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HASAN JAMAL ABDUL MAJID v. HENDERSON

March 11, 1982

HASAN JAMAL ABDUL MAJID, a/k/a Ronald Burgin, Abdul Ash Ahahid, a/k/a Raymond Franklin, Hasan Abdul Haqq, a/k/a John Ebbs, Muhammad Rahman, a/k/a El Bean, inmates of Auburn Correctional Facility individually and on behalf of all other persons similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
v.
Robert HENDERSON, Superintendent of Auburn Correctional Facility; and Benjamin Ward, Commissioner of New York State Department of Correctional Services, Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: MUNSON

MEMORANDUM-DECISION

The plaintiff class of Sunni Muslim inmates at the Auburn Correctional Facility seeks to enjoin the transfer of their religious leader, or Imam, Shuaib Abdur Raheem. The plaintiffs claim that Mr. Raheem is being transferred in retaliation for the practice and advocacy by Raheem of religious liberties and of access to courts. Additionally, the plaintiffs contend that the disciplinary placement of Mr. Raheem in the Segregation Housing Unit (SHU) at the Auburn facility was in violation of State law and of principles of due process. A hearing was held on December 9, 10, 11, and 15, 1981, with respect to these arguments.

On February 22, 1982, this Court filed an Order denying the plaintiffs' application for preliminary and permanent injunctive relief. This Memorandum-Decision sets forth the bases for this disposition.

 I.

 Among the 1661 inmates presently incarcerated at the Auburn Correctional Facility, a maximum security institution, approximately 50, or roughly 4%, hold themselves out to be Sunni Muslims. Because they are a sect of the Islamic religion, Sunni Muslims follow the commandments of Allah, the sole deity; these commandments appear in the Holy Qur'an. Additionally, the Sunnis adhere to the commandments of Muhammad Ibn Abdullah, a prophet of Allah; Muhammad's teachings appear in the Hadith, a book of tradition. Each Sunni community is headed by an Imam, who is elected, for life, by the community members because of his knowledge of Islamic tenets and of his leadership abilities. Following his election, the community members take an oath, or Ba'yah, to obey and support the Imam as long as he obeys the commandments of the Qur'an and the Hadith, and as long as he is willing and able to serve as Imam.

 In a prison setting, the Imam must strike a balance between his role as a spiritual leader and his status as an inmate. For example, the Imam is expected, in general, to provide spiritual guidance to community members, and, in particular, to lead the Friday afternoon religious, or jummuah, services, which would be held, ideally, in a mosque, or masjid. At these services, members must give absolute attention to the Imam. For this reason, noises or movements are discouraged because they are distracting. The presence of figures or other representations are disturbing during services because they are associated with idolotry. The presence of non-Muslims is also frowned upon.

 Apart from providing spiritual guidance, the Imam also offers non-spiritual counseling, such as serving as an arbiter of disputes. An inmate Imam may also assist a community member adjust to prison life.

 Because, in a prison setting, an Imam is also an inmate, a correctional facility, and especially a maximum security prison, may place restrictions upon an Imam's actions for reasons of security. At the Auburn facility, an Imam is not permitted to visit inmates in SHU, a protective custody and disciplinary unit, and cannot visit SHU inmates who have been hospitalized. Moreover, restrictions are placed upon an Imam's use of the telephone, as well as upon the financial resources available to the Imam and the Sunni community.

 At least since 1975, when this lawsuit was commenced, the Sunni Muslim inmates at Auburn have voiced a number of concerns regarding the practice of their faith. The Auburn administration and the Ministerial and Family Services division of the Department of Correctional Services have responded to many of these concerns.

 A member of the ministerial staff at Auburn has, for years, been designated by the office of the Commissioner of Ministerial Services to be an administrative liaison for the Sunni Muslims, as well as for other religious groups. Until very recently, the resident chaplain at Auburn, Father James C. Enright, had served since 1978 as a liaison for the Sunni Muslims, the American Muslim Mission, the Quakers, and for the Catholic population. In this capacity, Father Enright had been responsible for the provision of resources for the Sunni services, and for ensuring that the needs of the Sunni community were otherwise met.

 Correctional authorities have also secured for the Sunni Muslims copies of the Qur'an, Hadith, and other texts. During the fiscal year 1980-81, ending March 31, 1981, the Sunni Muslim population at Auburn received the largest per capita expenditures for supplies than any other religious group in the facility.

 Despite these responses, by the end of 1980 there were other matters of concern to the Sunni Muslims at Auburn which had not been redressed. Furthermore, among the Sunni leadership there had been sentiments that their liaison Father Enright had been unresponsive to their needs.

 In an apparent effort to show the Sunni Muslims that the administration desired to keep open the lines of communication, a meeting was held on January 30, 1981, between Mr. Raheem, who was not elected Imam until February, 1981; the Superintendent of the Auburn facility, Robert J. Henderson; and other persons. A number of issues were raised by Mr. Raheem at this meeting, including the closing of the Sunnis' masjid in 1979, which came as a result of a disturbance in the masjid during which access to the area by security personnel had been impeded. Since that time, the Sunni Muslims had held their jummuah services in the Chapel. At the January meeting, Mr. Raheem explained that the Chapel was not structurally suitable for their services. Mr. Raheem also stated that the Sunni community needed storage space.

 In response to the requests put forth by Mr. Raheem, the Superintendent expressed his opinion that quarterly meetings between his office and the Sunni community might be useful in order to facilitate communication. Additionally, because the Sunni Muslims believed that the chaplaincy should be doing more for them, the Deputy Superintendent in charge of security, Robert Nelepovitz, assigned Lt. Matro to "open doors" which, by virtue of his authority, probably would not be open for Father Enright. In this regard, Lt. Matro expedited the request for storage space, and made the Chapel more conducive to the holding of Sunni services by securing the removal of a number of pews.

 Shortly after his appointment, Lt. Matro left the facility. It was not until later in the summer that another individual, Sgt. Murphy, was assigned to the position. He too left, however, and presently no one holds the post.

 Although in February, 1981, the Sunnis received an affirmative response from the administration in regard to a corrections officer's disruption of Sunni classes, the Sunni Muslims continued to press various concerns. In April, 1981, they filed a series of inmate grievances concerning, inter alia, access by the Imam to the SHU and the performance of daily prayer. On this last point, Mr. Raheem maintained that the Sunnis should be allowed to perform their prayers, during shop, for example, in an Islamic manner which involved prostration. At the hearing, Mr. Raheem testified that only where there are exigent circumstances, such as a life or death situation, or where a Sunni Muslim is riding in some mode of transportation, could a Muslim deviate from this manner of prayer. Superintendent Henderson denied all these grievances, noting on the question of prayer that an earlier Imam at the facility had represented that, during shop, prayer would be permissible in a sitting or standing position.

 During part of the month of June, 1981, Mr. Raheem was in New York City, testifying in a trial. During his absence, the Sunni clerk, Richard Williams, also known as Kufanya, served as acting Imam.

 Following his return in early July, 1981, Mr. Raheem was of the opinion that the situation regarding the chaplaincy had deteriorated. Mr. Raheem stated at the hearing that Father Enright had expressed open hatred for the Sunni Muslims; had characterized a state law suit as meritless; and had stated at some time that the filing of suits and grievances would not help the Sunnis' relationship with the administration and might result in Mr. Raheem's transfer. Mr. Raheem also testified that once he had received unsolicited spiritual advice from Father Enright regarding the performance of daily prayer.

 Although denying that he hated Sunni Muslims, or that he expressed a hatred for Sunni Muslims, Father Enright testified that he did express his opinion to Mr. Raheem that litigation was a less preferable way of dispute resolution than other means, and that litigation made communication difficult. The resident chaplain stated further that he mentioned to Mr. Raheem, based upon information he had received from a Muslim Imam employed by the Department of Correctional Services, that, on a bus, or when situations prevented prostration, Mr. Raheem could perform his prayers in an alternative manner. Additionally, Father Enright said that his relationship with Mr. Raheem generally seemed cordial and business-like. Finally, Father Enright noted that during Ramadan, the period of fasting during the month of July, he had made certain that the Sunnis' special dietary needs were met.

 In August, 1981, the Sunnis ran into a problem concerning the appointment of a clerk to succeed Kufanya, who had resigned for financially-related reasons. Mr. Raheem nominated Richard Jones to fill the position. Father Enright, as part of his liaison responsibilities, interviewed Mr. Jones, and took his nomination to the Program Committee. The Committee, however, and Deputy Superintendent Nelepovitz, rejected Jones as a candidate, because his poor disciplinary record made him an unacceptable security risk. Father Enright then communicated the rejection to Mr. Raheem. Deputy Superintendent Nelepovitz also told Mr. Raheem of the rejection, and advised him to submit another nomination if he wished. It was not until October, 1981, that Mr. Raheem indicated to correctional authorities that he wished to discuss the reappointment of Kufanya.

 Also in August 1981, Mr. Raheem secured a meeting with Father John R. LoConte, an Area Program Coordinator for Ministerial Services. Subsequently, Father LoConte filed a report of the meeting with the Assistant Director of Ministerial Services. As reflected in the report, it was Father LoConte's impression that Mr. Raheem had a perception of his Imam role as authoritative. Specifically, Father LoConte believed that Mr. Raheem regarded himself as having total authority over the religious affairs of the Sunni community. In this regard, Father LoConte opined that Mr. Raheem's perceived authority extended beyond religious affairs, and that the liaison necessarily had some authority over religious matters, such as control over scheduling, equipment, and inmate access to the jummuah services.

 At some time in the early fall, unfounded rumors began to circulate that Mr. Raheem had threatened the life of Rev. Nussey, whom Mr. Raheem averred is held in high esteem by inmates. This rumor, Mr. Raheem stated, made him feel compelled to avoid any contact with the chaplaincy, because he feared possible actions by other inmates.

 Around this same time, the facility altered the times when certain inmates could visit the commissary. This new schedule conflicted with the jummuah services, and affected some Sunni Muslims who needed to supplement their diets with purchases from the commissary.

 Also, by September, 1981, there had not yet been any quarterly meetings between Mr. Raheem and prison authorities, as had been discussed at the January meeting. Due to scheduling problems, which had been communicated to Mr. Raheem, tentative meetings had been planned, and then cancelled.

 In the wake of this apparent administrative action, or inaction, on September 25, 1981, Mr. Raheem sent a letter to Superintendent Henderson. The letter was typed and edited by Kufanya, and a copy was sent to Rev. Dr. Moore. In the letter, Mr. Raheem characterized the administration as being insensitive, and as giving "tacit approval (to) religious persecution." He then proceeded to enumerate twelve "actions that demonstrate intentional persecution" of Sunni Muslims. These "actions" included the sufficiency of office space for the community, the closing of the masjid, and the mode of prayer. Mr. Raheem wrote that "(t)hese, and many other offenses collectively constitute a repression that is manifested in an obvious collision course between faithful Muslims and an antagonistic administration." The Imam further stated that the Sunni community no longer recognized either Rev. Nussey or Father Enright as liaison, and that, until another person was appointed to be liaison, they would regard themselves as "ostracized and condemned" by Superintendent Henderson, and would "function accordingly." Mr. Raheem also wrote, however, that the Sunni Muslims had no intent to violate any rules or regulations regarding the security of the institution. Finally, Mr. Raheem alluded that his letter might result in his transfer from the facility.

 According to Mr. Raheem, he believed that the administration has a pattern of refusing to redress certain matters of concern to the Sunni community. By this letter, Mr. Raheem testified, he wanted to alert the Superintendent to what he believed to be a deteriorating situation. With respect to his reference to a transfer, Mr. Raheem explained that he thought he would be transferred for writing the letter.

 Superintendent Henderson's reaction to the letter was one of surprise. The Superintendent stated that the letter, which he viewed as threatening, provocative, and insulting, seemed to come "out of the blue," and to be a radical departure from his prior cordial contacts with Mr. Raheem. Superintendent Henderson testified that nothing had preceded this letter, and expressed his belief that Mr. Raheem had wanted to provoke him to do an action that would promote the Sunni Muslims' litigation efforts. The Superintendent elaborated by stating that inmates know whom to write in order to get something done, and that, apparently, Mr. Raheem had been satisfied to deal with lower ranking officials instead of writing directly to him. On this point, Superintendent Henderson indicated that the letter exceeded the lines of propriety, and that, by authoring it, an inmate was "putting himself on the line."

 Deputy Superintendent Nelepovitz shared the Superintendent's views about the letter, and expressed further his opinion that Mr. Raheem had not appeared to accept the rejection of the nomination of Mr. Jones. On the question of transfer, the Deputy Superintendent believed at the time of the receipt of the letter that a ...


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