Evangelizing for Evil

  When news broke that Abdullah al-Muhajir, the man accused of planning to build a "dirty bomb," was a graduate of America's prison system, I wasn't surprised. During twenty-six years walking the cellblocks of America's prisons, I've encountered a growing Muslim presence. Islam, which offers brotherhood and solidarity, is for the most part a law-abiding religion -- but not always. Some years ago I spoke at an open meeting at the Jackson, Michigan, Penitentiary. More than three hundred Christians filled the seats on one side of an auditorium, and an equal number of Muslims sat on the opposite side. The tension was palpable. Extra guards arrived. And they were right to worry. Every time I mentioned Jesus in my speech, Muslim inmates cranked up their portable radios to full blast. Soon fists were being shaken, taunts flew back and forth, and angry men moved to the center aisle. I pleaded with the Christians to sit quietly and ignore the hecklers, but only by the grace of God did we avoid a full-scale riot. Now, there is nothing unusual about confrontations in prisons. But this illustrates something different -- the aggressive nature of Islam behind bars, where one out of six inmates is an adherent. Islam, certainly the radical variety, feeds on the resentment and anger all too prevalent in our prisons. Yes, most Muslims interpret jihad as an inner struggle. But the radical fundamentalists mean it literally -- holy war. Those who take the Koran seriously are taught to hate Christians and Jews, that lands taken from Islam must be recaptured, and that dying in a jihad is the only way to be assured of eternal salvation. This understanding of the Koran mixed with inmate resentment is a lethal combination -- and Islam's evangelists for evil know it. Al Qaeda training manuals specifically identify America's prisoners as candidates for conversion because they may be "disenchanted with their country's policies." Terrorism experts fear that these angry young recruits will become the next wave of terrorists. Remember: The two most dangerous terrorists apprehended this year -- Richard Reid, the "shoe bomber," and Abdullah al-Muhajir, the "dirty bomber" -- were drawn to Islam in prison. It's no accident that Islam's influence is growing behind bars. The National Islamic Prison Foundation and a Muslim prison outreach program -- in part funded, or so it is reported, by Saudia Arabia money -- were organized specifically to convert American inmates to Islam. What's the answer? In the short-term, prison officials have ample legal authority to deny radical imams access to inmates as has been done in Great Britain. No civilized nation should allow preachers of violence access to places packed with angry, alienated men. The longer term answer lies in bringing the Gospel into the prisons. I've gone into six hundred prisons around the world, and when the Gospel is preached, and men embrace Christ, they spurn violence. The prisons Prison Fellowship runs prove it. Once-dangerous inmates now love Jesus and live new lives. America has always been a place where victims of oppression came "yearning to breathe free," as the Statue of Liberty reminds us. But if we don't stop them, radical Islamists may use prisons to put an evil twist on this message: Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses -- yearning to get even. For further information: Charles Colson, When Night Fell on a Different World: How Now Shall We Live? (2001). Charles Colson, "Evangelizing for Evil in Our Prisons: Radical Islamists Seek to Turn Criminals into Terrorists," Wall Street Journal, 24 June 2002. BreakPoint commentary no. 020108, "Jailhouse Jihad: Islamic Extremism in Prison." Kathleen Knox, "West: 'Shoe Bomber,' 'Dirty Bomber' Put Spotlight on Islam in U.S., U.K. Prisons," Radio Free Europe, 5 July 2002.


Chuck Colson


  • Facebook Icon in Gold
  • Twitter Icon in Gold
  • LinkedIn Icon in Gold

Sign up for the Daily Commentary