As Ramadan enters its third week, an Oklahoma ministry organization says they’re helping the state’s incarcerated Muslims get access to items and resources they need to faithfully practice their religion throughout the holy month.
The Suraltul Nur Foundation, a partner of the Council on American-Islamic Relations Oklahoma chapter, said Thursday they had provided “over 14,400 dates, which are traditionally eaten to break the daily fast, … 200 Qur’ans, 86 Islamic educational books, 26 prayer rugs, and 26 digital lectures and lessons” for the approximately 480 Muslims incarcerated in the state.
“Wherever, you know, the Lord sends us, wherever there is a need, is where we have tried to be true to our mission,” said DeBorah Boneta, Suraltul Nur’s prison outreach director and Islamic chaplain.
Boneta said the foundation provides services in at least 20 facilities across the state, including jails, halfway houses, prisons, and Department of Homeland Security detention centers.
Boneta said the ministry began when she noticed similar faith-based programs for Oklahoma’s incarcerated Christians.
“I didn’t see this so much in Oklahoma for the Muslims,” Boneta said. “I was aware of individuals going into the facilities here and there, but there wasn’t an organized, concerted effort, and an organization to put things into writing and offer support.”
Boneta said such outreach is important because it allows incarcerated Muslims to stay true to their faith, both enriching them spiritually while behind bars and making for more supported, well-rounded individuals upon release.
“People are very much like balloons — if we’re not tethered to something, we’ll float away,” Boneta said. “And so it’s our efforts to keep them connected, and a lot of them come out and they stay connected. They want to volunteer with us, they want to come and help, they want to pay it forward.
The Oklahoma Department of Corrections, which Boneta said has been a good partner to Suraltul Nur, said they’re supportive of the program.
“The Oklahoma Department of Corrections strongly believes in the rehabilitative aspects of practicing faith during incarceration, though it cannot use state funds to provide religious materials to the inmates in its care,” said Josh Ward, the agency’s public information manager, in a statement. “The agency instead relies on donations from the faith community to serve these inmates. During the month of Ramadan, CAIR-OK/Suraltul Nur has provided the dates used to break the fast, religious texts, prayer rugs, teaching materials, and other items to help ensure inmates are able to observe this important time.”
CAIR National Deputy Executive Director Edward Ahmed Mitchell said in a statement Oklahoma’s willingness to support the program is not the case in every state.
“We remind prisons and jails nationwide that they have a clear legal obligation to accommodate Muslim inmates who fast during Ramadan by providing them with meals at proper times,” Mitchell said. “Failure to do so violates the constitutional rights of Muslims and endangers their health. We encourage any prison officials with questions about accommodating Ramadan to contact us or read our guide on upholding Islamic religious practices in prison settings.”
During Ramadan, Muslims who are physically able to do so fast from sunrise to sunset to, among other things, demonstrate sacrifice and connection to God. NPR reports there are 1.8 billion Muslims around the world. According to a 2019 report by CAIR Oklahoma, Muslims represent about 1% of Oklahoma’s population.