God Behind Bars: Race, Religion & Revenge
29 Pages Posted: 25 Jul 2010
Date Written: January 12, 2007
This essay examines the formation and presence of radical Islam in U.S. prisons. As the distillation of two years of fieldwork research, including interviews and correspondence with current and former prisoners, chaplains, and prison aid organizations, this work elaborates on the power of religion in prison, with specific emphasis on conversion to Islam among minority inmates. I argue that in prison there are competing visions of Islam, and among minority inmates, historical legacies from Africa and Spain help prisoners reinvent their cultural identity; often, minority converts experience a double conversion - first to a nationalistic or racialized organization, and later to mainstream varieties of Islam. The essay asserts that the most radical voices found in American Islam today reside in prison, a situation that is exacerbated by government and prison policies.
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