Tag Archives: culture

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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At The Barber’s

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I have not actively been taking photographs for more than a year now. For most people, most certainly for me, photography as a pastime works best when the mind is settled and has time to take time off. Mine hasn’t been over the past year or more, for various reasons, rigorous academic research I am sure has a lot to do with it.

Hopefully I will be back to taking photographs like I once used to, I refer here to the frequency with which I actively went out to take photographs, and not the quality.

Hopefully this image above, taken when I wondered off into a cheap barber shop on a whim just to look someone in the eye and take a photograph is a start.

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The Falconer

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Falconer, Deserts of Dubai.

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The Muslim Life of Pi

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Not really the Muslim life, but spiritual life would have been more apt. Also, spoiler alert.

I finally managed to watch ‘Life of Pi’ yesterday, I say ‘finally’ like I have been wanting to watch it for sometime now, but no – it was just a spur of the moment decision to go and watch it. I didn’t necessarily have it bookmarked as a must watch.

The book has been highly commended and many people whose opinions I trust have recommended it to me and I really did want to read it. I did the mistake however of watching the film first, and I think I may now never read the book. By this I mean not to say that the book has now diminished in my mind as an essential read, but the film I thought was a bit of a drag.

What the film successfully does however is to make it clear how good the book is and why the book must have been so good in the way it elucidates the power and presence of God in our lives. Therefore, if anything the film doesn’t really reduce the impression one may have had of the book.

The film I thought was a bit too long, and there were instances where I would have pressed the forward button if I was watching it at home on a DVD.  Pi, the protagonist (a believer of Hinduism, Christianity and Islam)  gets stranded in the middle of the ocean after a shipwreck that kills all aboard including his parents and his brother, that was made clear, with that the  human mind can associate to some extent the various perils and sufferings that come with being stranded. The film spent a lot of time trying to convey this.  Personally, I felt there were instances where time durations could have been cut down, more so when no powerful spiritual or literary message was really being conveyed compared to the time that it was taking. Another good film which had good reviews and yet which I found to be a drag at times is 127 hours, yet another instance where the film tended to focus far too much on reinforcing the suffering of the protagonist upon the viewer when the message surely had been conveyed.

But as a spiritual person and someone who believes in the presence of God, there were poignant moments which struck me and certainly pushed the case for the fact that as humans we aren’t entirely in control of ourselves or our actions. Our actions too are a result of the manoeuvring of us by a far more supreme being.

When Pi was stranded in the middle of the ocean, with nothing to depend on except some emergency supplies he finds on the boat and a Bengal tiger with which he was constantly involved in a battle for life, and yet at the same time kept him alive and alert, one does get the idea that much is said here about life. This is an instance when one really feels helpless and is truly in the hands of God. Many times we come across people or situations in life which are to our lives like the tiger was to Pi in this particular sequence of his life.

The tiger was an apparatus used by a higher power that kept Pi alive by being the significant threat to his life that it was, the fact that Pi had to struggle so much to go to the boat from his little raft to collect supplies at the risk of being eaten up strengthened his resolve and kept him vigilant. When all else was lost and the tiger had nothing else to feed on except to eat Pi, hordes of flying fish suddenly collide with the boat and the boat fills up just enough fish for the tiger and Pi to feast upon, thereby reducing the vulnerability of Pi from being eaten up by the tiger.

Just at that point I was reminded of this Qur’an verse –

 وَمَن يَتَّقِ ٱللَّهَ يَجۡعَل لَّهُ ۥ مَخۡرَجً۬ا (٢) وَيَرۡزُقۡهُ مِنۡ حَيۡثُ لَا يَحۡتَسِبُ‌ۚ وَمَن يَتَوَكَّلۡ عَلَى ٱللَّهِ فَهُوَ حَسۡبُهُ

 “And for those who fear God, He (ever) prepares a way out. And He provides for him from (sources) he never could imagine. And if anyone puts his trust in God, sufficient is (God) for him.”  (Chapter  65 Verses 2-3)

There were numerous instances during the film when I thought that the ideal scene had been set where Pi would perhaps dramatically yell out something similar to the prayer of Prophet Jonah (Yunus for Muslims), but he did not. However, Pi did look towards the skies and cry out in despair that he had lost his parents and everything else, and asked what more God wanted from him.

After leaving the carnivores island, Pi says something to the effect that even though he was in instances of difficulty in numerous occasions and all hope was lost, he sensed that God made His presence felt in one way or the other and despite all the pains and sufferings, he felt that God never abandoned him.

This is when one (I in this instance) realises how every single living and non living construct play a part in our lives and this whilst accomplishing their own purposes of existence, they also come and influence our lives to a certain extent to remind us of the purpose of our existence, and how we should get about our lives, as peoples of faith or otherwise.

Upon reaching the shores of Mexico, Richard Parker (the name of the Tiger) just walks away from Pi, stops for a moment as if to look back at him, and then just continues to walk into the dense forest and Pi never sees him again. This naturally upsets Pi a lot, despite all that the tiger and the boy have been through, through the most perilous moments of their lives, the tiger just walks off without saying good bye. This reminded me of another Quranic story, the story of Moses and Khildr.

Moses had erred by proclaiming that he was extremely knowledgeable and that he knew the mysteries behind all or most things without attributing his strength as coming from God. God sends down Khildr to meet Moses and after three incidents where Moses’ wrong claim to absolute knowledge is established, Khildr goes away, never to be seen on the face of the earth.

The tiger in this instance had a worldly purpose to fullfill, and amongst its scope of work would have been to teach Pi vital lessons of trust, belief, hope and absolute reliance on God.

Sometimes people come into our lives; in their living they fulfil their purpose of existence. But the very purpose of their existence may perhaps be purely as guidance to us who have erred as a mercy from Allah. The soldiers of Allah can take any form, and rarely do we recognise them as soldiers of Allah sent to help believers – but they are there.

Tabarani reports that , “A man came to Abu Darda and said to him, ‘O Abu Darda, your house has burned.’ He said: ‘No, it cannot be burned. Allah will never allow this to happen because of the words that I heard from the Prophet, peace be upon him. Whoever says these words in the beginning of a day, the Prophet, peace be upon him, told us, will not be afflicted by a misfortune until the end of the day, and whoever says these words in the evening will not be afflicted until morning. These words are, 

“O Allah, You are my Lord, there is no god but You, I put my trust in You, You are the Lord of the Mighty Throne. Whatever Allah wills will happen and what He does not will, cannot happen. There is no power or strength except with Allah, the Exalted, the Mighty. I know that Allah has power over all things, and Allah comprehends all things in knowledge. O Allah, I seek refuge with You from the evil of myself and from the evil of all creatures under Your control. Surely the straight way is my Sustainers’ way“.

In some versions of this hadith we further find that he said, “Come, let us go. So he went with them to his house. They found all the area surrounding the house burned but his house was not damaged.”

Life of Pi is of book or film that illustrates the life of a man, who believes in all main faiths, yet the lessons derived from it and the resonance it has to Islamic values is truly poignant. Points to those of us who ponder.

For those of you who do not believe in a God, this post will come across as loony. Watch the film or read the book all the same.

Image from here.

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