Yusuf Gaddafi Al Basir Mu’min had been incarcerated at Garner Correctional Institution for 15 years when he was released last December. However, after serving his sentence, he was returned to custody for violating parole charges. Abolition Ummah, a Connecticut-based organization run by Muslim women, fought for Mu’min’s release and highlighted the abuse and Islamophobia he endured during his sentencing.
In a report by Muslim Advocates in 2019, Muslims made up about 9% of all state prisoners in 34 states and Washington, DC, despite making up only about 1% of the US population. Inmates converted to Islam while serving their sentences in order to find rehabilitation and peace. Muslim prisoners also alleged that their right to practice was violated. In addition, the report stated that incarcerated Muslims were denied religious food, the Quran, head coverings, prayer mats and beads.
Inmates have had to fight to make faith a priority in prisons. While challenging the prison system for their religious rights, Muslims built a community that provided them with the support and care they needed to survive. While incarcerated Muslims fight for their rights inside the prison, Muslims outside are persistently struggling in the ongoing struggle for abolition.
Abolition Ummah is one of many Muslim abolitionist organizations in the United States. The Muslim abolitionist organization has uplifted members of the Muslim community affected by the prison state. Their efforts include holding conferences on Islam and abolition, fundraising for Muslims in pretrial and immigration detention, and writing letters to prisoners during Eid and throughout the year. A Muslim abolition organization in Chicago bailed out 73 Muslims from incarceration and raised more than $600,000 to free people during their four-year existence.
Formed by a group of Muslim scholars and community members who sought to implement abolition as a religious practice, Believers Bail Out is an abolitionist collective that began in 2018 by depositing bonds in the prison of Cook County in Chicago, the largest single-site prison in the United States, and currently posts pretrial incarceration and immigration bonds across the country. The organization seeks to create lasting change by focusing on three broad areas of concern: the prison-industrial complex, anti-Muslim racism, and anti-blackness.
“Abolition and transformative justice are rooted in Islamic tradition,” said Ayesha Patel, a volunteer with Believers Bail Out. “Mercy is so central to Islam that we start everything with ‘Bismillah hir Rahman ar Raheem’ (In the name of Allah, the Most Merciful, the Most Merciful). Abolition is really about practicing that mercy and compassion in everything we do.
One of the five pillars of the Islamic faith is Zakat, an obligatory form of charity used to relieve the suffering of millions of people. Muslims believe that continuing the abolitionist movement fulfills their duty as Muslims; Believers Bail Out donated Zakat money as an approach to freeing their siblings from remand and immigration detention.
“In Chapter 9 of the Quran, Surah Al Tawbah (“Repentance”), eight uses of zakat are specified, including helping the poor and needy and freeing slaves or captives,” Patel adds. “By paying their bail and releasing them, Believers Bail Out restores the presumption of innocence. It is our ability and our duty as Muslims to help end this unjust bail system that criminalizes poverty and is inherently racist.
In studying the teachings of Islam, it is consistent that they reflect those of a world without incarceration. For example, restorative justice, as well as Zakat, are both crucial in the Quran as they are in abolition. Justice in the Quran pays attention to restorative justice to deter crime in the future and enable victims to receive full retribution. Furthermore, by focusing on justice for the victim and rehabilitation of the offender, Islamic law emphasizes a sense of community where individuals can seek repentance and be productive members of society.
“There is nothing about the binary, punitive, anti-Black and colonial prison logics governing our ‘justice systems’ that are remotely Islamic,” said Maha, founder of the Queer Muslim Resistance project. “Working on the functioning of Islam as a faith of compassion, mercy and radical love allows us to understand the importance of cultivating networks beyond state apparatuses that truly value all of God’s creations .”
Born out of frustration with the lack of accessible critical queer Muslim engagements with transformative politics, Maha says she was drawn to the transgressive power of queer and its crucial role in dismantling colonial, carceral, cis-heteropatriarchal norms. Centering black abolitionist critique to inform their commitments, the Queer Muslim Resistance podcast serves to “highlight the interconnectedness of structures of domination and how these must be challenged in constructing radically different worlds.”
The history of Islam and abolition goes back to the Nation of Islam’s work on prisoners’ rights. Abolition of the prison-industrial complex is crucial for Muslims and their survival because Muslim inmates are sentenced longer than any other faith group, especially black Muslims. Therefore, engaging in the dismantling of anti-Blackness is essential in all Muslim abolition practices. The Black Muslim Coalition is one of many black-led organizations serving black Muslims during the COVID-19 pandemic and working toward a future with abolition.
“Prison and policing are literally rooted in anti-black, white supremacist values and dehumanizing practices… Queer and trans-black people are specifically targeted by these structures,” adds Maha.
For Muslims whose families have suffered the repercussions of the prison system, being an abolitionist is an integral part of their being and goes hand in hand with their faith. The abolition of prisons is essential to the survival of Muslims, especially those who are black, queer and trans; liberating our brothers and sisters from this violent system is the only path to liberation. As abolitionists have said, the only barrier between abolition is the audacity to dream of a different world. For Muslims, their fight is not only about abolition, but about survival.
As Maha puts it, “Abolition is a practice, or process, that involves a critical rethinking of the human relationships we should have, and how we can co-create the conditions to maintain those need-based relationships. , a mutual desire and will”. radical love.
“Beware of the supplication of the oppressed, for there is no barrier between it and Allah” [27:62]