A “potentially explosive” dispute between Muslim factions inside Wandsworth prison has been revealed by an independent watchdog.
The Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) published a report on Monday detailing a “schism” that had emerged in the prison between Asian Muslims and those from North Africa and Afro-Caribbean areas.
A particular imam was said to have caused deep division among the prison’s 265 Muslim prisoners and there was a warning that some inmates were pressuring others to adopt “more militant lifestyles and belief systems”.
IMB chairman David Jamieson said the dispute centred on the interpretation of the Koran.
He said: “The situation is volatile but is being resolved. It concerns the way the Koran is interpreted within the Sunni Muslim sect.”
The report, which reflected the fears of the Prison Officers Association that there was no national strategy to tackle the radicalisation of young Muslims in prisons, continued: “We are concerned that unless sensitively managed, this issue could become even more emotional and potentially explosive.”
A Prison Service spokesman said the imam referred to in the report, which covered July 2005 to June 2006, has since been replaced and added that “any signs of radicalisation at the prison are firmly dealt with by a pro-active chaplaincy team.”
But the report also highlighted the inadequate prayer facilities inside Britain’s largest jail, which houses 1,451 prisoners.
Currently Muslims have to walk through the Christian chapel to reach their place of worship, “exacerbating at times inherent tension”.
The facilities are struggling to cope with a recent surge in Muslim inmates at the prison, which is home to 73 different nationalities.
More than 200 people are thought to regularly attend Friday prayers in the sports hall, while 240 took part in the recent Eid meal.
As a solution, the prison plans to spend Â£20,000 converting the Anglican chapel into a mosque and then opening up the Catholic chapel to all of the prison’s Christians.
The report also mirrored recent Home Office research, suggesting many prisoners use religious services as a venue for dealing in drugs and illegal mobile phones.
Mr Jamieson said a “major influx” of drugs and phones were “slipping through the net”, while the use of dogs to detect drugs was almost non-existent.
This could be a matter of insufficient resources, or it could be another instance of cultural “sensitivity,” as dogs are largely despised in Muslim cultures, supported by ahadith such as this:
I heard Allah’s Apostle saying; “Angels (of Mercy) do not enter a house wherein there is a dog or a picture of a living creature (a human being or an animal).” (Bukhari 004.054.448)