Islamic Rulings for Incarcerated Muslims: Volume One: A Compilation of Verdicts and Rulings

Even in an age of digital research, printed books that can be held in one’s hands and read are far from being relics of the past. This is doubly true in the restricted environment of an American prison, where access to the Internet is out of bounds but books may be obtained through mail order or prison libraries. This publication seeks to overcome this Internet access gap by printing questions from an online Prison Q &A Forum as a slim booklet. It represents the new challenge posed by the fatwa-on-line phenomena, its influence in diverse settings, and the complexities of conflicting notions of religious authority. Eighty questions, purportedly from incarcerated Muslims in American prisons, are answered by thirteen shaykhs and published by a bookstore, self-described as “revolutionizing authentic salafee publishing” (back cover).

Numerous questions in this booklet are familiar to Muslim prison chaplains, who are professionally trained to prioritize and negotiate religious accommodation within correctional institutions. For example, Question 11 reads: “I am locked in the cell with another Muslim and there is not enough room for us to pray side-by-side. Can we then pray with one of us in front of the other?” (p. 19). One shaykh says that it is permissible to do so because of the situation, reflecting the principle that necessity may alter prescribed ritual requirements. However, addressing this and other questions without an on-site Muslim chaplain to assess not only the question but also the questioner and the abnormal circumstances of prison society is inadequate as a resource for reliable religious accommodation.

The authors unduly simplify individual issues that Muslims of varying legal schools may interpret differently. For example, questions regarding dress and the length of one’s beard are represented by the most conservative and restricted viewpoint. On page 24, the question “Is it permissible for you to trim your beard?” is answered “No,” citing various textual references. Missing is any mention of variant or even more relevant positions: the fact that incarcerated individuals may have no choice in this matter, as religious provisions within prison policies often mandate maximum lengths for beards.

Other questions: “With regards to wearing the pants below the ankle; when we see someone in this condition, should we remind him once or every time we see it? Also, is there any reason that wearing pants below the ankle would be permissible?” Both the questions and answer in this case seem to be formulated from a viewpoint that may be inappropriately tendentious for a prison chaplain. The answer, “The Musbil (the one who allows this garment to go below his ankle) is committing one of the major sins in Islaam” (p. 39), is followed by a discussion with contradictory points about whether this “infraction” is done out of arrogance or not. It then concludes: “For both cases, if done out of arrogance or not, that these [clothing violations] are major sins” (p. 40).


Dallas: Tarbiyyah Bookstore Publishing, 2007. 96 pages.

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