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Muslim prison guard says rights violated

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GRAFTON, Ohio (AP) — A Muslim prison guard is suing the state, claiming his bosses violated his rights by barring him from praying and wearing a skullcap at work.

Dawoud Kareem Muhammad, a seven-year employee at Grafton Correctional Institution, filed the claim July 18 in U.S. District Court in Cleveland.

"All I ask is that I have a little spot so I can say my prayers and not be harassed about it," Muhammad said. "If you can allow people to have smoke breaks, why can't I have a break to pray?"

Joseph Andrews, a spokesman for the state prison system, declined comment.

Muhammad, of Lorain, began working at the prison in 1994 and soon after became a devout Muslim, changing his name from Dani Bowens.

Prison officials told Muhammad in July 1999 that he could not wear a skullcap under his uniform hat, even though employees were allowed to wear crucifixes under their uniforms, according to the lawsuit.

Muhammad said he was denied entry to the prison seven times because he wore the cap.

In the Islamic faith, a person must pray five times a day. For a time, Muhammad prayed in a closet at work, but when officials found out they changed the lock, the suit said. He said officials told him the prison was exempt from the constitutional protection for freedom of religion.

He said he had to take three months leave last year because of stress.