The investigation of a recent alleged terrorism plot that law enforcement officials say was hatched in a California prison has raised fears about radical Islamic indoctrination in the country’s prison system.  Law enforcement officials told ABC News that former Oakland gang member Peter Martinez and cellmate Kevin James, both held in the New Folsom State Prison, organized a plot to attack military and Jewish targets in the Los Angeles area this coming September 11.  The plot was discovered when former Folsom Prison inmate Levar Washington (who converted to Islam while in prison) and an accomplice were arrested for a string of gas station robberies.

The San Diego Union Tribune explains the concerns that this incident raises about radical Islamic recruiting in the prison system:

The allegations seem to support comments that FBI Director Robert Mueller made to the Senate Intelligence Committee:  “Prisons continue to be fertile ground for extremists who exploit both a prisoner’s conversion to Islam while still in prison, as well as their socio-economic status and placement in the community upon their release.”  Fears that Islamic prison groups could foster terrorism have grown since the arrest in 2002 of Jose Padilla, a former Chicago street gang member and former convict who converted to Islam and a few years later allegedly attended an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan.  Padilla is in jail, accused of plotting to create a crude radioactive device, or “dirty bomb.”  Similar concerns were raised after a Muslim chaplain for New York’s state prison system was dismissed for allegedly using his position to promote Islamic radicalism.  Richard Reid, the British citizen convicted in a failed shoe-bomb attack aboard an American Airlines flight in 2001, reportedly converted to Islam in prison.  At least one of the suspects arrested in the July 21 attempted suicide attacks in London reportedly converted to Islam while behind bars.

However, not everybody is convinced that fears of prison-bred terrorism are warranted.  Maher Hathout, a senior adviser to the Muslim Public Affairs Council, commented, “The prisons are a breeding ground for drugs, for violence, for rape, for gangs, for everything.  There should not be hysteria or fear because we’re dealing with that ghost named Islam.”  And scholar Robert Dannin claimed that the cases that officials and experts cite as proof of Islamic proselytizing in prison are often incorrect.  “People have taken this (tale) of Malcolm X, the one famous example (of a prison conversion to Islam), and built it into a powerful myth,” he said.

I would like to shed some light on the kind of material that has been used in recent years to indoctrinate prison inmates by showing selections from two books that were widely distributed in American prisons by the U.S. branch of the al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, which was designated a sponsor of terrorism by the Treasury Department in September 2004.  The .pdf’s that you can dowload below are a Counterterrorism Blog exclusive.

First, the al-Haramain Foundation distributed The Noble Qur’an, translated by Muhammad Taqi-ud-Din Al-Hilali and Muhammad Muhsin Khan, to an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 prisoners.  (Download NQ_Title.pdf)  This translation uniquely advances a radical interpretation of the Muslim holy book through the use of footnotes and bracketed material that does not appear in the Arabic text, but rather serves an entirely “explanatory” function.  An early footnote in this translation lays out, at length, the importance of jihad:  “Al-Jihad (holy fighting) in Allah’s Cause (with full force of numbers and weaponry) is given the utmost importance in Islam and is one of its pillars (on which it stands).  By Jihad Islam is established, Allah’s Word is made superior, . . . and His Religion (Islam) is propagated.  By abandoning Jihad (may Allah protect us from that) Islam is destroyed and the Muslims fall into an inferior position; their honour is lost, their lands are stolen, their rule and authority vanish.  Jihad is an obligatory duty in Islam on every Muslim, and he who tries to escape from this duty, or does not in his innermost heart wish to fulfil this duty, dies with one of the qualities of a hypocrite.”  (Download NQ_71.pdf)  Thus, this translation both rules out non-military interpretations of jihad by specifying that it involves “full force of numbers and weaponry) and also states that it is “an obligatory duty on every Muslim.”

Even fairly innocuous verses were transformed into further justifications for jihad by this translation’s explanatory brackets.  Verse 2:3, in other translations, lauds those who “spend of what We have bestowed upon them.”  Al-Haramain’s translation adds an explanatory bracket directing believers to spend this money on sponsoring jihad:  “[i.e. give Zakat, spend on themselves, their parents, their children, their wives, etc., and also give charity to the poor and also in Allah’s cause — Jihad, etc.]”  (Download NQ_35.pdf )

As if this advocacy of jihad were not enough, many editions of this translation that reached the prisons contained an appendix entitled “The Call to Jihad (Holy Fighting in Allah’s Cause) in the Qur’an,” by Sheikh Abdullah bin Muhammad bin Humaid, Saudi Arabia’s former chief justice.  (Download NQ_945.pdf)  That essay is, quite simply, an exhortation to violence.  It outlines bin Humaid’s case that jihad is obligatory against all non-Muslims.  Bin Humaid explains:  “Allah revealed . . . the order to discard (all) the obligations (covenants, etc.) and commanded the Muslims to fight against all the Mushrikun as well as against the people of the Scriptures (Jews and Christians) if they do not embrace Islam, till they pay the Jizyah (a tax levied on the non-Muslims who do not embrace Islam and are under the protection of an Islamic government) with willing submission and feel themselves subdued.”  (Download NQ_947-8.pdf)  His essay includes an appeal for the reader to volunteer for jihad:  “Jihad is a great deed indeed and there is no deed whose reward or blessing is as that of it, and for this reason, it is the best thing that one can volunteer for. . . .  [I]t (Jihad) shows one’s patience, one’s devotion to Islam, one’s remembrance to Allah and there are other kinds of good deeds which are present in Jihad and are not present in any other act of worship.”  (Download NQ_955.pdf)

This translation is also marked by an animus toward other faiths.  A footnote following verse 8:72 instructs Muslims that, if they are living in non-Muslim countries, they must leave lest they become like disbelievers:  “(What is said) about residence (staying) in the land of Ash-Shirk (polytheism i.e. that land where polytheism is practiced).  Narrated Samurah bin Jundub:  Allah’s Messenger said:  ‘Anybody (from among the Muslims) who meets, gathers together, lives, and stays (permanently) with a Mushrik (polytheist or a disbeliever in the Oneness of Allah, etc.) and agrees to his ways, opinion, etc. and (enjoys) his living with him (Mushrik) then he (that Muslim) is like him (Mushrik).’  (This Hadith indicates that a Muslim should not stay in a non-Muslim country, he must emigrate to a Muslim country, where Islam is practiced.)”  (Download NQ_275.pdf)

But a special dose of hatred is reserved for the Jews.  A parenthetical phrase inserted into Surah 2:99 implies a sinister Jewish conspiracy:  “And indeed We have sent down to you manifest Ayat (these Verses of the Qur’an which inform in detail about the news of the Jews and their secret intentions, etc.) and none disbelieve in them but Fasiqun (those who rebel against Allah’s Command).”  (Download NQ_52.pdf)

Another book that the al-Haramain Foundation distributed in prisons is Muhammad bin Jamil Zino’s Islamic Guidelines for Individual and Social Reform.  (Download Zino_Title.pdf)  This book was sent to an estimated 1,000 prisoners.  It too contains pro-jihad propaganda.  Page 130 explains that all Muslims are obligated to undertake jihad in one of two ways:  “by spending one’s wealth or offering oneself for fighting in the cause of Allah.”  (Download Zino_130.pdf)  Zino specifies that this jihad must be undertaken against “Jewish-Christian nations”:  “The Jihad against the disbelievers, communists and the aggressors from Jewish-Christian nations can be either by spending on Jihad or by participating in it in person.”  (Download Zino_133.pdf)  And he instructs that children should be indoctrinated in the glories of jihad from an early age:  “Teach your children the love of justice and revenge from the unjust like the Jews and the tyrants.  Consequently our youth would know that Palestine should be freed and Jerusalem must be of the Muslims.  They have to learn about Islam and Jihad as per the Qur’an and that the holy fighting for justice is supported by Allah the Almighty.”  (Download Zino_108.pdf)

Consistent with the last passage, anti-Semitism is omnipresent throughout Zino’s book.  Most shocking is page 167, which is entitled “Act upon these Ahadith.”  The first hadith that readers are instructed to “act upon” reads:  “The Last Hour will not appear unless the Muslims fight the Jews and kill them.”  (Download Zino_167.pdf)  And, of course, sinister and secretive conspiracies are imputed to the Jews.  In a passage denouncing fortunetellers, Zino writes, “If they know the Unseen, let them talk about the secret schemes of the Jews so that we combat them.”  (Download Zino_37.pdf)

And, incidentally, Zino mentions in an offhand manner a hadith that says:  “Whoever apostatizes from Islam should be killed.”  (Download Zino_35.pdf)  In other words, those who convert out of Islam deserve death.

Thus, I have outlined, at some length, the kind of Islamic literature that has already made its way into the prison system.  The current California investigation makes clear that learning more about the process of radical indoctrination in the prisons is imperative.