Why Should We care?
The Muslim Prisoner Support Project was founded in 2017, after prisons in the DC metro area reached out to ICNA CSJ to find resources for their Muslim inmates. Accommodations for permissible food, fasting, prayers, and even religious books were not being made. Together with community members, ICNA CSJ raised funds to send religious books, prayer rugs, and headscarves to local prisons, and made arrangements for local clergy to serve as chaplains to the institutions. At ICNA CSJ, we believe that religion is not just a grounding experience that tethers humans to their societies, but also a constitutional right that must be guaranteed even under the harsh extremes of incarceration. We aim to ensure that our community is allowed their constitutional right to practice their religion, even when all their other freedoms have been stripped away.
Muslims in America are harrowingly overrepresented in American prisons at a rate of over 9% in state prisons, and over 14% in federal prisons. This is a grave statistic, especially when considering that less than 1% of the American population identifies as Muslim. Many inmates have been sentenced for petty and nonviolent crimes, and others are political prisoners, tragic collateral of the War on Terror, or former members of the Black Liberation Movement. Over the past several years, we, alongside many other organizations have been gathering data about the treatment of Muslims behind prison bars, and the results are concerning. From 1997 to 2008, Muslim federal prisoners filed the greatest number of requests for administrative remedies regarding religious accommodation of any group-42%. Furthermore, from 2001 to 2006, Muslims were the most common plaintiffs in religious freedom lawsuits in federal court, bringing 29% of cases, often without the assistance of an attorney. Muslims have historically been at the forefront of prison reform and litigation to improve prison conditions.