Video: Dubai jail inmates seek end to troubles in Ramadan

Video: Dubai jail inmates seek end to troubles in Ramadan
Inmates end fast in Dubai jail

Dubai - Located in Al Aweer desert, the Dubai Police's Punitive and Correctional Establishment has more than 5,000 inmates.


Nilanjana Gupta

Published: Thu 31 May 2018, 4:59 PM

Last updated: Mon 4 Jun 2018, 11:10 PM

Ramadan is special to Muslims around the world, no matter where they are -- even for those behind bars. And for them, it takes on a special meaning, giving hope. 
Located in Al Aweer desert, the Dubai Police's Punitive and Correctional Establishment has more than 5,000 inmates. It includes three prisons - central jail for men, women's prison and violation prison for minor cases. 
"There's a different atmosphere in jail during the holy month. The inmates are quieter, there is hardly any incident or offence and people are generally in a good mood during this holy month," said Lt-Colonel Mohammed Thani Alfalasi, director of supplies and services at the General Department of Punitive and Correctional Establishments. "Inmates spend their time praying, doing things for God, enjoying the food at night, and imbibing good morals," he added. 

While Muslims are provided Iftar and Suhoor everyday, the non-Muslim inmates receive their usual three meals a day. They are also given the opportunity to join the Muslim inmates for Iftar and Suhoor. In addition, all the inmates have the option to buy food from the prison canteen. 
"During Ramadan, we try our best to provide for the prisoners. What people eat outside the jail, we try to bring inside for the inmates. But the problem is that they miss their families. They don't get to see their children. We hope that next year they get to celebrate Ramadan with their family and children," he added. 
The prison has a set menu for the inmates for Iftar and Suhoor that includes biryani, chicken, beef, fish, vegetables, juice, dates, tea, coffee and yoghurt. The menu changes everyday. There's also no limit on the food an inmate can take. They can eat as much as they want. 
"During Ramadan, there's a common feeling among Muslims. I don't look at them as prisoners, I look at them as human beings who are sitting together as family, friends and ending their fast. It's a warm feeling. Not everyone here is a criminal, there are a lot of great people and I hope they get the chance to get back to the community and live a better life," he added.
'A month of positive change'
A German expat, who landed in jail over a bounced cheque case, said: "Ramadan is a great time to spend with our families. Unfortunately my family is not here. My wife and son live in Dubai but I haven't seen them in one and a half years. I miss them a lot. My son is only two years old and he has never seen his father. Next week, God willing, he will come here and I will see him for the first time."
The 37-year-old, who landed in jail in July 2016, has been serving a sentence of five years.
"In this jail, I have found my second family. We all sit together, end our fast, we go for prayer and after that we eat. I have met a lot of good people, business people. I have learned a lot and I have really changed."
For him, this Ramadan has been full of pleasant surprises. "During this month, my complainant, who's also Muslim, agreed to make a deal to get me out of jail. So that means the holy month changed him. Now I'm negotiating and hoping to be released in the next two to three months. God willing, this will be my last Ramadan in jail and next year I will be with my family." 
'Embracing Islam in prison'
Another expat, who landed in jail in 2016 because of bounced cheques and later converted to Islam, said: "I have spent Ramadan only in jail so I don't know how it's like to celebrate the holy month with family."
The 33-year-old Hungarian national added: "When I came to jail, I felt that God really gave me everything because I had two shops in the Dubai Mall and I had so many things. Perhaps I didn't appreciate it as much as I should have. During my stay in jail, I realised it's important to give back. I pray on time and put my heart and soul to God and let him take care of everything. When you're in jail, nobody wants to help you except God. I was blessed to have certain people who helped me and my family survive. My wife who doesn't have a job is taking care of our children and my paperwork single-handedly. I am unable to help her. We are dependent on friends for our financial needs."
He is serving a jail term of 10 years and has his wife, five-year-old daughter and 16-year-old son living in Ras Al Khaimah.
"I miss my family all the time, even more during Ramadan. My daughter keeps asking me, "when are you coming home, daddy?" I can only reply to her that I am trying to come home as soon as I can. Here, we can just wait and pray to God to help us out. As Muslims, it's our duty to fix our problems, and not shy away from them. I thank God for making me and my family strong enough to deal with these trying times. My message for Ramadan to everybody is stay faithful and be on the right path. Do not end up being in difficult moments like me but this is also a test. You just have to stay strong and love each other," he said.
'Donate even when in jail'
A British expat who landed in jail in 2015 after defaulting on a number of outstanding loans was sentenced to jail for seven years. However, his sentence was drastically reduced recently due to a settlement and he is due to be released this year.
"God willing, I will celebrate Ramadan next year with my family. My wife and four children live in south Dubai and it's very hard to stay away from them. My message for Ramadan to everyone is to appreciate the time they spend with their family and count their blessings," the 39-year-old said.
Even while in jail, he, along with others, try to raise money through friends and family to give to the other inmates who perhaps can't afford to buy food from the prison canteen.
"Because of the sentiment during this time of the year, people tend to share more. We contact friends and family and tell them how much it would cost per head to buy Iftar and Suhoor from the canteen. They gather money and put it in one of our accounts and we then buy and distribute it amongst other inmates. I feel the other inmates are like my family. I live with them and they help me realise my inner self," he said.
"From young age, we're taught that Ramadan is about realising what people are going through around the world. There are several things that you realise in Ramadan. For me personally, especially after the stay in jail, it has been soul searching, understanding myself, the ability of self-constraint, to control my emotions, and of course get closer to God," he added.

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