Tamer Mohsen carried his Koran through the metal detector of this medium-security prison outside of Richmond, raising his arms to be patted down by a guard. When the inspection ended, Mohsen walked a familiar route: through Powhatan Correctional Center's narrow, dimly lit hallways, past barred cells and security checkpoints.
He made his way to the prison's chapel, where murals of the "Last Supper" and the Crucifixion were concealed by light-blue bedsheets. He'd come here, as he does twice a month, to lead Friday prayer services for more than 40 Muslim inmates, many of them converts, and try to moderate their embrace of a new and unfamiliar faith.
As the number of Muslims in the Virginia prison system has grown to an estimated 2,200, the state has come to lean increasingly on volunteer Muslim chaplains like Mohsen, a 35-year-old lab technician who was born in Egypt.
The role the Muslim chaplains play is crucial, because prisons can be a breeding ground for Islamic extremism, said Asghar Goraya, executive director of Muslim Chaplain Services of Virginia.