Muslims in Alaska and Washington state prisons are having a hard time fulfilling one of the pillars of their religion: fasting during the month of Ramadan, according to articles in the Juneau Empire and Huffington Post.
Two federal courts have ruled in favor of the Muslim inmates who have filed lawsuits in both states, alleging inadequate meals and feeding during Ramadan.
Lawsuits were filed by inmates from the Washington State Reformatory and the Anchorage Correctional Complex in Alaska. They retained the legal services of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).
“Muslim inmates are simply asking for the right to practice their religion while incarcerated,” said Jasmin Samy, civil rights director of CAIR’s Washington chapter. “To deny them is discriminatory and unconstitutional.”
Ramadan is a month for fasting and spiritual reflection. The main objective of the fast is to purify the conduct and character of one’s mind, body and soul for one month, from sunup to sundown, according to Islamic traditions. The command to fast is in the Muslim Holy book, the Qur’an.
In Alaska, prisoners submitted a variety of grievances to prison officials about being poorly fed, sack lunches having pork in them and being starved by the prison, reported the Juneau Empire, an online newspaper.
Alaska prisoners also complained that meals were taken during a search of their cells and were removed from the Ramadan list. They were prohibited from saving food in their cells, said the article.
Muslims at the Washington prison claimed that prison officials refused to provide them with the proper nutrition between sundown and sunrise.
Prisoners claimed they were not added to the Ramadan list if they missed the sign-in deadline that happened in early January; Ramadan took place in mid-May.
“Muslim prisoners are being starved and their health is in danger as a result of the facilities’ starvation policy,” said Lena Masri, CAIR’s litigation director.
Spokespersons for the Washington and Alaskan prisons responded to the allegations.
“The Washington Department of Corrections takes very seriously the health and welfare of those sentenced to incarceration in the state’s correctional facilities,” spokesman Jeremy Barclay told The Associated Press.
Megan Edge, spokesperson for the Alaska prison, said that it accommodates prisoners of all faiths, including the Muslims. She stated the prison provides every opportunity for the Muslims to have a successful Ramadan, according to Juneau Empire.
“In total, each inmate gets four sandwiches, four pieces of fruit, a bundle of vegetable sticks, two servings of milk, plus two cookies or cake,” said Edge in an e-mail to Juneau Empire.
She said the sack meal sandwiches were chicken bologna or turkey bologna, not pork, according to the article.
U.S. District Judge Ronald Leighton wrote that prison officials in Washington inflicted “irreparable injury” to Muslim inmates by failing to provide them with adequate nutrition and failing to accommodate their sincerely held religious beliefs.
He said the facility must provide the inmates with a balanced nutritional diet containing between 2,600 and 2,800 calories on each remaining day of Ramadan. The judge in Alaska issued a similar order.
“We welcome the federal court’s swift intervention, which will bring this health crisis to an end, and to ensure that Muslim inmates are not starved and brutalized for practicing the fundamental principles of their faith,” Masri said.