When Mustafa Cimsit was hired by a German state prison back in 2012, he became the first full time prison Imam of Germany. It was a remarkable step by Hessen state to recognize that overpopulated Muslim inmates also need spiritual guidance which has always been provided for the Christian ones . Cimsit’s hard work was quickly hailed by the Hessen state authorities and few more part time Imams were also hired. As prison Imams came in extremely helpful, eliminating many problems of inmates both in and outside of the prison, Hessen state kept hiring more and more Imams. But it was all reversed when 46 years old Cimsit tried to unionize Imams to provide themselves equal rights as Catholic and Protestant prison priests.
“I was warned by not just prison administration but also Hessen state Justice authorities. They told me I should drop unionization attempts, it would bring no good for us,” said Mustafa Cimsit. After several warnings, Cimsit’s contract was terminated on June 30th 2018 by the Essen state prison. A few more other part time Imams who were active in unionization meetings were also fired.
There are prison priests as well for Catholic and Protestant inmates. Their working conditions are far different from Imams. Differences vary from immense pay gap to working conditions as well as the number of inmates each priest is responsible for faith guidance. “I was in charge of almost 250 inmates in 2 different prisons but a priest would in be in charge of around 30 inmates,” said Cimsit who is now suing the Hessen state for discrimination.
Catholic and Protestant priests working at the German prisons do not have unions. But Cimsit says Catholic and Protestant churches are two of the most powerful institutions in Germany so the priests do not need unions. “The churches would protect every single rights of the priests and the state would never violate their rights. The churches are the biggest most powerful unions already,” Cimsit reiterated.
Imams are also important tools at the prisons to keep away the Muslim inmates from radical ideologies. There have been extensive reports that terror groups like ISIS use European prisons as breeding grounds. One Deutsche Welle report last year quoted an Imam saying “The perpetrators of the Paris attacks are believed to have turned to terrorism after serving time in jail.” This is partly because the number of Muslims in German prison are much higher than its proportion in Germany. According to Cimsit, in juvenile prisons almost half of the inmates are Muslims while Muslims make around 5 percent of the German population. In total, Muslim inmates make up around 25 percent of German prison population according to Cimsit. And he says that fuels sense of discrimination and pushes Muslim inmates towards radical ideologies.
Cimsit has his hearing on 24th of August. He hopes to get his job back. And if that happens, he will restart his unionization work to improve Imam’s rights but more importantly, fight extremism in German prisons. Cimsit says it was a positive step when he was hired by the Hessen state back in 2012 but 6 years is long time to recognize and improve the rights and working conditions of prison Imams.