Muslims strive to always practice Islam in accordance with the Quran and Sunnah, the teachings and practices of Prophet Muhammad that are a model for Muslims. They strive to show tolerance, humility and peace. While it is important to always resist oppression, here at California Men’s Colony, most Muslims seek to be examples to others by living a life in remembrance of Allah.
The following are interviews with three Muslim men about their experiences with Ramadan.
Q: What is it like during Ramadan in prison?
Ahmad: Alhamdulillah (All praise is with Allah). We are Muslims and the prison is especially respectful of us during Ramadan. Last time on the East Yard, they allowed the brothers to fellowship and read the Quran together all night until 6 a.m. The prison administration is helpful. They know Muslims don’t cause trouble so they don’t give us any problems most of the time. We respect ourselves and we respect others.
Q: Wow, the brothers got to fellowship all night? When was this?
Ahmad: Maybe five or so years ago.
Q: Could you describe what it was like when you first observed Ramadan after the pandemic started?
Ahmad: We couldn’t get together. I feel sorry for everyone that lost their life. I feel for the people who lost their jobs. We were all in this together.
Q: What can the prison administration do to make Ramadan more enjoyable?
Ahmad: Give us more community, more access to the interfaith room like they used to. They need to let the Muslims meet overnight together for the Night of Power. Give us more like they used to. Every prison in California needs to do this.
It’s Wednesday, February 9, 2022, and the California Men’s Colony was a scorching hot 90 degrees. But no matter how hot it got, you always find the dedicated workout freaks “getting it in,” as we call it — slang for exercising. I scanned the area and located my target doing push ups on the concrete slab, underneath the stairs.
Q: Can you describe your journey to Islam?
Moseley: I was exposed to Islam early, around age 12. I met a Muslim kid and went to his house. I met a Middle Eastern woman and she was garbed up. When I did my first prison term, I attempted to do Ramadan. I only lasted three days. I cheated. But later, I pulled an older Muslim into my cell in Los Angeles county jail. He showed me how to perform wudu (cleansing the body). He monitored my eating and he showed me how to pray. I took my shahada (declaration of faith) during Ramadan in 2007.
Q: Being Muslim in America can be a challenge, especially after 9/11. Have you personally experienced oppression or backlash from prison administration due to your Islamic beliefs?
Moseley: A lot of mistrust, indifference, ignorance about Al-Islam. People read stuff on the internet then bring that knowledge to work.
Q: What is the biggest misconception about Muslims in California prisons?
Moseley: That Muslims are anti-America. I’m an American Muslim. That when you become a Muslim, you become Arab. I’m Muslim. I follow Sunnah, not Arab culture. I don’t follow African culture. How am I gonna be a part of a culture I ain’t never been to?
Q: Throughout it all, how do you stay positive?
Moseley: Having strict boundaries, prayer, fasting and building my company. I have a publishing company, and I’m working on publishing board games and educational toys.
Q: What does Ramadan mean to you?
Moseley: Ramadan, to me, means I have a chance to do something solely for Allah. They say this is the only thing you can do for him. Everything else benefits the self.
Q: How has COVID-19 affected the way Ramadan is practiced?
Moseley: Depends on where you’re at. I’ve only been here for Ramadan during COVID. There was no congregation. You basically fast with your dorm. There is no Tarawih prayer, no Jummah. It broke up the congregation. Ramadan became an individual conquest.
Q: What would you like to see the prison administrators do during Ramadan?
Moseley: Can’t expect nothing because safety and security trumps everything. It’s unreasonable and illogical to expect more.
Q: What types of things have the prison administrators done to support your Ramadan traditions?
Moseley: Everything falls on the availability of the Muslim chaplain and his schedule. They allow donations through the Muslim chapels that include books, Muslim artifacts, dates and other food for Eid. We receive Religious Meat Alternative (RMA) meals and religious services.
Q: What can the ummah (collective community) outside of prison do to support Muslims in here during Ramadan?
Moseley: Get in here and interact with us. Muslims need to be around Muslims from the outside to give them a better perspective of what Islam will be like after prison.
Q: What can Muslims inside prisons do to support one another during Ramadan with COVID-19 restrictions?
Moseley: The only thing we can do is pool resources. That means commissary, books, and meetings where we can while observing COVID protocols.
Q: Tell me who you are.
Tasneem: I’m Tasneem. I was born in Texas, 20 miles from Houston, but I was raised in San Francisco in Bayview-Hunters Point where I had to make myself known because most of the people in the area were homesteaders and well known.
Q: What is a homesteader?
Tasneem: Born and raised. It was a rough neighborhood. After school you had to fight. That’s what we did. I thought everything I did was right. I had no empathy, no compassion. I was resentful because of what I lacked from my childhood. I had faulty thinking.
Q: How many years have you spent in prison?
Tasneem: I’m 66 years old now. I came to Islam in 1998. I took shahada at Mule Creek State Prison during Ramadan. I took my shahada to seal my faith with the maker.
Q: Alhamdulillah (Praise be to God). You took your shahada during Ramadan like so many brothers do. Out of 29 years in prison, what was the best Ramadan experience, and what made it so memorable?
Tasneem: In 2014, at Ironwood State Prison, Muhammed Toree was the imam. I never experienced anything like it. They allowed all four yards to get together in the visiting room with Muslims from the outside community as well. They made sure we had everything. We’d read a whole surah (chapter of the Quran) each night. One would read it in Arabic, the rest would read it in English.
Q: What can the prison administration do to support the celebration of Ramadan?
Tasneem: It’s a hard one. I feel as though they can provide a video on Friday for Jummah. Put the imams on video cam.
Q: What can the ummah (collective community) in society do to support Muslims in prison during Ramadan?
Tasneem: Make sure that we have the meals, dates and stuff, and our Eids with the pies and cakes. Make sure our food is right.
Q: What is the biggest struggle for Muslims in prison?
Tasneem: That one set is superior. Shiites think they’re higher than Sunni, which the Sunni don’t think like. Between all the sects of Islam, Five Percenters think they are better than both when we should all be pushing together.
Q: What is it like to be a lifer in prison as a Muslim?
Tasneem: My life has been a roller coaster ride. I changed when I became a Muslim. I felt oppressed at times because I had trouble with rules and regulations. Like if I wasn’t moving fast enough, I’d get a write up.
Q: How do you find peace and strength to keep living?
Tasneem: By praying to my God.
Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.