Tag Archives: ramadan

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

100th Post: Ramadan – Stunning photographs!

It’s a bit too late to blog about Ramadan given that we are into the final tenth already! I came across some of these absolutely stunning photographs and I thought I’ll share them with you.

The whole set of pictures are of amazing quality and I loved the intricacy and attention to detail in every single one of them, it only made me envious of the skill of the photographer of each picture!

In addition to conveying a very informative message through the pictures, they also give a very deep insight into how Ramadan is celebrated around the world.

The pictures can be seen here.

These photos were first tweeted by Halik.

Incidentally, this also happens to be my one hundredth post!

Have a great weekend!

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Filed under england, personal, Sri Lanka

Last day – either you’re pregnant or you aren’t !

As ominous as it may sound, last Friday the 13th was my last day at work. I was working as a part I Architectural assistant at a reputed firm in central London. Regular readers of this blog and my followers on twitter may have had to put up with my intermittent rants about work with all its banes and boons.

I worked at this same architectural firm in the summer of 2008 as a summer intern. I wrote a post about my time in this place after I stopped work, but unfortunately that blog post was for another blog and I hadn’t blogged anonymously, hence I am deprived of the opportunity to link it here. Reading that post may perhaps have given a background to what this post is about.

Architecturally, I have had a tremendous experience at this place. The kind of projects that I worked here are of such a nature that I never envisaged myself to be involved with them as a schoolboy with a wandering mind. Extensions to Heathrow Airport, Buildings for the Ministry of Defence and a few conservation projects to name a few. Incidentally I started work on the 1st September 2009 during Ramadan as I have mentioned here, and I stopped on the 13th August 2010 again during Ramadan. Anyway, this post is not wholly about the professional experience I had in this firm, rather it is in essence of something more important (at least to me) – the people that I came in touch with and the friends that I made.

To help put what I am about to say in context, allow me to give a brief outline of the firm I worked in. It is one of the better known architectural firms in the UK, started by one of Britain’s most famous post –modernist architects. When I worked here in 2008 there used to be approximately more than 60 staff, but the recession meant that the firm had to cut down a lot, albeit possibly steadily increasing or so it seems. As legend has it, this starkly contrasts to the times the firm had close to or more than a hundred employees.

I started in my customary position in the third floor, I say customary because that’s the floor I used to work on during my last stint. The significance of the floor you work on is dependent on the type of projects the floor specialises on.
The composition of the third floor had changed somewhat from when I last worked here. There were new faces and also the odd one or two who had come from other floors. Where I was seated, I was surrounded by girls (Well, women included) and in front of me was a bloke named Kevin Capo C, a part I student who was finishing his year as a placement student. At least four to five of my blogger friends have already met him, some even more than once.

Kevin likes to say he is from Liverpool, you have to get to know him enough to realise that he actually is from a peninsula close to Liverpool with a name as familiar as Vojislav Koštunica.

Kevin was around for about a month, being the only boy amongst all the other girls seated to the desks close to mine, Kevin and I got to know each other just well enough to talk something other than all those exaggerated tales of weddings, wedding gowns, wedding rings (or lack thereof), wedding cakes, wedding… etc.

After Kevin left, I had to find my way around the wedding related conversations between work and I must admit I did miss having a guy around to speak with even though the girls around were very good chappasses (for lack of another word). Kevin went back to his peninsula.

As time went on, work became more intense. I had to spend many a day working outside office hours to complete work, so much so that when I left one odd day at 5.30pm I came home and didn’t know what to do with my spare time! Just before Christmas, more staff were being laid off and to add salt to a fresh wound – one of the most liked and nicest persons I have worked with left to a better job. The few months that ensued weren’t particularly good in general, but personally I was having a not so enjoyable time. I wish not to dwell on it for purposes of this post.

Time passed by and slowly but surely things began to change for the better. We got some massive projects and in March or so, Kevin who had worked on a similar project before was asked if he can leave the comfort of his peninsula behind and come back to London for another stint at the practice. Kevin was available and I was chuffed, Kevin and I stayed in contact after he left last year.

Simultaneously, Liam al-Fuleye (no he isn’t an Arab) from a different floor was coming up to the third floor and was to sit in the desk beside mine and Kevin took his old place opposite me. Finally some respite from all the wedding talk I thought!
Things were enjoyable in spite of the workload we had. I was still having a bit of a discomforting time for no fault of mine, but having Liam and Kevin around whom genuinely saw and understood my odd predicament only reinforced a nonchalant sense of abstinence from the source of my then troubles. And as it seemed then, for better or for worse I was to leave my desk to a different floor immediately after Easter,as part of the rotational policy the practice uses to help students get a holistic architectural exposure.

After about a month after having moved to the third floor, Liam who was closer to qualifying as a full architect than Kevin or myself left the practice due to many reasons – the foremost being that the side which he was asked to come to had greener grass. A wise decision we thought! Liam was popular in all floors, and since he spent most time with Kevin and myself – it was different to not see his cheeky Irish face (told you he wasn’t Arab) and hear his monotonously consistent use of the F word (no, not Faith).

Kevin, Liam and I used to go to the nearby Tesco every day to buy lunch, a time which helped us regurgitate the mornings occurring’s – sometimes blended with a bit of humorous gossip albeit never malicious. As spring approached and the sun was coming out, we used to go to the park nearby to have lunch, mostly seated on the grass –this possibly because the benches around us were decorated passionately and determinedly with pigeon shit! Hard to say who may have done that!

About a week before Liam left, the third floor was joined by Paul Bob Scotland, preceded a little before that by another staff member, Amie Fabio.

When Paul was being introduced to floor to floor, my first impression of Paul with his energetic eyes and trimmed ginger beard was that if he were to poked with a fork (with friendly intents) he may turn back to face you to shout ‘freeeedorrrm’! Of course that impression swiftly diminished. Jenny Scotland his girlfriend, reports of incidents where as of late when she does a friendly jab on him he makes noises similar to something that sounds like ‘wnuk wnuk’ and this apparently comes coupled with hiccups. Jenny is still perplexed.

Kevin and I made a trip to Cambridge a few months ago as I relate here. Taking this as a precedent, we decided to do a day trip to Oxford. This time we spoke to Paul too who showed willingness to join. At a staff outing during the Germany vs Ghana world cup football match, we asked Amie if she would like to join and I was happy to hear that not only did she agree but she showed genuine interest too. Until then I hadn’t spoken to Amie more than I would to another staff member as she and I were on different floors and never really got to chat. The Oxford trip was super! And it did a lot to harness good spirits amongst us all.

We play softball every Wednesdays at Regent’s Park against other architectural practices. Kevin, Amie, Paul and I are regulars. Apart from day to day office work and these social outings, I have grown to like these four friends of mine. Although Liam is no longer with us (no he isn’t dead), he is very much part of our team in more respects than one.

I have known Kevin the longest followed by Liam. Paul and Amie have been around only for 4-5 months, but it seems that they have been around for so long that I had to wreck my brains thinking how long I know them for.

All those mentioned above are absolutely brilliant people and surely qualify as some of the nicest people I’ve met. I admire Kevin just for the way he conducts himself, I would fail to explain but he has a very correct way of dealing with situations in a very considerate yet effective manner and I continue to learn from him. As subject to interpretation as it may sound, Kevin and I have done many outings together – Cambridge, several trips to the cinema and even to a stimulating discussion on post-war Sri Lanka.

Amie is an absolute sport, a no fuss character who sticks to her guns and is a superb person to hang around with. Amie leads our softball team and one of those things that make softball ever so worth to be part of is Amie’s constant omnipresence in the field and her stirring words to all players. And to her credit she runs like a camel on fire with petrol stored in its hump! ( by hump I refer to this and resemblance to any other description is only co-incidental)

Then we have Paul, judging by the amount of times he says ‘Wnuk Wnuk’, it makes me wonder if he knew someone by that name! For some reason ‘Wnuk’ sounds so polish to me.

Paul and I have a very well-coordinated fielding ploy we employ to mesmerise the opposition! We have been so successful that the ever powerful Scottish 1st XI cricket team is after our splendid formula! Paul’s a really nice guy who is someone who’s immensely considerate and makes those around him very comfortable to speak to!
I just can’t say enough of these friends of mine who are just such nice human beings to start with!

On the other hand, I hope I have done my part to reciprocate all their good dealings with me. If at all there was something intrinsically different in them from me, it would be that they are British and I am a Sri Lankan. Being a Sri Lankan and a Muslim, I am an ambassador of a different identity – that of a Sri Lankan who is also Muslim. As it rightly should be, I have never let this be a hindrance to anything that my conscience stipulates as correct. I go out on Friday nights with those afore mentioned and I don’t consume alcohol, I go for barbecues et al whilst fasting during Ramadan and yet don’t relinquish my fast and I play softball whilst fasting and I am still fitter and faster than most and the occasional fat barrel from the opposition, slower of course than super Amie who runs as fast as a camel on fire. Although it may seem otherwise, I say this not to blow my own trumpet but to drive a point that it is rubbish to be lazy and sleep all day during Ramadan just because the body is naturally weaker. Or ‘Rubbadub’ as the partner I work under facetiously calls it, I think he was thinking of saying Ramadan and then ‘Poppadam’ came to mind and he got mixed up.

The media has conjured terms like ‘extremist Muslim’ or ‘moderate Muslim’. I just see these terms used by certain media as a tool to give a selling factor to their news.

There is no such thing as an extremist Muslim or a moderate Muslim! You’re either a Muslim or you aren’t. It’s like being pregnant – either you’re pregnant or you aren’t! Whoever heard of an extremist pregnancy or a moderate pregnancy! Of course being a Muslim (Christian, Jew or Buddhist for that matter), you can be good, bad or anything in-between. An example of a bad one being someone who spreads hatred and pain and that of a good one being someone from whose hands and tongue another human is safe.

I hope that as a Muslim and as an individual I have created an impression on all those who know me that provides an alternative to the negative and spurious stereotypes some sections of the media portrays of Muslims.

I conducted myself in such a way just because it is me, and not necessarily to create an impression, but in the process if I did create an impression then that’s good.

Even though I have my plans in mind, I really don’t know what can happen in the next 12 months. Having come here as a student, I have grown to like England and her peoples, love even. Apart from many facets of my demeanour that reflect my nature as an anglophile – the fact that I was genuinely nervous about the outcome of the England v Slovenia match which England had to win, the fact that I rose up from my seat and screamed in frustration when Frank Lampard’s goal was disallowed during the England v Germany match and the fact that I have a sincere sense of attachment to my uni and work friends and them reciprocating that attachment towards me (at least I like to think they do) are things of the past and present that make me gulp at the thought of having to leave England prematurely. As it stands, it’s just too early to tell.

In no particular order, Amie, Kevin, Paul and Liam – thank you ever so much for everything. It has been an absolute pleasure to work, play and just spend time with you all. Even though this post may prove otherwise, I am rather reluctant to give compliments, but allow me to admit that even though we will still meet each other albeit not daily, still be in touch and still get to know a glimpse of how the other spends his or her day – I will miss you guys and value every moment spent together.

This post is becoming a bit too cheesy now isn’t it? Well to hell with it!

The four of us (Liam doesn’t know yet) with a few others have planned a trip to Bath (noun, not verb), where apart from all the sightseeing and laughs – Amie and I may have a joint birthday party. This is scheduled to happen in October and I am as excited as if it is to happen next week.

Apart from those mentioned in this post, there have been others who have been superb to be at work with. Catherine of Tredegar, Mon O’Tone, Haike Giggles and Helen Vineyard amongst many others to name a few.

Although I am not in office anymore, I still join the team for softball. Tonight would be our last game this season. And for one last time I wholeheartedly look forward to seeing Kevin taking catches in the outfield, Amie giving her stirring battle cries from behind my position at third base (apart from that camel thing) and of course Paul coordinating with me to do our little criss-cross fielding stratagem!

(To the author’s best knowledge, accurately based on a true story. Names on this are semi-fictional and any exact resemblance to anyone else living or dead is purely coincidental)

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Filed under personal, ramadan, work

The Sunrise, blue skies and the castle silhouettes

Sunrise at the castle at Tynemouth, taken one cold Ramadan immediately after pre-dawn meals in Newcastle upon Tyne.

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Filed under architecture, england