Believers Bail Out
by Khadijah Abdul-Haqq
Across the United States, half a million defendants are held in the criminal court system pre-trial simply because they are unable to pay their cash bond. The vast majority of them are Black and other People of Color. During Ramadan 2018, a collective of scholars and activists launched the Believers Bail Out (BBO) to free Muslims who are incarcerated before trial. Inspired by the National Bail Out movement, BBO was led by Sapelo Square, in partnership with MPower Change, Chicago Community Bond Fund, and Sirat Chicago.
BBO reunites recipients with their families and communities; highlights the impact of immoral and destructive bail practices; and supports nationwide efforts against mass incarceration. In addition to providing bail and support for individuals released on bond in Chicago, the campaign hosted fundraising iftars and teach-ins to support policy efforts and to raise awareness within Muslim communities on the injustices of money bail and the broader prison industrial complex.
“We are working to get the Muslim community here in the U.S. to deeply engage in the movement to end mass incarceration,” explained Su’ad Abdul Khabeer, senior editor of Sapelo Square and member of the campaign team.
“We are working to get the Muslim community here in the U.S. to deeply engage in the movement to end mass incarceration,” explained Su’ad Abdul Khabeer, senior editor of Sapelo Square and member of the campaign team. “We do this by reminding ourselves of the longstanding practice, from the Qur’an, and from the Prophet Muhammad, of helping those in need. This includes freeing those in bondage. Being held in jail, just because you are poor, is precisely that form of bondage; it’s an injustice.”
For the 30 days of Ramadan, people from all walks of life donated money to the LaunchGood campaign; after the first week $23,000 was raised which exceeded its original goal of raising $15,000.
“Thanks to the generosity and support of our community, the Believers Bail Out campaign was able to raise $123,262 from over 2,000 donors. Alhamdulillah! We have paid the bonds for two brothers and are in the process of facilitating another brother’s release with post-bond support such as legal fees or representation, housing assistance, access to food, job placement, etc. Our team is also currently reviewing other cases,” said Attorney Kamilah A. Pickett, BBO Education Lead.
“Our work so far has focused on Cook County, Illinois, but we are also in the process of developing an agreement with the National Bail Fund Network to make our funds available to eligible Muslims in pre-trial detention outside of the Chicago area. We are exploring the possibility of using the funds we have raised to help Muslims with immigration bonds.”
The eighth amendment of the Constitution of the United States prohibits the government from imposing excessive bonds, fines or cruel and unusual punishment on defendants. However, each year, hundreds of thousands of defendants like Kalief Browder, a precocious young boy of 16, are kept in prison for months or years awaiting trial because they cannot afford to post bail.
In 2010, Browder was arrested and charged with assault and robbery. He spent three years on Rikers Island, N.Y., because his family could not afford the $3,000 cash bail bond. In 2015, after two harrowing years of enduring mental illness following his release, tragically, Kalief Browder committed suicide (Gonnerman, 2015). The New York Prison system and its cash bond system failed Kalief Browder and continues to fail countless other defendants.
In Cook County, Ill., Blacks comprise 24% (U.S Census, 2017) of the overall population, but 68% of the jail population (B.I.U. Cook County Sheriff, 2018). According to the most recent reports, 90% of the Cook County Jail is being held on pre-trial bonds (David E. Olson, 2012).”
The system is broken on several levels, with the first being how the bail bond is determined. Bail is collateral collected by the criminal court system to ensure the defendant’s return to court at the appointed time. The amount of the bail is customarily measured by the severity of the alleged crimes. However, the judge has the ultimate authority to decide how high bail will be set, if bail will be required for release or if a defendant may be released on their own recognizance.
Judges frequently determine bail amounts within minutes of meeting a defendant. Within 15 minutes, maybe less, a judge will assess the defendant’s trustworthiness, intentions to return to court, and whether they are a threat to society. Judges have the final say regardless of whatever biases they hold; at that moment, the judge holds the future of every defendant who appears before the court in their hands.
This is why BBO is crucially time-sensitive and requires additional support. It utilizes funds collected in the form of zakat (obligatory alms that is a personal obligation and the third pillar of Islam) and sadaqa (volunteer charity) for cash bonds.
Zakat purifies your wealth. People dislike to be separated from their money and giving it may increase the giver in good deeds. Zakat is meant to balance out the scales between the haves and have-nots. Zakat is also used to free captives and this is why BBO is capitalizing on this option for the benefit of the oppressed and humanity.
Purchasing the freedom of Muslims is not a new matter. For instance, Abu Bakr purchased the freedom of Bilal ibn Rabah (radi allahu anhu), the well-known Caller to prayer.
Purchasing the freedom of Muslims is not a new matter. For instance, Abu Bakr purchased the freedom of Bilal ibn Rabah (radi allahu anhu), the well-known Caller to prayer. It’s important to note that another slave by the name of Salman al Farsi (radi allahu anhu) was also freed by the help of the ummah and our beloved Prophet Muhammad (sallallahu alaihi wassalam). So, let’s help free our brothers and sisters and, by the same token, reap the rewards in this life and the next.
Even though Ramadan has ended, the spirit of fighting for freedom continues. BBO will resume active fundraising next Ramadan. In the meanwhile, the intention is to educate the community to build a movement to end money bail and mass incarceration. BBO also wants to build relationships with and support Muslim-led organizations that are providing the type of post-bond support that our brothers and sisters will need. For more information on how you can help, visit believersbailout.org
Khadijah Abdul-Haqq is the children’s book author of the acclaimed Nanni’s Hijab. She is passionate about arts, fairness, love, freedom and good vibes. Visit her blog at Ramblings of an unconventional Muslimah.
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David E. Olson, S. T. (2012). Population Dynamics and the Characteristics of inmates in the Cook County. Chicago, Illinois: Cook County Sheriff’s Reentry Council.
Gonnerman, J. (2015, June 7). The New Yorker. Retrieved from Kalief Browder, 1993-2015: https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/kalief-browder-1993-2015
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