Among the many Muslim political prisoners in the world, the case of Imam Jamil Abdullah al-Amin stands out as quite extraordinary. Convicted of murder last February in a trial that can only be described as bizarre, Imam Jamil has now been moved from the Reedsville prison in Georgia to the Elmore County jail in Alabama to face new federal charges of possession and use of firearms. According to legal experts, these new charges have been pressed in order to keep him in jail even if his appeal against his murder conviction in Atlanta, Georgia, is successful.
In Elmore County jail he has been subjected to intense pressure and harassment. On November 5, the last day before Ramadhan, he was placed in a 23-hour lockdown. This means is that he must remain confined to his jail cell for 23 hours a day, and is allowed only one hour outside to get some fresh air. He is also prohibited from direct contact with other inmates. These barbaric conditions have been imposed on him because he has considerable influence on other inmates, and some have embraced Islam as a result of discussions with him. The jail authorities do not want Islam to spread at all among inmates on their premises, much less through a charismatic personality such as Imam Jamil, who is well known in the African American community in North America.
His ordeal began on Eid Day in March 2000, when he was accused of shooting two Atlanta police officers who came to serve a warrant of arrest on him late at night at his store. Before they could get near the store, shooting erupted outside and one of the police officers died in the ensuing melee; the other was wounded. Before he died, the police officer who was killed claimed to have shot Imam Jamil in the stomach; an inspection of the scene revealed blood on the pavement that did not match the blood-type of either police officer. Because it was Eid day Imam Jamil’s store was closed, but that did not prevent the police from accusing him of being responsible for the officer’s death.
Imam Jamil was arrested in Alabama a few days later in a manner reminiscent of the dark days of slavery, when white slave masters used to chase and maul their black slaves with dogs. In Imam Jamil’s case, police sharpshooters completed the lynch mob scenario. When he was arrested and shackled, not a scratch was found on his body. This alone should have been enough for all charges against him to be dismissed, but the prosecution withdrew the injury allegation and the judge accepted this, instructing the jury that it must not take Imam Jamil’s lack of injury into account while considering the allegations against him. He was convicted on all counts; if the convictions stand he could be executed. He has launched an appeal against the sentence, but the government is taking no chances; hence the new charges against him.
Not content with this the US government, through the County jail authorities, has implemented other policies clearly aimed at breaking Imam Jamil’s spirit by harassment and intimidation. He is denied visitation rights and telephone privileges. Despite promises to allow him all rights to observe the month of Ramadhan in a proper manner, prison officials have denied him the opportunity to fulfil the requirements of this month, such as proper time allocation for salah and access to a copy of the Qur’an to read. Because of his 23-hour lockdown, he is unable to pray with other Muslim inmates.
These restrictions were imposed after another inmate’s conversion to Islam after he had spoken with Imam Jamil. For this “crime” the new Muslim was denied food by prison officials. Despite Imam Jamil’s continuing 23-hour-a-day lockdown, prison officials have threatened to bring additional charges against him for “communicating or talking to other people [inmates] as he freely roams throughout the facility.” How he can do that when he is confined to his cell for 23 hours out of 24 has not been explained; the only way he can communicate with others is for them to approach his cell. Imam Jamil is not allowed entry into the area where the general prison population resides.
On November 9 prison officials threatened additional sanctions against Imam Jamil for the “violation” of “abandoning a sandwich.” What had transpired was that Imam Jamil was sitting at a table eating his meal and, needing to attend to other matters, got up and left. When he returned to finish his meal he was accosted by prison staff and put on notice that he was in “violation” of jail rules concerning the abandonment of a meal. This is fairly typical of the petty harassments of prison life in the US for those who fall foul of the prison authorities.
Unfortunately many Muslim organizations that used to welcome Imam Jamil, and took pride in having him on their platforms, have now abandoned him. The Islamic Society of North America, the Fiqh Council and other high-sounding organizations are simply ignoring him. These immigrant-dominated bodies are too busy ingratiating themselves with the American establishment to worry about injustices being perpetrated against a fellow Muslim.
[People concerned about Imam Jamil can phone Elmore County jail in Wetumpka, Alabama, and ask to speak to Sheriff Franklin. The number is (334) 514 5821. You may also ask about the inmate who has become a Muslim, why he was being denied food, and why he was placed in lockdown for converting to Islam.]