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Prison Jihad?

How radical Islamic charities exploit their access to the prison system.

12:00 AM, Oct 12, 2006 • By DAVEED GARTENSTEIN-ROSS
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Allah . . . 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.

Mushrikun refers to all nonbelievers who are not classified as people of the Scriptures; bin Humaid thus advocates war with the entire non-Muslim world. And the appendix appeals to the reader to volunteer for jihad, stating that "it is the best thing that one can volunteer for."

The Wahhabi/Salafi translation of the Koran was not the only piece of radical literature Al Haramain distributed to prisons. Another widely-distributed volume was Muhammad bin Jamil Zino's Islamic Guidelines for Individual and Social Reform. Like the radical translation of the Koran, one of the themes in Zino's book was jihad. Zino instructs his readers 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.

Virulent anti-Semitism and hatred of non-Muslim governments are also recurring themes. On a page headed "Act upon these Ahadith," Zino's first injunction reads: "The Last Hour will not appear unless the Muslims fight the Jews and kill them."

Zino also denounces "belief in man-made destructive ideologies such as . . . secularism" as nullifying an individual's adherence to Islam. This is in keeping with the views of another writer whose works Al Haramain sent to prisons: Abu Ameenah Bilal Philips. In The Fundamentals of Tawheed (Islamic Monotheism), Philips describes acquiescence to non-Islamic rule as an act of idolatry and disbelief. "Un-Islamic government," he writes, "must be sincerely hated and despised for the pleasure of God."

Al Haramain's literature wasn't subjected to a significant degree of scrutiny. I know of only a few instances in which prisons rejected it--and that was never because of the content. In one instance, a chaplain refused to distribute a pamphlet that outlined the differences between the Nation of Islam and Sunni Islam because of its potential for causing conflict between Islamic sects in the prison. In another case, literature was rejected because it was sent in a large manila envelope with a metal clasp. The screeners wouldn't allow the package because they felt the clasp could be used as a weapon.

But little question was raised about the message in the literature. We were able to forge relationships with a number of Muslim prison chaplains who willingly distributed Al Haramain's literature and questionnaires. Of course, the fact that they did so doesn't necessarily mean they were radical. Some chaplains may just have been happy that there was a Muslim charity willing to send literature, and may not have screened its contents. But at least some chaplains were on the same page as Al Haramain ideologically and were supportive of the worldview that the group fostered.

FORTUNATELY, Al Haramain's database was never used for terrorist recruitment, although investigators are still puzzled as to the reasons why not. One was surely resource constraints. Although Al Haramain was a massive operation, the U.S. headquarters was fairly small. There were only three full-time employees during my time there, and all of us had other responsibilities beyond prison dawa. A second and more complex reason involves Al Haramain's motivations. While jihadist views are displayed in Al Haramain's literature, this was the pre-9/11 world. At that time, support for jihads in Bosnia, Chechnya, the Philippines, or Uzbekistan wouldn't necessarily translate into a desire to recruit terrorists from U.S. prisons.

But we no longer live in the pre-9/11 world. In 2006, the United States is undeniably the focal point of the global jihad. And this requires more vigilance than we have shown in the past. We may not be so fortunate next time around.

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross is a senior consultant for Gerard Group International and author of the forthcoming book My Year Inside Radical Islam (Tarcher/Penguin). This essay is adapted from testimony that he delivered before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on September 19, 2006.