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CAIR-MI files civils rights complaints against Mich. Dept. of Corrections

Apr 18, 2018

MI-CAIR press conference today announcing complaints
Credit Virginia Gordan / Michigan Radio

The Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations has filed two complaints with the state's Department of Civil Rights against the Michigan Department of Corrections.

The complaints allege discrimination on the basis of religion.

One complaint concerns Siwatu-Salama Ra, a pregnant Muslim woman who is being housed at the Women's Huron Valley Correctional Facility. 

The complaint says she has been denied access to a hijab, a Muslim head covering, and to religious meal accommodations.

The second complaint alleges that Marna A. Muhammad, an African American female religious leader with Masjid Wali Muhammed, described as the oldest mosque in Michigan, was illegally denied clergy status. 

The complaint says that when Muhammad presented documentation for a clergy visit with Ra, the staff at the women's prison questioned the validity of her mosque as a true religious organization.

According to Dawud Walid, executive director of CAIR-MI, discrimination against Muslims is "systemic" to the MDOC.

"There is a pattern of bigotry that has taken place over the years at the Michigan Department of Corrections as it relates to Michigan Muslims that are in their custody," said Walid.

"The Constitution of the United States protects the rights of all citizens whether they're incarcerated or not incarcerated," said Amy Doukoure, CAIR-MI staff attorney. "And it protects their right to practice their religion without interference or encroachment by the state."

MDOC spokesman Chris Gautz said the state had not been served with the two civil rights complaints. But he denied many of the allegations made by CAIR at its press conference today. As examples, Gautz said that Ra had not been denied a hijab and that Muhammed had produced inadequate documentation to determine the validity of her clergy status.

According to Gautz,  there are approximately 2200 Muslim prisoners in Michigan state correctional facilities, of whom 39 are women, out of a total  of 39,289 state inmates.  Gautz said the number of Muslim prisoners could be higher because not everyone belonging to a religion identifies it to the MDOC.

CAIR-MI settled a lawsuit last year with the MDOC that claimed Muslim inmates had been denied religious dietary accommodations  during the holy month of Ramadan.