July 16, 1993
Georgia Public Safety officials seek answers from Imam W. Deen Mohammed
(Question and Answer session on June 9, 1993, in Forsyth, Georgia.)
Q. What do you see as the role of the religious community to inmates when they are released from prison?
A-IWDM: The role of the Muslim community is to try to have an association or relationship with the facility so that when Muslims are released, then we could work with the prison administration to help those inmates successfully return to society and not fall victim to their weaknesses or to the law and return to prison. I think our role should be to work with the administration to see that everything is done to keep the inmates from returning to prison.
Q. Is there any message that you would like for us to take back to Islamic inmates?
A-IWDM: Yes, I went to see Mike Tyson. I had heard he was interested in Islam. The first thing I said to the group of Muslim inmates was, "I greet you brothers, As-Salaam-Alaikum. But I don't feel comfortable greeting you in this situation. Muslims should not be in this situation, and that's what I'd like to say to all Muslims in prison. Muslims are not supposed to go to prison. Muslims are supposed to obey God, respect the law of the land and stay out of prison, and that's not a good place for them. And believe me if I came there visiting them, I wouldn't feel I was in a good place or situation. I would rather see them when they return to society and greet them outside.
I really have a lot of respect for you Chaplains. I tried to do it. I used to go to these prison communities to teach, and after a while I felt like I was a prison Imam. I refused to go anymore. I said some of you brothers who did time, go there. I don't want to be in prison.
Q. Can a Muslim inmate work in a food service area where pork may be cooked, cut, handled and can they wash utensils which pork has been cooked in?
A-IWDM: that's a very touchy question. I can only tell you what the fact is. The fact is that Muslims are not supposed to consume pork; not to be responsible for pork being consumed by others. That's my feeling. I wouldn't want to handle pork. I'm a man who believes in having a job. But if there is no other job for me outside as a free man, I'm telling you I wouldn't let my wife and children be at home not having some food. And before I would let them put me on welfare, I would [consider the job to] wash the pork and the pots the pork was in. I wouldn't eat it. But I would [take the job I, if I had to feed my family. I think that God would be pleased with me doing that until I found a better situation.
Now a prisoner inside the prison compound is not supposed to have any control over the situation. He lost that when he broke the law.
Q. Commissioner Slay ton: Let me push you on that. Since that is a more significant area where we have disagreement throughout our situation especially in dealing with pork. Are you really saying that in the context of dealing with pork or utensils where pork has been cooked in, are you saying that it is not within Islamic Law that the prison system can respond?
A-IWDM: That is exactly what I'm saying. That it is not within Islamic Law. Islamic Law has its differences. We can't apply Islamic Law in a situation like that. We have to try to get accommodations for Islamic concerns (Muslim sensitivities) and the Islamic rule in the life of Muslims. We have to get accommodations from the law of the land, in this case the prison administration, and we only have rights in my opinion as much as those rights are given by the law of the land and the prison administration. If other religious groups, like Jews, are allowed allowances, then the prison system is putting itself on the spot. We would claim the same right that others claim.
Q. Are Muslim inmates being within the limits of Al-Islam if they handle pork while wearing gloves?
A-IWDM: I can't say yes and I can't say no. If they have serious sensitivities, then I think those sensitivities have to be respected. If they are in the free society, not convicts, then their sensitivities have to be respected. We can't demand that the prison system respect those sensitivities, unless the prison system has already made such allowances for these people. If they are allowed to wear gloves, that's really good of our prison system. We have a very civilized and progressive prison system. Anyone who doesn't believe that, I would like for them to go to some Muslim prisons in some of the Muslim countries around the world.
Q. Are there any additional dietary restrictions other than pork?
A-IWDM: Yes. There is a term in our Holy Book, "Halal Tayibah" which means it is permissible . Alcohol is not permissible in our diet. Pork and alcohol are strictly forbidden.
Q. Can a non-pork item be stored with pork? Would that contaminate the other item?
A-IWDM: Only if the substance of the pork meat gets on the other meat and the fat from the pork gets on the meat that the Muslim eats.
Q. We have some Muslims that want to maintain the old way instead of the transition, how would you speak to that?
A-IWDM: When it comes to the dietary laws and the dress, the Hon. Elijah Muhammad's followers were models of obedience to the law of Islamic dress and Muslim diet. Also the attitude toward authorities in prisons, the Hon. Klijah Muhammad taught respect for the authorities. He was a strong advocate of that.
Q. One concern is that when the religion was "Black Muslims", the issue of racism came up in the institutions.
A-IWDM: Yes. The Hon. Elijah Muhammad had an identification card that was given to all members of the Nation of Islam and that identification card said, if the police had arrested a Muslim, a member of the Nation of Islam, the card said: "This bearer of this card is a righteous Muslim. If the bearer of this card is found otherwise, take this card from him and punish him." That's what the card said. Tell them that was the teaching of the Hon. Klijah Muhammad.
Q. Are there any concerns for correctional administrators or workers that you would like to express?
A-IWDM: I did time in prison myself in Sandstone, Minnesota for refusing a Selective Service order. I was there for 13 months and I saw changes there. At first it was very difficult for us to get one meal that was free of pork unless it was breakfast, which was sometimes just cereal. I saw the change come and we were told that we could get eggs; they would make sure that the Muslims would get boiled eggs or sometimes once a week we would get fried eggs. And we were assured that they weren't cooked with lard. They would at least have one meal during the day without pork. I appreciated that very much.
I've heard how some of the inmates are living now in some of these institutions and believe some of them break the law to go there just to be your guests. I don't think quite like some of you. I believe that an offender should be punished. So I have to respect the progress of the prison system. I'm sure there are many prisons around the country that can still improve. I do believe we have the more humane system when it comes to how to treat inmates on this planet. And if there is a more humane system I don't know about it.
I'm hearing that you are becoming better acquainted with the Qur'an and with the life of a Muslim. The better you know our life the better you will be at serving the Muslim population.
Q. What is the position of inmates who call themselves Imams?
A-IWDM: An inmate can call himself Imam in prison, but he can only be an Imam leading prayer only. And he would have to only lead other inmates who see him as the better character of the group. Then he can lead them in prayer if it is approved by the facility. However, that is not the situation we want. We prefer that one of the Imams from one of our nearest Mosques go there and instruct in religion and qualify them to lead prayer. We have many inmate Muslims who have studied the Qur'an and increased their knowledge of Islam. They have qualified themselves and they have become very good Imams. We like that; that's very good news.
But, even though we have seen benefits we will never accept that a man breaks the law and goes to jail and become Imam, a leader for Muslims. He should wait until he returns to society and establishes those credits in society and the community outside acknowledges him and says: "You've done your time, and we see that you have completely reformed and we think you should be accepted as an Imam." It should be the outside society qualifying him to be an Imam after he has proved himself in the free world. Many times they come to the free world and they forget everything they did in prison.
Q. What do you think can be done to curb the crime we see so widespread today?
A-IWDM: We need our leaders to be on record for condemning crime and not excusing it. I think if we were on record for condemning crime, that the media would sooner or later have to stop giving notoriety to criminals. I think we should make criminals feel small. If we treat them in any way to make them feel big, we are ourselves contributing to the growth of crime.