prisons currently have unified Muslim communities. For some prisoners, however, the strict personal attachment to Elijah Muhammad has metamorphosed into an Islamic allegiance(bay`a) to his son, who nevertheless tries to disavow this structure. Since 1975 he initiated several changes in the organizations's name, symbolic of its new directions. First, he changed it to the World Community of Islam in the West as way of acknowledging that the umma included peoples of many nations and races. Then he took the name, the American Muslim Mission (A.M.M.) as an indication of his allegiance to the U.S. government (Marsh, 1984). His followers were recast as "Bilalians" (after the African-born muezzin of the Prophet Muhammad). Finally, he dissolved the organization completely, although the newspaper, The Muslim Journal continues to emphasize the affairs of the former ministers and A.M.M. temples. One Sunni inmate described the conversion of a fellow inmate and former member of the Nation of Islam.
I taught him how to pray. They had never performed salât before. But W.D. Muhammad [Warith] gave them instructions to learn from us. Just a few months previously he [the convert] was ridiculing us for prostrating to the `spook god' - an unseen god. He used to pray to a picture of Wallace Fard Muhammad that he had on the wall of his cell. And he would face toward Chicago also! It was therefore humiliating for him, but all over the state we taught them salât and Arabic. And we thought we'd come together as one community. But they put on the brakes and maintained their differences with us and continued to adhere to the cult" (Raheem 1989).
An important counterpoint to the development of Islam in New York prisons during this period is the better-known history of Black Power militancy which drew some inspiration from Malcolm X but differed in very important ways from the Muslims. In terms of the conditions of detention and surveillance, the political activities of Black Power militants among African American and Hispanic prisoners affected Muslims because any association of prisoners came under intense scrutiny by prison officials. For example, when Sunni communities tried to establish congregational prayer in the prison yard, they were often met with resolute opposition by the Deputy Superintendent of Security who regarded any gathering of three or more inmates as a threat. Nevertheless this attitude changed after the 1971 Attica uprising due to the Muslims' role as mediators and protectors of the hostage-guards. Then the Department of Corrections accorded greater legitimacy to Islam and granted more privileges to Muslims. This included the right to observe congregational salât (sometimes in the exercise yard but mostly in the mosque), Ramadan (including halal meals) and sadaqa (which gave the intramural jama`a relative financial autonomy).
Moreover, the Panthers, the Black Liberation Army, the Young Lords and other political prisoners were subject to intense repression in the aftermath of Attica. They were attacked by enraged guards who were determined to avenge the deaths at Attica and destroy inmate political power. This backlash saw an increasingly sinister alliance between guards and white racist prisoners, some of whom belonged to ultra-violent groups such as the Aryan Brotherhood and the KKK. The administration often turned a blind eye to the activities of these unholy allies, who spread virulently racist ideology and murdered black and Hispanic prisoners in a general reign of terror against minority prisoners. This aggressive policy corresponded with a period of dwindling support outside for the Panthers. Many of their previous constituents either feared becoming the next victims of brutal police repression or traded in their politics for a more sedate existence. As the size of their urban following began to shrink, therefore, the imprisoned radicals lost their access to the streets.
Shocked by the rapid decline of their power, some political prisoners responded to the da`wa messages of the Dar ul-Islam and other Sunni Muslims by turning their organizing skills toward religion. The Dar Prison Committee assuaged their political apprehensions by teaching that Islam was "not inconsistent" with the goals of the Panthers and other revolutionary parties. They offered the Qur'an as a new program for personal reconstruction and as a prerequisite for genuine social transformation repeating the oft quoted passage, "Verily, never will God change the condition of a people until they change it themselves with their own souls" (Qur'an, 13:11 or 8:53). This program is clearly illustrated in the conversion narrative of a former member of the Black Liberation Army who began serving a term of 25-to-life in 1973. [Figure 5]
I was a socialist. I was determined, and what happened was that I was placed in a jail with another black leader whom I respected. He had already become Muslim and I was confronted with him praying five times a day. I couldn't understand it. We had some serious battles in respect to: Why are you now praying to a god who, I felt, had abandoned black people? And we argued and battled.
[Accepting Islam] helped me become more relaxed [and] it relieved a burden from me in the sense that I had become frustrated by the decline of the movement ... And then you read the ayat in the Qur'an where Allah told the Prophet, "Maybe we might show you a victory in your lifetime. Maybe we won't, but you must keep striving." So then you start to see things in a broader perspective -- outside of yourself as an individual. It was then that I realized that we didn't really suffer a major defeat but that we were part of an ongoing process that eventually would culminate in victory.
You know, we used to be told, "Have faith in the Panther Party. Have faith in the People." And one day the party was gone. And the people were doing jobs other than what was expected of them. But if you do what Allah says, "Have faith in Him," then you start to realize ... and you see little things happen and you know they are not happening by your will. That's the fundamental difference. It's the mental outlook (Washington 1988).
After several members of the B.L.A. pledged shahada, the Prison Committee learned that the Inspector General of DOCS had launched an investigation into a possible conspiracy between Black Power advocates and Muslims. It was even suggested that some militants turned to Islam as a form of protection from reprisals because it is very rare for any Muslim inmate to be attacked or punished without "going through the proper channels", meaning that both guards and other inmates usually bring their complaints about Muslims to the majlis or the imam before taking independent action. [Figure 6]
To summarize the early history of Islam in New York prisons, the founding of Masjid Sankore appears as the one defining moment. Its founders were able to amalgamate diverse cultural and political trends reflecting the 20th century African-American ethos within a religious space. Masjid Sankore articulated Islam to some of the most socially alienated and economically downtrodden people in black America, hard core prisoners. Its appeal was linked to Sunni principles espoused by El Hajj Malik Shabazz (Malcolm X) as well as ideas about pan-Africanism which addressed growing frustration with the ideological choices between capitalism and socialism throughout the Third World. One could even suggest that Sunni Islam, as represented in Masjid Sankore was the apotheosis of the old anti-church sentiment in that it rejected previous forms of Black religious and political activism as so many versions of Black zionism in favor of the multi-racial internationalist vision contained in the concept of umma.
The traditions established at Sankore were spread by the Dar Prison Committee as far as California where Imam Muhammad Abdullah conducted da`wa among the state prisoners beginning in 1975. His efforts are directed primarily at the disaffected youth and "gangbangers" from the streets of Watts, South Central Los Angeles and Compton who languish in a culture of poverty, violence and narcotics. "Incarcerated youth," he explained "are now more open and are looking for something." Such comments were echoed by a former gangbanger who wrote, "There are many young Afrikans [sic] within the prison who, before coming to prison were deeply involved with street gangs and much crime, yet are attracted to and transformed by the teachings of Islam" (Al-Hizbullahi 1991). Between the east and west coasts, thousands of other prisoners have responded to Islamic da`wa thus producing a national trend of historical although unacknowledged importance.
The model for Sunni Islamic education in New York prisons was developed from 1974 onward by Muslim inmates with the participation of the Prison Committee, who distributed 500 copies of Mubari Islam, gifts from the Saudi-backed Rabita (Muslim World League). Classes were divided into four levels beginning with da`wa where akida (the basic Islamic belief system) is adumbrated to interested prisoners. If an individual wants to become Muslim he takes his shahada and pledges bay`a before witnesses at the mosque. He can choose a Muslim name according to several traditions. Usually a man selects his name from among the 99 attributes of Allah or from the names of prophets and companions in the Qur'an and Hadith respectively. The new Muslim, known as a shahada becomes a mubari upon learning proper salât and tahar. At the next level of instruction, called mujahid, an inmate instructor conducts classes in fiqh, the Five Pillars, Arabic lessons, the Hadith and Islamic history. At the highest level, the student is known as a sadiq. His education focuses on leadership training and preparation for a role as imam in another prison or even outside if he gets paroled. These vanguard students follow seminars in tafsir, advanced Arabic grammar and composition based on readings in the Qur'an. Advanced Islamic history, economics and masjid administration, officiating at ceremonies and general discussions, letter writing and mobilization around global Islamic issues.
In 1982 the head of Sankore's educational program, Imam Shu'aib Abdur Raheem was transferred to Attica where he teamed up with Sheik Nuh Washington to administer a larger jama`a at Masjid An-Noor. He described their curriculum as
the best Islamic education class in the country, giving broad exposure to Islamic issues and topics. The community was so large we initially had three classes at each level occupying eleven classrooms in all. People moved around and it gave the impression of being in school or college. Students evaluated the teachers who gave out grades. Teachers worked hard on their modules; some of them were students in the upper levels (Raheem 1990).
The foundation of the curriculum is the Qur'an, which represents a this-worldly culture of models from the Prophet and his original community. The Qu'ran and Sunna are understood to provide a basis for decision making and crisis management within the community and in relation to non-Muslims also. Qur'an furnishes the prisoner an alternative vision of truth and justice. It provides him a defensive weapon against daily pressures of incarceration. The shahada's Islamic identity means a fresh start, symbolized by the choice of a new name, modifications in his physical appearance, and an emphasis on prayer, salât, demonstrating submission to Allah. This collective participation in salât and Qur'anic recitation is conceptualized as a link between the worshipper in prison and his Muslim brothers worldwide, as suggested by frequent representations of Mecca in the mosque's decor. [Figure 7]
Historically, Christian prison reformers envisioned conversion as cloistered reflection or silent prayer. Behavior was thus congruent with the physical space of "fixed positions" or "cellular spaces" that are at once real and ideal (Foucault, 1979:148). As a contemporary development, Islamic teaching changes self-image and social relationships primarily through communal prayer and Qura'nic recitation which establish ties of identification and action between the Muslim believers and the sacred texts of the Qur'an and sunna. Through prostration, other obligatory prayer-gestures and vocal articulation"... reading has become over the centuries, a visual poem. It is no longer accompanied, as it used to be, by the murmur of a vocal articulation not by the movement of a muscular mandication. To read without uttering the words aloud at least mumbling them is a `modern' experience, unknown for millennia. In earlier times the reader interiorized the text; he made his voice the body of the other, he was its actor. Today the text no longer imposes its own rhythm on the subject, it no longer manifests itself through the reader's
voice. The withdrawal of the body which is the condition of its autonomy, is a distancing from the text. It is the reader's habeas corpus" (De Certeau, 1984:176).
The inclusion of scriptural recitation in Islamic pedagogy implies a return to the textual past of the Qur'an and creates a bond between the believer on the umma. Among other things, this is an explicit critique of Foucault's pessimism concerning the ability to subvert power. , the prisoner distances himself from dar al-harb and migrates (hijra) toward the ideal of dar al-Islam. The greater the capacity of the prison jama`a to establish the privilege of congregational prayer, the greater the potential effect upon the individual Muslim. It is an impressive sight to see 50 or 100 prisoners bowing and kneeling in prayer in the middle of a prison exercise yard or in a room isolated within a maze of corridors and cells. [Figure 8] This assembly symbolizes Qur'anic order and Islamic discipline, an interpretive commentary which concerns not only subjective conditions of faith but also the specific relationship of force between an organized inmate culture and the prison's authoritarian rule.
This transformation of hierarchical space further implies a conceptual break with the patterns of legitimacy that govern a prisoner's identity. First, Islam marks a physical separation between the spaces of belief - dar al-Islam - and unbelief - dar al-harb. Secondly, it enshrines particular rules of conduct according to the Sunna. Finally, all persons and actions are charged with religious meanings. Leaders of the prison mosque are usually those inmates who spend most time studying and learning Islam. Their command of Arabic can be particularly important in reinforcing their position in the inmate hierarchy, especially in the capacity to institute barriers to non-Muslim prisoners, officers, and administrators. As a symbol of the intramural Islamic community, the imam can use his scholarship to create more distance between the jama`a and the humdrum penitentiary. Even the functional use of Arabic can be used to subvert the prison-based hierarchy, while on the other hand, it projects the sacred language of Islam. The Arabic-speaking African American is an anomally within the established prison hierarchy. He fashions language into a powerful defensive weapon by importing esoteric knowledge and a new vocabulary that excludes most of the persons with whom he comes into daily contact. He equates his masjid with a location beyond the prison wall.
The study of tafsir, fiqh and Hadith, moreover, opens a new intellectual space. These fields of study represent expanded horizons for social achievement through learning, study, memorization, discussion and criticism. Indeed there are "sheiks" wandering about state prisons using these skills to resolve conflicts and keep the peace. They may encourage reflection upon the previously anti-social personality without subjecting the individual to standard criminological classifications. Whereas the secular jailhouse standard of status is measured by physical strength or a manipulative intellect, the Muslim draws his standards from the Sunna where "the strongest is he who can control himself".
From conflict resolution to the invocation of shari'a as counter-disciplinary ethics, Islamic pedagogy engenders its own philosophy and practice of law apart from the criminal justice system. As long as the community holds together and its edicts remain more or less impermeable to the administration, the shari`a helps define and reproduce an alternative social space where counter-discipline can be monitored and judged according to Islamic rules. Failure to comply may result in banishment from the community. The overall effect is to bolster the spirit of resistance by asserting an alternative legal space inside the prison. It applies to all Muslims even in cases where the injured party might be non-Muslim.
If you did something to someone, they knew that they could come to the mosque and file charges, and we would deal with it. Most of them respected that because they knew that if a Muslim wronged them, all they had to do was come to the mosque. We had a judicial system. Even corrections officers might bring us their problems saying, "Hey, I don't want to lock this guy up. Could you please talk to him?" (Abdul Jalil 1991).
Muslim leadership must, to be sure, acknowledge the established inmate hierarchies in the prison while simultaneously imposing shari'a upon the members of the jama`a. Therefore the autonomous position of the Muslim inmate suggests a relative autonomy in which skilled community leaders walk a tightrope between adherence to Islam and a secular hierarchy including powerful gangs, the guards and the administration.
As activists who borrowed much of the Black Panther's aptitude for lawsuits and litigation, some Muslim leaders have become skilled prison advocates. It is not uncommon that their grievances and lawsuits serve to formulate complaints and codify demands that have broad significance for the non-Muslim population as well (Kroll 1987). Specific issues for Muslims include the halal diet lawsuits which require considerable expertise in legal documentation, writing, and lobbying the appropriate legislators. Owing to his expertise and resiliency, the Muslim litigator further enhances the community's image among the non-Muslim population. It also means that in cases of harassment or personal assault, Muslims, contrary to the turn-the-other-cheek attitude inculcated in the born-again Christian convert, will take an activist role by contacting attorneys, legislators, or prison watchdog committees. Islamic pedagogy has nurtured a sense of heightened scrutiny and critical views when it comes to improvised or unreasonable regulations on the part of the administration.
On another level, the accomplishments of Muslims as students and teachers in the Islamic curriculum can be understood as a demonstration of increased respect for book-knowledge. This extends from high school equivalency programs to the college and graduate degree courses that are offered through the State University of New York system. Such endeavors expose the prisoner to extramural influences and contacts; they expand the range of alternative conduits to the outside world and are likely to be perceived as a consequence of the respect for learning fostered by Islamic study. When leaders of the Attica Muslim community implemented seminars so they could decide their own curriculum "it unleashed a lot of creative energy... We were trying to open up lines to these brothers so they wouldn't be misinformed. The ideal was to educate them, but they began to educate themselves also" (Washington 1988). Muslim prisoners are not permitted to make all their daily prayers at the mosque. Congregational prayers are usually limited to zuhr (noon), asr (late afternoon), and maghrib (sunset). However the adan is called five times a day so that even during fajr (dawn) and isha (night), courteous non-Muslim neighbors will lower their radios and give the worshipper ten or fifteen minutes of silence. Other times the masjid is open for religious counseling daily from 8 - 11 AM and 1 -3 PM. At these times individuals can pray, read, contemplate and generally "chill out" from the rigors of prison life. Until recently Muslim prisoners at Green Haven were able to drift in and out of the mosque at will, but since 1985 the warden has tried to institute greater conformity with the rules at the other "hard-time" facilities in the state. As a consequence of this crackdown, access to the mosque has been restricted. Presently, the community has access to the mosque from 3 - 4 PM during the week. Occasionally, one sees Muslims praying on the carpet, silently reading in a corner, performing light maintenance tasks or even preparing snacks in the small kitchenette which is stocked with canned foods as part of the sadaqa program. From 6 - 9 PM the religious study classes are held at Sankore. On weekends the mosque is open from 8:30 - 11 AM for cleaning and maintenance and from 1 - 4 PM for religious activity which may also include looking at video-cassettes. Any changes in the mosque schedule are broadcast on the intramural radio station.
In 1973 the Department of Corrections consulted the Islamic Center in New York to determine a calendar of annual events for the Muslim prisoners. The four holidays which came to be acknowledged were hijra (New Year's Day), maulid al-nabi (the Prophet's birthday), `id al-fitr (feast commemorating the end of the Ramadan fast), and `id al-adha (feast of the sacrifice). During Ramadan Muslims can requisition halal meat and are permitted to use the kitchen to prepare iftar meals. For breaking the fast, they are also permitted exceptionally to take some of the food back to their cells.
For the most part the devout Muslim will attempt to maintain his salât on an individual basis, making fajr in his cell or interrupting his job or recreation to pray perhaps in the prison yard. Since the Muslim prisoners reside in a mixed population, most of their non-Muslim neighbors are familiar with their customs and schedules. One such neighbor was an early riser and he would sometimes tap on the next cell to wake his Muslim neighbor for prayer by whispering, "Hey brother! It's time for your prayer."
The Muslim's cell can be recognized by the absence of photographic images and the otherwise ubiquitous centerfold pin-ups of naked women. When a man becomes a shahada, he is not necessarily ordered to change the decor of his cell immediately. Gradually, however, his co-religionists will begin explaining the proper etiquette for a Muslim inmate and gently coax him to re-arrange his living-space to conform more closely with Islamic models of sobriety and sexual modesty. By the same token, some of the non-Muslim population will know almost immediately when someone in their cellblock converts to Islam. In their subsequent encounters, they will not be shy about informing the convert of what they understand to be his duties as a devout Muslim in the context of prison society.
To reorganized personal space corresponds a changed attitude toward his body for the new Muslim. Different standards of hygiene now prevail. Pork and non-halal meat and meat products are forbidden although the prison recipes make it difficult to avoid haram foods completely. None the less the approach toward eating changes as the Muslim becomes more conscious about what foods from the prison menu he choose to eat. Some prisoners even object to the preparation of non-meat products with utensils that have touched haram foods. The issue of providing halal diets to Muslim prisoners in New York state has been in litigation for many years, but recently the state has taken a hard line using the excuse of budgetary constraints to legitimize their curtailment of inmate religious rights.
Other hygienic changes in the convert's life pertain to wudzu (ablution). Here the concept of ritual purification is transformed into a code of personal cleanliness and grooming. In addition to their kufi (skullcaps), beards, djellabah (long shirts), etc., the Muslims are usually well-scrubbed. The Sankore orientation booklet, for examples, advises inmates to wear aromatic oils when entering the mosque. [Figure 9] Incense, soap and deodorant figure among the other commodities whose legitimate intramural commerce is monopolized by a Muslim constituency. Incense usually fills the mosque with a pleasant odor and there is a lively sociability connected with wearing fragrances, passing out the newest scents and even anointing visitors at the masjid. The use of personal toiletries defines the Muslim's body as different from the sweaty, disciplined body of the ordinary prisoner. Cigarette smoking is also frowned upon among orthodox Muslims.
The most contentious issue regarding the prisoner's body involves surveillance and personal modesty. For example, during the 1970s, the Prison Committee worked with the state to arrange special times for Muslims to shower as a way to insure privacy. Eventually, DOCS designated Thursday nights for Muslims to coordinate showers among themselves. A related yet unresolved issue is the "strip search" when men are forced to strip naked and submit to an inspection of their body cavities. The maximum security prisoner can expect a random "strip search" after coming into contact with outsiders such as visitors or attorneys. Muslims express extreme indignation at submitting to this practice and regard it as an unjustified invasion of privacy and a violation of Islamic modesty. The search may be a vehicle for guards to make homosexual gestures and verbal insinuations. Many prisoners refuse to undergo this procedure. Consequently, they file grievances, risk being "written up", sent to "hole" or even beaten if they refuse too vehemently. Belief in Islamic standards of sexual modesty conditions this attitude and reinforces the counter-disciplinary urge to defend one's privacy. Some attempted searches have ended in violence because of a guard's vulgar gesture. When conducted in the presence of female guards, the strip-search gives an indication of how the sate uses the search as an instrument of humiliation by creating an even more embarrassing, demeaning situation loaded with potential obscenities. The act of prostrating, naked, for the prison guards symbolizes the ultimate submissive gesture - a sacrilegious act for any Muslim. Lawsuits have been filed but the courts have backed up the wardens who insist that security issues take precedence over freedom of religious expression. This is another aspect of the continuing struggle between Qur'anic traditions and the culture of surveillance.
To summarize the discussion of Islamic pedagogy, one can say that the gestures performed in salât, the restructuring of the visual space of the cell walls and the re-calculation of the daily, weekly and annual calendar often have an invigorating sensory effect. They transform the prisoner's lived-in space by altering his representation of the world. Experienced as a commitment to religious and cultural practices, Islam strengthens the prisoner's ability to resist the rigors of detention and surveillance. It becomes his instructional manual for counter-discipline.
The Muslim community generates a certain degree of physical, emotional or even biological relief from the grinding prison discipline. This extraordinarily synthetic capacity to alter the cognitive patterns of an inmate's world may even carry over into the realm of taste (halal diet), sight (reverse-direction Arabic script, calligraphy, absence of images, geometrical patterns, etc,), and smell (aromatic oils, incense). By staking out an Islamic space and filling it with a universe of alternative sensations, names, and even a different alphabet, the prison jama`a establishes the conditions for a relative transformation of the most dreaded aspect of detention - the duration of one's sentence, the "terror of time". No other popular inmate association has proved itself capable of redefining the prison sentence in such a long term way, for in its most successful manifestation, Islam has the power to reinterpret the notion of "doing time" into the activity of "following the sunna of the Prophet Muhammad".representing the distance traveled. Obviously this practice evolved as a way of easing the journey by relieving the passengers of the "terror of time".
Islamicization of prison space
What mechanisms are available to reinforce the counter-disciplinary regime of Islam in prison? How does it hold together in an environment that is rife with social disorder and personal immorality? "We have to deal with discipline in the ranks of the masjid," reported a life-term Sunni Muslim. "Brothers have received stripes [whippings] for stealing, gambling and/or expelled from the mosque - exiled for engaging in homosexual activity. This is how we apply the Shari`a. Whenever these mild sanctions fail to accomplish the disciplinary regime set by the local imam, other methods can be invoked. In certain instances people have been severely beaten up or stabbed, depending upon the severity of the transgression, its recurrence, its effects/threat to the security of the [Muslim] community" (Ibid.).
Muslims try to short-circuit vendettas that might threaten the general security of the mosque. For example, "if we know a brother did another prisoner wrong, we won't let that other prisoner deal with the brother, but rather we will kick his butt ourselves and then try to satisfy the injured party". The entire inmate population as well as the staff recognize the application of the Shari`a as an autonomous self-correcting process initiated and administered by Muslims. According to prison folklore, no one can make the mistake of forgetting the Muslim code because "a Muslim's blood is sacred. We will not allow anyone to shed a Muslim's blood without retaliation. The prison population knows this and would prefer for us to handle our situation. They report the transgression to us rather than taking it into their own hands" (Ibid.). The Shari`a therefore has a salutary effect on the entire prison. The same source confirms that "often the wazir of shurtah (the security chief) gets reports from non-Muslims of what Muslims are doing in prison, particularly those involved with drugs or homosexual activity." In the early 1980s an imam was even removed from his post when it was discovered that he engaged in homosexual activities outside the Muslim community.
Opposition to homosexuality has a double significance when enforced by the Muslim prison community. Certainly it upholds Islamic doctrines against sexual perversion (Quran, 27:55 and 29:28), and in this sense, it reflects a practical application of Qur'anic principles mapped onto the dar al-Islam. Generally, religion promotes sex for biological reproduction while downplaying pleasure. But pleasure and release notswithstanding, homosexual coupling in prison probably has more to do with reinforcing social rank within the prison subculture because in the scheme of penitentiary discipline, homosexuality implies possession, domination and submission. Therefore Islamic resistance to these practices is not only an act of maintaining control over one's nafs (lower desires) but also a struggle to conserve physical autonomy by resisting the manifest disciplinary hierarchy.
Economic reinforcement is also important. The prison jama'a conducts business according to Islamic principles. Revenues come from the sale of incense, aromatic oils, soaps and Islamica. The profits finance the two `id feasts, special events, videocassette purchases, and prison publications such as Sankore's newsletter, Al-Mujaddid (The Renewer). [Figure 10] In the past the mosque has also funded extramural activities such as jenaza (funeral) ceremonies, financial aid to Muslim families, and cash contributions to disaster relief in Africa and Asia. Funds are also accumulated through individual sadaqa donations, state allocations for religious programs, the small salaries and scholarships which are earned by prisoners, and the nominal payments that are received for participation in experimental programs for rehabilitation, job training etc. Money flowing into the mosque has been subjected to strict regulations. The treasury is administered by the musaddiq. In one year, for example, the community spent $1,200 on rugs, beads and kufis and another $2,000 for various books about Islam. Each year the mosque awards certificates to men who have completed the Islamic study program. Extra funds are spent to buy and print small diplomas and to host a small reception with a meal of halal or kosher meat, cake and soda. Another time the community paid a small fee of $250 to an African dance troupe who entertained an assembly on Black Solidarity Day. Families of inmates attended these events and also consumed the refreshments. When the prison decided to start charging inmates a $25 fee for taking the GED exams, the imam suggested that the mosque funds be given over for this purpose.
Because they are separated from their families and deprived of the right to earn a living, the Muslims say that they are exempt from the annual zakat payments. However, they have instituted the sadaqa donation either in cash or in kind in order to replenish the mosque treasury. As a policy every time he goes to the prison commissary, a Muslim brings back a dollar's worth of food or other commodities which he contributes to the local sadaqa box in his cellblock. The man who manages this food box, the sadaqa-keeper holds the food for redistribution among the inmates on the block who might want a snack or something more substantial one days when the prison meals are haram. Every month the sadaqa-keeper, in turn, contributes one-fifth of his reserves to the mosque's sadaqa box. If the mosque's coffers are full, this qums is not required and the commodities stay in the local cellblocks. If a Muslim is just beginning his "bid" in the prison, he can pick up toiletries such as a toothbrush or deodorant from the mosque.
The Muslim prison economy owes much of its success to the fact that prisoners are wards of the state. They are relieved of total responsibility for procuring subsistence and have no immediate material diversion to turning their attention away from the pursuit of Islamic goals and ideals. The leaders of these communities are conscious of their advantage over fellow imams outside where da`wa might sometimes take a back seat to more immediate survival issues. "I never want to be an imam out there," confided a Muslim who has served as imam in six different prisons. "I've done it eighteen years and I know how it feels. Imagine if I had to get these brothers to pay the rent, gas, and electricity. It might never happen!"
The role played by Islam in promoting family ties for incarcerated men is crucial to the success of counter-discipline. The Muslim community takes enormous pains to nurture extramural contacts with families, friends, "brothers in Islam", and prospective mates. These endeavors are not always successful mainly because finding a wife or reconstructing a badly fractured family is practically an impossible task to accomplish from behind bars. Marriage to a man doing hard-time (anywhere from 10 years to life) is not an attractive proposition; most inmates we dealt with who had been married before incarceration were subsequently divorced. Even the handful of men who were already Muslims prior to incarceration lost their Muslim wives. But Muslims are taught that "marriage is half the religion." Like all prisoners they are constantly anticipating liaisons with women, but unlike the rest of the population, the Muslims believe themselves to be acting acording to their religious interests.
The `id al-fitr and `id al-adha feasts are the best occasions for family reunions when the community mounts a collective effort to recast the prison setting as a space suitable for intimate conversation and enjoyable recreation. [Figure 11] Basketball courts are opened for good natured family games. [Figure 12] Couples roam the far-reaches of the prison yard in search of solitude and privacy. [Figure 13] Communal prayers involve wives, children and friends creating a feeling that there is a sacred family space within the confines of the cold, vulgar prison, a transformation that by contrast is difficult to achieve in the open visiting rooms where non-Muslim prisoners often atttempt to engage in sex acts with their female visitors.
The prisoners invite family and sympathetic members of storefront mosques in New York or other cities. Muslim parolees are frequent visitors. The state also provides trailers on a rotating basis for the Family Reunion Program enabling the inmate to spend a weekend with his wife and children in a trailer located within the prison walls. This provides a space for the kinds of privacy and intimacy that are clearly not possible in the dominated space of the prison.
Every jum`a service at Sankore used to be an event open to outside visitors. In the "old days" under Imam Rasul, visiting imams or foreign dignitaries might even lead the prayers or deliver a khutbah. Wives and children made the trip from New York for jum`a. The most famous event occurred in 1975 when Imam Rasul married a Muslim woman in a nikka ceremony that was performed by Dr. Muhammad Raouf from the Islamic Center in New York. Sheik Ahmed Tawfiq the leader of the Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood at 133th Street in Harlem also attended along with several members of Islamic delegations to the United Nations.
Under Imam Rasul, it was even rumored that the Muslim prisoners constructed small bedrooms within the mosque for married couples to procreate. Female guests were eventually banned from the mosque, but this did not stop the Muslims from inventing new ways to breach the wall in search of female companionship. The following excerpt illustrates one of the ways in which the intramural jama`a can play a role in courtship.
Three brothers were having a discussion on the gallery one day. They asked me to write to this sister.... She was the girlfriend of one guy's wife, and he described her as a 'heavy Muslimah' who was not currently married.... Soon afterwards I was transferred to another prison and it was a very long time until she was able to get my new address. Then one day I got a 137-page letter! It was a sort of journal she'd kept from the time we agreed to become pen pals.... During one visit she suggested that we get married. One of her reasons was that her local imam was pressing her to marry and she wasn't particularly fond of the man whom he had chosen for her. She asked me first and said that my sentence was not important. She came for the `id where a nikka was performed. Four years later when the state finally granted lifers the right to marry, we got married civilly (Raheem 1991).
Marriage across the wall is difficult at best. It requires the intervention or involvement of other parties which adds an element of unreality. Women thinking about marrying a prisoner, especially someone who might be paroled in the future need as much information as possible concerning his past. The prison wali, an insider, may be able to tell the woman more than she can learn in letters, visits and phone conversations with her prospective mate. The job is controversial to say the least as can be seen in the testimony of a prisoner who has served as wali in more than ten prospective marriages.
I used to make it a point not to find out what brothers were in here for, so as not to inhibit my actions as a religious leader. I used to say just how I knew him. But now I have to report all I can learn about a guy. A brother can be straight in here. At home he can get strung-out in three months. I've got calls from imams outside saying, `What did you send us!' So I don't even recommend brothers anymore because my name is mud. The brothers in here act differently than outside and you can never know them (Ibid.).
Intramural leaders may also be faced with problems of illness and death in the families of fellow Muslim prisoners. For example a man received a letter from home explaining that his father was dying. The prisoner was confined to the "hole" however and thus unable to even get to a telephone to call home. In order to make a "deathbed" visit to his father, the inmate imam had to intercede with the prison chaplain in order to arrange things.
The skills acquired in prison mosques bring out undiscovered capacities in some men. A few have even become respected community leaders outside prison in New York, Atlanta and Detroit. This has enhanced the reputation of prison mosques as places where "pure" Islam is practiced. "We are better Muslims in here than brothers outside," is a refrain heard sometimes among Muslim prisoners.
Struggle over the prison umma
In 1982 Sankore mosque was ransacked and partially destroyed by rampaging guards. An incident which may have triggered the attack occurred when a guard was physically prevented from entering the mosque. There was a similiar incident at Attica's Masjid An-Noor involving an intrusion by the facility's warden. In retaliation for these acts of insubordination, "they went into the masjid and sliced up the Qur'an and destroyed the place. They really trashed the mosque ... wrote NIGGER on the walls and stuff." The reaction was that of dismay and hurt. This sacrilege triggered a period of violence between Muslims and guards. "Some of the big, linebacker-type Muslims were crying. Sentiment grew and various brothers went looking for the guards who were responsible and beat them up." Seven officers were assaulted during two months by Muslims who eventually were sent to the 'box'. "It was a tense situation and there could have been deaths if it got out of hand."
This was a turning point in the history of Masjid Sankore. The Sunni community at Green Haven began to see its power diminish under repeated provocation by the guards. The attack instigated a spiral of violent retaliation. Knowing that the mosque was sacred territory and anticipating the Muslims' indignation, the prison administration used this opportunity to disperse some of the powerful leaders to other prisons. The state-funded programs were lost. Later the warden denied Sankore the allocations designated by the state to their bank account and also forbade the Muslims to use their existing funds for the purchase of Islamic or Arabic books.
With the dispersal of its most powerful figures, Masjid Sankore was in danger of losing its preponderant role at Green Haven. The loss of educational programs meant disruption of the contact with Muslim emissaries beyond the wall and a reduction in extramural contacts including lectures, college courses, incoming books and videotapes and outgoing newsletters. The imam lost his personal telephone thus breaking another stable information circuit and surrendering one of the most important symbols of power in the prison. Heretofore such privileges were bestowed upon the imam at Sankore and other Sunni mosques in New York by his fellow Muslims who elected him in accordance with Qur'an laws for choosing a prayer leader. As a result, the Sunni imam moved into the highest ranks of the inmate hierarchy. (The imam's prison salary is the most lucrative of all paid jobs in the prison system.) The range of his mobility in the prison was vastly expanded and his routine contacts with guards and administrators became more intimate than anyone unfamiliar with a prison might imagine. At Sankore, Imam Rasul had amassed enormous power, demonstrable by his ability to circunambulate Green Haven's corridors any time of the day or night. As his sentence was coming to an end (he was about to be transferred to Rahway State prison in New Jersey in order to serve time on another conviction), he moved to protect this hard-won space by designating a successor who could guarantee that his power would be passed down intact. "Rasul was the real architect of Sankore," reports his step-son, Shu'aib who succeeded him as the imam.
"In June 1976 I arrived at Green Haven and immediately he appointed me to be his naibu. Before he left to serve his time in Rahway, he supervised the election for imam and I won by a plurality. It was called nepotism at the time." But it was obviously Rasul's way of using Islamic tradition to guarantee Sankore's integrity. He was "the undisputed imam" of all incarcerated Sunni Muslims and wanted to preserve his legacy. Muslims in the New York prison system were not considered competent unless they came out of Sankore where they learned the ropes of Islam as well as jailhouse politics. "When you came to Sankore to learn Islam, that's what you learned. Straight, no chaser! It was to make people chaste and humble not mean and manipulative."
But the burly men who idolized Rasul were not "good Muslims" according to Shu'aib. When Rasul was transferred to New Jersey, his inner circle pledged bay`a to Shu'aib, who describes them as "some of deadliest brothers ever". Upon taking over the reigns of power from Rasul, he recalls weeding out some of these over-zealous Muslims who were more committed to Rasul than to Islam.
Islamic pedagogy places an important role on regulating leadership succession. Even today Muslims never tire of discussing the political chaos resulting from challenges to the succession of the Prophet Muhammad's leadership of dar al-Islam or the Caliphate giving rise to the permanent split between the Sunni and Shi'a worlds of Islam. Centuries later this rift bears significantly upon Muslim law and politics as well as the way Muslims conceive the umma as a unified geographical space or dar al-Islam.
Most American Muslims are unwilling to become enmeshed in these doctrinal disputes that are historically and geographically alien. However, the Islamic problems concerning political leadership and succession have found distant echoes in the prison mosques. Central to these conflicts are two major disputes, one focusing upon a recent Department of Corrections policy of appointing Muslim chaplains as non-resident imams in prisons, the other involving the endless struggle to unite all prisoners who identify themselves as Muslims. Underlying both is the power struggle between Muslims and the administration. In the words of one man, it's a conflict over opposing views: Allah-as-the-boss versus Albany-as-the-boss.
The struggle over recognition and legitimacy of the elected imam arose in 1982 following the violent incidents at Sankore. During prison crises the imam previously was able to mediate directly between Muslims and the administration. To a more limited extent he could also act as an intermediary in extramural affairs. As an institutionalized role, the imam symbolized the ability for Muslims to render the wall permeable, and he used their role to direct the collective energy of the Muslims toward expanding the realm of dar al-Islam both within the prison and beyond the wall. Once their power and range were restricted by the administration, however, it was imperative to find new ways in which these practices could continue, and eventually it was suggested that the prisoners contract outside Muslims to function as civilian coordinators - a designated role in the penitentiary system - with status similar to the Protestant, Catholic or Jewish chaplains serving the prison.
When the Department of Corrections responded favorably to this initiative, the Sankore majlis met to explore the implications of bringing in civilian coordinators to assist in masjid affairs. The Sunni Muslim prisoners agreed that some form of external assistance was necessary in order to conduct Islamic business within the context of a new prison regime. Nevertheless they were apprehensive about plans by the Department and their top Muslim adviser, a paroled inmate and former member of the Nation of Islam. They were adamantly opposed, moreover, to relinquishing their authority to govern affairs at the mosque. As a safeguard against the possibility of the civilian coordinator acting as a "Trojan horse" to usurp inmate leadership, the Sankore imam insisted upon writing the job description for the prospective Muslim chaplain. It contained the following details:
1. performance of services for incarcerated Muslims
2. visiting Muslims in the Special Housing Unit
3. making urgent phone calls
4. obtaining front gate clearance for outside persons
5. maintaining communications with other Muslim prison communities in the state.
6. providing information on criminal justice trends
7. assisting in Islamic education
8. assisting in parole procedures including identifying housing and employment opportunities for parolees
9. the coordination of Islamic events including bus transportation for families and securing halal food.
10. securing supplies for Muslim programs.
11. representing the Islamic community during prison emergencies such as riots, strikes and shutdowns.
This was a detailed list of the activities which the Muslims regarded as essential to reproduce the dar al-Islam as a distinct social domain within the prison. The role of the chaplain was fashioned to provide for the maintenance of the traditional conduits beyond the wall. This was consistent with the counter-disciplinary goal of resisting the worst effects of incarceration and excavating new links to the extramural world of Islam. Each point indicated a desire to preserve the mosque's integrity while helping prisoners build more humane conditions without attempting a radical redefinition of their status as a self-governing religious body. The civilian coordinator, they thought, represented a pipeline between Muslims in the facility and their anticipated needs that could not be satisfied by the singular actions of their elected leaders. In other words, they believed that by hiring a Muslim go-between, they were increasing the domain of their religious authority.
But the Department of Corrections saw this development from an adversarial perspective. For them, the idea that the inmates had initiated this request translated into an opportunity for changing the power equation non-violently by undermining the authority of the elected imam and his majlis ash-shura. This also created an opportunity for the administration to peek inside the unknown world of the Muslim community. Since the Muslim coordinator would be under the jurisdiction of the Christian head chaplain, it was likely that the chaplains and the department could begin to understand the growing popularity of Islam, enabling them to take appropriate measures to limit and control this autonomous movement.
In the ensuing years the Muslim chaplaincy grew into an established institution throughout the state prison system. "The Department of Corrections began hiring right and left," recalls Hajj Muhammad, a member of the Dar Prison Committee (Interview. 15 February 1992). The Department of Corrections accorded the Muslim chaplains parity with the representatives of other denominations, although this was not always acceptable to the Catholic, Protestant and Jewish chaplains. It was only after their colleagues were able to observe at close range the transformations effected by Islamic da`wa upon some very hard core imates that they began to look upon Muslim coordinators as co-equals. As state employees they received substantial salaries and benefits usually reserved for clergymen holding Masters' degrees. Some of the Muslim chaplains had not even attended college, which created a situation where they were looked upon as illegitimate. This attitude seemed to rub off on some of the inmates too. At some prisons the inmates alleged that the chaplains hired by the state were embezzling the mosque's funds. In other instances, they felt they had been deceived by the coordinator's halfhearted attempts to reverse negative decisions by the state. In general, it was often felt that they did not abide by the job description and often refused to execute the duties they pledged to fulfil.
Several chaplains were former members of the now-defunct Dar ul-Islam movement or other Sunni organizations like the Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood from 113th Street in Harlem. But according to the prisoners, the majority were followers of Imam Warith Muhammad (A.M.M.) and were hired through the direct intervention of his representative at the Department of Corrections in Albany.
In November 1988 the authors were caught in the center of this dispute during a visit to Sankore. The original paperwork went through the Sankore majlis, the warden's office, and the commissioner in Albany. The majlis had requested that the Muslim chaplain meet us at the front gate and this was accomplished without any difficulties. From the front gate, however, the chaplain escorted us to his office rather than to Sankore where Muslims were gathering for jum`a prayer. He telephoned a call-out to Sankore's akbar (director of communications), and as we waited, he began to explain to us that he was the imam of Green Haven's other mosque, ut-Taubah, which we ought to visit before the end of the day. That this offer was more a demand rather than an invitation became apparent when the akbar finally showed up, annoyed that we had not been conducted directly to Sankore as planned. Agitation showed beneath his calm exterior when the chaplain explained that jum`a in ut-Taubah would be delayed in order for us to attend both services. The Muslims at Sankore were visibly disturbed that we were unable to devote all our time to them, but they were very careful about articulating this disappointment in the presence of the chaplain, and even asked him to leave for the duration of our visit.
A lot of effort goes into maintaining the ideal of a unified jama`a. No prisoner including the otherwise outspoken imam would deign to jeopardize this theoretical unity. The contrast between the two mosques spoke volumes however. Sankore needed renovations desperately. The suspended ceiling was water-damaged. Persistent inundations threatened to destroy the hand-painted calligraphy on the walls. The mosque was also clearly unable to accommodate the number of Muslims who attended jum`a - nearly 120 men. Located in another cellblock was ut-Taubah, a well-appointed complex of rooms and offices with comfortable, modern furniture, a well-stocked private reading room, a common area equipped with a television and VCR and a large videotape selection. There was also a snack bar and bathroom. The windows of ut-Taubah opened onto one of the Green Haven's two exercise yards. The walls were painted with scenes from the haramain in Mecca. This mosque not only surpassed the standards of many extramural mosques we visited but it shattered somewhat the myth of Sankore as the "Medina" of the prison system.
The confusion over hierarchy exploded nearly a year later when Green Haven's superintendent decreed a ban on all former inmates from entering Sankore. This was regarded as extremely provocative because it seemed directed at several persons who are currently national Sunni Muslim leaders with great influence and popularity. Soon afterwards, all extramural imams and Muslim dignitaries were banned from Sankore, a signal that the administration was intent on cutting its extramural access if not closing the masjid altogether. Aggravating rumors that the warden's goal was to shut Sankore and force the Muslims to merge under the imam-ship of the civilian chaplain was a new order concerning call-out procedure, which allows prisoners to attend mosque functions. A grievance report filed by the Sankore majlis complained that the mandatory call-out system was being used to monitor attendance at classes in order to establish a certain quota that would be necessary to maintain the mosque's opertion in the face of increasingly stringent state budgets. Subsequently, the chaplain downgraded the imam's institutional pass from "Imam" to "Program Aide" in a further attempt to ruin his position by limiting his physical mobility in the facility. Further complaints included the warden's rejection of a petition to enlarge Sankore and the imposition of new limits on the ability to transfer funds from individual accounts to the mosque's account. Finally the imam was shipped out of Green Haven, and when the naibu took over, he too was quickly sent to another facility in the aftermath of an incident when he opposed an "administrative visit" to the mosque by the chaplain and his supervisor from Albany. (It was alleged that the administrative delegation in question was trying to estimate membership numbers at Sankore with an eye toward further limiting its privileges, forcing a merger with Masjid ut-Taubah (A.M.M.) and imposing the rule of the chaplain-as-imam.)
The threat implied by these moves indicated that the commissioner intended to retake the turf which was consecrated as Muslim space over a period of 15 years. By breaking up the majlis ash-shura and deporting its members to other prisons, the administration sought to destroy continuity in leadership succession and to dispel what they regarded was the myth of Sunni predominance at Green Haven. "These chaplains are like priests and cooperate with the antagonistic role engineered by the state," was typical of the comments we elicited during this period. Another Muslim prisoner observed that the Department of Corrections had the idea of the Christian model of "jailhouse religion" as applied to Islam and that this inaccurate notion was being reinforced by the presence of a former Nation of Islam minister. They charged furthermore that the head Muslim chaplain was collaborating with the commissioner's office to depose elected imams throughout the state.
This conflict was expressed in the opinion of the head Muslim chaplain in Albany that a prisoner cannot serve as imam because, Islamically speaking, an imam cannot be of a criminal element. His logic was based on the concept that an imam's behavior must be beyond reproach. Therefore someone who has committed a crime or shocked society should never become an imam. This interpretation was a problem for Sunni doctrine which holds that an imam must come from among a community of worshippers.
We were told that in fact the head chaplain in Albany had plans to organize Muslim prisoners even beyond the state level because he was the founder of the National Association of Muslim Chaplains -- an organization of chaplains working in municipal, state, and federal prisons as well as in hospitals and in the military. This was viewed with extreme suspicion, and finally, in 1991 during the Persian Gulf War when the national Muslim Journal supported the US-Saudi coalition against Iraq, it was said that the Muslim chaplaincy represented an "intolerable Americanization" of Islamic tradition, completely contrary to the Qur'an and Sunna. Another criticism rejected the stewardship of chaplains because they were "out of touch with the feelings of Muslim prisoners". The feared demise of the inmate imam would have repercussions throughout the facility. "We need elected leaders from amongst ourselves," insisted many Sunni prisoners. "The civilians are out of touch for sixteen hours a day while they're at home. Moreover, instability among the Muslims means instability for the whole system."
By the end of 1989 the Department moved three important orthodox Muslim inmates to the same prison at the farthest reaches of the state. There, one man was called the imam, the second, amir and the third, qadi. Each of them expressed personal satisfaction at being in the presence of "good Muslim brothers", but collectively they interpreted this as a plot to sow dissension in the ranks of orthodox leadership by "icing" them together in a single facility.
If this were official policy however, it ran counter to accepted criminological practice based upon the theory that prison discipline was a "structural accommodation" between the legitimate rule of the penitentiary and the inmate (sub-cultural) rules. A full discussion of this thesis is not necessary here, but it is important to note that such rationale depends upon the acknowledgement of prisoner hierarchies as a way of keeping order among prisoners competing among themselves for scarce resources like material goods, prestige and status (Cloward, 1960:35). Why attempt such a move if the previous model of inmate leadership based upon the imamate worked as a stabilizing force in prison? Perhaps the answer can be found in the inability of the administration to understand the rising popularity of Islam.
During the events leading to the 1991 war against Iraq, for example, the guards behaved aggressively toward Muslims whom they believed supported Saddam Hussein. In prisons around the state a number of Sunni community leaders were summoned by officers and administrators to explain their position regarding U.S. involvement in the Persian Gulf.
On Tuesday I was approached by the Deputy of Security for a 45-minute conference. He knew very little about Muslims and things became very tense. In the evening I called an emergency meeting of the majlis and we learned that other members of the community were being approached for various reasons. It was then that we decided to write a policy statement. These questions seemed to be very important to the superintendent (Raheem 1991).
The statement was an unequivocal exercise in Islamic diplomacy. It clearly disavowed the actions of Saddam Hussein as un-Islamic and attacked him personally for his shabby attempt to cloak the invasion of Kuwait in the mantle of Islam. Nevertheless, they were also careful to qualify their condemnation of Saddam as a bad Muslim with the proviso that the leaders of Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and other Arab states were undemocratic and un-Islamic in their reluctance to share oil revenues from the masses of Muslims living in poverty around the world. Alternatively, they characterized the conflict as an internal Muslim affair where United States' interference was unnecessary and noxious. Having stated their politics, they went on to mention that most prisoners came from poor families with many kin in the U.S. armed services. Above all, they were concerned that the government was endangering the lives of their sisters, brothers, fathers, uncles and cousins. Many of the staff were probably unable to understand the nuances of this statement and interpreted it as simply anti-American. In a nutshell their attitude probably reflected the general American confusion about Islam, Arabs and geopolitics in the Persian Gulf. It led to numerous incidents in which Muslim- and Arab-Americans were threatened and even assaulted in many areas of the country.
Islam and the culture of resistance
The advent of Islam as a "jailhouse" religion was greeted initially with apprehension and rejection. For example, a 1966 survey of wardens and chaplains across the country indicated that more than 50% of the respondents were totally opposed to accepting the presence of Islam as a legitimate religious endeavor for their inmates. "We cannot allow itinerant preachers or other persons to hold services in prison," commented one warden despite recognizing that prisoners have constitutional guarantees for freedom of worship (Caldwell, 1966:235). Islam was also perceived as unmanageable, not conducive to maintaining strict discipline because it was an imported system of scriptural representations which demanded allegiance to a model for worship.
There have been many confrontations over who is a Muslim: between Sunni Muslims and other groups claiming Islamic affiliations ranging from Shi`a (who uphold the five pillars of Islam) through the followers of Warith Muhammad (AMM) and members of the Nation of Islam (Louis Farrakhan) to cultural-nationalist organizations like the Five Percent Nation and the Zulu Nation as well as the cultist, Ansaru Allah. When Masjid Sankore was established as an orthodox Sunni institution, its founders were conscious of these divisions and designed a pedagogy that would inculcate the principles of common Islamic worship and a practice that would unite all factions into an authentic jama`a. The Sunni Muslims even borrowed many of the tested recruiting methods of the Nation of Islam while rejecting their heretical teachings. Orthodox Islamic teaching does not teach hate toward the prison guards -- black or white -- but it does teach the eventuality of victory over one's oppressors as well as strict discipline among the believers. By instituting a strict code of behavior and by networking with other prisoners, the Sunni Muslims established a unique identity and secured stable territorial boundaries. While they are predominantly African American in membership, there are now a few Arabic-or Urdu-speaking prisoners and more recently a handful of Senegalese Muslims.
Expansion although desirable is not the only spatial strategy adequate to the institutionalization of Islam in the prison. Sometimes purification through consolidation better serves the long term needs to reproduce orthodox Islamic space. When Shu`aib succeeded his stepfather as Sankore's imam for example, he wanted unity based on correct belief and practice. But despite subsequent efforts to unify worship, Green Haven remains divided between two masajid, Sankore and ut-Taubah. The Muslims at ut-Taubah have pledged bay`a to Warith D. Muhammad and "since their Imam (the civilian chaplain) and his followers are in allegiance to the American government, flying the U.S. flag on its official publications, having business contracts with the U.S. government, etc., the prison officials give a degree of deference to W.D.'s followers." Does their mosque represent genuine Islamic space inside the prison? Many incarcerated Sunnis would dispute their legitimacy even today.
In Attica Prison the Muslim communities united in 1985 under the aegis of a strong orthodox presence. When the various tendencies came together it was specifically to "defeat the administration who were working to pit Sunnis against 'the followers'." Although successful, the community remains unstable because of ongoing differences among Sunnis and members of the Farrakhan's resuscitated Nation of Islam.
Until recently this faction did not have a large following, having suffered defections since the 1975 transformation to orthodoxy engineered by Warith D. Muhammad. But the Nation of Islam's identification with cultural nationalism and other separatist themes popularized in contemporary youth culture like rap music has begun to attract young prisoners impressed by Farrakhan's militant rhetoric. It is reported that the Nation of Islam starts to organize young prisoners as soon as they arrive at the penitentiary and as their ranks are swelling with neophytes. Meanwhile the orthodox Muslims who labored to unify Islam under a homogeneous practice are seeing their space fission once again.
The Nation of Islam has recently been restructured and separated from the Sunni community. They recognize Five-Percenters as Muslim and permit them to come to jum`a and classes. There are approximately three hundred Muslims in the facility and there is a class for each of the different schools. The numbers of prisoners attending those classes is controlled by the administration since their composition is determined by the call-out system (Raheem 1991).
The overall effect has been to dilute the influence of the Sunni Muslims. Baffled perhaps by the popularity of Islam, the state was at no loss to exploit dissension and discord until January 1990 when someone smuggled a copy of the Sankore "grievance" report out of Green Haven and clandestinely distributed it to other prison communities around the state. This report alleged many efforts of Albany bureaucrats to destroy the independence of inmate imams. As the information contained in the report began to circulate throughout the prison, all the Muslims once again decided upon a unified strategy of solidarity in resistance to the state's actions. The Muslims were coordinating plans for a strike when the ringleaders were identified and dispersed to other prisons. In Attica both the Sunni imam and the Nation of Islam's minister were deported.
Less than 25 miles from Attica at Wende Correctional Facility similar issues plagued the unified jama`a. Not only were the Five-Percenters trying to usurp Muslim turf, but they have been joined by another gang of violent cultural-nationalists, the Zulu Nation, in their tendency toward an extreme racist perspective. One Muslim prisoner reduced the problem to "ignorance of the din" (the doctrinal core of the religion). Other Sunnis began to weed out some of the "trouble makers" and young "wild" prisoners who "sometimes need to be broken in order to send a message to all their peers". Often the guards refuse to allow the "self-correcting" process to take effect, and gradually the old standard-bearers of Islam are becoming reluctant to get involved. There are too many "younger brothers with nothing to lose who are looking for confrontations. Lately many of them are getting on to Shi`a as a vehicle to make some noise and create dissension." Their dreams of martyrdom work in tandem with the new draconian rule and contemptuous attitude of the administration to challenge religious Muslims.
The goal has always been to create a territory that is neither "of the prison" nor "of the street" but a "world unto itself" defined by the representational space that is common to Muslims worldwide. The ultimate spatial metaphor used by one orthodox prisoner serving a sentence of 25-years-to-life stated, "In here the Muslims are an island in a sea of ignorance". It is this ideal which apparently matters most. Its attraction for prisoners may lie in its power to transcend the material and often brutally inhumane conditions of prison.
This state of opposition to the status quo can be achieved only by the studious application of strict Islamic discipline which has the effect of transforming historical relations into social relations which are simultaneously real and ideal. Islam is immediate in the sense that one's identity in the present becomes a reflection of the ideal past as described in the Qur'an and Hadith. Similarly, the Muslim sees his future as a function of his capacity to represent the Qur'an as the historical present. In these cases, the Qur'an and the sunna become exclusive reference points for a Muslim's identity. His participation in the production and defense of Islamic space therefore provides all the elements necessary - tangible, intangible, and divine - for the Muslim to see himself as part of the Qur'anic legacy. In this way, Islam deals with social difference - even the immense one between freedom and imprisonment - by collapsing it into a simultaneity of space and identity among all those who recite the shahada. Though it may seem to some as just another jailhouse mirage, the Muslim prisoner experiences his faith as a miracle of rebirth.
GLOSSARY OF ARABIC TERMINOLOGY>
AKHBAR. Officer of communications or public information for the prison mosque.
AKIDA. Creed, article of faith.
AYAT. The term for a verse of the Qur'an.
BAY`A. Contract; oath of allegiance recognizing the authority of a Caliph or spiritual leader.
DAR AL-HARB. The land of war, territory not under Islamic law and subject to conquest by Muslims; Contrasts with DAR AL-ISLAM, lands in which Islamic law prevails.
DA`WA. The summons to acknowledge religious truth and join a religious community; missionary movement.
DIN. Religion and religious duties; also judgement at the Last Day. There are five pillars of DIN, ie. witness, prayer, almsgiving, fasting and pilgrimage.
FIQH. Understanding, jurisprudence, Islamic religious law.
HARAM. That which is proscribed or forbidden by the Qur'an or Traditions. Derives from the portion of the house for women, from which males are excluded. Contrasts with HALAL, the things, practices or foods which are permissible in Islam.
HIJRA. The emigration of the Prophet from Mecca to Medina in 622, the base year of the Muslim era.
`ID. The Muslim festivals; `ID AL-FITR, the breaking of the fast of Ramadan, and `ID AL-ADHA, the sacrificial feast.
IFTAR. Meal consumed after sundown or before dawn during Ramadan.
JAMA`A. Meeting, assembly, the community of believers, the UMMA.
JENAZA. Funeral ceremony, Islamic preparation of the dead and prayers which are recited for burial.
JUM`A. Friday or sabbath prayers.
KHUTBAH. Friday sermon, usually delivered in English following prayers and recitation from the Qur'an in Arabic.
MAJLIS ASH-SHURA. A gathering, assembly or council. A standing committee which administrates community affairs or a meeting to discuss how to apply Islamic policy in crises.
MASJID. A mosque or place of prostration and prayer; a center for Muslim communal affairs.
MAULID AL-NABI. The celebration of the birth of the Prophet.
MUJAHID. One who engages struggle in the way of God, on behalf of Islam. Signifies a soldier or militant in the cause of Islam, also an individual who exercises inward discipline in pursuit of spiritual well-being.
MUSSADIQ. Treasurer or officer of the MAJLIS who manages community finances including the collection of ZAKAT and SADAQA.
NAFS. Soul; the animal faculties as opposed to the rational or angelic faculties.
NAIBU. Assistant imam and member of the MAJLIS.
NIKKA. Islamic marriage ceremony.
QUMS. The percentage of one's income which comprises the annual donation to the Muslim community, ZAKAT.
SADAQA. Voluntary alms, sometimes a synonym for ZAKAT.
SALÂT. Muslim ritual prayer performed five times daily. A series of obligatory movements including prostration, symbolic of submission to the will of God.
SHAHADA. Witnessing, the Muslim profession of faith. By extension, new convert, one who has recently pledged himself to Islam.
SHARIA. The path to be followed; Muslim law, the totality of the
Islamic way of life.
SHI`A. The group of Muslims who regard Ali and his heirs as the
only legitimate successors to the Prophet.
SUNNA. The "trodden path", custom, the practices of the Prophet and the early community which becomes for all Muslims an authoritative example of the correct way to live a Muslim life.
SUNNI. Those who accept the SUNNA, the majority of the Muslim community as opposed to the SHI`A.
TAFSIR. Commetary and interpretation, the exegesis of the Qur'an.
TAQWA. The fundamental quality of awe before God, piety, duty, devoted avoidance of evil.
TALIM. Education, pedagogy. Also, officer in charge of education for the community.
TAUBAH. Repentance, turning to God.
UMMA. People or community; the whle of the brotherhood of Muslims.
The nation or people of Islam in their unity as Muslims beyond
ethnic, tribal, local or other units thereof. The Muslim
WALI. A protector, a benefactor, a companion, a governor; a friend of God; the legal guardian of a minor, woman or incapacitated person.
WUDZU. Ritual purification before prayer; the state of sacred hygiene.
ZAKAT. A legal alms raised from Muslims, one of the five pillars.
GLOSSARY OF PRISON TERMINOLOGY
BID. Sentence; prison term, duration of stay in a penitentiary.
BOX. Secure Housing Unit, solitary confinement;
DOCS. Department of Correctional Services; the New York state bureaucracy which manages and staffs prisons and determines the conditions of detention in the penitentiary.
GRIEVANCE. A quasi-legal procedure used by prison inmates to contest their conditions of detention; a formal objection filed by an inmate, a protest against one's conditions of servitude.
JOINT-ISLAM. Pejorative description of Islamic worship in prison given by Muslims outside.
POPULATION. Entire community of inmates in a penitentiary irrespective of their ethnic, religious or racial backgrounds; the space of the prison community as opposed to solitary confinement.
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