The Qur’an refers to “freeing a neck” (the literal Arabic language) as a steep, difficult path that is the path of righteousness.
It’s not an easy path. Perhaps because it means going against our notions of freedom and authority. Perhaps because it means we must stand up against authorities we have been socialized to obey. Many translators have explained that the “neck” mentioned is the neck of a slave, but some have explained that the neck can be that of a person who is enslaved or captive or imprisoned in some way.
When I was young, I used to read such verses as Surah al-Balad: 13, and used to tell myself, “That is not applicable to us anymore, because we have no captives and slaves anymore!”
I was wrong.
Socialized by Law and Order and a militaristic nationalism, with an internalized attachment to the authoritarian vision of the state, I grew up thinking of incarcerated persons as victims of their own actions. As I grew older, and saw more of life, I learned that the prison industrial complex was not the only way for society to organize itself and that it was in fact a destructive, divisive hierarchical framework for the powerful to dominate the powerless.
When I first came across the Believers Bailout Project, I thought it would probably seem to most Muslims like a charitable endeavor for commies. It would seem more a politically leftist campaign than an actual religious endeavor. But if we learn more about the nature of mass incarceration in the United States, the law enforcement war on Blacks, Latinx, Muslims, and the poor, the social reproduction of inequality, we see that this is not an optional activity, or a project for political people. It is a movement against systemic oppression and fitnah.
It is part of a movement against oppression. And we need systemic action to dismantle oppression too.
This is the freeing of necks from captivity. It is as important today as it was when the Qur’an was revealed. As the Believers Bailout Project website says:
Black people are twice as likely to be held pretrial as white people and Muslims in pretrial detention face an increased risk of victimization, surveillance and denial of religious freedom in the prison system due to anti-Muslim racism (Islamophobia).
While the criminal legal system proclaims the principle of “innocent before proven guilty,” the reality is that people who have not been convicted of any crime can be jailed indefinitely because they are poor and unable to pay bond. In addition to being jailed without a conviction, while in pretrial incarceration they can lose their jobs, their children, their homes, and even their lives.- Believers Bailout Project website