Ramadan In a British Setting

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First published here for The Platform earlier this Ramadan.

Being a British Muslim in Ramadan can be an accommodating and amusing experience – and even more so with this year’s programming on Channel 4

I used to work at a prominent architectural practice in central London. Being the only Muslim, let alone the only non-white employee, I stood out for some of my ways and mannerisms, stemming of course from my faith. During office social outings I used to diligently stick to my loyal glass of orange juice, or Redbull if I was feeling adventurous, while my erstwhile colleagues indulged in their socially-acceptable libations – some extolling its many virtues when the intake was slightly above the norm.

Many of my colleagues at work found the concept of Ramadan to be novel and rather unusual. They struggled to reconcile the idea of abstaining from food and drink while working in the office and having to stay on top of one’s professional game. My closest work friend was a Scouser lad from the Wirral, with whom I once walked into a local Asda and saw not a single Asian employee, in stark contrast to the picture of all the brown-skinned employees I would see if I were to walk into any supermarket in London. Upon being asked if the chicken was halal, an English worker consulted his superiors and kindly replied saying “I am sorry sir, the chicken isn’t ‘halal-friendly’”. Naturally I was amused at the thought of chicken being halal-friendly, when it is either halal or it isn’t.

My colleagues were extremely considerate of my Ramadan routines, sometimes somewhat mortifyingly, as they would inconvenience themselves by trying to avoid eating and drinking when I was around. My boss then, a well-respected senior partner of the firm would facetiously ask if I was on “Ramadan Poppadom”, and then go to the extent of asking me to write about the experience of working during Ramadan for the office magazine. Such was the obliging nature of an office in the city where I was the sole fasting employee. I am sure mine is not the only such experience.

Most Brits are curious to know what Ramadan is and exhibit a genuine desire to learn more about it, particularly when it is from someone they already know. However, many prominent British media organs have made these ambassadors of Ramadan come across as extreme and unapproachable, so much so that the concept of Ramadan is lost to many people.

It is in this atmosphere that Channel 4 rather provocatively chose to state that they will be broadcasting the morning adhaan (call to prayer) which, upon hearing, Muslims must stop eating and drinking for the rest of the day till dusk.

This news has been received with a plethora of mixed reviews. Muslims in the UK, if they do not go to the local mosque to break their fast, typically rely on the internet for the times of the adhaan or have an adhaan clock which will have been localised to UK settings, or use the latest iPad or android app. Channel 4’s decision to broadcast the adhaan is a truly refreshing intervention by a British mainstream broadcaster that will help bring the concept and significance of Ramadan, and what it entails, to the broader British public.

There has also been widespread criticism and sensationalised headlines following Channel 4′s decision to broadcast the adhaan by the usual suspects. But then the question begs to be asked, who watches Channel 4 at 3am for the duration of the adhaan for 2-3 minutes if not British Muslims during Ramadan? Surely it is a rather insignificant societal matter if it will not be seen by mainstream Britain. Yet, at the time of writing, an online poll shows that over 66 per cent replied ‘No’ to the question ‘Is Channel 4 right to broadcast the call to prayer?’

This Ramadan, as with every Ramadan, Muslims will be especially conscious of their actions and will endeavour to act with particular respect and good conscience in manners relating to physical, intellectual and spiritual wellbeing. During the 30-day period of Ramadan, it is common practice for Muslims to attempt and complete reciting the entire Qur’an.

On the matter of diversity, the Qur’an states: “Oh mankind, We have created you from a male and female, and made you into races and tribes, so that you may identify one another. Surely the noblest of you in God’s sight is the one who is most pious” (Chapter 49, Verse 13). This is further reinforced by Prophet Muhammad’s last sermon where he said, “All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over black, nor a black has any superiority over white except by piety and good action”.

Integration among communities is of the utmost importance, and one can confidently say that British Muslims do make conscious efforts to integrate into mainstream British society and contribute to the UK socially and economically. It is tragic that this still needs to be mentioned.

As David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband will no doubt emphasise in their Ramadan messages, charity is a core value of Ramadan and Muslims should contribute charity towards the wider community – for indeed justice and equality are not just Islamic values, but are values at the heart of British society too.

Image from here.

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Filed under 2013, england, Islam

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