Muslim Inmates in Florida Are Being Denied Religious Diet, Two Rights Groups Claim

| by Alexander Rubinstein

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Council on American-Islamic Relations Florida claim Muslim inmates at Miami-Dade County jails have been denied halal meals.

The organizations said they have received more than 35 complaints from Muslim inmates since the Miami-Dade Corrections and Rehabilitation Department started to serve non-halal meals to them, International Business Times reports.

Both groups say the facilities stopped serving halal meals in October 2014, and are violating their own faith-based meals policy. Policies have not changed since then, and continue into Ramadan of this year, a holy month for Muslims.

Halal refers to objects and actions that are permissible to use or participate in, according to Islamic law. It’s similar to “kosher” in Judaism, but less restrictive. The term goes beyond referring to food and drink and includes lifestyle choices. In Islam, most things are considered halal unless Islamic scriptures prohibit them.

Prohibited foods include pork, blood, intoxicants and alcohol. Animals slaughtered in certain, often unconventional ways are also considered haram, or forbidden. Halal food cannot come in contact with non-halal food.

The ACLU and CAIR Florida say they have informed corrections officials of the specific complaints of 17 inmates to no avail.

“Some of them are not eating, or they’re not eating enough,” Thania-Diaz-Clevenger, civil rights director for CAIR Florida, told Local 10 News.

The inmates don’t understand why their constitutional rights are being violated, Diaz-Clevenger said.

“Individuals do not lose their constitutional rights just because they are behind bars,” said Shalini Goel Agarwal, a staff attorney at the ACLU’s Florida office. “When a particular diet is part of an inmate’s religious practice, jails need to respect that, especially when they already do so for inmates (of) other faiths.”

“They’re conflicted with, ‘Should I practice my religion, something I sincerely believe and it’s a part of me, or do I starve?’” Diaz-Clevenger said.

The groups say they will file formal grievances because repeated letters and meetings have not been addressed.

While the groups’ complaints have not brought about any changes, the jail system has denied the allegations.

“CAIR was informed during this meeting that the department's imam, who has serviced the Muslim inmate population for several years and has guided us on Muslim-related issues, found the alternative meal currently offered to the Muslim inmates to be in accordance with Muslim principles,” Miami-Dade Corrections and Rehabilitation Department spokeswoman Janell Hall said in a statement to Local 10.

“There has been no change in religious meals for Muslims incarcerated during the month of Ramadan,” Hall told WPLG.

Ramadan is a holy month in which Muslims refrain from eating, drinking, smoking and engaging in sexual relations from sunrise to sunset.

Sources:  International Business Times, Local 10, Wikipedia (2)

Photo Source: Screenshot via Local 10