Thanks in large part to the Council on American Islamic Relations-Michigan, detainees at the Calhoun County Correctional Center in Battle Creek, who face deportation, now have the option of being served halal meat. The Center is currently the largest detention facility in Michigan for people facing potential deportation.
This news comes after CAIR-MI Safe Spaces Coordinator, Warda Kalim, helped negotiate with the correctional center, saying it was very cooperative and willing to get it done.
“I originally wrote a letter to the chaplain of the correctional facility outlining our concerns and explaining the role of Safe Spaces at CAIR-MI,” she said. “In response, I received a call directly from Captain Lee Zick of the correctional center." Captain Zick was surprised some of the inmates’ religious dietary needs were not being met and was willing to work with CAIR-MI to ensure inmates would receive halal food.
“We had a long chat on the phone and I also expressed in the letter how Muslims are required to eat halal food as part of their religious dietary needs. Captain Zick reassured me that Calhoun County is very open to diversity and he told me all about the programs they have.”
From there, Kalim said she arranged a meeting with Captain Zick, along with Dawud Walid, executive director of CAIR-MI and Lena Masri, an attorney at CAIR-MI.
“We had a good chat with him, he was very cooperative and understanding and even invited us to visit the faculty. I am currently in the process of scheduling that visit in the next few weeks,” Kalim said.
Kalim says this issue was triggered after she received several complaints from inmates, some not affiliated with Calhoun County, for not receiving halal food.
“I have received an overwhelming amount of complaints, not just from Calhoun County, but different correctional facilities from all around Michigan. I think I received at least 10 complaints in the last two or three months,” she said.
Not offering halal meat to inmates can be viewed as a civil rights violation.
“It’s everyone’s right in this country, it’s a constitutional right and a civil right of course to practice their religion,” she said. “I’m glad to hear the issue has been rectified and that they are being provided their religious dietary needs.”
The expenses of providing halal dietary meals may be slightly more expensive, but it is not a significant monetary expense.
Several Muslim inmates are ecstatic about having the option of being served food that caters to their religious dietary needs.
“I actually received thank you letters from the prisoners, they were excited and they thanked me,” she said. “They’re all receiving halal meals now and they actually said they are receiving more food as well, not just halal food, but more food in general. They said they were very satisfied with the outcome. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank Captain Zick for his work and we (CAIR-MI) plan on building a continuing relationship with him and the facility. I am also in the process of arranging for religious sensitivity training and working on other issues affecting Muslims in Michigan.”
Rashid Baydoun, Executive Director of the Arab-American Civil Rights League, said this is a huge step forward for continuing to provide people the civil rights they deserve.
“I think it’s very important that we tackle on these issues of inadequacies, which include having proper dietary nutrition for all people despite their race, ethnicity or religious beliefs,” he said. “I think it’s also important to look at the very history of this nation and why we have certain rights, which include ensuring that no person is given cruel and unusual punishment."
He added, “I think it’s a huge win for civil rights of all people, but we must continue to have more discussion and work stronger together, because together, we can build a stronger nation.”
Baydoun said despite this achievement, he expects there will be people out there not satisfied with the outcome, due to their own personal agendas.
“There is definitely going to be opposition out there and often times opposition groups are either deliberately attempting to cause divisions in an attempt to continue their radical agendas towards all groups, so you’ll always have those types of opposition out there,” he said. “But there are also ordinary citizens who have come to a conclusion about things simply based on the information that was presented to them by these types of opposition groups. If you don’t know better, and you hear someone say something, then you’re going to repeat that information."
The Center wasn’t the only facility not offering halal food to its inmates, and Kalim hopes a domino effect can happen to where all facilities take the same step.
“I’m in the process of working with a number of other correctional facilities, but I have received an overwhelming number of complaints in regards to halal meals from other places,” she said. “We look forward to partnering with other correctional facilities to institute religious friendly policies as well as to provide sensitivity training for their Muslim employees and detainees."