FROM "BLACK MUSLIM" TO GLOBAL ISLAM: THE EVOLUTION OF THE PRACTICE OF ISLAM BY INCARCERATED BLACK AMERICANS
Van Baalen, Susan
Voll, John O.
ABSTRACTThe current practice of Islam in the United States prison system is a legitimate religious expression of Sunni Islam that emerged from new religious movements of black Americans during the last half of the twentieth century in Midwestern and Northeastern urban centers.Analysis of the progression of Black Muslim prisoners to a legitimate expression of Sunni Islam is based on historical methods of research. Evidence in support of the hypothesis is drawn from primary source material including archival and published documents of the Bureau of Prisons, and the Congress. Reliable secondary resources complement primary sources. Religious texts are limited to English translations of the Koran and ahadith. The analysis incorporates basic legal research principles.For a quarter century beginning in the late 1950s, incarcerated members of the Moorish Science Temple of America and the Nation of Islam shared the title "Black Muslims." Only a common African heritage tied these movements to global Islam. From that shared heritage, urban black Americans asserted their chosen self-identity as Muslims. This identity ensured an inherent sense of dignity and purpose for men incarcerated in a milieu far from that of their free world experience.The 1980s witnessed the strengthening of the Worldwide Community of Islam in the West, the first of the new religious movements with genuine ties to Sunni Islam. More recently Muslims adhering to the Sunni tradition in the prisons tend toward a strand of Salafism associated with a strict adherence to the Koran and ahadith in religious matters. This development is viewed by some as a threat to national security. Only with a clear understanding of the strands of Salafism can one understand how religious purity may be a positive life-changing experience for the incarcerated.Today the ritual dimension of Islam in prisons is similar to global Islam, but a certain cultural dimension is lacking. Black American Muslims do not share the cultural mores and experiences that shape free-world immigrant Muslim communities. This problem cannot be resolved without immigrant Muslims willing to support their black American brothers during incarceration and upon release from prison.
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