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UK blocks study into prison conversions to Islam

The Ministry of Justice in the UK has blocked plans for an academic study into why prisoners convert to Islam and how imprisonment eventually lead to their radicalisation.

Published: November 8, 2018, 10:11 am


    According to The Times of London, supporters of the three-year project said they were alarmed by the decision. They believe the prison service did not want to allow such a sensitive issue being researched by means of interviews with inmates and staff at eight prisons.

    Former UK Justice Secretary Michael Gove had commissioned the study on prison radicalisation.

    Official data on Muslim prisoners in England and Wales, show that the number has more than doubled in recent years, to 12 894 in 2018. Moreover, a government-commissioned report into Islamist extremism in 2016 that found there was a “lack of hard data on conversions and the reasons behind them” for inmates.

    Prof Matthew Wilkinson, the lead researcher based at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London, said authorities were worried about what researchers might find. Earlier research suggested that the last 15 major terrorist attacks in Europe have had some connection link to prisons.

    “We think that the choice to follow Islam can be rational, positive decision and we want to discover how it can be managed appropriately to help prison governors in their duty to prevent reoffending,” Wilkinson said.

    The research project has been given the go-ahead in Switzerland and France as there is a statistically high incidence of incarcerated criminal non-Muslims converting to Islam while in the prison system.

    In the decade preceding 2014, the number of conversions to Islam among prisoners in Western countries outpaced all other religions, The Australian reported.

    In 2011 “[a]round 30 percent of Muslim inmates were converts [to Islam…] and many of those are, according to previous Home Office research, from black ethnic backgrounds,” the BBC reported.

    In 2015, it was reported by The Express that there was “a surge in Muslim inmates in recent years, with one in five of those serving sentences in Britain’s maximum security jails now said to be following Islam, according to union officials. The Prison Officers’ Association […] added they were also being made even more vulnerable to radicalisation.”

    But it is evident that the discussion of Islam in Britain has become a highly divisive issue. Forty-three percent of Britons now believe that Western liberal society can never be compatible with Islam, according to a ComRes “Islamophobia” poll from last month.

    Two-fifths (43 percent) of the population would be concerned if a mosque was built near them or if a family member married a Muslim. One in five (22 percent) would be concerned if a Muslim family moved next door and 3 in 10 (30 percent) would object to their child visiting a mosque.

    A report for the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) found that one-third (33 percent) of Britons surveyed believed that efforts to provide equal opportunities to Muslim immigrants had gone “too far”.

    The report, the first of an annual “barometer” testing public opinion on Islam, also found that 22 percent of Britons now had negative views of Muslims.

    The results of the poll were underscored when retailer Marks & Spencer sparked a row after including hijabs in its school uniform section.

    The company’s social media pages were flooded with angry messages from native British customers saying they would not buy from M&S until the black headscarves were removed from the shelves. The founder of the Quilliam Foundation accused M&S of going back to “medievalism”.

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