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New York Prison Chaplain Accused of Smuggling Weapons

Zul Qarnain Abdu-Shahid, 58, a Muslim chaplain for the New York City Department of Corrections (NYDOC), was arrested on February 3, 2010 for attempting to introduce contraband into the Manhattan Detention Complex; he was temporarily held on $50,000 bond after his arraignment. Abdu-Shahid allegedly had a pair of scissors and three box cutter-type blades in his duffle bag when he entered the facility.

As a result of an investigation surrounding the contraband smuggling allegations, it was discovered that Abdu-Shahid had been convicted of a 1976 murder that occurred during a Harlem supermarket robbery. At that time he was known as Paul Pitts, and he served almost 14 years in prison for homicide.

An ecclesiastical endorsement is the only civil service qualification for hiring a prison chaplain, according to NYDOC spokesman Stephen J. Morello. Abdu-Shahid had the required endorsement from the Majlis Ash-Shura of New York. The NYDOC has around 50 chaplaincy positions, and applicants are required to submit fingerprints for a background check and self-disclose their criminal history. However, a prior felony conviction does not disqualify them. Abdu-Shahid was hired by the NYDOC in 2007, six years after he completed his parole term.

“I think all of the policies, involving allowing certain imams access to our prisoners, have been an example of political correctness run amok,” said Peter F. Vallone, Jr., chairman of the City Council’s Committee on Public Safety. “Clearly, some of these people should never have been allowed access to prisoners.”

Abdu-Shahid maintained his innocence, saying he was unaware he had the scissors and blades in his bag. NYDOC Commissioner Dora B. Schriro suspended him following his arrest and called for a review of the agency’s vetting process for chaplains. Abdu-Shahid was fired in June 2010, though a grand jury dismissed the criminal charges on June 29. PLN has reported extensively on the persecution of Muslim clergy in New York and federal prisons and jails.

Sources: New York Times,, NYDOC press release

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