For those of us who are practicing Muslims, the idea of being fed bologna sandwiches every day is horrifying. Unfortunately, that’s what was happening to incarcerated Muslims in the Orange County Sherriff Department (OCSD) carceral facilities for nearly two years up until March 2022.
“Muslim incarcerees in OCSD facilities had been receiving the same cold, brown-bag meals for the past two years [of the COVID-19 pandemic] that were, for the most part, made up of bologna sandwiches,” said Amr Shabaik, the Civil Rights Managing Attorney for the Los Angeles chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR-LA). “The unacceptable quality and condition of some of those brown-bag meals have been widely reported on.”
As Ramadan approached, it became imperative to local Chaplain Maria Khani that the incarcerees receive timely, higher quality meals. She decided to reach out to CAIR-LA and Shura Council to request a legal letter demanding quality meals for all Muslim incarcerees during the month of Ramadan.
Prior to the pandemic, Muslim inmates were offered religiously compliant meals.
“This past Ramadan, despite a slightly improved COVID situation, I asked for religiously compliant meals to be given again during Ramadan,” said Khani. “The initial reply from [OCSD] was that they cannot provide these meals.”
Khani has dedicated many years of her life to serving Muslim incarcerees in both Los Angeles and Orange counties. Along with providing religious services and spiritual guidance, she also works to address concerns incarcerated individuals may have about their meals being religiously compliant.
With the assistance of the Civil Rights team at CAIR-LA and Imam Abu Ishaq Abdul Hafiz of Shura Council, Khani sent a legal letter to Sheriff Don Barnes requesting quality meals, proper mealtimes in accordance with fasting times, the distribution of donated dates, and a religiously appropriate Eid celebration.
“Based on these efforts, OCSD began to provide much higher quality, shelf-stable iftars than what incarcerees had been previously receiving, along with dates to break their fast. OCSD deputies began to call each incarcerated individual at sunset to break their fast and bring them suhoor on time,” said Shabaik. “OCSD also committed to providing the Muslim incarcerees with an Eid dinner on May 2, 2022. Finally, OCSD agreed to distribute a letter regarding Chaplain Khani’s religious services to each Muslim incarceree so that they could reach out to her for support.”
The initiative of concerned community members like Chaplain Maria Khani helps CAIR-LA continue to advocate on behalf of Muslims in all walks of life. If you or someone you know needs help with religious accommodation requests or other civil rights issues, click here to contact our team.
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