Some U.S. Prisons Denied Fasting For Muslims During Ramadan

Muslims are no strangers to the ugly manifestation of Islamophobia – even in prison.

Some U.S. Prisons Denied Fasting For Muslims During Ramadan

Muslims are no strangers to the ugly manifestation of Islamophobia – even in prison.

By

Lamia Rashid and Ayah Al-Zubi

Art - Ameer Al-Khatahtbeh

Muslims are no strangers to the ugly manifestation of Islamophobia in various ways, shapes, and forms. Specifically, in this latest form of Islamophobia, Muslim prisoners in Virginia were being denied their right to fast during the holy month of Ramadan.

 

Ramadan, which began on the evening of April 23rd and ended on May 23rd, is a month-long observance that requires able-bodied Muslims to abstain from food, drink, and all worldly pleasures from sunrise to sunset each day. It is a time intended to boost spiritual cleansing through forms of worship such as prayer, self-reflection, reading of the Holy Quran, and acts of charity. 

As stipulated in The Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, legislation passed in 2000 to meet the religious needs of inmates, all incarcerated Muslims are fully within their rights to partake in the month of Ramadan so long as they submit a request to prison management. After submitting a request and registering as a Muslim, they are placed on a special “Ramadan List” that allows for adequate meals to be provided before and after each fast.

Due to the influx of requests, however, prison management in the Virginia Wallen Ridge State Prison ordered the Chaplain to arbitrarily deny several inmates the right to participate in Ramadan by withholding prisoner names from these designated lists. Additionally, inmates reported that Wallens Ridge staff refused to designate them as Muslim or erroneously dismissed requests to be designated as such to limit the number of Muslim inmates able to fast

Vernon Ealy, a Muslim imam incarcerated in Franklin County Prison, PA, was placed in solitary confinement for saving oranges to eat whilst participating in the holy month of Ramadan— his reason for saving oranges being that officers didn’t provide food at the appropriate hours in which he could eat. This wasn’t the only bigotry Ealy faced either. Within the prison, he and all other incarcerated Muslims faced the withholding of their preferred religious text, the Quran. In fact, incarcerated Muslims pay almost three times as much for their religious texts than their Christian counterparts. 

Through research conducted by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding and Georgetown University on Islamophobia in the United States polls indicated that Muslims in America are the minority group most likely to report experiencing religious discrimination in the United States.  Within the prison system, this is evident through the denial of Muslim inmate requests to observe Ramadan. 

Yusuf Saei of Yale Law School puts the reality of prisons into perspective, “Prisons are not Constitution-free zones. As the population of Muslims held in state prisons grows, states clearly don’t take the First Amendment rights of their incarcerated populations seriously.”

Although this country is supposed to function through the foundations established in the Constitution, specifically the First Amendment— an Amendment that states, …[Congress shall make no law] prohibiting the free exercise [of religion]…— incarcerated Muslims continue to face unjust consequences in attempting to practice their right to freedom of religion.

As a result of instances like these, an organization founded in 2018, Believers Bail Out, actively works to help and support incarcerated Muslims. They utilize one of the major practices in Islam, Zakat— the giving of charity. Believers Bail Out recently raised over $240,000 in efforts to fight mass incarceration and money bail. However, their commitment to supporting incarcerated Muslims doesn’t stop with money bail. They work to support released individuals and create dialogue around Islam and abolition. Community-led groups like Believers Bail Out actively push for justice in an unjust prison system. 

Maltreatment of Muslim inmates illuminates the need for action against Islamophobia in the United States; through the work of organizations such as Believers Bail Out, there is hope for Muslims fighting against these injustices.

What Celebrating Eid Under Quarantine Looks Like

Truth be told – I was expecting it to be a very difficult day full of sadness.

What Celebrating Eid Under Quarantine Looks Like

Truth be told – I was expecting it to be a very difficult day full of sadness.

By

Zainab Damji
Art - Ameer Al-Khatahtbeh

 

Eid is the time of year when the masses come together to celebrate. The sheer spirit of Eid is visible in the streets –  people praying on the pavements because the mosque has reached capacity, swarms of cars parked outside houses indicating a huge family gathering taking place, and so on and so forth.  It is always a joyous, interpersonal occasion.

With the coronavirus pandemic however, much of our lives have changed – our routines have been uprooted, ‘normal’ is no longer normal and life is not as carefree. Naturally, as Eid rolled around and we all did our best to stay safe and follow precautionary measures; Eid in quarantine was inevitable.

Truth be told – I was expecting it to be a very difficult day full of sadness and longing, but I was pleasantly surprised to see that wasn’t the case. While I’ve tried to look at this whole pandemic from a positive perspective; I didn’t have to try very hard on Eid – it seemed to work out all on its own.

Eid prayers were held on Zoom and so our living rooms became masjids. Family gatherings still happened, they were just virtual, and you know what? Now that aunt that lives abroad didn’t feel so left out! Instead of taking your Mom’s signature baklava to an Eid party, you shared the recipe with all your friends, and they got to make it for their families in their kitchens!

This Eid, we’ve realized more than ever that it isn’t about food, or parties or even seeing each other; it’s about love and effort. So despite being in the same city as my cousins and not being able to visit them, I felt their love over our late night Zoom calls where we stressed every 20 minutes about losing sleep before having to wake for Eid prayers. Despite my brother being in a different continent, as he cooked up a storm of my mother’s traditional recipes in his LA kitchen,  it felt like he was with us at home. And while I couldn’t take any baked goods to Eid parties, I made sure to make a batch anyway and (safely) hand-deliver them to loved ones!

However, while we had the privilege of spending hours on Zoom calls, staying up late with those we share our homes with, enjoying their company – it’s important to remember that not everyone has those opportunities. Many Muslims live alone, some have gotten stuck abroad unexpectedly this year, and others may be in homes where they are not safe or comfortable. 

And let us not forget our Muslim healthcare workers who are working tirelessly on the frontlines, and while we may be saddened by our inability to visit extended family and friends, their daily reality is much worse.

Their personal sacrifice, dedication, and commitment to keeping us safe are testament to the values Islam has instilled in us, and on Eid, their service is a reminder of that. 

So today, if you’re reading this article from the comfort of your happy, safe and loving home – say a prayer for those who are not, and continue taking precautionary measures and staying safe for them. This year, Eid may have been different, but I am thankful for the experience as it has made me more gracious, self-aware, and humble. Eid Mubarak; may this coming year be filled with prosperity, success, and good health for us all.

READ MORE: Muslim Women Reflect On Ramadan Under Quarantine Through Art

Here’s Why Joe Biden’s Anti-BDS Stance Is Problematic

Biden went on to say that his administration will "firmly reject the BDS movement."

Here’s Why Joe Biden’s Anti-BDS Stance Is Problematic

Biden went on to say that his administration will “firmly reject the BDS movement.”

By

Samer Hassan
Art - Ameer Al-Khatahtbeh

Disclaimer: every article expressed in our opinions section is that of the writer, and doesn’t represent the view of our publication.

In an unsurprising turn of events, former Vice President Joe Biden declared his undying loyalty to the Zionist state of Israel. Dan Shapiro, the former ambassador to Israel, hosted an online fundraiser for the Biden Campaign. During the event, Biden affirmed his unconditional support to the Israeli state, a move that is increasingly at odds with many young progressive Americans. Biden went on to say that his administration will “firmly reject the BDS movement, which singles out Israel – home to millions of Jews – and too often veers into antisemitism, while letting Palestinians off the hook for their choices.” 

Inaccurate statements like these perpetuate a mentality that purports Israelis as the victims while Palestinians as obstacles to peace. Criticism of harmful Israeli policies should be encouraged but instead, are gaslit as antisemitic. 

Yet, when an unarmed Palestinian teenager was shot in the head by an Israeli occupation soldier and subsequent United Nations report detailing the 77% rise of illegal Israeli settler violence towards Palestinians, Biden was silent. Palestinian homes are being bulldozed in droves while their land is increasingly confiscated by illegal Israeli settler groups, Zionists point out that this land was promised to them and to them only. 

It is exactly this type of backdrop that the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction (BDS) campaign was created by Palestinian civil society in 2005. Their goal is to pressure Israel to treat the Palestinians as equal human beings with dignity and enter negotiations with a viable deal that gives Palestinians a state. This movement calls on the world to end economic deals with the Zionist government until Palestinians are free from occupation. Instead, the movement has been demonized by moderate and right-wing politicians around the world. Moderate candidates like Biden are not running for office to reform the American political system, but to maintain an unequal status quo. 

The Palestinian BDS National Committee opposed his statement saying, “By rejecting BDS, Joe Biden endorses US complicity in Israel’s decades-old regime of occupation, colonialism and apartheid, and supports depriving Palestinians of our fundamental human rights,” the organization said.

In an insult to the American values of freedom and democracy for all, Biden stated, “They have to acknowledge flat out Israel’s right to exist, period, as an independent Jewish state, and guarantee the borders,” reiterating his lack of knowledge. The Palestinian Liberation Organization recognized Israel in 1988. It is the new caveat that demands Israel be recognized as a Jewish state that is a non-starter to Palestinian leaders because that would effectively sideline 24% of Israelis, who are Muslim and Christian, as second class citizens in a state that already practices dejure apartheid policies. Moreover, Israel doesn’t recognize an official border because that means it would have to legally abide by it. 

The double standards in the US presidential primaries towards the Palestinians shows exactly how out of touch the Biden campaign is with many of its constituents. There is a deafening silence when it comes to holding Israel accountable for its actions. Biden’s campaign has stated that he would not condition aid to Israel, even though there are many documented human rights violations towards the Palestinian people. 

What Americans need is a leader that holds all governments accountable to the ideals of peace, equality, and freedom for all, not Joe Biden and his “unshakable commitment to Israel.”

 
Samer Hassan is a Palestinian activist in New York city. He graduated with a degree in Political Science
from Columbia University.