04/19/12: Prison issues addressed at interfaith meeting in Dearborn Heights

Prison issues addressed at interfaith meeting in Dearborn Heights

By Samer Hijazi- Arab American News

Thursday, 04.19.2012, 02:01am

The interfaith meeting held at the Islamic House of Wisdom was headed by Imam Mohamed Ali Elahi.

DEARBORN HEIGHTS— On Tuesday an interfaith meeting was held at the Islamic House of Wisdom in Dearborn Heights that included Imams of both Shi’a and Sunni congregations along with representatives from churches around the southeast Michigan area. The meeting was called for to discuss and address concerns of prisoners in the Michigan Department of Corrections.

Imam Mohammed Ali Elahi of the Islamic House of Wisdom expressed his gratitude towards the religious leaders that had made it out to attend the meeting.

“There is one God that unites us all, no matter the religion, language or location and that is wonderful,” the Imam stated at the beginning of the meeting. “There is a verse in the Quran that that tells us that sometimes it’s an obligation to save a church. There is also a similar message in the bible that says ‘Love your neighbor,’” he added. 

Michael Martin, the special activities coordinator from the corrections department was also in attendance.  He gave a presentation on statistics regarding prisoners and their faith as well as some efforts the department has been making to accommodate all of the prisoners. 

Some of the statistics provided by Martin included percentages; 4% of all prisoners in the Ryan Correctional Facility located in Detroit identified themselves as Muslim. Another 7.4% identified themselves as the Nation of Islam. 44.2% of inmates identified themselves as Protestant, the largest percentage on the list. Very similar percentages were also reported at the Macomb Corrections Facility, located in New Haven.

Over at the Huron Valley Women’s Complex located in Ypsilanti, the numbers differed somewhat. A total of 0.6% of prisoners identified themselves as Muslim and only 0.5% identified themselves as the Nation of Islam. 41.8% identified themselves as Protestant. 

Some concerns addressed at the meeting included Halal food, which is not provided in the prisons. Martin stated that they are aware of the issue and that the department was working on providing the Muslim prisoners with that option.

Others voiced their concerns about Islamophobia, stating that they’ve heard stories of Muslims being out-casted in the prisons by other prisoners and mistreated for being Muslim by staff. 

“I am not aware of that. To my knowledge it’s not happening. The best way to prevent that is to have Muslim volunteers to come in and teach prisoners about Islam, rather than have them teach each other,” Martin added. 

Others felt that there was a lack of communication between the department and religious organizations that have tried to reached out by volunteering. Martin stated that there was a process required in getting a religious organization approved in order to communicate with other prisoners. 

“I am absolutely committed to ensure that prisoners and volunteers, whatever their religion is, have the same opportunities as other volunteers and prisoners from other faiths,” Martin stated at the end of the meeting.