Islam’s sacred text, the Quran, is full of scriptures that admonish against pride. In fact, most religious texts warn against arrogance.

Yet the sad plight of Muslim chaplain Bilal Ansari continues, and for that we can blame the arrogance of his employer, the state Department of Correction.

In February, someone went into Ansari’s office at J.B. Gates Correctional Institution in Niantic to Wite-Out the face of a young Ansari in a photo, and to mark their work with a written racial epithet. Next month, someone reported that Ansari, an African American and a part-time chaplain, had stored on his computer an audio file that examined jihad and terrorism, and the vast difference between the two words. The content was not explored before Ansari’s computer was confiscated and his office draped with yellow tape. The state police began investigating both incidents, but they only used the yellow tape for the computer investigation, not the earlier hate crime.

In the recent past, Ansari has been hospitalized several times with what doctors say is job-related stress. Other Muslim prison chaplains say there are too few imams – religious leaders – on the department’s staff to lead important Friday prayers, known as Jumu’ah, in every prison, and sometimes Muslims worship under circumstances that don’t respect the needs of their faith.

When he spoke recently with Department of Correction Commissioner Theresa C. Lantz on one of her weekly tours of prison facilities, Ansari showed her a picture of his wife and their four children. “I am a human being,” he said, as he showed Lantz the photo. Lantz has issued department memos decrying bad behavior in any form, but in June, when the opportunity arose for Ansari to move from Gates, he went to Brooklyn Correctional Institution, where he serves a handful of Muslims, he said. This grandson of a Pentecostal minister and son of a Muslim imam would have preferred staying where he could serve more Muslims, but the pressure at Gates – bad performance reviews and the like – was affecting his health and his home life. “I felt unsafe there,” he says simply.


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