SOAS University of London

SOAS scholar receives £600,000 research grant to understand conversion to Islam in prison

9 January 2018

SOAS University of London Senior Research Fellow, Dr Matthew Wilkinson, has been awarded a grant of £600,000 from the Dawes Trust for a pioneering research project to understanding conversion to Islam in prison.

Understanding Conversion to Islam in Prison will examine for the first time the socio-demographic and religious nature of Muslim converts, including those Muslims who change Islamic affiliation, in British and continental European prisons. The research will also explore the types of Islam that Muslim convert inmates follow and the effects of their conversion to Islam on prison life and on their rehabilitation, including the effects of prison chaplaincy and religious occasions in prison.

understanding islam

Dr Wilkinson said: “Conversion to Islam in prison has a long history of generating positive effects for prisoner rehabilitation and well-being. However, serious public policy concerns have also recently coalesced around the negative effects of conversion to Islam in prison, including instances of petty criminals, such as the Westminster Bridge attacker Khalid Masood, becoming serious criminals after exposure to extreme Islamism behind bars. However, no one has yet gathered any substantial and detailed data to form the basis of policy. From the data we generate from this project we will design a practical intervention to improve prison outcomes for inmates who convert to Islam.”

Understanding Conversion to Islam in Prison is guided by an interdisciplinary team of internationally renowned criminologists, theologians, scholars of Islam and legal professionals, including: Professor Nigel Biggar, Regius Professor of Moral & Pastoral Theology, University of Oxford; Dr Afifi al-Akiti, Lecturer in Islamic Studies, University of Oxford; Privy Councillor, State of Perak, Malaysia; Professor Mashood Baderin, Chair of the Centre of African Studies, SOAS; Professor Alison Liebling
Director, Prisons Research Centre, Institute of Criminology, University of Cambridge; Mr. Eoin McLennan-Murray Chair of the Howard League for Penal Reform, former President of the Prison Governors Association, and former Governor of HMP Coldingley; and Sir David Calvert-Smith QC
Former Director of Public Prosecutions; High Court Judge and Chair of the Parole Board for England & Wales.

The project will run for three years and is funded by the Dawes Trust, a charity that funds criminological research aimed at the prevention and detection of crime for the public benefit.