An initiative by the Justice department can bring about prison-imams and calls to prayer within prison walls.

Prison chaplain Terje Auli of Oslo prison says that they’re very interested in getting imams who can lead the Friday prayers.  He is one of 20 prison chaplains in Norway today.  According to the Ministry of Culture and Church Affairs they are all connected to the Church of Norway.  The department is not aware that any other religious community had organized prison chaplains in the country’s 50 prisons.  This is in stark contract to the law, which says that care of criminals will give the inmates the possibility to practice religion and life outlook.

Today’s chaplains do not reflect the population’s composition.  According to data from Norway Statistics there are 383,000 people in the country who do not belong to the Norwegian church.  Among them are more than 72,000 Muslims, close to 10,000 Buddhists, about 3,700 Hindus and 2,300 Sikhs.  The rest belong to a long list of faith communities.

State Secretary Wegard Harsvik of the Ministry of Culture and Church Affairs says that it’s also apparent in the prisons that Norway is a multi-cultural and multi-religious society.  There is now a need to see how prisoners with a different religious background than the state church can meet and who we can fulfill the obligations in the law.

The ministry is now represented, together with the Justice ministry and prison authorities, in a work group which will will prepare a letter on religious services in the prisons.  This letter will explain the responsibilities and possible cooperation between criminal care, the Church of Norway and the other religious communities, explains Harsvik.

Security is an current theme for the work group.  It can be topical with an approved arrangement for imams, rabbis, monks and priests entering the prison. 

Another central question is who will pay these representatives form different religions.  The work group, which had finished its work till the summer, will also look at the need for adaptation of sites in prisons for religious purposes, and eventual differences in the needs of male and female prisoners.

About 30-40 prisoners show up when Terje Auli conducts services in Oslo prison.  He says that if a prisoner asks to contact an imam, Catholic priest or Buddhist monk they help them with it. The need is highest for imams.  He says they have made several attempts to employ imams but they either drop out or there’s nor response for their requests.

Source: Dagsavisen (Norwegian)

See also: Belgium: Paid Muslim chaplains in prisons


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