Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Muslim Rivalry Hits New York Prisons

The rivalry and violence between Sunni and Shiite Muslims isn't just limited to Iraq. It is increasingly found in one place presumed shut off from the influence of faraway sectarian politics: New York's state prisons.

In the last two decades, the state's Muslim inmates, who number 7,987, have been increasingly identifying as either Sunni or Shiite, a phenomenon that prison chaplains elsewhere say is most pronounced in New York. Shiite inmates, who make up less than 4% of the Muslims incarcerated here, have long reported religious persecution by the Sunni-dominated Muslim chaplaincy employed by the state. The Sunni-Shiite divide has played a role in at least one stabbing between inmates in 2004, e-mails by prison officials show.

Shiite inmates have long demanded their own chaplains and a separate place to pray on Fridays, apart from other Muslim inmates. A little-noticed federal court ruling improves the prospects that Shiite inmates will see their demands met.

The plaintiffs say the more than 40 Muslim chaplains employed by the state are predominately Sunni and influenced by the Saudi Arabian movement of Wahhabism.

"In the places where it's been most tense, a lot of times the chaplains have been at fault," a Muslim chaplain who retired in 2006 from the prison system after 18 years, Dawoud Adeyola, said. He is not connected to the lawsuit.

The Muslim prison chaplaincy has been under scrutiny since a 2003 Wall Street Journal article disclosed that after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, two New York chaplains spoke in support of the attacks.

The state prison system has reached out to Shiite leaders in the city for help in hiring Shiite chaplains for inmates, but those efforts have run into difficulties. An early candidate to be the prison's first Shiite chaplain was terminated during a try-out period after he was found trying to bring a knife into the Sing Sing Correctional Facility, one source said. The only Shiite prison imam, Muhammad Abdulmubdi, currently employed by the state is in an unusual position: He is barred from entering any prison pending the outcome of an internal investigation into whether he broke an undisclosed regulation, a source said. Mr. Kriss, the spokesman would not comment, and further details were not available.

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