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Barry Gray

UWRT 1103
October 13, 2015

Why do African-American Males Turn to Islam while Incarcerated?

While I do not know much about my subject I have personal experiences with numerous
African-Americans who practice the Islamic faith, and are devout Muslims. While almost all of
my life experiences with these individuals have been positive, history and as well popular culture
has depicted the “African-American Muslim” in an unflattering light; especially males. With
blacks occupying a large percentage of the prison population, many African-American males are
turning to Islam while incarcerated for a new way of life and a new path to follow. I was
oblivious to the vast history black culture had with the Islamic religion, and how changing one’s
faith and becoming Muslim while in prison has been influenced and practiced for decades now.
As a result, I will attempt to analyze: Why do African-American males convert to Islam while
Incarcerated?

This subject interests me for a number of reasons and its very multi-faceted. First of all, I
have always been intrigued as to what aspect of the Islamic religion attracts and captivates
African-American males to change their life practices? What influences them? Why Islam?
Malcolm X (Born Malcolm Little) is seen as an integral figure in the “Black Muslim” movement.
He rose to prominence in the fifties and sixties, and is one of the first figures on the tip of

peoples tongues when it comes to the spreading of the many beliefs and benefits of blacks taking
up the Islamic religion; he himself was converted while in a Boston prison. He stated that his
brothers and sisters who already converted told him that the Muslim teachings were the “natural
religion for the black man”; and after he started practicing some of the principles of Islam while
in jail such as abstaining from pork and cigarettes he claimed he became to feel free, like he was
being released from his imprisonment. Many African-American males attest to a similar
experience to their introduction to the Islamic religion and I recall my feeling of intrigue when I
stumbled upon X’s teachings as a young adolescent.

In many ways Malcolm X’s teachings inspired people and generations I don’t think he
foresaw before his death. I remembered being enamored with just the sound of his voice, I hung
on every word of every speech I listened to. With that being said I could only imagine the effects
of teachings on the incarcerated mind… First-hand testimonies, journals, articles, and essays will
aid me in finding an abundance of information about my topic. As I stated earlier I have many
relationships with individuals who belong to the Islamic religion, some of whom have been
jailed in the past. Their testimonies will be sought out as well. With my subject being broad I
think my research will be fruitful, and with said research I will chronicle the history of AfricanAmericans relationship with the Islamic faith and the influence it has upon prison/jail culture. I
am looking forward to learning more about my culture as a whole being a black male myself, and
being able to share this newfound information with my classmates and peers alike.