Muslims kneel on grass outside of the Hennepin County Government Center
People attend the first Friday prayers of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan outside the Hennepin County Government Center in Minneapolis on April 16, 2021. Imam Makram El-Amin called for justice for those that were lost to police violence in the Friday sermon. (Photo by KEREM YUCEL/AFP via Getty Images)

Yusuf Kadhafi Al Basir Mu’min had been incarcerated in Garner Correctional Institution for 15 years when he was released last December. However, after maxing out his sentence, he was put back into confinement over violating parole charges. Abolition Ummah, a Connecticut-based and Muslim women-led organization, has been fighting for Mu’min to be let out and highlighting the abuse and Islamaphobia he endured during his sentencing.

In a report done by Muslim Advocates in 2019, Muslims were found to make up about 9% of overall state prisoners in 34 states and Washington, D.C., though they are only about 1% of the U.S. population. Inmates have been converting to Islam while serving their sentences as a way to find rehabilitation and peace. Muslim prisoners also alleged that their right to practice was being violated. Additionally, the report indicated that incarcerated Muslims were denied religiously compliant food, the Qur’an, head coverings, and prayer mats and beads.

Inmates had to fight to make faith a priority in prisons. While challenging the prison system for their religious rights, Muslims have made a community for themselves that has provided them with the support and care necessary for their survival. As incarcerated Muslims fight for their rights inside the prison, Muslims outside have been persistently fighting the ongoing fight for abolition.

Abolition Ummah is one of many Muslim abolition organizations in the U.S. Muslim abolitionist organizing has been uplifting Muslim community members affected by the carceral state. Their efforts include holding lectures about Islam and abolition, raising money for Muslims in pretrial incarceration and immigration detention, and letter-writing to prisoners during Eid and year-round. One Muslim abolition organization in Chicago has bailed out 73 Muslims from incarceration and has raised over $600,000 toward freeing people in their four years of existence.

Formed by a group of Muslim women scholars and community members who sought to implement abolition as a religious practice, Believers Bail Out is an abolitionist collective that had its start in 2018 by posting bonds in Chicago’s Cook County Jail, the largest single-site jail in the U.S., and currently posts pre-trial and immigration incarceration bonds across the country. The organization seeks to create sustainable change by focusing on three major areas of concern: the prison-industrial complex, anti-Muslim racism, and anti-Blackness.

“Abolition and transformative justice are embedded in Islamic tradition,” said Ayesha Patel, a volunteer with Believers Bail Out. “Mercy is so central to Islam, we start everything with ‘Bismillah hir Rahman ar Raheem’ (In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful). Abolition is really about practicing this mercy and compassion in everything that we do.”

One of the five pillars of the Islamic faith is Zakat, a form of obligatory charity used to ease the suffering of millions. Muslims believe furthering the abolition movement is fulfilling their duty as Muslims; Believers Bail Out has been donating Zakat money as an approach to free their brothers and sisters from pretrial incarceration and immigration detention.

“In Chapter 9 of the Quran, Surah Al Tawbah (“Repentance”), eight uses for zakat are specified, including helping the poor and the needy and for the freeing of slaves or captives,” Patel adds. “By paying their bail and freeing them, Believers Bail Out restores the presumption of innocence. It is in our capacity and our duty as Muslims to be a part of ending this unjust bail system that criminalizes poverty and is inherently racist in nature.”

Studying the teachings of Islam, it’s coherent that they reflect those of a world without incarceration. For example, restorative justice, as well as Zakat, are both crucial in the Qur’an as they are in abolition. Justice in the Qur’an is attentive to restorative justice to deter crime in the future and allow victims to receive full retribution. Furthermore, focusing on justice for the victim and rehabilitation of the offender, Islamic Law emphasizes a sense of community where individuals can seek repentance and be productive members of society.

“There is nothing about the binary, punitive, anti-Black, colonial carceral logics governing our ‘justice systems’ that is remotely Islamic,” said Maha, founder of the Queer Muslim Resistance project. “Working through how Islam functions as a faith of compassion, mercy, and radical love allows us to understand the importance of cultivating networks beyond state apparatuses that truly value all of God’s creations.”

Born out of frustration with the lack of accessible critical queer Muslim engagements with transformative politics, Maha says she was drawn to the transgressive power of queer and its crucial role in dismantling colonial, carceral, cis-heteropatriarchal norms. Centering Black abolitionist critique to inform their engagements, the Queer Muslim Resistance podcast serves to “emphasize the interconnectedness of structures of domination and how these must be challenged by building radically different worlds.”

The history of Islam and abolition dates back to the Nation of Islam’s work on prison rights. The abolition of the prison-industrial complex is crucial to Muslims and their survival due to Muslim inmates being sentenced longer than any other faith group, especially Black Muslims. Therefore, engaging in dismantling anti-Blackness is essential in all Muslim abolition practices. The Black Muslim Coalition is one of many Black-led organizations serving Black Muslims during the COVID-19 pandemic and working toward a future with abolition. 

“Prison and policing are quite literally rooted in anti-Black, white supremacist values, and dehumanizing practices … Queer and trans Black folks are specifically targeted by these structures,” Maha adds.

For Muslims whose families have dealt with the repercussions of the prison system, being an abolitionist is a vital part of their being—and goes hand in hand with their faith. Prison abolition is essential for the survival of Muslims—especially those who are Black, queer, and trans; the freedom of our brothers and sisters from this violent system is the only path toward liberation. As abolitionists have been saying, the only barrier between abolition is the daring to dream of a different world. For Muslims, not only is their fight about abolition, it’s about survival.

As Maha puts it, “Abolition is a practice, or process, that involves a critical rethinking of the human connections we ought to have, and of how we can co-create the conditions for sustaining these relationships built on mutual need, desire, and radical love.”

‘Beware of the supplication of the oppressed, for there is no barrier between it and Allah’ [27:62]

Mommina Tarar is a journalist and writer. Her work covers pop culture, faith, identity, sexuality, gender, and intersectional social/racial justice. She is an avid lover of all things books, movies, and...