A Muslim chaplain with the New York City Department of Correction was arrested Wednesday for carrying scissors and utility blades into a Manhattan jail. Authorities said Imam Zul-Qarnain Abdu-Shahid, who served 14 years in prison for murder, was caught with the scissors and the bades used in box cutters in his duffle bag when he arrived at the Manhattan Detention Complex to begin his shift.
Abdu-Shahid, 58, was arrested and charged with four counts of promoting prison contraband in the first degree – a felony which carries a maximum seven-year prison term. He is being held on $50,000 bond or $30,000 cash. Abdu-Shahid's lawyer James McQueeney, said there is "absolutely no reason to believe" the imam knew the items were in his bag.
Abdu-Shahid, formerly known as Paul Pitts, was one of four men convicted of murder and robbery for the December 9, 1976 holdup of a Harlem supermarket that left a 30-year-old customer dead from a bullet wound. Following his 1979 conviction, he served 14 years of a 15-years-to-life sentence before being paroled in August 1993. Abdu-Shahid completed his parole in 2001 and was hired as a prison chaplain by the corrections department in 2007. He receives an annual salary of $49,471.
According to McQueeney, his client is "completely reformed." A city correction source provided a different perspective, telling the New York Post: "It's a disgrace that taxpayers are funding Muslim chaplains who not only have criminal records, but also are promoting violence."
Abdu-Shahid's arrest is just the latest controversy surrounding prison chaplain programs in New York State. Abdu-Shahid's boss – head chaplain Umar Abdul-Jalil – was hired even though he served 14 years for drug dealing.
In 2006, Abdul-Jalil - who was then being paid $76,602 per year while overseeing 40 other chaplains – was suspended for two weeks without pay after declaring that "the greatest terrorists in the world occupy the White House." Abdul-Jalil added that he opposed allowing "the Zionists of the media to dictate what Islam is to us."
Patrick Dunleavy, former Deputy Inspector General for the New York State Department of Corrections, notes that Islamist radicalism in Empire State prisons has been a serious problem dating back close to 30 years. Dunleavy points to many examples of radical Islamist inmates including Warith Deen Umar and El Sayyid Nosair, who were granted significant influence over other Muslim convicts by prison authorities.