<%-- Page Title--%> Perspective <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 131 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

November 21, 2003

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Ramadan in London

Nadia Barb

For over a billion Muslims all over the world, Ramadan is a special month for introspection, devotion to God, and self-control. In fact it is almost like a form of spiritual exercise. However, if you happen to be living in London, Ramadan is just like any other time of the year. It is business as usual. If you walk down the high street, the restaurants are as busy as ever, always a constant stream of people going in and out, no awnings or blinds to hide the customers inside. There are no noisy sirens to inform you at the end of “Imsak” or “Sehri” nor is there a melee of azaans to tell you that it is time for “iftar”. Here the onus is on oneself to go to your local mosque (if indeed you have one nearby) and get a timetable for the month, or wander down to your local (halal) butchers or “deshi” grocer and get the timing from them and if neither is conveniently located then just having to print one off the internet.

For different people Ramadan holds a variety of meanings. For some it is spiritual cleansing, for others it is an act of self discipline and for others it is simply a time to spend with family. Recently there has been an emergence of a handful of Radio Stations such as Radio Ramadan and satellite TV channels that broadcast programmes relevant to Ramadan. Many of the mosques around the UK tend to see an increased number of attendees for prayers during this month, especially for Maghrib and Tarawih prayers. Shopkeepers of Islamic Bookstores have found that there is a marked rise in the sale of religious books especially the Quran and even Hijabs at this time. But these are the more subtle changes that do not necessarily have a direct impact on the day to day fasting of most of Muslims living here.

Sitting in London, there is also never any of the frenzied activity that you can observe on the streets of Dhaka when iftar time is imminent --everyone trying to rush back home or get to wherever they are due to break their fast. Unlike Bangladesh, in the UK, office hours do not change nor do school timings or holidays. So for most people, breaking their fast consists of a quick sandwich in their place of work, a packet of crisps or even a bar of chocolate whilst travelling on the underground. In my case it is listening to Sunrise Radio (an Asian radio station) where they have half an hour of sayings from the Quran and waiting for the azaan, armed with a bottle of water and a couple of biscuits as I am inevitably on my way to picking up my kids from school. Sadly a far cry from the “peaju”, “moori”, and hot “jilapi” that you might come across at home. I console myself by thinking that eating all that delicious fried food is not good for my health and that a sandwich or a bowl of soup is definitely a healthier option (however, I never seem to be able to really convince myself of this!)

On the other hand if you happen to live in East London where there is a high concentration of Bangladeshis, the atmosphere is some what different. A lot of the shops open a little later than usual (a side effect of waking up for sehri and fazr prayers no doubt); the restaurants are not as busy during the day and you can buy mouth watering samosas, puris and even khichuri at the shops. There is definitely a buzz in the air and people feel a sort of affinity with each other as they know they are not the only ones fasting or observing Ramadan. In fact when it is time for iftar, you can buy “iftari boxes” or have a special iftar menu in restaurants. If you happen to walk into a grocery shop, a travel agency or a doctor's chamber, you find people sitting and breaking their fast together sometimes with store-bought food or home made items. In parts of London where there is an Arab influence, such as the Edgware Road (near Oxford Street famous for its shops), the streets are busy and the shops open into the small hours of the morning. People say their Tarawih and go back to sample the tasty dishes on offer and chat with friends and relatives.

The whole experience of fasting and observing Ramadan in a country where the population is predominantly non-Muslim can become a little lonely and isolating at times. But one can also get a sense of achievement at having observed Ramadan in an environment not necessarily equipped for such an exercise.



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