The Islamic month of Ramadan is generally observed with a daily fast from sunrise to sunset as well as a nightly feast where communities come together to pray and break their fast. However, for the thousands of Muslims currently incarcerated in France, the holy month is more difficult. The FRANCE 24 Observers team spoke to one inmate about how he continues to observe these religious practices.
Fasting for Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam, a religion that counts 1.6 billion followers around the world. The ninth month of the lunar Islamic calendar, Ramadan takes place this year between April 2 and May 2.
The nightly meal to break the fast, called iftar, is held each night after sunset. Families or communities come together, often incorporating traditional dishes into a communal feast.
This meal looks different for people around the world. Some of those who eat their iftar meal from behind bars have turned to TikTok to share their experiences celebrating this holy month.
‘We don’t eat together here – we are locked up 22 hours a day’
Adam (not his real name) is a 24-year-old currently incarcerated in France's Franche-Comté region. He says he uses a phone he bought in prison to share videos about his life on TikTok.
It’s very easy to get a phone and use it here. I started to make TikTok videos to share my daily life and to stay in touch with the outside world. I practice Ramadan but it is still more difficult than outside – we have very little choice.
Here, 90% of people fast for Ramadan [Editor’s note: there are no official statistics of the number of Muslims in French prisons, however in 2016, the Ministry of Justice reported that around 26% of the prison population requested special accommodations during the month of Ramadan]. The guards don’t organise anything – during this month, the schedule is the same as the rest of the year. There is no cafeteria, they bring food to our cells at noon and in the evening. With the provided food, there are not a lot of options. We don’t eat together here – we are locked up 22 hours a day. But we all break our fast at the same time.
The French concept of laïcité, or secularism, is still observed in prisons, however, certain changes are made for the month of Ramadan. Some prisons provide adapted meal offerings by request during the month of Ramadan – often a heartier meal at dinner in lieu of lunch.
However, many inmates choose to make their own meals, using the food provided to them as well as ingredients they can buy for themselves from a catalogue of the prison’s food supplier. Some suppliers offer additional products for certain holidays: one supplier, Sodexo, offers items like dates, halal kebabs, olives and harissa during Ramadan.
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Inmates around the world have been taking to TikTok to show the ingenious – and delicious – grub that they manage to cook up in their cells. Ramadan has offered an opportunity for them to share their prison-adapted recipes for traditional iftar treats.
‘Outside of prison, it’s not the same – we have our families as well as more food and more options’
We start cooking a bit before breaking the fast, I start around two hours before so that everything is ready. It’s possible to buy a hotplate to cook on, as well as pots and pans. I wake up around 5 am to eat and drink and then I go back to sleep until noon. Some people don’t sleep at all during the night and sleep during the day.
I started fasting at 15 years old. I’ve been in prison for four and a half years and I have about two years left. I still want to continue to fast for Ramadan even if it’s complicated. Outside of prison, it’s not the same – we have our families as well as more food and more options.