The Nejma Collective

  • Who we are:

    We are a UK-based collective of Muslim volunteers who work in solidarity with people in prisons by sharing resources and mutual support. We are motivated by Islam’s holistic approach to justice that contextualises harm rather than defining people solely by their actions, and that seeks accountability and reparation rather than simply caging people and making them more vulnerable. We are also motivated by our experiences organising around prison justice, supporting family members in prison and detention centres, and campaigning against the criminalisation and policing of Muslims through counterterrorism laws.

    Nejma means star in Arabic. We called ourselves the Nejma Collective in reference to Surah Yusuf in the Quran, wherein the moon, the sun and eleven stars bowed before the Prophet Yusuf AS in his dream. Surah Yusuf reminds us that people in prison must not be maligned or ignored, even Allah’s chosen messenger was imprisoned on account of unjust circumstances. The interactions he has with other prisoners also remind us that people who experience prison are as valuable and important to society as everybody else. 

    Our Aims:

    1. To share resources with people in prison based on their needs as expressed by them.

    2. To develop relationships of mutual support with people in prison and grassroots collectives working to that end.

    3. To draw public attention to the needs and experiences of people in prison (as/if they want).

    Our Objectives:

    • To develop a system for people in prison to communicate what resources they need us to provide for them and for us to get those resources to them as soon as possible.

    • To raise funds from public donations to maintain the sustainability and independence of this system.

    • To concurrently document and evaluate this system to improve the support we can provide and be accountable to funders.

    • To publicly release a report after the pilot project and re-evaluate aims and objectives accordingly by the end of 2022.

    Pilot project: Spring-Summer 2022

    During Spring-Summer 2022 we are running the Pilot Nejma project. This includes fundraising £5000 to go specifically towards Muslim women currently housed in the twelve prison estates in the UK. We will be fundraising throughout Ramadan so these women can afford basic necessities such as clothing, phone credit and toiletries which they will apply for funds for through our application form. Muslim women in prison face unique challenges, including stigmatisation from families and communities as well bullying and harassment from fellow prisoners and prison staff.

    This pilot project is sadaqa eligible though we believe that future projects will certainly be zakat eligible, however until we know the needs of our clients we will refrain from a zakat policy.

    All funds raised will go to those in prison, as well as setting up a freepost address, and providing envelopes and application forms so that incarcerated people do not have to pay for stamps when posting us their applications.

    Our vision:

    We begin from the recognition that the criminal justice system is not ‘just’. Contemporary policing and prisons are rooted in histories of European colonial domination and its accompanying systems of white supremacy and capitalism. Since their inception they have been methods of controlling and disciplining poor and working-class people, and repressing and monitoring indigenous Black and brown people who threatened that system of oppression. Despite safety and justice being the stated aim of the system, on top of deliberately targeting working-class and racialised people, in the neoliberal context of today, policing and prisons also work to secure profit for privately-owned corporations, at the expense of securing justice for oppressed communities. Nejma Collective works to support those that it harms.

    Muslims are disproportionately behind bars in the UK – comprising 15% of the prison population compared to 4.8% of the general population and imprisonment rates continue to grow. Additionally, Muslim prisoners often have their religion weaponised against them. For example, being punished by being told they cannot attend Jummah (Friday) prayers, or not being woken up to fast during Ramadan despite having no alarm clocks of their own. Many Muslims find solace in Islam during their time in prison, but this makes them more vulnerable to suspicion and hostility by prison guards and members of staff. In addition, Muslim women in prison face unique challenges, including stigmatisation from families and communities as well bullying and harassment from fellow prisoners and prison staff. 

    These difficulties are compounded by the fact people in prison and their families are often also harmed within and after experiences in prison due to structural racisms, and the impact prison experiences have on family wellbeing and finances. Many people leave prison with no fixed address or job prospects because of pervasive employment discrimination. Many criminal justice charities and grassroots groups have also highlighted the consequences of imprisonment on children including being sent to foster care homes, thus repeating the cycle of poverty and incarceration. 

    We believe the Qur’an and the example of the Prophet Muhammad SAW as well as the early Companions promote a vision of justice that is far more holistic than ours today. For example, in the early Muslim community under the leadership of Umar RA, the punishment for theft was suspended due to famine. This demonstrates that justice demands context. We believe that prisons have no place in conversations about justice when there are current contexts of racial oppression, state surveillance, policing, and economic impoverishment and dispossession of the majority, for global elites and corporations to make profit. Justice demands the end of these conditions of oppression and exploitation, which lead to and amplify the types of interpersonal harm and vulnerability marginalised people experience.

    We believe Islam upholds the sanctitiy of life, that people have a right to live in safety and dignity with access to wellness and justice. This requires there to be no oppression, no exploitation, no economic deprivation, no prisons, no racism, no capitalism, no ableism and no systems of policing or surveillance which prioritise the security of the state and property rather than the safety of ordinary people. 

    Allah’s 99 names include Ar-Raheem, the Most Merciful, and Al-’Adl, the Utterly Just. We therefore also work knowing that the truest form of justice lies with Allah, and not within this world, but that it is incumbent upon us as Muslims to emulate characteristics of mercy and justice as far as we can. The Nejma Collective is a result of this aspiration that is therefore far bigger than simply supporting people in prison. We also call for redistribution of resources globally to break the control capital has over our economies; we call for thriving and fully funded welfare systems; an end to imperialism in its military and ‘development guises, closure of all detention centers and decarcaration of prisoners – to instead build societies organised around ensuring people’s wellness and access to processes of accountability when they experience harm or their rights are violated. This is the future we want to build. However, we intend to support those criminalised and incarcerated to be able to live lives that are safer and more dignified on the way to building that broader future.

    Further reading:

    • Agenda and Women in Prison, Double Disadvantage (2017)
    • Ishtiaq Ahmed and Sofia Buncy, Muslim Women in Prison (2014).
    • Amanda Brown, The Prison Doctor (2019).
    • Angela Davis, Are Prisons Obsolete? (2003).
    • Carl Cattermole, Prison: A Survival Guide (2019)
    • David Lammy, The Lammy Report (2017).
    • Maslaha, Time to End the Silence: the experience of Muslims in the prison system (2020).
    • Prison Reform Trust, What about me? (2019).
    • Prison Reform Trust and Women in Prison, Home truths: housing for women in the criminal justice system (2016).
    • Miriam Skinner, Jailbirds: Lessons from a women’s prison (2019)
    • James Trafford, The Empire at Home Internal Colonies and the End of Britain (2020).
    • Jackie Wang, Carceral Capitalism (2018).
    • Andrea Riche, Invisible No More: Police Violence Against Black Women and Women of Color (2017)
    • Eric Stanley, Nat Smith, Captive Genders: Trans Embodiment and the Prison Industrial Complex (2011) 
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