Questions about American Taliban and group prayer

Questions about American Taliban and group prayer August 29, 2012

Earlier this week, the Associated Press had a nice long story on a Taliban fighter’s religious liberty. “American Taliban fighter Lindh: Prison ban on daily group prayer violates religious freedom” begins by telling us that a federal prison rule barring John Walker Lindh from group prayer is “absurd” and is “causing him to sin against his religion by prohibiting such gatherings in the name of security.”

By the fourth paragraph, we learn that he is allowed pray in a group setting, but only once a week:

Inmates in the tightly controlled Communications Management Unit — one of only two in the country — are allowed to eat, talk, play cards and exercise as a group, but praying together is limited to once a week except during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. Most days, they must pray alone in their individual cells.

Gatherings by other faiths also are limited.

Lindh, 31, said the restrictions violate his school of Islam, which requires group prayer five times a day, if possible.

The first thing I wonder is whether the Ramadan exception means that additional group prayer is permitted. I assume so, but it’s not clear. Also, how much additional group prayer is permitted?

The other thing is that I would love to know more about what Lindh’s particular school is as well as how its teachings on group prayer differ (if they differ) from other schools. Lindh’s case is given rather fully. He says there are no legitimate security risks to group prayer.

We get some interesting stories about Lindh, such as this one:

He was soft-spoken throughout most of his testimony but became agitated when Deputy U.S. Attorney William McCoskey asked him why he had not stood along with everyone else when Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson entered the courtroom.

“It’s against my religion,” Lindh said. “This procedure of standing up for people is unacceptable.”

He also said he didn’t acknowledge the government’s authority to restrict his religious practices.

“I don’t recognize any law but the Sharia of Islam,” Lindh said in response to questioning by government attorneys. “There is no compromise.”

We learn about the very strict security conditions placed on prisoners and that the government claims that if those limits weren’t there, terrorists would be able to conspire. At the very end of the piece we learn:

The government claims in court documents that Lindh delivered a radical sermon to other Muslim prisoners in February. It also says he delivered the sermon entirely in Arabic, which is not allowed under Bureau of Prison regulations that require all speech but ritual prayers to be in English.

Lots of information. But a few additional details would have been helpful. And as I’m about to hit publish, I see that this Associated Press article gives a bit more information (but only a bit) about what different schools of Islam have to say about group prayer.

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