(Guy Linott is the assumed name of a prisoner serving life and maintaining his innocence in a high security British jail. His work is sourced and edited by Seán Flynn, editor of The Rusty Wire Service)
Friday afternoon, 1.10pm. The monotony of the prison regime is disrupted once again; not for a riot or an assault but for the latest craze that is sweeping through the prison estate nationwide. It’s the Muslim call to prayers.
It’s gotten so commonplace these days that my budgie has started tweeting ‘Allahu Akbar’.
Before I go much further, I’d like to make it clear that while I was brought up in a strong Catholic tradition, I was also reared to have a great respect for other religions and Islam in particular as it shares so much common ground with Christianity.
Many of my friends are Muslims and believe me, they’ve got some pretty strong views on the controversy surrounding this faith. So Inchallah, my comments won’t be misunderstood...
Last Easter Sunday, I attended morning mass and there were just a dozen of us in attendance in the chapel. Now, let’s have it right; half of them were there on the promise of the crème egg at the end of service and at least half of the others were after the kind of ‘absolution’ in the confessional that would be best suited to a Christian Brother...
During the sermon however, the priest went into one. On Good Friday, he told us, he’d counted more than 300 prisoners into Muslim prayers and here we were on Easter Sunday and all we could manage was a measly 12 worshippers.
I was very tempted to point out to the padre when I went up to receive Holy Communion, that only 12 disciples turned up for the Last Supper as well and you never heard Jesus complaining.
Prison religious services – particularly those which are very well-attended, such as Muslim prayers – have always been used like a swap-meet for prison contraband.
What the priest failed to mention in his pulpit rant/Easter homily was that a significant number of those supposedly devout Muslim worshippers were attending for reasons that were more illicit than divine.
It saddens and worries me to say that there are large numbers of prison-converted Muslims that are hiding behind the cloak of the Koran. I hear all the time from my own devout Muslim friends how incensed they are that these people are defiling their time of worship.
Again, this is not to single Islam out, this is just a fact of life inside. Prison religious services – particularly those which are very well-attended, such as Muslim prayers – have always been used like a swap-meet for prison contraband. Drugs, phones, hit lists, porn and all manner of other commodities that are neither Christian nor Islamic change hands at these services.
Besides, if Christians in prison really were anti Muslim however, I’m guessing the fact that most food in prisons is now Halal would be a bigger issue. As a Catholic, I am not supposed to eat anything that has been blessed by another religion but I’m hardly going to go on hunger strike over it am I? But could you imagine if the boot was on the other foot?
In this endless War on Terror -- on the outside at least – it’s very clear that the Muslims are the new ‘Irish’ in terms of how their civil liberties are being infringed in the name of freedom. But in prison, the Irish are still the same as ever; down at the bottom of the food-chain. Irish nationals and Irish travellers in particular still endure a great deal of indignity and inhumanity in the UK prison system.
Life for Muslims inside however is a different story and it seems to the rest of us (heathens, Christians, Buddhists and atheists alike) that the authorities are running scared of Islam in prison. And all the while they dither and vacillate, the Brotherhood gets stronger and the gang culture expands.
However, there are also allegations made here in prison that some inmates are availing of a legal loophole afforded to Muslim prisoners. Apparently, there are some offender-behaviour courses from which Muslim are exempted on religious grounds. Converting to Islam therefore is sometimes seen as way of allowing an inmate to avoid these courses and thereby prevent other prisoners from ascertaining the nature of his offence.
Another reason for the dramatic rise of Islam in prison is self-preservation. Being part of the Brotherhood is to be part of the biggest criminal gang sweeping across the prison system.
What that means in practice is that prisoners convicted of a sexual offence can potentially live amongst the general population without much fear of detection. For the rest of us, having to even share the same air as these wrong-uns is an absolute liberty.
Another reason for the dramatic rise of Islam in prison is self-preservation. Being part of the Brotherhood is to be part of the biggest criminal gang sweeping across the prison system. Even my co-defendant, who came into prison as an English Christian, has converted to Islam. Let me tell you from bitter experience, getting closer to God isn’t what he’s after. From what I hear, he has already embraced an extremist philosophy.
I don’t think the Ministry of Justice quite grasps what is going on inside. They are sending offenders to prison to be ‘rehabilitated’ but instead prisons are becoming complacent recruitment sergeants for the extremist cause.
If it weren’t so dangerous it might be laughable that a man can go to prison for a petty crime, go through the criminal college and come out the other end a terrorist or worse. Like I said before, prison can be a lot like the Thug-life version of a finishing school.
My friends who are genuine Muslims constantly tell me how outraged they are by the conduct of some their Muslim brethren. “Hiding behind the Koran” is a phrase I hear a lot and they feel their faith is being sullied. They prophesy some major changes in the near future and it didn’t sound like it would be for the better.
Maybe it’s a bit naive of me but when I’m watching the news in here, I can’t help wondering how much each jet sortie costs us. By the same token, I can’t help wondering how much good that money would do in the penal system or in society generally if we started looking after our own people instead of someone else’s oil.
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank everyone for taking the time to read my articles and for their kind comments and encouragement. Keep them coming, they are greatly appreciated.
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