Jail chaplain wants more Quran copies for inmates
by Kristen Zambo
RACINE COUNTY — If Racine County Jail inmates need a Bible, they aren't likely to face the prospect of not having enough to go around.
But if you are a Muslim inmate, you're kind of out of luck when it comes to obtaining a Quran.
"I can't give what I don't have," jail Chaplain Merritt Adams Jr. said. "It would appear to my Muslim inmates that Christians get everything and Muslims get nothing. And that's not the case."
Adams said he isn't even operating on a shoestring budget when it comes to materials.
"Everything I have to give is donated," said Adams, himself a Christian. "I can't meet the need without the community's support. I'm a nonprofit. ... No other faith that I address do I have to ask for materials. I don't know what else to do to meet the needs."
He said if more Qurans were available, more inmates may ask for copies.
"I think (now) they just don't ask," he said.
At any time, there may be 10 to 15 Muslim inmates in the Racine County Jail, Adams estimated. Of those, five or six might be classified as devout Muslims.
"I've asked everybody I know in the community at least once (each)," he said, and then he went online to request free Qurans from four or five organizations.
He obtained two Qurans, donated by the Racine Islamic Center, Adams said. "So now we've got two," he said.
But Adams just might have the answer to his prayers this week.
Stephen Suleyman Schwartz, executive director of the Center for Islamic Pluralism, said the organization can arrange a donation to the Racine County Jail.
"We have a prison outreach program. We've donated Qurans to prisons before, in other states," he said Sunday when reached by The Journal Times for comment on the situation. "We'll start, I guess, probably with five and we'll see how many he wants after that."
The tax-exempt charity is based in Washington, D.C.
Schwartz said they can donate a paperback edition.
Adams said paperback editions are used in jails and prisons because hardbound religious books from various faiths cannot be used because they can become weapons.
Adams said he also would like to host Friday prayer groups for Muslim inmates, which existed when he began serving as chaplain in September 2000. But because service leaders must go pod to pod, Adams said, instead of gathering all Muslim inmates in one central location, that has dissuaded some from coming to the jail to provide prayer services.
"I need people of faith to come forward and go through the (background check) process and get approved, then minister their religion," he said, adding he can't because he's not Muslim. "I'm looking for the whole community to get involved because this is the community's jail."
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