April 1, 2023

Los Angeles, California, the US – Sajad Shakoor confronted a painful alternative whereas incarcerated at California’s Nice Valley State Jail in 2002: take away his chitrali cap — a core a part of his id as a Muslim of Pakistani heritage — or find yourself in a solitary confinement The cell is thought informally as “the opening”.

With the intention to adjust to jail laws, Shakoor had already made the troublesome choice to shave his beard. Different Muslims, lots of whom contemplate rising lengthy beards to be a spiritual obligation, had refused to take action and have been despatched to solitary.

For Shakoor, being compelled to take away the non secular headwear was one step too far.

“It was dehumanising and demeaning shaving my beard,” he informed Al Jazeera. “Now they have been telling me I could not put on my cap? That is the place I drew the road.

Greater than 20 years after the traumatic incident, Shakoor — who spent seven days in a solitary cell concerning the measurement of a parking house for refusing to take away his cap — says he hopes a lately launched invoice within the California State Senate will assist others keep away from related experiences.

“Think about going to solitary confinement over a beard or a kufi,” stated Shakoor, utilizing a time period for one more type of cap worn by Muslim males. “They made examples of us.”

‘Common sense coverage’

The proposed laws, formally often known as SB 309, would create uniform requirements to manipulate non secular grooming and headwear all through California’s detention services, together with these run by non-public contractors.

The invoice would additionally create tips for conducting safety searches of people carrying non secular clothes, permitting the search to be carried out in a personal space, with people provided a garment offered by the ability.

Launched by State Senator David Cortese this month, the invoice has picked up help from religion and civil rights teams such because the California department of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the Tayba Basis, a nonprofit that works with households impacted by incarceration.

“It is a elementary tenet of many religions to put on sure clothes,” Cortese informed Al Jazeera. “We consider it is a matter of civil rights and spiritual freedom. Proper now there isn’t any uniformity throughout the state.”

The California Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), the company tasked with overseeing 34 state-run jail services, informed Al Jazeera that it doesn’t touch upon pending laws.

However a CDCR spokesperson stated in an electronic mail that the division acknowledges an “incarcerated individual’s freedom of faith” and has developed a “Spiritual Private Property Matrix” (pdf) that covers grooming and headwear in state prisons.

Nonetheless, whereas CDCR oversees the state system, it doesn’t have jurisdiction over county jails, which set their very own insurance policies. The result’s a patchwork of requirements that may change from one facility to a different, CAIR-California fellow Leena Sabagh informed Al Jazeera.

“CAIR has represented a number of Muslim girls who had their hijabs forcibly eliminated,” Sabagh stated. “In some instances, the dearth of steering has created confusion amongst guards attempting to hold out procedures like a safety search.”

Sabagh stated that these lawsuits often finish within the county agreeing to implement a transparent coverage on non secular apparel and grooming, one thing she hopes a statewide customary would assist repair. “It makes extra sense to strategy this at a state stage, as an alternative of going county by county,” she stated.

“Whether or not you are a Muslim carrying a hijab, a Sikh carrying a turban, [or] a Jew carrying a yarmulke, these clothes are a vital a part of an individual’s id,” Sabagh added. “It is a commonsense coverage that may profit individuals from all totally different religion teams.”

The invoice — launched earlier this month and at present within the committee on public security — would want to move the state Senate and the state meeting, then win the signature of California Governor Gavin Newsom, to turn into regulation.

Cortese, the California state senator who launched the invoice, stated that, at the least up to now, nobody has voiced opposition to the proposed laws. He famous that he reached out to regulation enforcement teams for his or her insights when crafting the invoice.

“In fact it’s a must to steadiness safety considerations,” he stated. “We see this as a chance to export regulation enforcement finest practices.”

The California Correctional Peace Officers Affiliation (CCPOA), a corrections officers’ labor union, didn’t reply to an electronic mail from Al Jazeera requesting remark in time for publication.

However in a statements shared by Cortese’s workplace on February 6, Antonio Cueva — the vice chairman of the Santa Clara County Correctional Peace Officers Affiliation, an area group — stated his group “believes within the Structure of the US and its provisions which permit for freedom of faith” .

“We stand with our CAIR pals to make sure these freedoms are assured and guarded,” Cueva stated.

Holding on to religion

In the end, supporters of the invoice say they hope the laws will enable extra incarcerated individuals to proudly specific their non secular beliefs, which will help stave off the hopelessness many face when behind bars.

“When you meet somebody who was given a life sentence after they have been 17 years outdated, and has spent greater than 20 years imprisoned, how do you make sense of that? How do you make which means out of your life? requested Rami Nsour, co-founder of the Tayba Basis.

“Faith may give individuals hope, a way of neighborhood and even safety.”

Shakoor was initially given a life sentence beneath California’s punitive “three strikes” regulation that meted out harsher sentences for individuals who had been convicted of quite a few crimes. The regulation has since been reformed, and Shakoor was launched in 2013 after he turned eligible for parole, as a result of his “third strike” was not a critical or violent offense.

However there was a interval when Shakoor believed he would spend the remainder of his life in jail. He credit his Muslim religion with serving to him persevere.

“Faith saved me from a doom-and-gloom perspective about spending my life in jail that lots of people get trapped in,” he informed Al Jazeera. “My religion was all the things to me.”

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