Chaplain Serves Growing Number of Muslim Converts in Texas Prisons

July 16, 2006

Source: Express-News

On July 16, 2006 Express-News reported, "Imam Omar Shakir walks into a white cinderblock room and greets a group of women wearing matching white jumpsuits... The women are glad to see him and are eager to talk to him about their faith. Shakir, 47, is one of four chaplains who oversee the Islamic faith program for the 110 prisons in the Texas prison system. Shakir traveled more than 100 miles north on U.S. 281 out of San Antonio to the all-female Halbert Unit in Burnet, northwest of Austin, where the eight women were incarcerated. Four were Muslim, and the others were considering converting to Islam — a trend that Shakir and others say is on the rise inside the prison system — a trend consistent with what's going on outside the prison walls. It is estimated that every fifth person in the world is a Muslim, and Islam is the fastest-growing religion in the United States — with approximately 8 million living here. In the Texas prison system, there are approximately 7,500 Muslims, prison officials say. It is believed most of them converted to Islam after they were incarcerated. For some, being behind bars can be like a refuge — an ideal time for spiritual reflection, a perfect place for finding religion and appreciating its value. 'We have social diseases that I think religion has an answer for,' said Shakir, referring to problems in society such as broken homes, child molestation or child abuse. Without having religious fundamental principles, he said, people 'shut down emotionally,' lose their moral compass and are able to commit crimes without remorse."