Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Importance of Jail Ministry For Muslims: Ahmadiyya Zion Project

Americans change religious affiliation early and often. In total, about half of American adults have changed religious affiliation at least once during their lives. Most people who change their religion leave their childhood faith before age 24, and many of those who change religion do so more than once. These are among the key findings of a new survey conducted by the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life.

The Zion Project has impact on a two-state (Illinois and Wisconsin) three county area, Lake, Kenosha and Racine County. The reasons people give for changing their religion - or leaving religion altogether - differ widely depending on the origin and destination of the convert.

The group that has grown the most in recent years due to religious change is the unaffiliated population we have identified through our jail ministry efforts. Two-thirds of Christian converts to Ahmadiyyat, mostly Baptist denomination, say they left their childhood faith because they stopped believing in its teachings. Our research (interviews with 20 inmates) has additionally found that many people who left a religion to become unaffiliated say they did so in part because they think of religious people as hypocritical or judgmental, because religious organizations focus too much on rules.

The influence of Islam in jails, prisons.

Islam is the fastest-growing religion in the prison system. About 30,000 to 40,000 conversions among federal prisoners take place each year, according to a study for the Justice Department by Mark S. Hamm, a criminologist at Indiana State University. About 6 percent of the nation’s 173,000 federal prisoners are Muslim.
Mr. Hamm’s study, published in December 2007, says that most inmates convert in prison for one of five main reasons: because they are in personal crisis, seek a spiritual dimension, are looking for a group to protect them, want to manipulate the system or are influenced by the outside world.

It is a fact, a disproportionate number of African-Americans are in prison. According to Human Rights Watch, 9% of all black adults are in corrections or on parole or probation. For black men between the ages of 20 and 29, the rate jumps to 33%. This translates to blacks comprising 49% of the prison population. Given a total incarcerated population of 2 million, this suggests up to one million African-American prison inmates (source).

It is estimated that as many as 30% of African-American inmates are Muslims and have converted to Islam in prison (source). That makes about 300,000 Muslim inmates. Not only is this a substantial number in and of itself but it comprises about 5% of all Muslims in America and 12% of African-American Muslims.

Ignore African-American Muslims and African-American Muslims in corrections and you are ignoring a major part of the experience of Islam in America.

Zion Project Jail Ministry

In Zion, our casework provides an intimate look at a variety of behavioral, attitudinal, emotional, and lifestyle variables. The acceptance of Islam/Ahmadiyyat can result in profound, life transforming changes in mid-level functions such as goals, feelings, attitudes, and behaviors, and in the more self-defining personality functions such as identity and life meaning.

The Zion Project strategies encourages inmates to maintain their religious conversions included developing close bonds with the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community through mentor contact. Several Jama’at members with social service experience have become volunteer Chaplains. They encourage inmates to avoiding people who are negative influences by using incarceration time in educational classes, daily prayer and meditation.

It has been our experience in working with those incarcerated that the overwhelming majority of inmates who convert to Islam/Ahmadiyya, the experience increases self-discipline and helps them interact in a positive way with other inmates and staff, thereby making a meaningful contribution to their rehabilitation.

"After they are here for a while, some inmates come to understand the need for a higher power," said Chaplain Alpha Bah. “Some start studying and attending the Friday serve and eventually they sign Bai’at. You can see the difference almost immediately. You see the difference in their comportment, in their tolerance of others.”

Ignore African-American Muslims and African-American Muslims in corrections and you are ignoring a major part of the experience of Islam in America.


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