By James Appleby
Following on from my article garnering the thoughts of current and erstwhile SOAS students, the other night I vowed to get the opinions of people who were experiencing the Ramadan Tent Project for the very first time. The product of this was three interviews featuring people of many different walks of life.
First up was Greg, a French postgraduate studying at UCL:
Do you think this is positive for UK society, and should it be more commonplace in France?
Greg: Tonight at the tent, I and my friends were discussing the differences between Paris and London – and it seems that the mentality is quite different here in the British capital. People seem a lot more open-minded here than in Paris, where there is more segregation of communities – whether it be due to religion or other factors. I much prefer the fact that, here, people can mix in harmony.
And what did you make of the experience tonight?
Greg: It is a very nice experience. It’s very open, you can meet people, interact and discuss with them. The approach of the organisers is very good too – ‘integration’ is a burning issue, and they have succeeded in bringing attracting a diverse range of people.
What did you know about Ramadan before you came tonight?
Greg: Although I have grown up as a non-Muslim, living in Paris I have been around Muslim families ever since I was a child, so I know quite a bit about Ramadan and its significance. However, I have never seen the true messages of Ramadan – sharing, inclusion – so widely shared amongst the local community. Paris would benefit from this.
The next interview I conducted was with a group of women who had met that very night at the tent over food and relaxed conversation – showing the socially inclusive powers of the Ramadan Tent Project. All in their mid-20s, here are Mila, Hannah and Emna’s thoughts of the experience.
Where are you from, and would you like to see this kind of project where you lived?
Mila: I’m from Brighton – which is a more progressive part of the UK than most. We do have communal events like this, but they are rarely as inclusive, for example inviting all faiths and the homeless.
Hannah: I’m from Eugene, Oregon, in the United States. I suppose I’m from a progressive area within the U.S. too. There’s nothing like this that I’ve ever seen around, but I think it would really work in Eugene.
Emna: I’m a Muslim from Paris, and I’ve never seen anything like this before there. In the French capital, Muslims tend to only mix with Muslims, and each community stays compactly together – there is nothing like the spirit of inclusion that I see here at the tent.
What did you make of the experience of tonight?
Mila: It was so organised and welcoming!
Emna: It is so amazing to see the volunteers – putting in so much work serving food just out of their own good will. It is so rare in modern society to see people doing beneficial things for the community just out of kindness, not to make a profit.
(It must be added that Hannah is only briefly staying in London, and was just walking by in the area when she found the RTP on Malet Street! Going from wandering alone to making a group of new friends in one evening really showed, for me, what this project can give to society)
My last interview was with Kim, a British man in his 30s living in London but who had lived in various places in the UK. Coming from a non-ethnically diverse place in the UK myself, I was keen to talk to him about the RTP’s implications for social change.
How does this kind of event benefit London and the UK?
Kim: Its main benefit is of reaching out to new people. When organising events like this purely for SOAS students, there must be a sense of ‘preaching to the converted’, in that most SOAS students would be very open-minded anyway. The word ‘integration’ has been used to make foreign people coming in to the UK feel as though they have to fall in line, but in reality it is the British who are often slowest to integrate.
What were your favourite things about the experience?
Kim: What I liked the most was that there was no obligation to pray, and total respect between those of different faiths so that one could take from the experience what one wanted. Inviting the homeless, in my opinion, also shows that the organisers have not forgotten one of the fundamental principles of every religion in the world – to aid those who are more unfortunate than yourself.
All three interviews, then, clearly show that the project makes an immediate positive impact upon its first-time guests. As Emna and Kim pointed out, this is testament to all of the hard-working organisers and volunteers who have built this platform. They deserve all the praise they can get, so that they can inspire as big an audience as possible and that we can see more projects emerging and unifying by the time of Ramadan next year.