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Islam in Prison: Inmates Running the Asylum
by David J. Rusin • Jul 9, 2009 at 12:30 pm
Prisoners are known for trying to extract every last concession, but Muslim inmates appear to enjoy greater success than most. Consider these recent examples:
Going overboard to appease Muslim prisoners is not a new trend. Last year Islamist Watch noted how Muslims at one British jail had been given metal lunchboxes, at a total cost of £25,000, to keep meals warm as they waited to break the Ramadan fast. Then there was the outrage over a new UK prison chapel: it does not include a crucifix, which might offend Muslims, but it does feature heated foot baths to be used prior to Islamic prayers.
Here in the United States, lawsuits are demanding greater accommodation for jailed Muslims, such as halal food and the ability to pray in groups. The U.S., like many Western countries, stipulates that prisons make a sincere effort to meet inmates' religious needs. But how much accommodation is too much? The key question to ask is whether it presents an unreasonable burden or infringes on the rights of others.
Compasses are a small, one-time expense and their availability does not hurt non-Muslims. Halal food options may be acceptable, as long as their cost is not significantly higher than that of regular meals. In contrast, imposing Muslim dietary customs on everybody crosses the line, as does permitting Islam to dominate "multi-faith" facilities. Segregation, except in response to concrete safety concerns, likely will promote greater radicalization. Even more intrusive demands, such as that female prison officers be replaced with men or wear veils, are nonstarters.
In short, determining which accommodations are reasonable requires a dose of that one quality so often lacking among those who end up behind bars — and, increasingly, among those who keep them there: common sense.