Muslims in American Prisons: Advancing the Rule of Law Through Litigation Praxis
Journal of Islamic Law, Vol. 3, p. 29 (2022)
29 Pages Posted: 21 Jul 2022 Last revised: 2 Sep 2022
Date Written: July 20, 2022
Islamic ideas about justice and equality directly informed the development of prison law jurisprudence in the United States. Since the early 1960s, when federal courts began to hear claims by state prisoner-petitioners, Muslims began to look to courts to establish Islam in prison and inaugurated an ongoing campaign for civil rights. The trend is significant when considering Muslims represent a relatively small percentage of the American population. Decades of persistent litigation by Muslims in courts have been integral to developing the prisoners’ rights movement in America. The Muslim impact on prison law and culture is an underappreciated phenomenon that involves African-American Muslims, the criminal justice system, and a spiritual quest for justice and equality. This Essay explores how Islamic ideals contributed to the litigation and how mundane lawsuits were transformed into an expression of genuine religiosity which, in turn, helped create new rules and policies that expanded the law’s presence in prison. By appropriating courts in this way, Muslims emerged as staunch upholders of the rule of law. These lawsuits also unveiled a role-reversal between the guards and the guarded, since the prison staff and administration, entrusted to act lawfully, must be held accountable for violating institutional rules and even criminal law. Far from being antagonistic to American law, Muslims have not stopped attempting to ensure the rule of law prevails in prison.
Keywords: US prisons, Islam in the US, Muslims in the US, prisons, litigation
JEL Classification: K14, K39, K41
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation