Around 70% of Muslim prison imams subscribe to a hard-line interpretation of Islam, an independent review has warned.
The study, conducted by Home Office official Ian Acheson, is to be published next month. Commissioned by Justice Secretary Michael Gove, the research surveyed 200 imams working in UK prisons.
Out of those 200, 140 imams had studied Deobandi Islam, a branch of orthodox Sunni Islam that aims to follow a literal interpretation of the Qur'an. Among other things, this sect promotes the banning of music and gender segregation.
Teaching 'contrary to human rights'
A senior Whitehall official commented on the findings:
"It is of great concern that the majority of Muslim chaplains in prisons propagate a fundamentalist interpretation of Islamic scripture... Such imams are unlikely to aid the deradicalisation of Islamists in prisons and could potentially even make them more firm in their beliefs."
Currently, Muslims comprise 4.5% of the total UK population. According to the Ministry of Justice, Muslims made up 10.8% of prison inmates in September of last year. Proportionately, then, the percentage of Muslim prisoners is relatively high.
Radicalisation from Muslim inmates
Last year, the then-chief inspector of prisons, Nick Hardwick, warned about the threat of hard-line Islam in prisons.
"There are undoubtedly a small number of very dangerous men motivated by a religion or ideology who are trying to recruit other people so they will go on to commit offences linked to that ideology or religion," he said.
The findings of Acheson’s study by the Home Office follow recent warnings from the Prison Officers Association (POA) that Muslims are applying for jobs in prisons and even actively seeking sentences, in order to move other inmates toward radical Islamism.
The POA was responding to Michael Gove, who in December ordered a review the way that prisoner 'radicalisation' is being tackled in UK prisons.
At the time, Glyn Travis, assistant general secretary of the POA, warned that the problem extends "far wider than imams".
He accused Michael Gove and the National Offender Management Service of "burying their heads in the sand", saying that the probe into radical Islamism in prisons needed to have a far "wider reach".
In addition to reports of hard-line Muslims seeking to infiltrate prisons, last November it came to light that in some of the UK’s largest prisons, some Muslims are forcing inmates to convert to Islam or pay a protection tax, called the "jizya".
The prisons where this has been reported are four 'Category A' institutions that house the most dangerous criminals, including terrorists.