Additional thoughts on this story:
Regarding uniforms, and Muslim inmates’ complains about bans on “certain religious clothing”: Of all places, the social equalizer that uniforms provide is essential to attempting to keep the peace in a jail. The last thing one ought to want in a place where no one wants to be, but they all got there for a reason, is the emergence of a visibly privileged class to stir the pot.
One must wonder what the specific grievance is: no skullcaps? When did they become a pillar of Islam? Or, are the pants too long, trailing on the ground in a most un-Sunnah way? Either way, one returns to the fundamental purpose of having uniforms in the first place.
Regarding food: While Muslim inmates are not offered pork, the most likely remaining grievance here is that the rest of the meat on the menu is (gasp!) not halal. They could go for any variety of vegetarianism, which would certainly not be unheard of in Western Washington, but who should have to do that when you’re just so special? A more vegetarian diet would be the non-obstructive way to go, while the name of the game here is this: Being Seen While Being Muslim.
There are several issues to consider in this case. One is the inmates’ personal sense of entitlement and resource-sapping efforts to game the system from within. For that matter, this fixation keeps them from addressing the internal factors that landed them in jail in the first place. After all, they’re the “victims” now!
But along with generating tension and resentment where no more is needed, the creation of a privileged Muslim class in the jail would also create an incentive for other prisoners to convert to Islam for the perks, as we have seen in the U.K. And there is strength in numbers: so much the better for more demands, and for the intimidation of other inmates.
There is also the question of what happens when prisoners who have been so indoctrinated are released, or if they attempt to shrug off what may have seemed like a convenient conversion, inside or outside of prison. Indeed, it would be like dealing with a prison gang on steroids. Not every prison gang has Allah’s own prophet commanding the slaughter of those who would attempt to leave the fold.
But there is still a greater issue: This case also sets up a telling comparison of values and priorities that has far-reaching implications for how a society operates. One that is in play here is the emphasis on external piety through the demand for the “right” to wear special religious clothing. The focus on external displays, together with and a closed, segregated society are a serious recipe for dysfunction. And that goes for Islamic societies in general, not just prisons.
Even more broadly, there is the matter of how resources and human efforts are allocated for the sake of what one supposes to be “good.” When comparing the religious texts of Islam and Christianity, one notices a striking contrast in the exhaustive cataloging in the ahadith of Muhammad’s mannerisms, preferences, personal comportment and appearance, which is why one finds Muslims in Afghanistan and Pakistan growing violent over their neighbors’ unwillingness to grow a beard, tailor their pants above their ankles, and so forth. On the other hand, the Gospels, Acts, and Epistles are perhaps deliberately vague on the appearances and sartorial preferences of Jesus and the early Christians. Indeed, we don’t even get much on what the prophets and patriarchs of the Hebrew Scriptures wore, and certainly not in the prescriptive sense that accompanies stories about Muhammad (see also: Qur’an 33:21).
Perhaps it’s because none of those features are the important thing about who they were or what they did, where worthy imitation is at issue. And focusing on those would be the easy way out on showing “piety.”
Our society is demonstrably better for that higher placement of priorities, even among those who would deny any Judeo-Christian influence in this regard, taking these attitudes and others for granted as human nature because they have never experienced a culture where that influence has been actively suppressed and expunged.