‘The Case Against Adnan Syed’: When Did Adnan Become a Devout Muslim?

In Serial, the wildly popular podcast that explored the 1999 murder of Hae Min Lee, we learned a great deal about Adnan Syed, Lee’s high-school classmate convicted of the crime. Adnan earned top grades, starred on the track team, and even became prom king his senior year.

Meanwhile, there was also a side of Adnan that was like so many American teenagers. He drove around Baltimore with friends, dated classmates (including Lee), and dabbled in weed now and then. We get more of this picture of Adnan in the HBO documentary, The Case Against Adnan Syed.

What we don’t get from Serial or the HBO doc is the picture of a religious young man. (We do learn that Islam is very important in Adnan’s home.) However, we get that picture from Adnan now, at 38, after two decades in prison.

Rabia Chaudry, Adnan’s friend who kept the case alive, has addressed the subject in an interview, as has her brother Saad.

Adnan was a ‘typical child of religious parents’ who grew into his faith in prison.

The Adnan Syed Arrest photo from 1999 | HBO

Chaudry discussed Adnan’s spiritual path in a 2014 Huffington Post interview. She described him as “a typical child of religious parents” in that he felt the obligation to attend services at the mosque occasionally and considered religion “something he had to deal with.”

Later, after his imprisonment, Chaudry said faith “kept him anchored” and led to him becoming a part of the community in jail. Adnan’s experience with Islam from a very young age also made him different from those who converted to the religion behind bars.

“Everyone looked up to him in prison because he was authentically Muslim — born and raised in it,” she told HuffPo. “It encouraged him to take on that leadership role.”

Still, as Adnan looked back on his life as a teenager before he was incarcerated, he seemed to have some regrets about not becoming serious about Islam sooner. He even wondered if he could have avoided trouble altogether had he practiced as a teen.

How Islam has kept Adnan safe in prison

Officials escort “Serial” podcast subject Adnan Syed from a Baltimore courthouse on Feb. 3 2016 after hearings for a retrial. | Karl Merton Ferron/Baltimore Sun/TNS via Getty Images

During an interview for Serial, Adnan wondered if he would have avoided jail had he been “a good Muslim.” After all, he would likely not been friends with Jay, a known liar and otherwise unsavory individual. (Jay was the government’s key witness despite so much conflicting testimony.)

There may be some truth to that, but Adnan’s lifestyle as a teen was no worse than that of thousands (perhaps millions) of high school kids. Meanwhile, he made a conscious decision to become more devout in prison.

In a 2016 ABC News report, Saad Chaudry (Rabia’s brother) spoke of Adnan fasting for Ramadan that year. Chaudry also noted how Muslim converts looked to Adnan for insight on the Quran and the faith in general. He then described how it benefited Adnan’s life behind bars.

Chaudry said Adnan had been “taken under the wing” of Muslim inmates, who “looked out for him” and made sure he was protected in what can be an incredibly dangerous place. These days, fellow Muslims could see that “no one messed with him.”

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