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We’ve now almost come to the end of Ramadan – the holiest period within the Islamic calendar. Throughout this month, in obedience to God, Muslims have been fasting from sunrise to sunset as a practice of self-discipline and remembrance of those who do not have a regular source of food and water. During Ramadan, alongside sustaining from food, water and sexual contact during daylight hours, Muslims are also expected to be increasingly mindful of their behaviour and speech and often engage in extra charitable giving and nightly prayers.
Despite this month being incredibly important for the Muslim community, as a Muslim, I also believe that Ramadan can offer a lot to the interfaith community. Here’s five reasons why.
We may be diverse as a nation but the concept of fasting as an exercise of self-restraint is familiar to us all, whatever our belief system. For example, many Christians dedicate themselves to self-sacrifice for Lent or may fast throughout the year. In the Jewish tradition, there are also a number of fasting days including Yum Kippur, whilst Hindus, Buddhists and members of the Baha’i faith also fast as part of their belief system.
Outside of religious practice however, Sikhs, agnostics, atheists – all of us in fact – practice self-sacrifice and self-restraint in some form. Whether this entails a diet, a curb on spending habits or saving that yummy take-away for a Friday night, “holding back” offers an important lesson of moderation, self-reflection and humility.
I’m going to be honest. Some days I really struggle to fast 18 hours whilst working and commuting. That doesn’t mean I dislike Ramadan though (quite the contrary!) but that I’m simply human. Fasting isn’t easy but it’s not designed to be or otherwise there’d be no lessons to learn!
So, whether we’re struggling with the long hours, the heat, craving sugar or our regular caffeine fix, we have our own personal challenges. Ramadan teaches us that we will encounter challenges. It’s normal. However, Ramadan also shows us all that with difficulty comes ease. We receive great spiritual, emotional and physical benefits and whatever the challenges: we can cope.
When a non-Muslim friend, colleague, family member or neighbour reaches out to you during Ramadan it’s truly heart-warming. I’ve witnessed such kindness and generosity from those around me, from being invited to dinner based around my schedule, been gifted dates and chocolate bars to break my fast with and even received Turkish delight (my favourite!) as an Eid gift.
These gestures speak volumes and in a world of increasing Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and xenophobia, set a great example of how we can help build bridges amongst different communities.
The increasing number of iftars (the meal to break our fast) being held across the UK really are proof that food is a great way to bring people together. Big Iftars in synagogues, mosques, community centres, parliamentary forums and homes across the country are uniting people of all faiths and none, as people come together for food, fun and friendship.
These iftars highlight how sharing food is a familiar yet incredibly intimate and kind gesture of love, friendship and community outreach. So why not take inspiration for your own interfaith initiative? You’ll be on to a winner!
More and more non-Muslims are becoming familiar with Ramadan. Now, this isn’t due to some sort of proselytising exercise. It’s in fact a demonstration of the great spirit of tolerance and diversity here in the UK. Firstly, declaring “I’m fasting” doesn’t confuse as many people as you’d think and we’re also seeing Ramadan enter mainstream marketing. Out and about on Oxford Street the other day, I came across a “Ramadan Kareem” (Happy Ramadan) greeting in Matalan.
— Elizabeth Arif-Fear (@Voice_of_Salam) June 5, 2018
Seeing this made me feel appreciative, accepted, loved and proud to be British. This is how we should all feel – whatever our cultural and religious background. We’re a tolerant multifaith nation, so let’s celebrate our great diversity!
So, with that in mind, I’d like to wish everyone Eid Mubarak (Happy Eid) and a wonderful summer!
Elizabeth Arif-Fear is Founder of Voice of Salam – a global platform established in 2015 to raise awareness of a range of social, political, human rights and interfaith issues and give advice about campaigning. Head over to her blog for further information.