Tariq Nelson did a post on “jailhouse Islam” and the criminality in the community. Adding to that is this article in the Philadelphia Magazine by Matthew Teague which highlights some of the issues in the community. It is informative; but it comes from a non-Muslim perspective and makes a number of mistakes in my opinion.
For those of you who read the ten page in-depth article I am just going to comment as I read.
Page 1-3 Commentary by Umar
( I cannot Cut and Paste so am providing the links as we go)
First, on the issue of jailhouse Islam. I think that the law-enforcement official quoted, Joseph O’Connor, and the writer both exaggerate the pressure to become Muslim. While it is true that some become Muslim because of peer pressure and just are joining a prison gang there are many who are using their time in prison to grow closer to their Lord and gain an understanding of who He is.
There are countless of Muslims going quietly about their business who embraced Islam in jail and have now turned their lives around and are productive members of society. Their stories get lost in the narrative of this writer and of O’Connell who do not see the spiritual aspect of many of these conversions and sees the study of the deen as indoctrination (would he say that about the study of the catechism?).
There is also the issue of race he mentioned implying that all Muslim conversions in jail happen within the African-American population. While it is true that the overwhelming majority of converts are black you will find a handful of white and Latino convents as well. You will also find many black inmates in the Christian chapel and no one is chopping their heads off.
The historical analysis of the criminal history of the Muslim community in Philly is important as the writer goes back to the days of the Black Mob and Mosque Number 12 under the NOI. It is possible that they laid the ground for some of this criminal culture to develop.
Page 4 – 6 Commentary by Umar
Next the article descends into the pure fiction that Muslims are converting in prison in large numbers due to the influx of Saudi Salafi money. This is a myth. Muslims are some of the least well funded people in prison and even on the outisde you will find black Salafi mosques the least well-funded and brokest mosques in America ( as an exmaple Masjid ar-Rahma in Newark is being evicted for failure to pay the rent and the Masjid on 18th and Monroe in DC has no heat, so the whole Saudi funding thing to black Salafis is a load of BS).
Compare the amount of money and books that Muslims receive in prison with the massive amount of funding Evangelical Christians get from local churches and groups like Prison Fellowship and you will see it pales in comparison.
Prisoners often have to write letters repeatedly begging local mosques for support and the vast-majority of Muslim organizations, whether Salafi or non-Salafi, American or across the water, look at these letters and the appeals from prison chaplains and say to themselves ” Oh, just what we need, more black prison Muslims, no thank you.”
Muslim prison dawah is underfunded and it is laughable to say that some black Muslims in a Pennsylvania prison who think going to Camden is an exotic vacation will some how be enthralled by ” the riches of Saudi Arabia”. Islam sells itself. What you do with it once you have it tells about who you are not what the deen is.
Teague and Philly Police Chief Ramsey joins in saying that prison may do more harm than good if it radicalizes people and on this I agree. I would also note that this is not limited to Muslims; but also to neo-Nazis, Aryans, street-gangs and others.
Next Teague looks at the issue of the growing trend of Muslim male criminals to wear niqaabs while committing robberies. On this issue, I am truly disgusted. These brothers are putting our sisters in jeopardy (and many of these same brothers abuse their wives and marriage anyway), making a mockery of the Sunnah, and just in general mixing criminality with Islamic practice.
The writer asks is this a Philly thing or a Muslim thing? Well, let’s take a look. Philly has long been one of the most violent, dangerous and lawless cities in America. Of the murders and robberies in Philly in a given year how many are committed by Muslims and by non-Muslims ? And, ok, let’s look at other communities with very large Black Muslim populations. Where are the burqa bandits in DC, Maryland, New York, Chicago, Atlanta and Detroit? I would argue there is something strange going on in Philly and my experience with any number of crazy Muslims I have met when in Philly only confirms that. Now, I am not saying this is only in Philly, but the problem of Muslim criminality seems to be by far the worst there.
O’Connell, the FBI guy, disagrees, and now I must talk about him. It is important to know that a lot of these FBI anti-terror guys are conspiratorial and like to hype-up threats because it not only makes them seem more important than what they are; but it also increases their funding and is a big cash cow for the bureau.
This is not terrorism, it is Philly ghetto crime, plain and simple. Do you think a group of criminals such as this would rob a bank and go and send the money to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan? Or spend the cash getting a second wife in Philly, buying a new car, getting some new clothes, and maybe dropping off some cash at the sadaqa box of the local masjid? It is also important to note that the Salafi Masjids these guys attend in Philly never mention politics or jihad. They are detached from current affairs and the world around them. While mosques in Northeast Philly and New Jersey were giving strong sermons about Gaza during the Israeli attack the black Salafi mosques I understand did not even mention the crisis.
Page 7-10 Commentary by Umar
The mentioning of the infamous Philadelphia Meeting between Hamas reps is telling of the lack of knowledge Teague has about the local Muslim community. These Palestinians in Philly pretty much have a disdain for most black Muslims and positively do not like Salafis and would not touch them with a 100 foot pole regarding any criminal activity.
Finally, in closing, Teague is on the money in that what is needed to solve this problem in Philly is for people to speak out against it, isolate those involved in crime, and for leaders to emerge who can deal with it. There are such Muslim men who exist in Philly in the black Muslim community and they are working hard. I only wish he would have interviewed them.