Tag Archives: Muslims

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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The Sinhalese & Schindler’s List

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Below is an excerpt from my post for The Platform, “Does the Silence of the Sinhalese Signal Complicity”.

“There is that scene from Schindler’s List which had a profound impact on me. I had forgotten about it, I never knew it existed, except that it has lain somewhere in the fibre of my brain, dormant, latent, waiting for the opportune moment for it to be of use. The state of Muslims in Sri Lanka is changing, it is perilous, getting graver with each rising of the sun, and suddenly this scene makes a lot of sense. It draws lessons from the attitudes of races and ethnicities and the chemistry between religious communities in Sri Lanka, a chemistry which is at threat of losing its equilibrium.

In the film Ralph Fiennes, playing the character of Amon Goeth, an SS officer, is in his bedroom with a girl. He rises to use the bathroom from where he sees an inmate in the concentration camp taking a break from the heavy painful labour he is being subjected to. As Goeth sees it, he is wasting time, being disobedient. So with the girl still teasing him in the background, he picks up the rifle and shoots him. He then surveys the working landscape from the balcony and walks the few feet back to the room where he and the girl continue to laugh and argue, as if they never had an interlude in which misery was wreaked on another.

For all the details in this scene, it is the image of the girl that recurs – she didn’t kill anyone, she was only an onlooker.

Except she wasn’t. There are no mere onlookers or observers under such circumstances. Inadvertently or not, you are a participant. You contribute to a crime, to someone else’s suffering by inaction, by a silence that spells out consent.

Were the Nazis, the Serbs, the Hutus or Tutsis, the monk-led groups in Myanmar or ironically the Israelis, who are largely descendants of those killed in concentration camps, able to go on the rampage with their killings because of Ralph’s character? No, it was because of people like the girl, the silent majority, who in their silence precipitated the suffering of others.”

Read the full post here.

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For Muslim Critics of The Lankan Muslim Community

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I was involved in a twitter argument with someone known and someone unknown about the recent spate of Buddhist extremism in Sri Lanka, particularly instigated against Muslims.  The argument was that there were certain sections of the Muslim community in Sri Lanka who claim that Buddhists are not entirely to blame for the recent anti Muslim activities, but rather there is an outside force kindling unnecessary fires, in this case the group in question was Jewish/Israeli interference. Whether there is authenticity to such claims is for an entirely different post.

But my argument is this, it is nauseating to see some Muslims in Sri Lanka so easily driven to castigate the Sri Lankan Muslim community, if it isn’t clear – castigating their own community. This is a typical mindset fostered by Muslims in many parts of the world where Muslims are a subjugated minority with very low upward mobility, socially, politically or economically. It reflects a sense of insecurity of being part of the community that is so backward, and therefore castigating it is a way of trying to get others to look at one differently. As if to get others to say, “oh he may be from the Muslim community, but he is cooler than most of them”.

The vast majority of my adult life was spent in the West, therefore I understand how the temptation and indeed the opportunities to want to distance one self from the negativities intrinsic to your own community is extremely high. It is a sort of pariah attitude where you feel like you can belong in a better community, but at the same time not be accepted by any other community, simply for not being one of them. I was fostered and harnessed entirely by non Muslim institutions; the only Muslim institution that took care of me was my family. Therefore, the vast majority of my social transactions are with non Muslims, social transactions with Muslims are a mere trifle compared to the rest. Thus, I understand why others in my situation may feel the need to castigate their identity and thereby be apologists in the empty belief that they would be better accepted by another social circle that isn’t of their own.

But in my humble belief, that is to confess an insecurity of their own identity – in this case a Sri Lankan Muslim. The Sri Lankan Muslim community is one of the most backward communities in Sri Lanka, most of the indices point towards such backwardness. The percentage of Muslim university entrants is lesser than the population percentage of Muslims in Sri Lanka as a whole, and the percentage of Muslim convicts is greater than the population percentage of Muslims in Sri Lanka as a whole.

This must not be misunderstood as wanting to not foster integration. Indeed it is pivotal that all communities in Sri Lanka integrate and harness good inter community relations if Sri Lanka is to rise as a built nation.

I will be a fierce critic of my community if need be, but I would consider it shameful and beneath myself to exaggerate the ills of my community in order the project myself as being much better than that. I speak of community here, but the same applies to one’s identity as being part of a nation. If you live in the West, castigating Sri Lanka as a nation is not the way to amplify your otherwise sound credentials.

Therefore, Muslim critics of the Sri Lankan Muslim community, can criticise all they want – but should always keep their intentions purified and in check. Whatever they may think, their community and their country will always be bigger than them.

Image from here.

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Filed under 2013, politics, Sri Lanka