Prison Imams found to be promoting Islamic extremism

21 April 2016

Christian Concern’s Director of Islamic Affairs, Tim Dieppe, comments this week on news that prison Imams are distributing extremist literature to prisoners.

Various newspapers have published details from a leaked government report which shows that prison Imams are routinely distributing extremist literature. Pamphlets and CDs have been found freely available at more than ten prisons which encourage the murder of apostates and “contempt for basic British values.” The review was ordered by Michael Gove last year and also found that Imams at various jails had encouraged prisoners to raise funds for Islamic charities with links to international terrorism. The report concluded that prison Imams were ill equipped to counter extremism “sometimes because they lacked the capability but often because they didn’t have the will.”

Muslims make up 4.8% of the population in the UK, but 14.5% of prisoners. Over 130 prisoners are convicted Islamic extremists, and around 1,000 prisoners have been identified as being extremist or vulnerable to radicalisation. The report warns that the prison service has “created a breeding ground for radicalisation.”

The Deobandi Link

There are around 200 full-time and part-time Muslim chaplains working in jails, and 70% of them were taught at Deobandi institutions. This ties in with the fact that 80% of British Imams are Deobandi trained, while over 40% of British mosques are Deobandi controlled. The report found “evidence that imams from other sects felt marginalised and bullied by those their Deobandi colleagues.”

The Deobandis have attracted attention lately after a BBC investigation found that the Deobandis welcomed jihadist preacher Mazood Azhar for a speaking tour in 1993 when he visited more than 40 locations. The BBC revealed that his messages encouraged violent jihad. He argued that “a substantial proportion of the Koran had been devoted to ‘killing for the sake of Allah’ and that a substantial volume of sayings of the Prophet Muhammad were on the issue of jihad.”

Former al-Qaeda operative turned MI5 informant, Aimen Dean, also preached in many Deobandi mosques in the UK even after 9/11 and while they understood him to be working for al-Qaeda. Deobandi sympathetic websites are reported to denounce integration in to British society, and to describe Christians and Jews as having “repulsive qualities.”

In spite of all this, the head of the prison service has defended the Deobandis, arguing that they promote tolerance for those of different faiths, and rejecting reports that they are unlikely to challenge radicalisation in prisons. With such naivety at the top, it is no surprise that radicalisation is happening under the very noses of the prison wardens.

The good news is that this report was commissioned and that it has uncovered the alarming sympathy with Islamic extremism amongst prison Imams. The bad news is that it demonstrates the appalling lack of discernment and understanding of Islam in the prison authorities. It is clear that there needs to be a complete overhaul of the Muslim prison chaplain system. There should be zero tolerance for teaching and promoting of Islamic fundamentalism by prison Imams. Guidelines need to be set out and prison Imams should agree to abide by a clear set of regulations. The Prime Minister has said that he is prepared to consider “major changes” to prevent extremism in British prisons. This report shows that major changes are certainly required and we hope that action will be taken very soon.

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