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CONTACT: Asha Noor, firstname.lastname@example.org, (248) 559-2247
Malcolm X once said ,“the most disrespected woman in America is the Black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the Black woman. The most neglected person in America is the Black woman.” His remarks from 1962 still hold true today in 2018.
Siwatu-Salama Ra is an African American, Muslim Activist, community leader and mother in Detroit. Malcolm X’s words ring true in her case as she fights against false imprisonment, giving birth while incarcerated, and without the necessary accommodations for her unique challenges.
Siwatu is being punished for protecting her family from a direct threat, with a legally owned and unloaded gun, but the system is laying blame on her for surviving in a society that deems her, and women like her disposable. For this act of self-defense, that hurt no one in the process, she is serving a mandatory 2 year sentence. She gave birth to her second child while serving her sentence, for asserting her right under Michigan Law to stand her ground.
Day in and day out white women and men who “stand their ground”, or act in “self defense” walk away with no charges. But in this case, we see Siwatu, an African American woman who the law refuses to protect, whose claim to self-defense is seen as aggressive and not based in fear is unjustly imprisoned for those same acts. Zimmerman murdered a young Black boy, Trayvon Martin, because he claimed self defense, and stand your ground law protected him from punishment. In Siwatu’s case, there was no harm done, no bullets in her weapon, she was properly licensed and only acting in self-defense yet, she faces the ultimate punishment of imprisonment. Comparing these two cases shows the stark contrast of how the law does not protect Black citizens exercising the same rights as their non-Black counterparts.
During the month of Ramadan, the holiest month of the year for Muslims who fast from sunrise to sunset, increase acts of worship and charity–Siwatu is struggling to receive the basic accommodations she is entitled to at the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility. There have been numerous setbacks in the process of providing Siwatu food that is halal (permissible), religious covering for prayer, a prayer mat, the holy Quran and more.
So the challenge at this point does not end with her unjust sentence, but the unfair punishment has been compounded long after through the processing period and tenure in jail.
Siwatu has requested a copy of the Quran to pray, a hijab (religious covering), a prayer rug, thikr beads (prayer beads) and halal(permissible) food. She requested to borrow a copy of the Quran while she waited to receive her own copy, but was told there weren’t any copies available. In the same facility there are book shelves full of Christian texts including countless copies of the Bible. To add insult to injury she was offered a Bible instead of the requested Quran.
With much of her requested accommodations denied or on hold, Siwatu further requested food accommodations based on her sincerely held religious views which were also not met. She was told that these accommodations could not be considered or applied until permanent housing which would take 30-45 days upon entering the jail.
The lack of food accomodations was a critical issue because she was at the time pregnant, and unable to eat large portions of the meals provided to her that contained pork items, which are strictly prohibited for Muslims to eat. This has caused her to skip meals at a time, sometimes 3 to 4 times a week which caused potential health risks to her, and her child.
For over 40 days Siwatu has not been properly accommodated in any of the requests she made including the ability to make the 5 obligatory prayers, for food accommodations, and religious covering. This is in stark contrast to the treatment of Christian inmates who are given Bibles upon entering, and given special accommodations for weekly religious service.
Similarly situated inmates of different faith backgrounds are not denied the ability to meet the basic tenets of their faith in the way that Siwatu is being forced to do so. They are not met with the same burden, and are capable of practicing their sincerely held religious beliefs immediately upon entering the facility .
While she struggles to get the permission to even apply for, and pay for religious materials, her Christian counterparts have these items readily available onsite, and free of charge. This causes an unfair and illegal promotion of the Christian faith by a state run facility. This favoritism of the Christian faith tradition shows the contrast between accommodations for Christians, and the lack thereof and outright denial for Muslim inmates. Again, this disproportionate treatment goes against the Constitution by favoring one faith over the other by placing unfair obstacles and restrictions against one religion, while streamlining accommodations and support for the other.
These issues are violations of basic rights allocated to other inmates, and these violations impact all of us. Whether you are Muslim, Black, a woman, all three, or none of the above this is an issue that eats away at all of our civil liberties. When we allow the system to disfavor groups of people based on their identity, we open the door for rampant discrimination and infringement of rights against all of us.
We propose that the Huron Women’s Correctional Facility provide the necessary accommodations to Siwatu, and other Muslim inmates based on their sincerely held religious views. This includes but is not limited to access to religious head covering, prayer mat, prayer beads, copy of quran, halal food, access to Friday congregational prayer, access to five obligatory prayers, and ability to meet with a Muslim religious leader.
As CAIR-MI’s Safe Spaces Program, we promote Muslim friendly policies at institutions across the state, and we urge Huron Women’s Correctional Facility to provide the necessary accommodation for Siwatu, and other inmates facing the same challenges.