Maori prison inmates, many of them gang members, are converting to a militant, politicised brand of Islam, raising concerns among sections of the Muslim community.
Converts are being drawn to the faith through anti-Pakeha sentiment and a fascination with al Qaeda and the radical chic of African-American Muslim icons such as Malcolm X. “The ones coming in, their reasons are they admire Osama bin Laden,” says Te Amorangi Izhaq Kireka-Whaanga, leader of the Aotearoa Maori Muslim Association. “They think it’s all about fighting Europeans.”
An Islamic convert of seven years and a staunch Maori nationalist, he sees tino rangatiratanga as a jihad, and says Islam is the perfect vehicle for Maori nationalism.
“We (Muslims) have the principle of taqwa…being godfearing. We fear nothing and no one but God. We don’t fear Helen Clark, we don’t fear George Bush.
“What God says, we do.”
Census figures show the number of Maori Muslims increased from 99 to 708 in the 10 years to 2001. But Kireka-Whaanga said numbers had shot up since September 11, as global media focused on radical Islam.
Kireka-Whaanga travels to prisons conducting dawaa, or preaching visits. The Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand (FIANZ) pays his travel costs.
FIANZ vice-president Mustafa Farouq said about 30 inmates nationwide were receiving dawaa visits, conducted in the belief that inmates who converted were less likely to reoffend.
While some in the Muslim community are uneasy about the push to convert inmates, academics and political commentators interviewed by the Sunday Star Times, including Maori Party co-leader Dr Pita Sharples, and Chris Trotter, point to parallel developments overseas.