Muslim prisoner suing E.Texas officials for violating right to observe Ramadan

Published: Mar. 20, 2015 at 2:11 AM CDT|Updated: Mar. 20, 2015 at 2:17 AM CDT
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LONGVIEW, TX (KLTV) - A Muslim man being held in an East Texas jail is suing local and federal officials for not allowing him to observe the religious month of Ramadan.

Mohammad Yahya was arrested in Saudi Arabia last year, and was brought back to the United States to face federal wire fraud charges. He was placed in the Gregg County Jail by U.S. Marshals.

Yahya owned Tyler Automax on Broadway Avenue in Tyler. He is convicted of taking money from investors and transferring it to his own account. Yahya was sentenced Wednesday to two years in prison. His attorney later filed a lawsuit on Yahya's behalf.

The lawsuit says Gregg County jailers refused to honor Yahya's right to have his meals provided before 4:45 a.m. and after 8:30 p.m. during last year's Ramadan. Yahya is Muslim and participates in fasting during the month of Ramadan.

"In this particular case, not only is there the constitutional right, our belief is the contract that the jail has for federal prisoners specifically required them to do this," says Charles Swift, Yahya's attorney.

"It's very important, it's not just something we make up. It's what our religion is based on," says Saleem Shabazz, the Longview Islamic Center Imam.

Yahya filed 11 jail requests over a two month period asking to have his food delivered before sunrise and after sunset in observance of Ramadan. All of his requests were denied.

"Whoever is fighting this is actually 'whistling going past the graveyard.' You know, get out of the way and let it happen," says Shabazz.

Yahya's lawsuit cites a federal handbook, which states, "Written policies and procedures exist for providing a reasonable opportunity for detainees who request a diet to observe their religious dietary practice (religious fasts, seasonal observances, Ramadan or Passover)."

"Generally, the people that run the facilities will make some accommodations, because they know of the importance of Ramadan in a Muslim's life," says Shabazz.

The lawsuit says Yahya was told to eat the food he purchased in the jail commissary. His lawyer says he does not want future inmates in Yahya's position to hear that response.

"We are seeking to ensure, primarily, that this doesn't happen again," says Swift.

"Tell him to trust in the system, because in the past they have found that they have to make accommodations of some sort," says Shabazz.

He says it's not about giving Muslim inmates special treatment; it's their constitutional right.

The Gregg County Sheriff's Office says they cannot comment on the case because it is pending litigation. Six Gregg County officials, Gregg County, The U.S. Marshals Service and the U.S. Department of Justice are all named as defendants in the lawsuit.

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