Islam in Iranian Prisons: Practicing Religious Rituals behind Bars

Anaraki, Nahid Rahimipour (2022) Islam in Iranian Prisons: Practicing Religious Rituals behind Bars. Religions, 13 (10). ISSN 2077-1444

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The focus of research, pertaining to the practice of Islam in prisons, has been primarily on Western countries (the US, the UK, and France) where Muslim inmates struggle with discrimination and stigmatization as “religious radicals” or “terrorists”. Far less is known about the relationship Muslim prisoners have with their faith in countries where Islam is the official religion and imposed by the State, such as the Islamic Republic of Iran. Understanding the influence of political, legal, and religious institutions is crucial to exploring Islam in Iranian prisons, as well as the role of other less prominent determining factors. This qualitative study examines the practice and perception of Islam in Iranian prisons. Data were collected through 90 in-depth, semi-structured interviews with prisoners and former prisoners, and analyzed using grounded theory. Results show that practicing Islam rituals and converting from a “sinner” to a “believer” was pervasive among inmates on death row and incarcerated mothers who left their children for a life of confinement. Practicing Islamic rituals, which entail the achievement of privileges, especially memorizing the holy Quran or attending congregational prayers, question the authenticity of faith and religious beliefs in prison; prisoners disparage those who practice rituals as “fake believers” who are merely seeking preferential treatment. While practicing Islam rituals provoked hatred and humor among prisoners, attending the Ashura mourning ceremony and performing self-flagellation are respected and admired practices. Iranian prisoners create a subculture where Islam is not pivotal to constructing or reconstructing their identities, yet religious-based rehabilitation still exists.

Item Type: Article
Item ID: 16006
Additional Information: Memorial University Open Access Author's Fund
Keywords: Iran, Islam, the holy Quran, religious-based rehabilitation
Department(s): Medicine, Faculty of
Date: 28 September 2022
Date Type: Publication
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
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