Commentary: Muslim prison chaplains work to reform, not radicalize
The danger of Islamic radicalization inside U.S. prisons “remains real and present,” alleges Republican U.S. Rep. Peter King of New York in his second congressional hearing on the threat of Muslims within America radicalizing.
It appears to me that Rep. King has never been inside a county jail or prison to meet incarcerated Muslims. If he had been, I suspect that Rep. King would not have made such an outlandish statement.
As a Muslim chaplain, I tend to prisoners of all faiths, not just Islam, and the common theme is that such people are seeking a new beginning through God.
Clearly lost upon Rep. King is the story of Malcolm X, a fellow New Yorker, who through Islam gave up his criminal ways to become one of this nation’s most honored civil rights activists.
Prisoners who convert to Islam in jail do so to find a new path, one that is far from the world of hate and violence that is often the cause of their incarceration.
To suggest that Muslim chaplains are radicalizing prisoners is to betray one’s own ignorance of the institutions of corrections in the United States. Books are screened for content, and chaplains interviewed and monitored.
But if Rep. King wishes to address incarceration, then let’s do that honestly. It is disgraceful that we, as Americans, place more emphasis on incarceration than on education.
In the past 20 years, state spending on prisons has grown at six times the rate of spending on higher education. And one in 31 Americans is under some form of corrections control.
Federal research shows states spend more than $50 billion annually on government-run correction programs. With more than 2 million people incarcerated in jails and prisons in the United States today, it would be more helpful for Rep. King, the House Homeland Security Committee chairman, to focus on issues of judicial and prison reform than on imaginary threats that are in reality thinly veiled attacks against Islam.
You do your job, Rep. King, and I’ll keep doing mine.
Hasan Hakeem is a Muslim chaplain for Kenosha County Jail and president of the Zion, Ill., chapter of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community