Prisoners are known for trying to extract every last concession, but Muslim inmates appear to enjoy greater success than most. Consider these recent examples:
- In Britain, the Norfolk Police Authority will begin distributing compasses to Muslim prisoners so they can find the proper direction for prayer. Arrows pointing toward Mecca on the ceilings of cells were deemed insufficient, we are told by an insider, because "an Islamic detainee might not trust those who are holding him and a compass will allow him to make his own mind up about which way he should be facing."
- Also in Britain, a Birmingham jail is giving Muslims their own cells as "they were said to be unhappy at praying and eating near non-Muslims." Apparently this counts as a compromise because "they initially asked for their own wing." Non-Muslims also are resentful that Muslims are receiving halal meat, supposedly at added cost.
- In the Netherlands, uniformity in diet is the complaint: until recently, many prisons had been serving halal food only. Some prisoners found the absence of pork rather vexing; the issue even came up in a lawsuit filed by an inmate: "My client does not want to have any religion forced on him," his attorney stated. "He simply wants some meatballs." The government now has relented on the all-halal menu.
Going overboard to appease Muslim prisoners is not a new trend. Last year Islamist Watch noted how Muslims at one British jail had been given metal lunchboxes, at a total cost of £25,000, to keep meals warm as they waited to break the Ramadan fast. Then there was the outrage over a new UK prison chapel: it does not include a crucifix, which might offend Muslims, but it does feature heated foot baths to be used prior to Islamic prayers.
Here in the United States, lawsuits are demanding greater accommodation for jailed Muslims, such as halal food and the ability to pray in groups. The U.S., like many Western countries, stipulates that prisons make a sincere effort to meet inmates' religious needs. But how much accommodation is too much? The key question to ask is whether it presents an unreasonable burden or infringes on the rights of others.
Compasses are a small, one-time expense and their availability does not hurt non-Muslims. Halal food options may be acceptable, as long as their cost is not significantly higher than that of regular meals. In contrast, imposing Muslim dietary customs on everybody crosses the line, as does permitting Islam to dominate "multi-faith" facilities. Segregation, except in response to concrete safety concerns, likely will promote greater radicalization. Even more intrusive demands, such as that female prison officers be replaced with men or wear veils, are nonstarters.
In short, determining which accommodations are reasonable requires a dose of that one quality so often lacking among those who end up behind bars — and, increasingly, among those who keep them there: common sense.