Prison Officials: Muslim Group Prayer Led to Gangs

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A U.S. prison warden says his compliance with a court order mandating high-risk Muslim inmates to hold daily group prayers led to the formation of Muslim gangs and bullying of other inmates. Indiana prison Warden John Oliver decided to comply with the court order by allowing inmates to pray in pairs within their cells.

Oliver is now on trial facing charges of contempt of court in a case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana on behalf of inmate John Walker Lindh, an American-born Taliban militant. 

In January of this year, a U.S. District Court judge ruled that the prison was obligated to provide group prayer five times a day to Lindh and other Muslims (some also convicted on terrorism charges) who make up roughly half of the 41 high-security prisoners housed in the unit.

Oliver testified that allowing the Muslim prisoners to pray in a group led the prisoners to setting up an inmate-led Muslim gang. The gang “shunned” other prisoners, forbidding them from joining the group prayer as well as controlling access to food and laying stake to the “meditation room” being used by leaving their prayer rugs and other religious items to the point of intimidating other faith groups from using the room.

Oliver testified that a group of Catholic prisoners gave up trying to use the room. "They said it was the Muslim room," Oliver stated.

Related story Muslim Prison Numbers Soar as Staff Warn of Islamic “Gang Culture” in Jails

Oliver further testified that he believed that he was following the court order when he allowed the prisoners to pray in pairs in their cells, thus complying with a 1993 law that forbids the government from curtailing religious speech without showing a compelling interest.

In March, the ACLU took the prison to court saying they were not in compliance with the original ruling since the prison at that time only allowed group prayer three times a day. During that trial, prison officials said that allowing group prayer five times a day would pose a security risk. Prison officials further testified that it is a known fact that inmates have used religion as a cover for gang-like activity, but the judge dismissed those arguments as insubstantial.

Ironically, in the original trial, as reported by the Clarion Project, the judge mandated that the prison provide group prayer for the high-security prisoners in spite of testimony by an Islamic imam who stated group prayer was not obligatory.

Imam Ammar Amonette, who is affiliated with the same “Hanbali” school of Islamic thought as Lindh testified that group prayer is not required if it isn’t possible. Amonette is an imam in a mosque in Richmond, Virginia.

In the current trial, the warden said that he believed he was balancing the inmates religious rights with the security needs of the prison.

Prison officials in the UK have concomitantly warned of Islamic “gang culture” in jails. "There is clear ­evidence of gang ­culture and a radicalization of young men. They use the name of religion as an excuse to behave badly and in a threatening manner," said Steve Gillan, prison officers’ association ­general secretary.

The problem has become more pronounced in the UK as ­figures showed the number of Muslim inmates has rocketed compared with prisoners of other faiths.

American prisoner Lindh became interested in Islam at age 12, when he saw the movie "Malcolm X." He converted to Islam at age 16. Lindh was captured in 2001 in Afghanistan by U.S. troops and was accused of fighting for the Taliban.

After his capture, Lindh said that he had entered Afghanistan to help the Taliban build a "pure Islamic state."

In 2002, he pleaded guilty to supplying services to the Taliban and carrying explosives for them. He was charged with conspiring to kill Americans and supporting terrorists, but those charges were dropped in a plea bargain agreement. He was transferred to the Terre Haute, Indiana prison in 2007 and is eligible for release in 2019.

Watch below Radical Islamic Recruitment Inside US Prisons, a clip from The Clarion Project film, The Third Jihad.


See ClarionProject.org's related article: Trend: Muslims Becoming Radicalized in France's Prisons

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Meira Svirsky

Meira Svirsky is the editor of ClarionProject.org

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