Non-Muslims forced to convert in UK’s first Muslim majority prison

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NEW YORK: Non-Muslim inmates in UK’s first Muslim majority prison are being pressured to convert to an “Islamic protection racket”, according to a report.

The number of Muslims in Cambridgeshire’s Whitemoor prison is said to be double what it was in 2008, and the highest proportion in any UK prison. Despite the prison staff’s warnings about radicalisation, the situation is fast deteriorating.

A prison welfare report from the Independent Monitoring Board claims the increasing number of Muslims in the prison is “affecting the social nature of the jail and disrupting established hierarchies.”

“Against this background, we note that some prisoners and staff found the Muslim presence overwhelming. The social and religious fragmentation within Whitemoor potentially posed risks for discipline and hence safety,” the report said.

The UK’s prison population is roughly 15%. However, the report revealed that Whitemoor’s Muslim population has increased from 40% just one year earlier, and 28% in 2008. Between the ages of 22 and 39, Muslims now represent 56% of the population in this prison.

According to the report, the dominant group now constituted Muslims who had been replacing the greater multiplicity of gangs that had previously existed.

The report also highlighted a section of a groundbreaking study into the phenomenon of the growing influence of Islam in prisons, published in 2012 by Alison Liebling.

In relation to Whitemoor, the study noted, “There were some intimidating ‘heavy players’ among the Muslim population who appeared to be orchestrating prison power dynamics rather than propagating or following the faith.”

It also highlighted how physically powerful players were re-establishing their outside identities as the leaders in the prison through “their (newly-acquired) faith status as a tool for establishing status.”

Prisoners told Liebling and her researchers that they were often pressured into converting to Islam, and those who resisted became hesitant to cook pork in communal kitchens to avoid conflict.

Some prisoners claimed that the jail functioned as a “recruiting ground” for extremism as younger inmates were “in awe” of convicted terrorists held there.

Howeverm vice president of the Prison Governors Association, Mark Icke, defended Whitemoor. “We have a prison population which is bigger, serving longer sentences, more prone to violence, and increasingly driven by gang affiliations,” he said.

“Use of legal highs, which we cannot yet test for, has destabilised the system further,” Icke told the Daily Mail.

Further,presenting a solution to this problem, experts from the Quilliam Foundation advised last month that imprisoned extremists should have their own segregated prison wings to prevent the radicalisation of more moderate inmates among Britain’s growing Muslim prisoner population.

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