Editorial: Sunni Chaplains for Shia Muslims in Prison

April 22, 2003

Source: The Weekly Standard

On April 22, 2003 The Weekly Standard printed an editorial by Terry Eastland questioning "why... has New York state, in treating the religious activities of Muslim inmates within its prisons, favored one Islamic sect over another--namely, Sunni Islam over Shia Islam?" He stated, "that question is at the heart of a lawsuit filed against the state by four Shia Muslim prisoners at Fishkill Correctional Facility. The lawsuit challenges current policy under which the New York State Department of Correctional Services accommodates, as the attorney general explains in papers filed in the case, 'religious activities with a significant inmate following.' Islam, along with Catholicism, Protestantism, and Judaism, is one of those religions. The prison system has programs for each religion, but not, the attorney general emphasizes, for 'different denominations within a religion.' Thus, at a given prison, just as the Protestant chaplain ministers to both Baptists and Pentecostals, so, too, does the Muslim chaplain minister to Sunnis and Shia... The Shia inmates don't believe a Sunni chaplain can serve them. Yet, the only Muslim chaplains the state has ever hired, more than 40 in all, are Sunni."