How Islam and Buddhism can help prisoners

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As religious diversity increases in Quebec, the province’s prisons must adapt to the diverse religious needs of inmates. Some inmates turn to alternative faiths such as Islam or Buddhism. Why do they do that? What’s in it for you?

Géraldine Mossière, a professor at the Institute for Religious Studies at the Université de Montréal, and one of her doctoral students asked themselves these questions. Students, Catherine de Guise.

To learn more about the topic, the two researchers interviewed prison chaplains and people who volunteer in prisons.

We spoke to de Guise, whose studies are co-supervised by the Institute for Social Sciences of Religions at the Université de Lausanne, to find out more.

Who have you found attending Buddhist workshops in prison?

The people who attended Buddhist meditation workshops were very diverse. Some had converted to religion. Others saw meditation as a tool for personal development and began meditating as a secular practice. Still others belonged to other religions.

How can these religious practices help people heal?

They heal on three different levels: physical, ethical and social.

Buddhism encourages people to look deep within themselves and encourages personal transformation. The experience can be very physical: some people cried. It can also manifest through the body in different ways. One person claimed meditation helped them become more aware of certain things. One inmate said, “I’ve come to realize that when I hurt other people, I hurt myself.” As for Islam, the practice of prayer can affect people in other ways.

In terms of ethics, Islam is a rather prescriptive system. It’s like a code of conduct that can be broken down into a set of practices such as: B. the dress code, dietary restrictions and prayers. In contrast, Buddhism is more of a philosophy of life based on values ​​such as kindness, self-compassion, and impermanence. Self-compassion is a concept that resonated particularly well with inmates. People don’t often show compassion for convicted criminals, so the inmates hadn’t worked on forgiving themselves and showing compassion.

Ultimately, these practices alter their community ties. Becoming a Muslim means joining a group with a clearly defined identity. It also ensures a degree of protection from others of the same faith. Meanwhile, Buddhist workshops generally consisted of three parts: an informal discussion with the volunteers, a meditation session, and a group discussion. Group discussions created a safe space in which inmates felt more comfortable when they were vulnerable. In prison, inmates must act tough for their own safety, but group discussions open up a space where they can talk about their weaknesses.

Are Buddhism and Islam equally popular in prisons?

The type of Buddhism practiced in prisons is a contemporary Westernized Buddhism that has abandoned some of its religious aspects. People talk about it like a philosophy or an ethical system with a more subjective and individualized approach that focuses on personal development. This form of Buddhism is viewed positively in comparison to Islam, which is heavily stigmatized in northern countries.

This interpretation of Buddhism is more easily accepted in prisons. It allows volunteers to easily conduct Buddhist meditation activities, framing them as mindfulness meditation and effectively secularizing them.

Should prisons change their attitude towards religious practices?

Religious diversity requires institutions to reconsider their worship offerings and take new measures that don’t necessarily have to cost a lot. Health services offer providers of spiritual care. These providers take a secular approach and provide care based on the religion of the people they serve. Prisons may consider offering internships for chaplains. Or they could simply add more spiritual and religious texts to their libraries and allow for a more diverse range of volunteer activities.

The current dominant model in the prison system is a multi-faith model, where people of different religions are supported by a chaplain and volunteers. However, an interfaith model with pastoral care providers may be a better way to ensure that individual needs are met.

Provided by the University of Montreal

Citation: Questions and Answers: How Islam and Buddhism Can Help Prisoners (2022 November 30) Retrieved November 30, 2022 from

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