Written by Meghan Takwani

Approximately 1.9 billion Muslims across the world are observing Ramadan this month. For the second year running, they will be doing so under varying levels of Coronavirus restrictions.

As one of the fundamental pillars of Islam centred around prayer, fasting and community, Ramadan is cited by Muslim Aid as a period of reflection particularly important for Muslims in prison. But several charities, including Muslim Aid, highlight serious concerns for the health and wellbeing of Muslim prisoners during the month of Ramadan.

Despite making up just 4% of the UK population, Muslims are found to be over-represented in the prison system, comprising 16% in 2020. With this growing Muslim prison population, third sector organisations have made recommendations to Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) for supporting Muslim prisoners, particularly during Ramadan. As a result of this, preparations have been conducted by an imam (a Muslim leader of prayer) in each prison and include broadcasting reflections and prayers across National Prison Radio to help encourage a sense of community. This Ramadan, prisoners have also been provided with 30-page booklets containing activities and reflections to guide them through the month. Similar booklets were produced in previous years.

However, the reality of observing Ramadan in prison is riddled with challenges such as exacerbated loneliness and isolation, insufficient food provisions outside of fasting hours which has an effect on health, additional concerns about receiving the Coronavirus vaccine while fasting, along with stigma and Islamophobic abuse.

From reports, some ex-prisoners have stated that one of the biggest challenges of fasting while in detention is knowing when the time to fast has started and ended - and on occasion have had to use familiar times of TV shows to guide them. Similar problems are reported overseas, in Seattle for example, a judge was forced to intervene when prison officials refused to provide night-time meals to Muslim inmates. In clear violation of their human rights, Muslim inmates were provided with as little as 500 calories a day and guards reportedly confiscated any food that they attempted to hide in order to break their fast at the correct time.

Ramadan is an important time for Muslims, and for those in prison it can provide a much-needed support factor; a chance to connect with other inmates in prayer and an opportunity to maintain their mental health. But do structures of inequality simply make observing Ramadan incompatible with many prison environments?







Challenges and stigma: Observing Ramadan in a UK prison | Coronavirus pandemic News | Al Jazeera

Judge orders Washington prison to provide Ramadan meals (arabnews.com)

Leaving No Others Behind This Ramadan | The New Republic