With thousands of Muslims behind bars in France, the month of Ramadan plays a special role — perhaps even a dominant one — in the country’s prison system.
Although prisoners are banned from using smartphones in the prison, not only do they get their hands on the devices through the prison black market, but they even upload videos to their own TikTok pages.
One Muslim prisoner, a 24-year-old man with the pseudonym Adam, who is currently imprisoned in the Franche-Comté region, uses his phone that he bought inside the prison to share videos on TikTok.
“Here, 90 percent of people observe Ramadan,” he said. “I started making videos on TikTok to share my daily life and keep in touch with the outside world. I fast, but the tradition is still more difficult than outside because we are much more limited in our options.”
Adam’s admission that so many of his fellow prisoners are Muslim is a revealing statistic. Although the French government keeps no official statistics on how many Muslims are in the prison system, a 2016 Ministry of Justice reported indicated that approximately 26 percent of the prison population requested special accommodations during the month of Ramadan. Although many people with French citizenship are Muslim, many are also foreign nationals. Approximately 25 percent of France’s prison population is made up of foreign nationals.
During the celebration of Ramadan, Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset. At dusk, the family gathers to share a traditional meal in a festive atmosphere. But for the thousands of Muslims currently incarcerated in French prisons, Ramadan presents challenges, one of the prisoners in the Franche-Comté region said to the Observers of France 24 news outlet.
France applies its secular rules in prisons, but it appears that the state still accommodates Ramadan. Some prisons offer meals adapted to fasting during the month of Ramadan. These are often larger meals at dinner.
However, many inmates choose to prepare their meals themselves. They can purchase special ingredients from a local supplier’s catalog, and some companies offer additional products for specific occasions. For example, the Sodexo company provides dates, halal skewers, olives, or harissa paste.
Prisoners have been uploading videos on TikTok to show the tricks they use to cook in their cells. Although the use of phones is forbidden, France’s prisoners appear to have no problem participating in social media, sharing recipes, and other facets of prison life.
“I wake up at 5 AM to eat and drink and go back to sleep until noon. I start cooking two hours before iftar time,” claimed one of the Muslim inmates.
“I started keeping Ramadan when I was 15 years old. I’ve been in prison for four and a half years and have about two years left. I want to continue doing Ramadan even if it’s complicated. Outside, it’s not the same: we have the family, more food, more choice,” Adam added.
Ramadan fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam, a religion with 1.6 billion followers worldwide. The ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar takes place in 2022, between Apr. 2 and May 2.