In­mate’s asked-for Ra­madan fast fo­cus of suit

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Local - BY MICHAEL GOR­DON mgor­[email protected]­lot­teob­ suhoor, are if­tar, Michael Gor­don: 704-358-5095; @MikeGor­donOBS

Dur­ing a holy month when he was sup­posed to be fast­ing, a Mus­lim in­mate in the Meck­len­burg County Jail still wanted his lunch.

So Tra­vaile Speller has sued, claim­ing that his jail­ers and the Meck­len­burg Sher­iff’s Of­fice dis­crim­i­nated against his re­li­gious prac­tice by forc­ing him to eat only two meals each day dur­ing Ra­madan.

“That is clearly de­priv­ing me of nec­es­sary calo­ries, as well as the rec­om­mend (ed) daily vol­ume of nu­tri­ents that my body re­quires to func­tion nor­mally,” Speller says in his hand-writ­ten com­plaint. “They are in­ten­tion­ally elim­i­nat­ing one whole meal (lunch) which is cruel and un­usual pun­ish­ment di­rected to­wards all Mus­lims.”

There’s just one prob­lem: Dur­ing Ra­madan (which took place this year from May 15 to June 15), prac­tic­ing Mus­lims lim­ited to two meals each day. Those are known as

which can be eaten be­fore dawn, and which is served af­ter sun­set.

The day­light hours are off lim­its for food, drink and sex, a month-long ban that would ap­pear to cover Speller’s lost lunches.

“They with­held his lunch dur­ing Ra­madan? They were sup­posed to with­hold it dur­ing Ra­madan,” said Jib­ril Hough, a spokesman for the Is­lamic Cen­ter of Char­lotte and a mem­ber of Sher­iff Er­win Carmichael’s faith ad­vi­sory board.

“The jail was do­ing him a fa­vor and ac­tu­ally re­spect­ing his faith.”

Both ap­proved Ra­madan meals were pro­vided to any Meck­len­burg in­mate who reg­is­tered in ad­vance to ob­serve the fast, ac­cord­ing to the copy of the sign-up form in­cluded with Speller’s law­suit. Speller added his name to the list April 30, court doc­u­ments show.

As writ­ten, the form serves as al­most a step-bystep guide on how to ad­here to the four weeks of fast­ing. In­mates would re­main on the ap­proved list of Ra­madan ob­servers as long as they ac­cepted the suhoor meal, did not drink flu­ids or eat com- mis­sary items dur­ing the day, and did not join the lunch line, the sher­iff’s of­fice said.

In other words, they had to fast.

Fol­low­ers of Is­lam be­lieve fast­ing teaches pa­tience, mod­esty, and spir­i­tu­al­ity.

Two weeks af­ter the Ra­madan fast ended, how­ever, Speller filed his com­plaint. He says the loss of a month of mid­day meals vi­o­lated the equal pro­tec­tion clause of the Con­sti­tu­tion.

“My meals should not be di­min­ished based on my re­li­gion, or be­cause of my ob­ser­vance of my re­li­gious hol­i­day,” he wrote.

It was not im­me­di­ately clear how the jail came up with its Ra­madan pol­icy and how many in­mates ob­served the fast. On Tues­day, Meck­len­burg sher­iff’s spokes­woman An­janette Grube said the of­fice had not been served with Speller’s com­plaint and could not com­ment.

Help­ing Mus­lim in­mates abide by the rules of the hol­i­day would have re­quired some ad­just­ments by the jail kitchen. Hough says the morn­ing meal can be served as early as 4:30 a.m. while if­tar would come well af­ter the jail’s nor­mal din­ner sched­ule.

Is­lam tra­di­tion­ally has been a pop­u­lar re­li­gion in pris­ons and jails. A 2016 New York Times ar­ti­cle said 11 per­cent of the state’s prison pop­u­la­tion was Mus­lim. At the max­i­mum-se­cu­rity Sing Sing Cor­rec­tional Fa­cil­ity, 80 per­cent of the Mus­lim in­mates had con­verted af­ter en­ter­ing prison, a prison Imam told the pa­per.

Jail records in­di­cate Speller has been ar­rested at least 10 times over the last two years. He has been in cus­tody since Jan­uary, when he was charged with a se­ries of bur­glary and lar­ceny of­fenses.

Ac­cord­ing to the Qur’an, the Mus­lim holy book, “Who­ever fasts dur­ing Ra­madan out of sin­cere faith and hop­ing to at­tain Al­lah’s re­wards, then all his past sins will be for­given ... It is the month of pa­tience, and the re­ward of pa­tience is Heaven.”

For now, Speller ap­pears fixed on more earthly re­wards: His law­suit calls for a jury trial, and $250,000 in dam­ages.

Tra­vaile Speller

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