India: Why are so many Muslims in prison?

News from NewIndPress, Gulf Daily News and Associated Press via the Daily Times and the International Herald Tribune reports that a study of prison populations in India has shown that there are disproportionate numbers of Muslims behind bars.

The information comes in a document published on Sunday, extracted from a review of an Indian government study of Muslim welfare by the Justice Rajinder Sachar committee. India’s population is 84% Hindu, and the remaining population is 13% Muslim and 2.4% Christian. Yet prison statistics show that this ratio is not preserved in India’s jails.

There is no breakdown of the nature of the crimes for which Muslims are incarcerated. 102,652 Muslims are in jail, and the majority are NOT imprisoned for terrorism. 12 states with sizeable Muslim populations were asked to submit figures, but four states – West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Andhra Pradesh – have not responded. West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar have the fewest Muslims in government employment.

The states with the most disproportionate amount of Muslims in jail are Maharashtra, Gujarat and Kerala.

In Maharashtra, Muslims account for 10.6% of the general population, yet they comprise 32.4% of the prison population. For those incarcerated on terms of less than a year, the figure rises – 42% of prisoners on short-term sentences in the state are Muslim.

In Gujarat, where Muslims account for 9.06% of the populace, they account for 25% of all prison inmates.

Assam has the second-highest number of Muslims in its population (Jammu & Kashmir state has the highest), at 30.9% of the general populace. Yet in this state, there are fewer Muslims in jail – 28.1%.

Karnataka state has a general population comprising 12.23% Muslims, yet its jail population is 17.5% Muslim.

There are debates about the causes of this discrepancy between the populations of Muslims in society and in prison. The Justice Rajinder Sachar committee notes that in urban areas, Muslims living at the poverty level account for 44% of the urban poor, compared to the national figure of 28%.

The argument that Muslims are poor, and also picked on, is put forward by former MP Syed Shahabuddin, of the Muslim organisation Majlis-e-Mushawarat. He compared their situation to African-Americans in the United States. He noted that Muslims are well-represented in lowly jobs, and have few openings in formal occupations.

He said: "What are they supposed to do? They, therefore, end up in police stations more frequently and get involved in things they should not be involved in. It’s like the African-Americans in the US. Their proportionate share in jails is much more than their population share. With less opportunities, crime is a vocation." He also blamed the police for their bias.

It appears that the Indian government is doing its own hand-wringing, and yet its statistics do not demonstrate a disproportionate amount of imprisoned Muslims anywhere near as extreme as those from France.

France, frustratingly, is too politically correct to keep statistics based on ethnicity, race or religion. Therefore the estimates of Muslims within the general population range from 6 to 9% of the total. Yet in jails, the amount of Muslims are estimated to be between 60 and 70% of the prison demographic. The majority of French Muslims in jail are said to be from North Africa.

According to the Jamestown Foundation, Farhad Khosrokhavar of the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, estimated that between 50% and 80% of French inmates are Muslims. He also noted in 2004 that there were only 69 imams in French jails, compared to 500 Christian pastors and 84 rabbis.

In Britain, the population of Muslims is estimated at 3% of the total, but with illegal immigration, this figure could be higher. A report by the UK Prison Service noted that since 1993, the number of Muslims in British jails increased threefold over a ten-year period. In March 1993, there were 2,106 Muslim prisoners. In June 2003 there were 6,136.

In June 2002, the prison population of Muslims was 7% of all male prisoners (more than twice the national percentage) and 3% of all female prisoners (the same as the national average).

The latest figure for total prison population in Britain (27 October 2006) in Britain is 73,144 males and 4,605 females, though this figure is not broken down by religion. The system is close to breaking point.

In Scotland, the proportion of Muslims in the community is small. A government study (pdf format) from 2003 stated that out of a total population of 5,062,011 people, there were 42,557 Muslims. This figure included 31,793 Pakistanis and 1,981 Bangladeshis.

Therefore, 0.8% of the population of Scotland is Muslim. A UK government report from August this year states that 1.3% of the Scottish prison population (89 individuals) defined themselves as "Muslim".

In Italy, the percentage of the prison population that is Muslim is 14%, according to 2005 figures.

Poverty is no excuse for crime. And claiming police prejudice in a country like Britain, where the police seem fearful to hurt Muslim feelings, seems a weaker excuse. One suggestion has been made to account for the large Muslim prison population in Britain by Dr Basia Spalek and Salah El-Hassan of the Institute of Applied Social Studies, University of Birmingham. They argue that conversion to Islam while in prison accounts for the presence of some of the Muslims in prison. At Feltham Young Offenders’ Institute, there have been incidents of forced conversion to Islam.

In France, Muslims are ripe for conversion. in 2004 it was said that prisoners in French jails can spend 21 hours locked in their cells. In June, the French General Intelligence Agency (Renseignements Generaux or RG) stated that 175 militant Muslims were preaching to others in French jails. They were mostly already from "Muslim backgrounds" already, but had adopted the extreme fundamentalism of the Tablighi Jamaat or Salafists.

In Belgium, the influence of radical Muslims proselytising in jail led in September to the director of the Belgian federal police force, Glenn Audenaert, suggesting that such prisoners should be contained in a segregated jail. In Australia, Aboriginal prisoners have been targeted for Islamic conversion.

In the United States, an estimated one third of all African-American prisoners are Muslim converts, following in the traditions of Malcolm X or Imam Jamil Al-Amin (the former H. Rap Brown). A study by the US Department of Justice from April 2004 revealed that 6% of the 150,000 federal inmates are Muslim. This is higher than the 1.5% of the general population who profess Islam. The whole US Department of Justice report, entitled "A Review of the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ Selection of Muslim Religious Services Providers", can be downloaded in pdf format HERE.

In California, the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation confirms that of 166,000 inmates in the state, about 10,000 of these are Muslim. The majority of these are Sunni Muslims. This too coincides with the 6% figure found in the rest of the general prison population.

In America, as in Europe, there is a problem with the spread of radical Islam within penitentiaries. A recent 38-page document, published in September by the Homeland Security Policy Institute of George Washington University, entitled "Out of the Shadows: Getting Ahead of Prisoner Radicalization", can be downloaded in pdf format HERE.

There is another possible reason for the spread of Islam in jail, which would also explain why so many Muslims end up in jail, compared to other citizens. Irrespective of the bleeding-heart liberal excuses of low achievement and poor opportunities, no researchers have stated the obvious and unifying factor – Islam, and its belief that "kaffirs" are inferior. If one dehumanizes non-Muslims, it is easy to see them as targets. As Mohammed himself (in Sura 8 – the "spoils of war") engaged in caravan raids and also acts of violence – what better example is there to legitimize one’s progression through life by "raiding" from shops, automobiles and citizens?

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