Ramadan Reflections: Mercy

The heartbreaking tragedy at Grenfell saw many lives lost, many losing all that they have. May God have mercy upon the residents of Grenfell Tower and provide them with peace, strength, ease, and comfort, during these devastating times, ameen. May those who have passed rest is peace, in power, ameen.

The scenes of helpfulness and kindness were overwhelming, from Churches to Mosques, who opened their doors to all, and people traveling from all over London, and the UK, to offer their help and donations. We pray that the efforts and intentions of all those who helped and have supported, are rewarded and sustained; may God provide us all with the strength and ability to do more, to help and provide support wherever we are able, ameen.

Abdullah ibn Amr reported: The Prophet SAW said, ‘Those who are merciful will be shown mercy by the Most Merciful. Be merciful to those on the earth and the One in the heavens will have mercy upon you.’ [Tiirmidhi]

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In Conversation with Martin & Chylo: Islam From a Non-Muslim Perspective

As someone who has more friends that are non-Muslim, than Muslim – I have been surrounded by many different reactions and opinions to the fact I am a practising Muslim.  I am blessed, that my closest friends are the most supportive, accepting and positive people, which with Islamophobia on the rise, has given this fact more value than it normally should. While they understand how important my faith is to me, I was so surprised when I learnt one of them held a deep respect and appreciation for Islam, that went beyond the usual tolerance and acceptance I was used to.

Chylo Douglas–Forbes , affectionately known to me as ‘Doc’, is of Caribbean Descent and was raised by her father in south London.  I remember talking to her about Islam once just casually, and being surprised by her response; I distinctively remember her saying ‘Islam is such a beautiful religion’. I was so amazed that she held this opinion despite being non-Muslim. Her reaction went beyond any understanding my other friends had displayed; I was intrigued as to what lead her to this understanding. She then went on to tell me that it was because of her father, Martin, and his love and high regard for the religion, despite being Christian himself;  ‘Hmmm, for as long as I can remember we’ve had a Qur’an on our bookshelf. Well, actually on top of our bookshelf, as It’s meant to be right at the top or something? Anyways yeah, so we’ve always had that, and I remember having to wash my hand before touching it or opening it. Even before meals he says ‘Bismillah’. I was always raised to give thanks before eating or going to sleep, so always thought Bismillah was a lazy cop out, but I bet you he’s secretly Muslim’.

I was beyond fascinated at this point; how is it that despite being non-Muslim, this man held Islam in such regard that he had a Qur’an in his house, Calligraphy of Bismillah proudly displayed on his wall, and even said Bismillah before every meal? To me this was amazing, and I knew I had to talk to him to find out more.

And, so after meeting up with Chylo in Tooting and buying biriyani, and three different types of naan from Lahore Karahi, I found myself on the way to her dad’s house to interview him.  Now, it is important to note that I went in to this interview with Martin under the same assumption as his daughter: that he was a practising Christian who simply held Islam in high regard. What I discovered, however, shifted the whole course of the interview, and it became so much more than I was expecting it to.

After lots of laughter and several attempts to get serious, Martin sits down in an armchair in front me, and his daughter Chylo sits beside me, as we finally start the interview.

Do you consider yourself religious, and if so what faith do you follow?

Martin: I don’t know, I don’t know you’d have to be more specific. I don’t go to church or anything like that. I believe there’s a God.

You believe there’s a God? Do you follow a particular religion?

M: No.

No?

M: No, I do not.

C: Not Christianity?

M: I don’t follow Christianity, where’s my Bible? Where’s my church?

C: That’s what I thought

Do you mind elaborating a bit more – so you believe there is a God?

M: I believe we’re created. I don’t believe in Darwinism, that we come from apes and all that. But, you know, maybe that idea has got some of its own strengths, but I believe in God. Those apes had to be created by something.

 Would you say that you believed in one God then?

M: Yeah, yeah. There’s more than one religion, so God will have many names, but there’s just the one.

 That’s really interesting

M: It’s the truth, isn’t it? I might say this in my language, you might say the same thing in your language, it seemingly becomes two different things.

C: Even in the Quran and the Bible, they have the same people, but with different names.

How were you first introduced to Islam?

M: Don’t know (Chylo laughs) I don’t know, I’ve known about Islam from a long time ago, when I was a young guy. But the younger you are, the easier it is for it fly over your head, you can ignore it.

So was it from family, from around friends?

M: Probably friends or something, probably something like (Louis) Farrakhan, or a rap video in which they mentioned something about the Nation of Islam. That was probably my introduction to it, I listened to a lot of rap music, and a lot of the rappers have moved towards it.

What were your first impressions of Islam?

M: My first impression was it’s not for us, it’s not in our language. That was my first impression, that it wasn’t for me. I don’t understand. The writing, it’s nice to look at, but it’s not of my people, I don’t know these people, they’re not speaking my language. When they’re calling to prayer, they’re not calling me because I couldn’t possibly know what they’re saying.

How do you feel about Islam now?

M: It’s for me; they’re my people – I like it. I don’t look at it as religion, I look at it as a way of life, if you want to live good, to live clean. It’s not about ‘follow us or you’re going to burn, follow us or you’re going to die’. Only God will judge me for what I am; it’s about what’s in your heart – it’s your heart that matters.

I remember someone once saying that when you see your brothers going in a certain direction, follow them. Basically, if you see people that you like, your favourite rappers, your friends, your elders, when you see them going to Islam – follow them.

How do you know so much about Islam?

M: I’ve got Muslim friends. Also, I work in a primary school and a big percentage of them are Muslim. And, if you like something, you ask, you enquire about it, that’s how you come to know. If you’re not interested in something, you don’t ask about it, you don’t look into it. You know, when people talk about it, you close your ears. If you’re interested you look, you listen, you ask and you learn.

IMG_9570

So what is it about Islam in particular that draws you to it, that interests you so much?

M: When I look at Christianity, they show me a white man on cross in a country in which all the people have a tan, (Chylo laughs loudly) come on, now. I just think: ‘come on, why you telling me that? Why you trying to pull me to that?’ When I see Islam, I see different people of colour, permanent tan, original language, untampered.

C: There’s actually a lot of talk relating to why so many Caribbean, African people are converting to Islam. It may be that during slavery, it’s something slave owners told them, to keep them in fear, to not rebel against them.

M: What, Christianity?

C: Yeah

M: There’s a joke that if there was a heaven they wouldn’t tell us about it, because they wouldn’t want us there.

C: That’s why loads of people I know are converting.

So you’ve talked about how you feel it’s more inclusive to other races, is there anything else that draws you to it?

M: I like the way of life, I think it’s a good way of life. You know, Christians go to church on Sunday, they may pray when they’re eating, for example, but, in Islam, you’re praying a lot more; you’re keeping God closer to yourself. You know men and women pray separate, so your mind is on God, it’s not on ‘oh that lady in front of me she looks alright’…you know, things like that. It’s well thought out, it’s a way of life. When we’re living in these kinds of times, you need something, do you know what I mean?

That said, I’m going through life like a soldier, I’m not tied to one God, or one religion. I’ve got a sister in one church, a brother in another church, my dad goes to another church, nephews practising Islam and I’ve have friends that are Sikh. So, I’ve been everywhere, Gurdwaras mosque and churches, and I’ve gone there as myself. I don’t go there as a Christian in a Gurdwara, in a mosque, I go there as myself.  When you invite me, I come; you say cover your head, I cover my head.  You say don’t eat meat when you come here, I won’t eat meat. You say don’t smoke when you come here, you say take off your shoes, I’ll do that. Cause’ when I’m going, I’m going as myself.

Have you ever considered converting?

M: I consider it all the time; I consider it all the time. I think about it all the time.

What prevents you from doing so?

M: I’m not committed, it’s just commitment – I don’t know. I think about it all the time. There are children in my school that ask me: ‘When are you taking your shahada? Are you Muslim? Have you taken your shahada?’ I tell them no, I haven’t.

C: I’m pretty sure it doesn’t, and I already kind of know the answer, but do you think the way  Muslims are portrayed especially recently…

M: Don’t affect me, don’t affect me.

C : (Laughs) Yeah, but you can see the difference now…

M: Don’t affect me. Back in the day, when I was growing up with yardies – if you’re Jamaican and you’re bad, you’re supposedly a yardie – all Jamaicans were supposed to be bad men. Jamaica wasn’t/isn’t full of bad people, Jamaica has lovely people. But there’s a percentage of them that are wicked, and they give all a bad name. It’s the same with everything. There’s always someone trying to spoil it, trying to spoil your name.

This interview lasted approximately five hours – I stopped recording after three. It evolved more in to a discussion and debate between all three of us, I couldn’t help myself from joining in. Martin was so fascinating to talk to, and the views he holds are so interesting. What you are reading here is a mere eleven minutes of the entire three hours – that is how rich the conversation was.

I feel I learnt a great deal from this interview, but the main thing I learnt about Martin, is that he is extremely compassionate, empathetic and tolerant. He also seeks to spread these values in everything he does. It was quite touching to learn he makes an effort to learn a few phrases in languages his pupils speak, so he can greet them in that language and make them feel comfortable. He tells me he always tries to see everything through a positive lens, so even if he does experience any negativity it goes unnoticed to him. Whether he decides to revert to Islam or not, it is beautiful to see how deep his understanding of Islam goes and that he has passed that down to Chylo.

I think we could all learn a little from Martin. In fact, the world could do with a few more people like my dear friends Martin and Chylo.

Talk, listen and share: Ramadan is more than lists and books!

I know, this probably seems like one of those “how to be productive” articles that somehow pop up every year during Ramadan. However, as cliche as it sounds, the holy month is about more than just fasting. It is a time to reflect on our weaknesses and plan our time efficiently. With this in mind, I’ve compiled a short guide to improve productivity, while remaining realistic.

1. Talk to people, and actually listen.


Learn about Ramadan through conversation! If you want to know something specific, why not ask someone you trust? This works both ways! If you have information to share, start a conversation. It’s important to encourage dialogue among friends, family and even acquaintances. Learning is much more than reading a book. We learn buckets from each other! And I’ve found often the deepest conversations are with friends from different [religious] backgrounds.  Let’s move out of our comfort zones, and dare to ask questions: What is spirituality? What is religion? Who is God to you?

2. Watch videos, but be selective.

We’re so often told that the internet is the enemy of productivity. Most productivity guides tell readers to avoid YouTube, stay off their phones and log off Facebook. But, is that the way of the future? We are lucky to have such easy access to our favourite imams and scholars, all from the comfort of our homes. From in depth and accessible tafseer videos by Nouman Ali Khan, to stories about the life of Prophet Muhammed (PBUH), social media can be a great tool if used correctly.

3. Simply be with people.

As a time often associated with family gatherings, laughter and traditional food, experiencing Ramadan alone can be incredibly alienating. So why not look out for those who may be alone this month? You could invite friends to the masjid, volunteer at a local charity, or even invite them to attend our Open Iftar one evening. Having a friend who encourages you to be productive, makes the experience easier and less daunting.

4. Don’t be put off by the long hours. It’s about you!

The long fasting hours mean two things:

  • You have more time to get things done!
  • “The angels seek istighfar (forgiveness) for the believers(…)”

So, it’s important to keep a balance between spirituality and our own well-being. Remember Ramadan isn’t a competition based on who can give the most money, or how much Qur’an you can read and how quickly. Ramadan is both very personal, and about being part of a community; while everyone’s journey is different, we all have the role of encouraging each other.

Hopefully, following these steps will help us use our time more wisely. From reflecting on our spiritually, to picking up good habits, intention is what will make Ramadan a blessed and beautiful month – inshaAllah.

Surah Al Fatihah

“Get to know the greatest surah of the entire Quran! An appreciation of Surah Al-Fatihah is something that has to be refreshed and renewed.” Quoted from Nouman Ali Khan Quran weekly video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_8I6BZQED7E.

We kept saying that ramadan is the month of the Quran. Let’s meditate about the values of the Fatihah, this surah that we always use in our prayer. Let’s tighten the link between us and this surah. Which better moment do it if it’s not during Ramadan?

Here is some interesting elements that speaks about the Fatihah to meditate:

Sahih Muslim records on the authority of Abu Hurayrah (R) who said that the Messenger of Allah (SWS) said,

Allah, the Glorious and Exalted said, “I have divided the prayer between Myself and my servant equally and My servant shall be granted what he asked for.” Therefore, when the servant says, ‘All praises and thanks are due to Allah, the Lord of the worlds’, Allah says, ‘My servant has praised Me.’ When he says,’The All-Merciful, the Most Merciful,’Allah says, ‘My servant has extolled Me.’ When he says, ‘Master of the Day of Judgment,’ Allah says, ‘My servant has glorified Me.’ When he says, ‘You Alone we worship and Your aid Alone do we seek,’ Allah says, ‘this is between Me and My servant and My servant shall have what he requested.’ When he says, ‘Guide us to the Straight Path, the Path of those whom You have favored, not [the path] of those who have earned [Your] anger, nor of those who have gone astray,’ Allah says, ‘this is for My servant and My servant shall have what he asked for.’ 

Ahmad records on the authority of Abu Hurayrah (r) who said (in part of the hadith) that “The Prophet (SWS) called Ubayy ibn Ka’b and told him that:

“Ubayy said, ‘Then he took hold of my hand and talked to me while I slowed down fearing that we may reach the door before he finished talking. When we did reach it I asked him, ‘What is the Surah you promised me, O Messenger of Allah?’ He said, “What is the Surah you recite in prayer?” So I recited the Mother of the Quran upon which he said, ‘By the One in Whose Hand is my soul, Allah has not revealed the likes of it in the Torah, Injil, Zabur or the [rest of the] Quran. It is the Seven Oft- Repeated verses.’ “

The Value of the ‘Muslim Vote’

In what was an unexpected decision on the 18th of April, current Prime Minister Theresa May called for a snap general election, despite previous repeated assertions that an early election would be against ‘national interest.’ However, with the election taking place during the holy month of Ramadan, there is a fear among Muslim politicians — particularly Muslim politicians affiliated with Labour or SNP —that the Muslim voter turnout might be considerably lower than usual.

Labour MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, Rushanara Ali warned that by ‘holding an election during Ramadan… there could be a disproportionate effect on voter turnout in those constituencies with a sizeable Muslim population.’ Some MPs view the scheduling of the election as a blatant disregard of the Muslim vote. For example, SNP’s Humza Yousaf argued that ‘a lot of the people in the Muslim community feel that they are not even factored at all into the conversation.’

Despite these worrying comments from Muslims MPs, the Muslim Council of Britain have recently assured the British public that Ramadan should not really have any significant impact on the Muslim turnout. Yet, with the current climate of political apathy, the hot weather, and the absence of food, I cannot help but worry how this will affect our influence on the democratic process.

As a young British Muslim, I find the possibility of a low Muslim turnout especially upsetting considering the growing anti-Muslim sentiment in the UK, mainly due to the recent, devastating terrorist attacks in London and Manchester. According to the 2011 United Kingdom Census, Muslims make up around 4.4% of the population (3 million), making Islam the second largest religion, and therefore, a substantially important voice in broader society.

The lack of willingness by individuals to take part in the political process could only result in wider alienation, and a decrease in already low levels of political representation. I feel it is important to see voting as an opportunity. It is an opportunity to ensure politicians consider issues that potentially could affect Muslims all around the country, like security concerns, social inequality, the disturbing rise of Islamophobia, as well as issues  such as the bifurcation of wealth between the rich and the vast majority of society.

So, I urge you all to vote! Not only does your vote matter as an act of empowerment, but you really can directly affect who leads our country. In fact, research conducted by Geo.Tv suggests that in approximately 38 constituencies Muslim votes are decisive in the outcome of the general election. In constituencies like Bradford, Luton and Slough, who have a large Muslim population, Muslim voters have the power to sway the election results, which is why I urge you — regardless of who you decide to vote for — please make your mark on that ballot paper!

8 Taraweeh Tips for Non-Arabic Speakers

The blessed month of Ramadan has arrived, and alhamdulillah we welcome the fasting, the joy of being with family during iftar and attending community events like RTP’s Open Iftar. However, it is important to remember that Ramadan is the month when the holy Quran was revealed. One of the many ways Muslims actively engage with the Quran is through its recitation during taraweeh. In fact, even entering a mosque, and seeing men, women and children, from all walks of life praying side by side has a ‘Ramadan-feel’ to it.

Yet, taraweeh can often be overlooked. This might be because it takes place late at night and difficult to balance with school or work, but the truth is for non-Arabic speakers it can be boring. While local mosques try to recite the whole Quran and encourage following along, little guidance is given to those who do not understand a word of Arabic. To support those, who despite a language barrier seek to enjoy taraweeh, below are eight simple tips that you should try out.

  1.  Get hyped for the night

Remind yourself that Ramadan is a gift that comes only once a year, and that there are great spiritual benefits from praying taraweeh:

‘I heard Allah’s Apostle saying regarding Ramadan, “Whoever prayed at night in it (the month of Ramadan) out of sincere Faith and hoping for a reward from Allah, then all his previous sins will be forgiven.”’ (Sahih Bukhari)

— Abu Huraira.

So why not shower, dress well, smell good, and head to the mosque with your family and friends. Even if you are praying taraweeh at home, prepare some water and snacks, as well as your favourite surahs that you can personally reflect on during taraweeh.

  1. Choose your favourite mosque

Mosque

This is all up to you! What do you look for in a place of worship? Whether it is because the imam has a great voice, or there is a kebab shop just as you leave the mosque at 1 a.m., choose a mosque you simply feel comfortable in. Do not forget to pay attention to recitation, general comfort and atmosphere!

  1. Familiarise yourself with Arabic

Every day, set aside time to read a few pages of the Qur’an in the English translation. Ideally, this should be accompanied by reading and/or listening to the verses in Arabic. The English translation will make the surah more memorable, and in turn easier to recognise during taraweeh.

Top Tip: Listen to the Quran while commuting to work, university or school! You can listen while you’re cooking, cleaning or even on your journey to our Open Iftar. The more exposure and interaction you have with the Qur’an, the more familiar you will be with its flow and content.

Writer’s  Favourite: Quran recitation and English translation podcast –https://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/mishari-ibn-raashids-recitation-quran-translation-its/id1016304387?mt=2

  1. Prepare a translation ahead of time

Reading

Find out what the imam will be reciting during taraweeh ahead of time! You can ask him personally, phone the mosque, or follow along yourself – some mosques cover a juz (part) a day. Then, read the translation before the actual recitation – on your way back from work, after ‘Asr or on your way to the mosque. This will help you reflect on the general meaning, even if you don’t understand every single word during prayer.

Writer’s Favourite:

App with Quran translation and audio – Quran Explorer:  https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/quran-explorer/id451133186?mt=8

  1. Focus on key words and/or Quranic stories

Try focusing on key phrases! When reading the Quran, you will notice that words are often repeated. For example, common words like samaa’ (sky), ardh (earth), jannah (paradise), naar/jahannam/jaheem (hell) will start to become familiar. So, when you hear the word “Jannah” during your prayers, you are able to engage with the reading and  think of the most beautiful place you can imagine.

Also, the Qur’an is filled with parables and stories about past prophets. Familiarise yourself with these stories and the lessons they provide. For example, if you were to hear the name “Yusuf” or “Ya’qub”, the story of Yusuf should immediately come to mind. Hypothetically, if you were to be dealing with the loss of a loved one, you could gain strength from the moments of fear, sadness and loss that Ya’qub felt as a father losing his son.

Ya’qub cried so much he lost his eyesight, but despite the pain he still said: “[…] Patience is beautiful [for me]. And Allah is the one sought for help against that which you describe.” (Qur’an 12:18)

—Holy Quran

  1. Memorise with a purpose

We should ensure that we are constantly memorising Qur’an, with full knowledge of what each word and verse means. This is not an easy-fix! However, it will benefit us in our long-term goal to engage with the Qur’an in prayer.

Top tips: Whether it’s after Fajr or before you sleep, it is essential to be consistent. Start with memorising one verse a day and know the meaning of that verse. Use the same mushaf or app and just recite the verses over and over again. Throughout the day, recite what you memorised in your daily prayers even if it is one verse, this will keep the verse and its meaning fresh in your mind. I also recommend starting with the back of the Qur’an where the chapters are shorter.

  1. Learn Arabic

Calligraphy

Another long-term solution is to learn Arabic! Enrol yourself online, or in a local Arabic course and learn basic Quranic Arabic. Becoming familiar with the vocabulary, grammar and syntax will help you appreciate the Quran at a much deeper level. Soon you’ll be able to actually feel as though Allah is talking to you directly.

Writer’s  favourites:

Writer’s personal note: I, myself, only started learning Arabic around five years ago and honestly, learning Arabic was, and still is, difficult. But trust me, the sweetness you taste when you understand a verse or a few words of the Word of your Lord, it will be worth the struggle. I always motivate myself with this hadith:

“The Messenger of Allah s.a.w. said: Verily the one who recites the Qur’an beautifully, smoothly, and precisely, he will be in the company of the noble and obedient angels. And as for the one who recites with difficulty, stammering or stumbling through its verses, then he will have TWICE that reward.” (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)

— Ai’sha (May Allah be pleased with her)

  1. Breathe

Take a step back, and breathe! Arabic in itself is a difficult language to master, and the efforts we make as Muslims to understand the Quran may at times seem overwhelming. It’s important to acknowledge that we’re not going to understand the Quran overnight.

Make sustainable goals based on your own capabilities and ask Allah to make the process easy:

We have made it easy to learn lessons from the Quran: will anyone take heed? (54:40) —Holy Quran

Also, choose certain days to sit back in the masjid. Choose to pray a certain number of rakaats for taraweeh, and follow the recitation with the English translation instead. This way you would get rewarded for sitting, reading and understanding, while marvelling at the power and wisdom of the Quran.

It’s about starting a relationship with the Quran – not a race to finish it!  With every difficulty and struggle you are building a personal relationship with Allah. Know that He is Al-Shakoor, the Appreciative, and He appreciates every struggle and loves our sincere efforts.

“…My servant draws not near to Me with anything more loved by Me than the religious duties I have enjoined upon him, and My servant continues to draw near to Me with supererogatory works so that I shall love him…”

— Hadith Qudsi

Tents and the Islamic World

Since childhood, I have always associated tents with camping outdoors, under the stars, snuggled up inside a sleeping bag. While I have actually never been camping, I do remember putting bed covers over a washing line to resemble a makeshift tent in the garden. There is something about being under a tent, this ephemeral architectural structure, which makes me feel secure and protected from the outside world.

However, the history of tents goes far beyond the mainstream understanding of what they symbolise. In fact, they have invariably been an integral part of the Islamic world. From the Bedouin tribes use of tents as portable homes, to their modern transformation into what is now called a ‘kheima’ restaurant. Tents can be homes, convey a message of authority and provide a unifying space to have iftar, all at the same time.

A Brief History

For the Ottoman sultans, tents were an extension of the palatial complex. They were assembled for outside festivities, celebrations and military campaigns. To think these ostentatious tents were like the more practical tents we have today would be a complete misconception. They were magnificent — just like Sultan Suleyman himself! They were designed to not only fit the sultan himself, but his whole entourage; from his harem to senior officials.

Since very few of these historical tents exist today, most of our evidence is found in painted miniatures like the one shown below. The miniature depicts a scene from the Siege of Vienna in 1529, where Sultan Suleyman orchestrated an attempt to capture the city. Interestingly, even during military confrontations, the tents were purposefully embellished with typical Ottoman floral motifs and rich silks in order to    assert the Ottoman imperial presence.

However, during my time at university, I studied the uses of Ottoman textiles and came to the conclusion that tents were not unique to the early modern Islamic world, but actually extended further west. I think it is safe to assume that almost everyone is aware of the Tudor dynasty (1485-1603) — particularly the infamous King Henry VIII! I would like to point out that Henry was not too different from his Ottoman counterparts in the East. In fact, a diplomatic meeting between King Francis I of France, and Henry VIII in 1520 is known as the Field of the Cloth of Gold; a nod to the fact that the luxurious tents that were constructed to host the King were woven with gold thread.

Modern Tents

From the early modern period to present day, it is almost assumed that if you visit Dubai for a holiday, you have to experience the traditional Bedouin way of life. On Facebook, I have scrolled through many photos of jeeps traversing the golden desert, followed by a traditional feast in a Bedouin tent. It seems that tents in the Middle East have now become a space for orientalist adventures. With their low drooping roofs and decorative cushions scattered across the floor, Bedouin culture has been romanticised to fit our imagination of what a nomadic lifestyle supposedly is. While these excursions offer tourists a chance to immerse themselves in something that is utterly different to their own cultural practices, it has been pointed out that companies  tend to charge high prices for something that does not entirely reflect the history of the Bedouin lifestyle.

Recently there has been a proliferation of ‘kheima’ restaurants. I first encountered one of these restaurants during a trip to Algeria. Initially, when I was told there was a large tent in the desert that serves traditional food, I immediately thought “Well… this is going to be a long car journey!” In actuality, the journey lasted nothing more than ten minutes from my family home.

I was surprised to see that from the outside the restaurant looked like all the other Algerian restaurants. There was a regular doorway with reflective windows to stop others from seeing the inside. But as soon as I stepped inside, I felt immediately transported into the middle of the Sahara — albeit an air-conditioned Sahara! Draped around me were traditionally decorated pieces of striped cloth, surrounding our low cushioned seating. I remember thinking that it was such an innovative idea. While it may be a clever business move, in my opinion it also stresses the importance of tents in Muslim culture, and the need to preserve these traditions.

Ramadan Tent Project’s Open Iftar

Every year before Ramadan commences, our tent is assembled at Malet Street Gardens marking the beginning of the annual Open Iftar. Admittedly, I was not aware of the profound symbolism of the Ramadan Tent logo up until now that is. The twenty-nine shapes the twenty-nine days of the month of Ramadan. While the crescent — which is placed above the asymmetric shapes — symbolises the start and end of Ramadan, giving us a total of thirty days. Not to mention, that the tent’s seven layers signify the seven heavens mentioned in the Qur’an (see Quran 17:44, 65:12, 71:15).

For me the marquee at the Open Iftar not only provides a space for all people, from various backgrounds and faiths, to come together and join in the act of breaking one’s daily fast, but also epitomises the strength and unity of communities during periods of division and uncertainty. Seeing the tent in Malet Gardens constantly reminds me that Ramadan is a period of togetherness and compassion for those less fortunate than yourself.

Happy Ramadan 2017!

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