As US cities re-examine bail, Muslims launch a fund at Ramadan to pay it

World

Like many Muslims, Chicago attorney Nura Maznavi pays zakat during the holy month of Ramadan.

And like many Muslims, she usually fulfills her zakat, an obligatory tax meant to purify Muslims’ wealth, by giving to local social service organizations and international relief groups. This year, she’s chosen a less traditional cause: helping people who are stuck in jail make bail.

The very idea may make some Muslims do a double take.

But the organizers behind Believers Bail Out, launching in Chicago this week as Ramadan begins, think a little education can go a long way to help Muslims understand why they should care about the rights of those in jail — and why their faith compels them to join the larger fight against mass incarceration.

Organizers will spend the month hosting fundraising iftars and teach-ins across the city to raise awareness about the plight of low-income detainees. And with funds raised during Ramadan, Believers Bail Out will work to free Muslims awaiting trial at Cook County Jail – America’s largest single-site detention center.

“I completely expect we’ll have people asking why we’re giving money to ‘criminals,'” said Maznavi, who’s working with Believers Bail Out to train law students and lawyers to assist in the bail process. “But in this country, there is a presumption of innocence before trial. And in our faith tradition, there is the concept of due process.

Photo courtesy Believers Bail Out

Nura Maznavi

Maznavi, who directs the University of Chicago’s pro-bono program, has spent a decade practicing in the area of civil-rights and prisoner-rights litigation. She’s seen how the lack of a few hundred dollars to make bail can destabilize entire families and communities.

A detainee who can’t afford to pay bail can spend weeks, months, even years awaiting trial, sometimes for low-level offenses such as parking infractions. More than 60 percent of people in U.S. jails have not yet been to trial, up to 90 percent of them because they can’t afford their bail.

The problem falls mostly on minority defendants. Because poverty rates are higher among blacks and Latinos, they are twice as likely to be unable to afford bail. On average, their bail is also set higher than for white defendants facing similar charges.

“But for some reason, until now, bail relief wasn’t even something that crossed my mind as a way to give my zakat,” Maznavi said. Zakat, one of the five pillars of Islamic faith, is …read more

Source:: Deseret News – U.S. & World News

      

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