Check your privilege – being grateful.

Atika Dawood

The most well-known meaning behind Ramadan, the explanation taught to us through our school lives, is that this month of the Islamic calendar is one through which [Muslims] abstain from food and water from dawn till dusk in order to remember those who are less fortunate and to be grateful for what we have. I previously mentioned that this statement as a standalone definition of Ramadan was no longer accurate in encapsulating my experience and understanding of one of the pillars of Islam. However, it does hold a key part to Ramadan within it: being grateful.

Privilege is a word that is defined as ‘having special rights, advantages, or immunities’ according to the first definition in my Google search. Politically and socially this refers to specific groups of people. I am sure you have read, heard or skimmed over the terms ‘white privilege’, ‘male privilege’, ‘straight privilege’ and so on. With regards to these structural privileges, often their understanding is skewed. For example, I have seen a white straight male claim to not possess any privilege because he is also working class. The misunderstanding is that this white straight male is privileged, but also holds a class-disadvantage.

Flip this on its head, I could argue that I am subject to many social disadvantages. I am Indian – I have brown skin (NC35-40 if you speak make up). I am visibly Muslim – I wear the headscarf. I am female – I will not have my voice reduced to ‘get back to the kitchen’ and, no, it is not wrong for me to expect the same pay for the same job as my male counterpart. And, I am young – defined as ‘politically apathetic’ or ‘lacking experience and knowledge’ to many. But this does not mean I do not possess any privileges. I have a supportive network of friends and family (and the Ramadan Tent Pproject Team, who fit under both categories), I am in higher education studying a subject I have chosen and love and I have a platform on which I can share my thoughts – and an audience who reads them (you are all amazing!)

I am by no means suggesting that structural privileges should not be a topic of discussion: ranted about and campaigned against. I have intentionally placed certain and relevant adjectives before ‘disadvantage’, wherever used, to contextualise it. Because I am not disadvantaged to be Indian, Muslim, female or young – even if I am structurally. All of these things are part of my identity, they are things I am very proud of. I wear my heritage, my skin colour, with pride. I brokenly speak my home language with embarrassment – embarrassed that it is broken, not embarrassed that I know a ‘foreign language’. I wear my religion, my headscarf, with good intention (inshaAllah).

What I am trying to allude to, is not forgetting what we do have. Remembering that we are often part of networks of like-minded, supportive people – people we feel comfortable around – is a great form of reflection and self-care. When setting and meeting goals, remembering where we were before and where we are now is a means towards avoiding feeling overwhelmed when faced with where we need to get to. In remembering that we still have much for which to be grateful, despite the social, political and structural disadvantage, we become better people: we show our appreciation for these things and people, and we avoid overlooking all that we have to be proud of and thankful for.

It is often easy to forget these things that we have, the positives we experience and the advantages we do possess, especially when frequently facing negative experiences, trying to bite our tongues and ignore the slurs, battling disadvantages and dealing with groups who just do not get it. It is exhausting, I understand. But to be grateful, we need to focus on the positives – and the negatives we are lucky we have not experienced.

In Ramadan we reflect on what we have, we empathise with those who are less fortunate and we pray to make a difference. In Ramadan those who are less fortunate do the exact same, they may have less but they still give shukr (thanks) to God for what they do have. Placing people into a group is alienating: those who are ‘less fortunate’ are not a separate group doing a different Ramadan. Yes, there may be less food and yes, there may be less people – yes, it is a different experience. But if someone with less than us can be grateful and thankful for what they have, we can do this more, we can be thankful more, than just during one month.

We should be grateful, we should check our privilege and we should do good with good intent – in Ramadan and always. InshaAllah.

Disclaimer: This is not a political piece. Through this post, I am not attempting to reject the existence of structural privilege. I understand that what I have tried to explain and structural privilege are very different. It is simply a comparison to draw on the fact that we all have something to be grateful for.

Choosing Kindness as a Way of Life

Tuba Mazhari

To put it mildly, the past week has been an unusual week for those of us in the United Kingdom. Last week marked the culmination of the EU referendum: Whether we should stay or leave the European Union.

The consequences of the majority decision, to leave, are yet to be seen in their entirety. What we can be sure of, is that there has been a disintegration of relationships: The relationship between the United Kingdom and the EU; our relationship with fellow Europeans and the relationship between people of the United Kingdom.

It seems as though the sense of division in values between people of the UK, has become apparent, now, more so than ever. As the child of immigrants, it is heart-breaking to learn that, for some people, the entire reason for voting to leave the EU was to close our borders to people of other countries. Others went a step further; their decision to leave was swayed by the possibility of EU citizens being made to leave the UK. That their reasons to leave were not entirely grounded in truth is a whole other discussion. The fact remains: There is a very strong desire, felt by some, to be separated from the “other”.

It is all the more heart-breaking that such a desire should come to the fore during Ramadan.

Ramadan is a time for fostering and cultivating relationships. In my household, for example, it is the only month in which we all come together to eat. Furthermore, there is a sense of unity within the Islamic community. For an entire month, we are all doing the same thing. We find ourselves exchanging stories of how the fast went, on a particular day, with family members in other parts of the world. We laugh together about the struggles of waking up for Suhoor (pre-fast meal).

The division of our country in a month of charity, hospitality and togetherness compelled me to re-evaluate the way in which I foster my own relationships. Was I, in the month of Ramadan, adhering to Islamic teachings on how to interact with others around me?

To answer such a question would of course require a description of what Islamic teachings, on relationships, entail. An obvious source for the answer is the Sunnah. The Sunnah is a record of the Prophet Muhammad’s (SAW) sayings, teachings and deeds. Muslims are taught to adhere to the path followed by the Prophet (SAW).

Most Muslims – and some non-muslims – know that there is an abundance of stories which demonstrated the kindness, patience and tolerance shown by the Prophet (SAW) – all of which are integral to building and sustaining relationships. To do justice to all these stories through this blog piece – or in fact anything I write – would be impossible. So I will settle for an introduction to some of the many acts of kindness he (SAW) showed.

The Prophet (SAW) showed consideration for others. If a child cried, while he (SAW) was leading prayer, he would shorten in. The reason for this was to make matters easier for the child’s mother.

The Prophet (SAW) was tolerant, patient and selfless. A striking example of this, is that of his encounters with an elderly neighbour. The elderly neighbour threw garbage in the way of a Prophet (SAW), on a daily basis. One day he (SAW) noticed she was not there. He (SAW) went in to her house with the intention to find out if she was OK, and in good health. On learning that she was ill, he (SAW) offered to provide her with assistance.

The Prophet (SAW) showed a preference for mending relationships. He was in favour of reconciliation. He was quick to offer his assistance, wherever it was required.

To live life according to the Sunnah, therefore, would mean to live with kindness and humility. To live as the prophet (SAW) did, would be to make kindness and selflessness a way of life.

As a Muslim, I have always known that the Sunnah dictates I show tolerance and love toward others – regardless of their race or religion. But the consequences of intolerance and fear, of the “other”, have never been as clear to me as they are today.

Much of the past week has been about “taking back”. Many have been swayed – to vote leave – by notions of taking back their country, their jobs, their schools, their resources. There is a strong belief, among some people, that they would benefit by separating themselves from the “other”. I can’t help but wonder how much happier we would all be, how much more we would all flourish, if we focussed less on taking, and more on giving; If we focussed more on the beauty of what unites us whilst embracing one another’s differences; If we learned that peaceful co-existence can only come from showing kindness.

I am painfully aware that there isn’t much that I can do to create tolerance and love between people all over the world. Or even in my own country. Unfortunately, most of us are not in a position to achieve this.

However, we must not lose sight of the fact that we can still play some part – however small in creating harmonious relationships between members of different communities. The Ramadan tent project is the epitome of such efforts; It brings together people from all walks of life. It celebrates differences while uniting people. It does so by giving. The Ramadan Tent project gives International students, who are participating in Ramadan, a place to come together when they are most likely to feel the absence of their families. The tent provides homeless people with food and water; it provides homeless people an opportunity to engage with and feel part the community. Something which we are all entitled to. It gives volunteers – like myself – an opportunity to give back to the community.

There is no reason why you and I can’t do the same. There is no reason why we can’t extend a helping hand in order to show people that they are not alone. That elderly neighbour with no family – perhaps she deserves a visit. Perhaps she could do with a hand watering the plants? The homeless man who sits outside your tube station – he could probably do with a hot drink on a cold day.

We can’t dictate the actions of those who choose to be divisive. But we can govern our own behaviour. We can choose love over hatred; we can choose cohesion over division. We can choose kindness as a way of life.


Ramadan – Make it Count

Samra Said

It’s almost last ten days of Ramadan.
You look around and take a deep sigh,

Is it so late, you ask?

You meant to read more,
To be kind more, to give more,
To pray more, to seek more,
Here you are though, standing still,
Pondering on those young souls,
Who day in and day out,
Feed the fasting at the tent.
Pause now, say after me:

‎   اللهم إنك عفو تحب العفو فاعف عني

O Allah You are The One Who pardons greatly, and loves to pardon, so pardon me.

You get up, you try, you reflect,
On the young people of Surah al Kahf:

‎نَحْنُ نَقُصُّ عَلَيْكَ نَبَأَهُمْ بِالْحَقِّ ۚ إِنَّهُمْ فِتْيَةٌ آمَنُوا بِرَبِّهِمْ وَزِدْنَاهُمْ هُدًى

Truly! They were young men who believed in their Lord, and We increased them in guidance.” Al-Kahf, 18: 13.

I can do this, you say so out loud.
That the depth of your nafs,
Pour out tears of repentance,
For its almost the last
Ten days of Ramadan,
And there you sense it
The peace and sense of solitude.

Behind the big white marquee at Ramadan tent, which hosts hundreds of people each night; you may not know that there is a small tent, which we call the “kitchen”. We don’t cook anything there, so Gordon Ramsey won’t be visiting anytime soon. At this small kitchen, there are a few volunteers who are stationed to prepare dishes of dates, fruits and desserts. When the hot meals arrive, vegetarian boxes are separated from the meat to accommodate our guests. You must be good at math to operate at this small tent, as you will constantly see the volunteers counting the food, dividing it to be equally shared and adding their loving touch to make it presentable for our guests.

We work under the ethos of food for all, to cater for the fasting, the homeless and individuals in need. Every night we remind ourselves that together we want to bring hope to the streets in London, that this tent is about welcoming communities, celebrating diversity and cultures. That is the spirit of Ramadan – to show gratitude for the blessing that are granted to us.

We live in a city where thousands of Londoners are at risk of food poverty due to low incomes and unemployment amongst other factors. So it is important we reflect on the essence of Ramadan as it is a month of giving and guidance to do the right thing. We need to show gratitude as we are blessed with warm houses, access to food and clean water.

We don’t have to worry if we will have something to break our fast with, but that isn’t the case for so many people both here at home and overseas. At Ramadan Tent, we operate mainly on the generosity of our community, support from our partners, kindness from our guests and our volunteers who together ensure we have enough food to serve our guests. While we always aim to serve each guest, sometimes we encounter challenges where the demand outweighs the supply. We reflect on the saying of prophet Mohammed, peace be upon him,”The food of one person suffices for two, the food of two persons suffices for four persons, and the food of four persons suffices for eight persons.” [Muslim].

This month be an agent for kindness and try these ways you can support others:

  1. Find your local food bank, check what items they are shortage of and donate it.
  2. Feed the fasting around the globe or here in UK as the best charity is that given in this month.
  3. Donate to food security project, check your preferred charities programmes and know that every pounds counts
  4. We also at Ramadan tent, accept food donation, contact us to see what items we are need for this blessed month.





Muslim Identity – Why Religion Matters

Atika Dawood

Ramadan Tent Project (RTP) can be described using many positive words, but the adjective that is my favourite is ‘inclusive.’

However, after describing RTP as ‘inclusive’ on countless occasions I paused to unpack and question what this really means. And in a nutshell inclusivity is acceptance – or to use what seems to be a current buzzword, inclusivity alludes to a safe space. The RTP team do not only welcome all with open arms because that is their ethos. But they are open to everyone because each individual has a space at RTP: they accept you not regardless of how you label yourself, but because of your identity.

Muslims are no strangers to being subject to bad press and [negative] stereotypes. Yet when the word ‘Muslim’ is used to describe a successful individual – Sadiq Khan (The Mayor of London), Moeen Ali (cricketer) and Nadiya Hussain (baker), to name a few – suddenly religion is deemed ‘divisive’ or ‘unnecessary’. In cases such as these, many hold the opinion that “[their] religion does not matter.” But it should, and it does.

I agree labels so often have negative connotations, but it is wrong to use them selectively: to emphasise them on specific negative occasions but have them absent from positive recounts – either use them consistently or not at all. I have read countless comment sections filled with comments complaining about labels splitting society apart when they are used in positive headlines, without [commenters] being against their use in other headlines, stating that ‘if there is a fuss when religion is mentioned after a terrorist attack, it should not have been mentioned here either. Double standards.’ Except, that is partly why they should be mentioned in positive stories: the use of ‘Muslim’ as a key adjective to describe violent individuals has lead to islamophobia, to misconceptions about Islam and has had a negative (violent) impact on Muslims everywhere – there is almost a need for these positive stories to be highlighted to provide evidence against the anti-Muslim/Islam rhetoric.

Founder of RTP, Omar Salha, when interviewed by Buzzfeed was asked if ‘the daily headlines he reads about Muslims and anti-Muslim rhetoric in the public sphere were another factor [in starting RTP]’ He quite rightly responded ‘I wouldn’t say it was a reaction, as we should be doing this irrespective of the climate.’

I will try to accept the reasoning of those who annoy me in these comment sections: that [the media] mention, if not emphasise, the religion of a violent individual (should they be Muslim) because, not a direct quote, ‘the attack was religiously motivated, so religion is a key factor and therefore deserves its place in the story.’ This suggests, however, that any positive action is not religiously motivated. That Moeen Ali’s faith does not encourage him to play well and has nothing to do with his character or his positive energy. It suggests that the ‘Muslim’ part of The Mayor of London’s identity is not a reason or part of the motivation behind him doing good as Mayor – though, in this example, I agree he should do good things regardless of religion, it is wrong to suggest his faith cannot be or is not a motivating factor behind this, albeit subconsciously.

If religion is a key part of an individual’s identity, it matters. Muhammad Ali was a proud black Muslim American. Every single one of these words matter in describing him because every single one of them were factors that shaped him into who he was. And while using all these words is important when describing The Champ, it is also important when considering his legacy: after Muhammad Ali’s death, Mehdi Hassan so poignantly reminded us that ‘Muhammad Ali made millions of us feel proud of our identity, our ethnicity, our political views, our religious beliefs(…)’ He particularly empowered the black community, the black American community, the Muslim community, the black Muslim community and the black Muslim American community, and his story and legacy will continue to do so.

To suggest that a key part of an individual’s identity is irrelevant in celebrating them and their success, and in being inspired by them and their success, is simply abhorrent.

So when a friend’s status regarding Moeen Ali’s performance in an England test match last month, describing Ali as ‘an inspiring role model for Muslims everywhere!’, was met with the following comment ‘fail to see why his religion is relevant? A great innings indeed, but I don’t see why the fact he is Muslim has to be emphasised.’ I was taken aback – this individual completely missed the point. Ali as a successful Muslim is a role model to other Muslims – specifically now, when we are surrounded by bad press. Ali as a well-known [Muslim] cricketer is a role model to other Muslims aspiring to be great sportspeople. Ali’s religion is relevant to my friend because he is also Muslim; identity allows us, particularly marginalised communities, to identify with successful individuals and to be inspired and motivated by them.

Amongst all the other labels that matter, religion also matters. Because with the same logic that the religion of violent individuals ‘is relevant because their attack was motivated by religion’, the religion of successful individuals is relevant because they too are motivated (to do good, to be humble, to be good role models etc) by religion – and the other labels they use to describe their identity. Identity matters because it is what shapes us, teaches us and motivates us. It is what we, (again) particularly marginalised or disadvantaged groups and communities, use to identify with others in order to find our voices, to be listened to and to find a safe space – in order to be accepted.

To end how I began, what inclusivity really means is acceptance – not ignorance. The beauty of RTP is not just that it is inclusive, the beauty of RTP is that it is accepting of every individual who attends the Open Iftar.

Atika, a current volunteer at Ramadan Tent Project, is a second year SOAS undergrad where she has begun her journey into writing through the student newspaper covering various topics: from quasi-structured political rants and interviews to book reviews and author profiles. A multilingual lover of languages, writing – reading that of others and writing herself – and mangoes. And tea. And puns. And crunchy peanut butter. Also a budding journalist, though this is potentially subject to change as she is the token indecisive young person.

Morals and Lessons from Ramadan

Tuba Mazhari

In a lot of households, preparation for Ramadan can start a while before the onset of Ramadan itself. In my own household, this preparation usually takes the form of my mother and aunts (and a reluctant me) getting together and preparing lots of unhealthy food. It is put away in the freezer, ready to be fried and eaten as part of the Iftar (breaking fast) meal. Such physical preparation takes the form of a dictatorship, almost. The spring rolls and samosas must be prepared. There is no choice.

Thankfully, there is some choice in how an individual can mentally prepare for Ramadan. For me, mental preparation for Ramadan will always, initially, entail complete denial of the increasingly long fasts which await me. I try my hardest to ignore the content of my mother’s pre-Ramadan telephone calls: “It’s going to be a LONG fast”, followed by prayers for fast-enabling health. Eventually, the reality of the impending fasts can no longer be avoided and I start to think about how I will cope.

The intention – every year – is that I will be super-woman and not even feel the effects of fasting. I will simply manage. What I find myself doing every year, is hoping and mentally praying that it won’t be testing.

Within the first few days I realise that my hopes, not to be tested, are in vain. If I’m completely honest, I think I was pretty stupid to have such hopes in the first place. Of course I will be tested during Ramadan! The penny drops – I am being tested on my submission to God. I am being examined on my ability to control my most basic desires to eat and drink, for God.

At the most superficial level, I can pat myself on the back for not having eaten anything before sunset. However, that’s pretty much where the back-patting-worthy behaviour ends. Once the sun sets, self-control and table manners fly out of the window. I inhale the post-fast meal.

And that’s when both guilt and gratitude kick in. It dawns on me that for many across the world, the sunset does not bring the delights of my mother’s dining table. For many, the sunset does not bring any food at all. Those who live in poverty are not secure in the knowledge that their hunger will come to an end.

I would not be as deluded as to suggest that this is the stage at which I feel the enormity of poverty. I don’t think anyone who hasn’t experienced poverty, can claim to feel how devastating it can be. What I can say with some conviction, though, is that there is nothing quite like Ramadan to make me feel an appreciation for all that I usually take for granted. I start to count my blessings: Alongside my three meals a day I am able to consume about a billion snacks; I have access to clean water; I can appreciate and enjoy food with my loved ones, in the comfort of my own home.

It is around this point that the cringe-worthy, guilt-inducing, memories will taunt me: Every single time I threw away a perfectly good meal because I just didn’t feel like finishing it; every time I ate just for the sake of eating; every time I ordered a meal which I knew I wouldn’t be able to finish, out of pure greed.

Up until this point, my behaviour in Ramadan is simply reactive. I have realised that I am being tested. I have also realised that I am more fortunate than many. I now know that I am a greedy-guts.

For me, the true beauty of Ramadan is when each of these realisations result in proactive, worth-while, behaviour. Spurred on by the many charity appeals which feature throughout Ramadan, I find myself re-evaluating and amending how I help those in need. And I take immense pleasure in the knowledge that I am not alone. Tip for Non-Muslims: If you’re looking to raise money, get the Muslims in Ramadan. This is when they are most generous, and most empathic.

I am struck– always – by the benefits of people coming together as one. It’s cliché, maybe. But when we come together for a good cause – such as that of charity – we are so powerful. I find myself quite wistful, wishing that all people – Muslims and non-Muslims – could come together for charitable acts throughout the year, the way in which Muslims come together in Ramadan. The idea of how much we could achieve together is empowering.

But perhaps the most empowering – and necessary – reminder which Ramadan brings, is a recognition of our individual strength. I often marvel at my ability to not eat a chocolate bar which is right next to me, while I am fasting. Any other month of the year I would have eaten it, and then some. Ramadan is, thus, a stark reminder of what we could potentially achieve if God is willing and we are steadfast in our dedication to the cause at hand.

The thought of all I could possibly achieve starts to make me giddy. Perhaps I could finally learn to bake, or publish the article which has been sitting on my laptop for months. The possibilities are endless, for you and for me.

Dr Tuba Mazhari has a PhD in Epidemiology and Public Health from UCL. She is currently working as a research associate for the Amy Winehouse Foundation. Tuba is interested in research, food, and bad jokes.





British and Muslim: Insights from an Impossibly Hip British Muslim Woman.

The following pertains to the personal experience of an impossibly hip, twenty something, British Muslim woman of Pakistani descent (me).

I’ve never struggled in social situations. A quintessentially extrovert personality – some friends would say ‘intermittently obnoxious, somewhat brash Londoner’, but what do they know (?)- I’ve never shied away from human interaction or socialising in general. Sharing a hearty laugh and exchanging sincere smiles in the company of friends, acquaintances and colleagues never fail to brighten up one’s day, of this, I’m sure. Such a gregarious disposition also means that I’m highly unlikely to back down in the event of, or shy away from, confrontation. I will never initiate a heated exchange. I will, however, respond if you do. I do not take kindly to being insulted. This has perhaps proven to be both a blessing and a curse over the past six years, in particular.

I refer to the previous six years because it is within this time frame that I’ve been confronted with the increasingly uncomfortable realities of being a British Muslim, or Muslim in Britain – as though the two facets of my identity are now mutually exclusive. My grandfather emigrated here from Pakistan in the mid-50s – a lawyer by trade, he started off working menial jobs to put food on the table; my father was that ‘Paki’/‘not quite white’ looking boy in class during the 60’s. Being ‘othered’, treated as a sub-human entity on the basis of their race is something both my grandfather and father have known.

Today, the faith I practice has become a means through which so many like me are actively ‘othered’. I’ve had to bear witness to the Prime Minister calling upon British Muslims to not “quietly condone terrorism” (*facepalms self aggressively and repeatedly in despair*), for example, or be confronted with the fact that a YouGov poll revealed ‘56% of those (fellow Britons) asked believe that Islam is a “major” or “some” threat to Western democracy”. When polled the day after the 7/7 atrocity, 46% believed the same. That’s a 10% rise in negative views of Islam over the past 10 years, which, in turn, translates to the negative perception of Muslims themselves, often resulting in increasingly hostile attitudes towards, and subsequent targeting of, individuals of the Islamic faith. Spare me the wholly reductive ‘Islam not Muslims’ spiel. Those that are vocally and actively bigoted, in particular, tend not to make this distinction.

The following is a rather personal experience of said hostility manifesting itself…

It was during the holy month of Ramadan, summer of 2015, I was in a state of fast and on my way to RTP’s Open Iftar for a spot of volunteering, and thus, in a generally great mood. It was raining and I’d forgotten my umbrella. I do not wear hijab (the head-scarf), so I wrapped a scarf over my head so as to prevent my (rather exquisitely) curled hair from frizzing.

Me: *strutting purposefully towards Malet St. Gardens*

Stranger: *walks past me nonchalantly* “These Muslim b******.”

Me: *stop dead in my tracks, whip around* “EXCUSE. ME. WHAT. COME. AGAIN?” *let it go, Tabetha. Let it go, Tabetha. Let. It. Go.*

Stranger: *chortles, walks on*

I’ll leave the exploration of the glaring intersection between sexism, misogyny and Islamophobia as it pertains to a British Muslim woman’s lived experience for next week; indeed, ‘60% of Islamophobic attacks documented in London were against women in the year 2014-15’. Interesting, eh? Google it.

I felt a profound mix of emotions rise in my chest; an anger so profound that it nearly brought a tear to my eye, the sheer ignorance of this man was infuriating, a hurt tainted with lashings of bitterness and a disappointment with self for having allowed this imbecile’s words to compromise my fast induced serenity – I should have turned the other cheek entirely, as per Sunnah (teachings, deeds and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, Peace be upon him). All this, however, was underpinned by the intense solidarity I felt for my Muslim sisters who wear hijab and/or niqab (the face veil). I fastened that scarf tighter around my head and neck and carried on with the rest of my day, more so as an act of defiance – a political statement – than in an effort to achieve increased spirituality. In hindsight, I shouldn’t have done so – reduced the wearing of the hijab to a political statement. It’s so much more.

I cannot speak for, and am not a recognised/accepted representative of, the British Muslim community; therefore, I speak on behalf of myself when I say that I need you to understand that my faith is intrinsic to who I am as a person. Laying my head down in prayer five times a day, fasting during the month of Ramadan, and recitation of the Quran, for example, soothe me; force me to be a better version of me. This just so happens to be absolutely true of every single British Muslim I’ve ever encountered. Recognise and respect my humanity. Do not be brow-beaten into fearing me, my personhood. Don’t.

I am a practising Muslim. I am British. This country is my home, and it will remain as such. I’d greatly appreciate it if those finding it somewhat hard to reconcile themselves with this statement of my truth were to attempt to address their reservations. Deal with it, essentially. For those of you that have no such reservations, we should totally catch-up over some tea, perhaps even a spot of iftar (breaking of the fast) at Open Iftar (subtle hint intended), share a hearty laugh and admire my perfectly curled hair.


The First Time I Fasted: Converts, Non-Muslims, and Ramadan

Heidi Green

The first time I learned about Ramadan I thought to myself, “Wow, that’s incredibly admirable, but I would never ever do that!” I was at an event at SOAS University and as I listened to Muslim scholars describe their experiences fasting for 30 days non-stop I was amazed. As I wrote about the experience in my journal that night, I had an inner prompting to attempt fasting the whole month. I tried to ignore the feeling but it got stronger. It was the night before Ramadan so I looked up prayer times and woke up the very next day at 3:30 a.m. to begin my first Ramadan fast.

The first three days were the hardest, as those experienced with fasting probably know. I was wrestling with myself – my soul begging my body not to give up. I followed the times exactly the entire month, not skipping a single day even when travelling or playing sports. It was perhaps the most spiritual, insightful, self-reflective, strengthening, and productive month of my life. That was 4 years ago. I have not been as successful at fasting since, but it was such a life changing experience that I have tried to creating a positive Ramadan experience through fasting again (or trying to) and volunteering with Ramadan Tent Project.

When I meet fellow non-Muslims who also fast I am always fascinated by what motivates them. For me, it is to understand the experience. To test it out and see if it will make a difference in my life. I think it truly does because of my dedication not only to fasting, but to ignoring distractions and focusing on spiritual aspects of life.

Cassandra, a Methodist who is heavily involved in interfaith community work, explained to me what motivated her to try fasting during the month of Ramadan. After her first experience trying to fast for 24 hours in her Christian tradition for Good Friday, while working in a chocolate store all day (which she described as, “probably not a good idea!”) she also fasted for Ramadan. It was after she helped organize an interfaith iftar, where she, “…encouraged people to fast for the day and get the idea of what its like, but also to raise awareness about hunger in our communities.”

In her own words, Cassandra explained that, “I had a really hard time getting up early in the morning, like at 3am or whatever time you’re supposed to be up! The whole getting up in the middle of the night to pray and go back to sleep is really just kind of foreign to me, so I think I just have to prepare myself to do that, just say ok, you’re just going to get up, drink a bunch of water, do some prayer, do some meditation, and then go back to sleep for 2 or 3 hours.”

“It is not just me doing it at 3:00 am. There are millions of other Muslims doing this at 3:00 am around the world, at different ‘3:00 am’s’. What I learned is probably that the sense of community that can come from actually choosing to do something uniformly, even if it looks a little bit different with each person, is very powerful. I come from a very loose Protestant tradition, though we try to be free and open, and affirming of lots of differences, we sometimes forget how the uniformity of some pieces actually brings people together, so everybody doing one thing at the same time is a really powerful community builder. I think that just became more clear to me in that time. I don’t know many Christians fast regularly, so to be able to join my Muslims friends in something that is greatly practiced by their community, helps me better understand the tradition within Christianity of doing that same practice. Being in solidarity with Lauren and with the other Muslims that I know is definitely part of it. This is a community of people I can practice this practice with who practice this same kind of tradition.”

Lauren, a convert to Islam said, “I had never really even saw or considered the concept of fasting until Ramadan was approaching and I had already been Muslim for 6 months. I knew that when I converted, fasting was a big deal and was expected and something I would be doing, but I didn’t really pay it much mind. Ramadan kind of snuck up on me. I didn’t do any practicing, I didn’t do any trial runs, so the first time I fasted was the first day of Ramadan my first year of being Muslim.”

“Every time I do it, it always kind of feels like the first time, in terms of the first couple of days, your body gets used to it and it’s a shock for your system. My biggest ‘take aways’, my first time, rather than feeling terribly spiritual, on a personal level didn’t even really happen until several years after being Muslim. I’m just now starting to explore the deeper meaning of connecting with God. I remember the first year, and even now, fasting reminds me what I’m capable of, because its kind of like…. if I can fast from things that are normal, and I can control myself, I have the capacity to have so much more control over myself and life. The way you’re hungry, you’re tired, you’ve been up all night, its hot outside; all if I can hold my temper and respond softly during this period of time, then its something I’m capable of doing always. When I think about religion, the primary goal is to worship God, but secondary is how can I perfect my character and live like a good human being. I think the practice of fasting prepares your heart to be in a state of worship but it also prepares your body and mind and all those thing it takes to exemplify being a person of God or of faith, and I think fasting brings that forward for me a lot.”

The Muslim Woman: An Illusion of Sorts.

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Tuba Mazhari

In the past few Ramadans, I have “oohed and aahed and gazed in admiration at the purple shirted volunteers of the Ramadan Tent Project (RTP). Like a proud mother I watched them serve food to others, all while having fasted themselves the entire day. I have thought to myself “they’re doing their bit. This alone is Dawah”. Knowing me, I may have even shed a tear. I wouldn’t put it past myself. Ugh. And that’s when I decided I wanted to join the purple haze of RTP volunteers – though we are now teal.

The Ramadan Tent project embodies virtues which are integral to Islam: hospitality, serving the community and showing one another kindness and respect. While the acts of RTP are Islamic and noble, it is unfortunate that this is not why I am praising the project. Rather, I am praising them for challenging misconceptions of Islam – something which has fallen upon the shoulders of Muslims all over the world.

What struck me most, however, was the way in which negative perceptions of Islam – fanatics, who are divisive and unwilling to integrate – were challenged. There was no bearded guy, standing outside a mosque, claiming to be hospitable. Nobody stood outside with a placard claiming to be peaceful or charitable. The founder and volunteers of the project came together and simply did. They simply showed. And that’s when the old cliché of actions speaking louder than words and the importance of coming together as one, felt truer and more relevant than ever.

Much like my teal pals, I wanted to challenge misconceptions of Islam. Now that I had decided I wanted to write about challenging misconceptions of Islam, I had to decide on which one. Let’s face it, there are plenty to choose from. Lucky Muslims.

I toyed with the idea of talking about the scary bearded man – a common image in the media. Non-Muslim friends have sheepishly told me that they would choose not to sit next to a man on the tube, if he looked too “Muslim”. She went on to say that she changed carriages or even got on to a different train, for fear that he may have packed something explosive in his bag. I considered revealing that not all bearded “Muslim-looking men” are scary. In fact, the only scary thing about most bearded men – such as my father – is how loudly they can snore. I thought it might also be informative to reveal that the idea of most bearded men being able to pack something explosive in to their rucksacks and getting on to a tube without their wives noticing, was unthinkable. Most bearded men I know, can barely prepare a lunchbox without being scolded by their wives for messing up the kitchen.

I toyed with the idea of discussing the stigma around “Allahuakbar”. I wondered whether I should describe that Allahuakbar means “God is Great”, and that it is used very frequently in prayer. Peaceful, regular prayer – carried out five times a day by Muslims all over the world. I also wondered whether I should say that it is probably more common for Allahuakbar to be screamed angrily by mothers who were distracted during Salat, than angry young men who are claiming to kill in the name of Islam.

Eventually, I decided to focus on women. Muslim women. I decided to cover (please laugh) the way in which Muslim women are portrayed in the media, and subsequently how this may affect the perception of Muslim women among non-Muslims.

Media coverage has been consistent in discussing Muslim women in one of three ways: The voiceless victim; What they wear or do not wear, and as a group rather than as individuals. I spoke with some non-Muslim friends about their perception of Muslim women: There were sentiments of pity expressed toward those whose entire faces were covered – via niqab; annoyance about not ever seeing women in positions of leadership and a general oppression of Muslim women, in other parts of the world.

To deny the oppression of Muslim women would be to belittle the plight of women who have suffered either in the name of Islam, or through cultural practices.

Having said that, the media coverage of the oppressed burqa-clad women is no less harmful. While such coverage may serve to highlight the plight of some women in Muslim countries, it does little to tackle oppression of women itself. The definition of oppression becomes “Muslim woman”. Other forms of oppression in the western world: the gender-gap in pay, the impossible beauty standards set for women become less salient, and less likely to be tackled. The portrayal of Muslim women as silent and submissive, combined with little coverage of women in positions of power, silences their voice where it should be loudest: In calling out injustice against women, and reconceptualising the notion that they are oppressed by their religion.

I wondered about how to challenge the notion of the burqa-clad, man-obeying, helpless woman. I am not saying she doesn’t exist. I am simply saying that her religion has not deemed it for her to be this way.

Like my teal-shirted pals at RTP, I wanted to portray Islam in in its truest and most authentic sense. The obvious thing to do then is to discuss the first woman to have accepted Islam, Khadija (RA). She is considered to be the mother of believers – and therefore an example by which all Muslim women should abide.

Khadija was married to Prophet Muhammad (SAW). Prior to her marriage to the Prophet (SAW), Khadija had married twice before. She had received several proposals for remarriage, but had declined the offer.

She was a well-established business woman and was employing several men – including the prophet (SAW) – to transport her goods, and to trade on her behalf. Khadijah had reached levels of success several women – and men – aspire to attain today. She was independent, and able to take care of herself. Khadijah was also independent in the way she thought – she did not sympathise with the worship of Idols, even before Islam. She did not mock or abuse those who claimed that a messenger of god was due to arrive, even when others did.

After learning of the prophet’s qualities, she chose to marry him. She proposed to him herself. The first woman of Islam was brave, and courageous.

Khadjija (RA) was a major source of support to the prophet (SAW) in his mission to spread Islam. She was the first person to learn about his experience in the Cave of Hira; the first to affirm his prophethood. She stood by him when he was mocked, and reminded him that he was supported by God and would not be disgraced in his efforts. She was an ally; a motivator; a supporter.

The focus on Khadija’s (RA) attributes and all that she achieved, rather than how she looked, in Islamic history is refreshing and inspiring. It is a reminder to Muslim women, and women world-wide, that their ability to stand up in the face of adversity and to show wisdom at all times are what matters. Not the size of their waist, or the colour of their tan.

If there is a perception to be reconceptualised, it is that there is such a thing as a typical Muslim woman. Muslim women come in various shapes, colours and sizes. There is no typical Muslim woman. There is however an ideal Muslim woman: The mother of believers, who was courageous, brave, supportive and smart. While, as Muslim women, we may be dissimilar in many ways, I take pride in being united by our desire to emulate the attributes of Khadija (RA).


Mujahid, A.M. 2012 Golden Stories of Sayyida Khadija DarUsSalam. Riyadh




How I Learned the Meaning of Ramadan

Atika Dawood

Aged 5, Ramadan was the time that came every year when everyone in my family would fast but me. I am the youngest, arguably most stubborn, sibling and I did not like being left out so I would insist on keeping the fast. My parents allowed me to do so as the fasts were a lot shorter and I think they knew I would give in after a few hours. They were, of course, correct. I have one distinct memory of five year old me attempting to fast: as my sister went into sujood, I hid behind the curtain and unwrapped chocolate coins – not the quietest of tasks with their foil wrapping – and shoved three into my mouth. A struggle to chew, I managed to do it but with little time to cover the evidence. I stood there with foil scattered across the floor, chocolate across my mouth and guilt smeared across my face. When my sister laughed as she found me behind the curtain, I doubt I was too happy I had proved my parents right: I was too young. Come to think of it though, I could have gone about it more efficiently: I should have stood behind my sister, instead of suspiciously behind a curtain, and put the foil in my pockets(!)

My point is, as a child I only wanted to fast because everyone else was and I wanted to join in. I knew, to some extent, why they were fasting but that was not my reason at all. After a recent conversation with my niece, a nine year old who insists on fasting the 18 hour fast simply because everyone else is, I figured it is a normal way for a child to feel; to respond to the many comments I see on news articles about school-aged children fasting, it is very seldom because they are being forced to, it is because [children] are stubborn and will not take ‘no’ for an answer.

As I continued through school, Ramadan was filled with me frantically turning the pages of the Qur’an, trying to finish it as many times as possible – most importantly, more times than anyone else in the family. Ramadan was a month like no other – it was fun, it was different – filled with competitions, samosas and pint sized me standing beside my sister, copying her actions as she prayed.

Through school we are told that “Ramadan is a time for Muslims to reflect on what they have and to experience the life of the poor.” An oversimplified statement that just does not encapsulate [Ramadan] as I reflect on it years later, though it does allude to what Ramadan means to me now. Many years later it is still that same unique month, but I have a different take on it, I have refreshed my intention and rightly so – I am no longer a five year old!

And now I understand it. I understand that Ramadan is not about how much [more] Qur’an I can pray [than my family] – nor is it about samosas! Praying Qur’an is a big part of Ramadan for Muslims around the world, yes. But it is no longer the only book I read. I try to pick up books about the prophet (peace and blessing be upon him), about Islam, books to understand the Qur’an – rather than just reading it. This practice is important to me solely because in the blessed month – a month in which many put aside time specifically to pray, to remember God, to reflect and so on – striving to learn more about my religion and to be closer to God is possibly the best way to spend my time.

Ramadan is what the school teachers were alluding to. Ramadan is reflection. But it is more than reflecting in order to be grateful, it is to reflect on oneself: on the relationship between yourself and God, on where you are at now and where you would like to be, on the habits you have and how they can be bettered. Using what I have learnt in my Classical Arabic Literature module, it is a matrimony of the physical and the spiritual – physically abstaining to spiritually grow.

Over the years I have learned and grown to appreciate Ramadan as an individual experience, one that is far from alienating as it allows you to feel connected to everyone partaking.

“If I was to ask you what Ramadan means to you, we’d have sixty different responses, despite twenty people in the room. That is the beauty of Ramadan and that is what we try to encapsulate” said Ali, one of the Ramadan Tent Project (RTP) volunteer coordinators, on my volunteer induction day. And that is Ramadan.

Ramadan is as much individual as it is unity. It is everything Open Iftar stands for: bringing together people of faith and non-faith, those with homes and the homeless, those spending Ramadan with their families and those who are finding a family to spend Ramadan with, bringing all these people together to a shared space in which we are all equal. I am yet to experience RTP as a volunteer however as a visitor, RTP is one of my favourite Ramadan experiences. RTP is inclusivity, it is unity, it is a family – and you feel a part of [the family] each time you step foot into Malet Street Garden.

Now aged 19, Ramadan is mine; the same way it belongs to every other person going through this journey of self improvement through abstaining from food (etc), through reflection and through spiritually growing. Ramadan is an individual experience: this is my [experience]. Ask another who is fasting to learn about theirs, and while you will surely see similarities, I will be surprised if you do not learn something new.

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Atika is a second year SOAS undergrad where she has begun her journey into writing through the student newspaper covering various topics: from quasi-structured political rants and interviews to book reviews and author profiles. A multilingual lover of languages, writing – reading that of others and writing herself – and mangoes. And tea. And puns. And crunchy peanut butter. Also a budding journalist, though this is potentially subject to change as she is the token indecisive young person.

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