From Inmate to Rights Defender

From Inmate to Rights Defender
new-muslimWASHINGTON – He was locked up in prison almost half his life, facing racism and discrimination if not for his skin color then for his Muslim religion.

But despite all that, Jihad Abdulmumit, now a community activist, motivational speaker and author, considers himself lucky.
Since his release, he has been making the full use of every single day.
“I see freedom differently,” Jihad, 54, told
“It is precious to have the free ability to express oneself in a healthy, wholesome, and beneficial way and to aspire to one’s own self-worth and greatness without hindrance, discrimination, oppression and retaliation.”
In 1979, Jihad, who until then was David Bryant, was tried, convicted, and sentenced to over 23 years as a domestic political prisoner for his involvement in the Black Liberation Army and the Black Panther Party.
The two groups advocated taking up arms for the self-defense and liberation of blacks in the United States.
“The FBI did not view Blacks as terrorists, just ‘criminals,’” he recalled.
Within four months of his imprisonment and isolation, he found Islam.
“I was so inspired, relieved, and motivated to learn that God, Allah, was not a man, but the Creator of all things,” Jihad described his feelings after joining his first Friday prayer.
“The brothers in the Muslim community in prison gave me the name ‘Jihad Daud Abdulmumit’ after I took my Shahadah (Muslims’ testimony to Islam).
They selected this name because I was a member of the Black Liberation Army, so I guess they figured ‘Jihad’ was appropriate.”

Prison Racism

Jihad says one of the worst things about being in jail is the isolation inside a cell for days.
But probably more hurtful to him was the racism he faced, many times for being a black and sometimes for being a Muslim.
“The racism I encountered in prison tended more to be because I am black.
“Although a correctional officer or counselor may treat you the same as any other inmate, the racism is inherent.”
But Jihad found in Islam the “shelter” that helped him during the hardest times of his life.
“Islam taught me that nothing happens without and beyond the will of Allah, so I accepted my prison experience with calmness and patience.”
He notes that many Muslim prisoners had endured racial attitudes against them in a way that earned the respect of their jailers.
“Over time Muslims received respect from prison authorities that is because of the maturity of the brothers and their discipline, and to the moral conduct we have.
“Prison authorities could not ignore it.”

For Prisoners Rights

Jihad says he learnt how to take the worst of his imprisonment and turn it to something positive.
“[Prison is] an oppressive tool of the State where you can either learn, grow, and transform into a better person, or be broken and deteriorate into a wretch.”
Jihad started his activism work in jail, defending the rights of fellow Muslim prisoners.
“I was an active participant in the Muslim community and served as Imam for about ten of my 23 years at prison.”
He participated in establishing several groups in prison to call for solidarity and justice for inmates.
“I worked with other Muslim, and non-Muslim, inmates to develop educational programs.”
After being released, Jihad continued to advocate the rights of Muslim prisoners.
He has cooperated with organizations such as Jericho and the Muslim Alliance in North America (MANA) to defend the rights of all prisoners and to struggle in campaigns to free all political prisoners.
Residing in Richmond, Virginia, Jihad set up a free health clinic through which he arranges HIV/AIDS workshops for schools and prisons, and which he describes as “extremely successful in reaching prisoners of all races and cultures.”
Now when he remembers his years in jail, Jihad feels empowered to face any hardships the future might bring.
“There is no guarantee that tomorrow I will not experience racism. I am sure that I am a victim of institutionalized racism because I am black and Muslim like anyone else,” he says with a smile.
“This is the contemporary challenge we face today.
“Even if someone may hate me, or my name, I demand that I be respected.”

By  Rasha Mohammad, IOL Staff


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