The following is a letter to insidetime, from issue August 2010
A conference of the prison Muslim Chaplains Association was held at the Regents Park Mosque in London on 14 June.
Attended by over one hundred guests including the outgoing Director General of NOMS Phil Wheatley, his successor Michael Spurr and Lord Nazir Ahmed a patron of the MCA the audience were taken through the role of Muslim Chaplains within the Prison Service and the valuable role which they play in meeting the religious needs of Muslim prisoners.
It was unfortunate however that the guest speakers did not invite questions from the audience given the recent adverse media reports relating to the alleged radical activities in some prisons of Muslim prisoners intimidating non Muslims to convert to Islam.
Clearly, there are some non Muslims who might perceive there to be some benefits in aligning themselves with a radical form of Islam which is of concern to HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, Anne Owers as expressed in her recent report and is something which ought to have drawn a response from Muslim Chaplains and other Muslim dignitaries who attended the conference.
Following the presentations, I was able to approach the Muslim Chaplain of HM Prison Belmarsh and put to him the allegations which featured in Anne Owers report and the Times news report of the 8 June 2010 which highlighted the alleged problems of intimidation and bullying by Muslim prisoners of non Muslims.
Given that Belmarsh is allegedly a bedrock of radical Muslim prisoners, I thought that here was someone who was perhaps in a better position to answer my questions. Instead, I was told that the best person to answer them was Ahtsham Ali the NOMS Muslim Adviser at Prison Service Headquarters to whom I was then introduced.
Putting to him the serious allegations in the Chief Inspectors Report which was reported by the Times, Mr Ali avoided giving a clear and straight response instead asking me as a released lifer whether I had personally witnessed or experienced any such activity. I explained that in the all lifer prisons in which I had served my sentence there was an emphasis on progressing towards release and any concerns by staff of bullying or intimidation of any kind usually meant that the lifer would be transferred out to a prison of a higher security category which might mean in some cases serving extra years.
Mr Ali then suggested that I was in a better position to answer my own questions.
When I asked if he would allow me to quote him, he advised that I should refer to the press office at Headquarters making it clear that what he had said was ‘off the record’ and meanwhile I should read the BBCs Home Affairs reporter Mark Easton’s news report which is available on the internet for a more balanced view.
In an earlier presentation by Lord Nazir Ahmed, he related how he had once spent fourteen days in prison and witnessed the hostility of some prison officers towards Muslim prisoners and how with Lord Mostyn he had been instrumental in setting up the MCA going on to say that if prisoners are treated with respect they will change.
Michael Spurr the new Director General of NOMS in his address suggested that religious faith is part of the solution and not the problem and here I was expecting at least some response to the recent news reports but the opportunity was missed and it was left to me to seek out the one or two Muslim spokesmen I spoke to at the end of the presentations but it seems to me that its either too sensitive an issue or they would prefer it to be brushed under the carpet.
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