Background

Right now, there are over 2 million incarcerated people in the United States, predominantly Black and Latinx. Almost half a million of these people are being held on pretrial bond (bail). Cash bail penalizes poverty and reproduces racism. In 2015, nationwide the median bail was $10,000, while the median pre-incarceration annual income of people incarcerated was $15,000. Black people are twice as likely to be held pretrial as white people and Muslims in pretrial detention face an increased risk of victimization, surveillance and denial of religious freedom in the prison system due to anti-Muslim racism (Islamophobia).

While the criminal legal system proclaims the principle of “innocent before proven guilty,” the reality is that people who have not been convicted of any crime can be jailed indefinitely because they are poor and unable to pay bond. In addition to being jailed without a conviction, while in pretrial incarceration they can lose their jobs, their children, their homes, and even their lives.

About Believers Bail Out

Believers Bail Out is a community-led effort to bail out Muslims in pretrial incarceration as a form of zakat. By paying bond, Believers Bail Out restores the presumption of innocence before trial and enables recipients to remain free while fighting their cases. It is in our capacity, and our duty as Muslims to be a part of ending this cycle that criminalizes poverty and is inherently racist in nature. 

Zakat, one of the five pillars of Islam, is an annual tax on wealth. The Qur’an (9:60) specifies eight uses for zakat, including helping the poor and the needy and for the freeing of slaves or captives (al-riqab). People being held in pretrial detention because they can’t afford bail qualify for zakat.  

Alongside providing bail and support for individuals released on bond in Chicago, IL, which is home to the largest single site jail in the United States, Believers Bail Out will also host fundraising iftars and teach-ins in Chicago and across the country to support legislative efforts to abolish money bond and to raise awareness within Muslim communities on the injustices of the bail bond system and the broader prison-industrial complex.

The project focuses on three major areas of concern:

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The mutually reinforcing web of relationships, between and not limited to, prisons, the probation service, the police, the courts, government officials and all the companies that profit from transporting, feeding and exploiting prisoners. This web results in the far and wide ranging use of surveillance, policing and imprisonment as solutions to economic, social and political problems.

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A global phenomenon, that intersects and overlaps with other forms of discrimination, which identifies Muslims as racial and religious “others.” As a consequence of being seen as an “other,” Muslims are targets of systemic inequality and violence in both interpersonal and institutional interactions.

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Historic and contemporary attitudes, ideas, policies and practices that are built upon and reproduce the dehumanization of Black people. Anti-Blackness makes Black people primary targets of everyday and state-sanctioned violence and structural inequality.

Believers Bail Out will seek to extend this work beyond Chicago after Ramadan 2018 to energize a powerful and lasting movement against mass incarceration amongst Muslims and beyond.