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“Our Forgotten Community:” MLSA Muslim Law Symposium Tackles Prisoners’ Rights and Religious Freedom

Thursday, March 7, 2019   (0 Comments)
Posted by: UDC Law Staff
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Group photo
From left: MLSA officer Annie Haji, '20, MLSA President Era Kryeziu, ’20, MLSA Symposium Chair Hamid Saahir, ’20, Panelist Khaled Beydoun, and UDC Law Associate Professor of Law and faculty sponsor Saleema Snow.
Judge Shaheed speaking
Hon. David Shaheed, Senior Judge, Marion County Superior Court, Indiana.
Naji Fenwick and Dr. Salaam in conversation
From left: Philadelphia-based criminal defense attorney Naji Mujahid Fenwick, ’16, and Dr. Yusef Salaam.

On Feb. 2, the Muslim Law Student Association (MLSA) of the University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law (UDC Law) held its second-ever Muslim Law Symposium, titled “Our Forgotten Community: Prisoners’ Rights and Religious Freedom.” The full-day event, which was free and open to the public, was co-sponsored by the Capital Area Muslim Bar Association and the Law Student Division of the National Bar Association.

Held just days before the U.S. Supreme Court allowed Alabama’s execution of Domineque Ray without the presence of his imam on Feb. 7, the Muslim Law Symposium brought together leading legal scholars, practitioners, and community organizers for a series of panel discussions on the right of Muslim prisoners to freely exercise their religion without interference. Throughout the day-long event, speakers challenged the unequal application of legal and constitutional protections to Muslim prisoners seeking religious accommodates, as well as the collateral consequences and barriers to reentry threatened by rising Islamophobia in the United States.

Acting Dean John C. Brittain opened the event with welcoming remarks. MLSA President Era Kryeziu then took the stage to provide an overview of the conference and its purpose before introducing the plenary panel, titled “Incarceration and Religious Freedom.”

UDC Law Associate Professor of Law and faculty sponsor Saleema Snow moderated the opening panel, which featured the hard-hitting analysis and insights of leading litigators and advocates in the area. Lena Masri, National Litigation Director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, assessed the fraught legal landscape facing Muslims institutionalized in jails and prisons nationwide. Masri criticized the extensive reliance on Christian contractors to provide chaplaincy services to people of all faiths housed in jails and prisons across America. These contractors consistently demonstrate selective bias in favor of Christian inmates and against Muslims, said Masri, even “saying openly to Muslim prisoners that the reason they ban kufis, Islamic study classes, daily and Friday prayers, is because they view them as gang-based activities.”

Former Litigation Director of Muslim Advocates and Adjunct Professor of Law at University of Michigan Law School Jonathan Smith described ongoing litigation to allow Muslim group prayer in facilities in Connecticut and Kentucky. "It's not that these prisons are not allowing other inmates to engage in group activity," said Smith. "It's only when the Muslim inmates want to engage in group activities there's, all of a sudden, there's this 'heightened security fear' that we can't have more than three people in one space.” Smith went on to identify the importance of educating judges, practitioners, and prison administrators on the true features of Islam to dispel ignorant stereotypes that undermine religious accommodation claims. Panelist Khaled Beydoun – Associate Professor of Law University of Arkansas (Fayetteville) School of Law and Senior Affiliated Faculty at the UC-Berkeley Islamophobia Research & Documentation Project – spoke to the historical, and ongoing, use of “terrorism” as a pretext to prevent Muslim prisoners from gathering together for worship.

Other panelists included Eric Balaban, Senior Staff Counsel with the ACLU’s National Prison Project; Ajmel Quereshi, Senior Counsel with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund; and Ronald Thomas-Bey, Community Advocate with the New Covenant Evangelistic Center.

The second panel of the day, “Black People as Domestic Terrorist,” consisted of a conversation between Central Park Five exoneree Dr. Yusef Salaam and Philadelphia-based criminal defense attorney Naji Mujahid Fenwick, ’16. Dr. Salaam recounted the circumstances leading to his unjust imprisonment at the age of fifteen and later exoneration. Dr. Salaam’s experiences will feature in the Netflix series Central Park Five, a documentary directed by Ava Duvernay and co-executive produced by Oprah Winfrey that is scheduled for release later this year.

After breaking for lunch and a MLSA-organized student resource fair, the audience returned for the third panel of the day. “Guantanamo Bay Detention Center: Lawful Enemy Noncombatants” brought together Jumana Musa, Director of the Fourth Amendment Center at the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and Aya Saed, Bertha Justice Fellow at the Center for Constitutional Rights. Musa and Saed spoke to current conditions facing the 40 Muslim detainees remaining in the infamous off-shore military prison, where they have been detained indefinitely without trial.

With “Collateral Consequences and Reentry Challenges,” the second plenary panel of the day, the audience benefited from prominent practitioners and advocates in the field, including: the Hon. David Shaheed, Senior Judge, Marion County Superior Court, Indiana; Rahmah Abdulaleem, Executive Director of Karamah: Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights; Rahim Jenkins, Executive Director of the National Center for Juvenile Justice Reform; Buheira Abdus-Sabour, Executive Director of B.R.I.D.G.E.S. DC; and Daniel Pond, Staff Attorney at the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia. Jasmin Mize, UDC Law Visiting Professor and Director of the Housing and Consumer Law Clinic, moderated the panel discussion. The panelists spoke to the importance of providing reentry services to Muslims returning to the community upon release, including community-based partnerships with local mosques to provide support.

The symposium closed with a town hall discussion led by newly elected Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Salim K. T. Adofo.

UDC Law student Hamid Saahir chaired the symposium with assistance from Annie Haji, who managed the resource fair. In addition to MLSA President Era Kryeziu, other participating MLSA members and allies included Iqra Mahmood, Khadija Khan, Sabrin Qadi, Annie Haji, Erik Swanson, Hiba Hassan, Axana Soltan Mohammad, Adam Sadick, Galina Abdel Aziz, Kabir Buhari, Brianna Dick, Liz Mary Mejia, Nathalia Christian, Fatima Sheikh, Tyshawn Key, Nana Yow Adom Osei, and Shagaf Shehadeh.


more Calendar

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