UK prisons are'radicalising' young Muslims

YOUNG Muslims incarcerated in Britain's jails are being radicalised by the prison system itself, rather than hardline Imams, a Scottish expert in Islamic studies claimed yesterday.

Dr Gabriele Marranci, a lecturer in anthropology of religion at Aberdeen University, has spent four years interviewing Muslims in jails throughout Britain in a study to discover how life behind bars is affecting their Muslim identity and their experience of Islam.

His detailed report reveals that current efforts by the prison authorities to curb radicalism within the UK's jails are in fact fostering extremism.

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He said that Muslims who chose to display their faith by growing beards or wearing Islamic caps were being discriminated against in prison. The reluctance of prison Imams to talk about Iraq and other flashpoints in the Islamic world was serving only to leave young and vulnerable Muslims to be "self-educated" behind bars.

Dr Marranci, whose findings are based on more than 170 interviews with current and former Muslim prisoners, said he had uncovered no evidence to suggest that Muslim chaplains were facilitating radicalisation.

He said: "On the contrary, my findings suggest that they are extremely important in preventing dangerous forms of extremism. However, the distrust that they face, both internally and externally, is jeopardising their important function."

Dr Marranci said his study also revealed that Muslim prisoners were being subjected to stricter security surveillance than other inmates, especially when they adopted symbols of their faith, such as beards, veils and caps.

"Growing a beard is, in almost all of the establishments I visited, interpreted as 'radicalisation' of the individual," said Dr Marranci.

"Muslims who openly show their Muslim identity through symbols suffer more discrimination in general than those who keep a low profile.

"The lack of freedom of expression that Muslim prisoners suffer and the continuous atmosphere of suspicion surrounding them have the effect of increasing a sense of frustration and depression that a strong view of Islam can help to overcome."

A spokesman for the Scottish Prison Service said:

"We are not aware of any claims of any attempted radicalisation by Imams of any prisoner group."