‘Why I believe Ramadan brings us all together’
The former lawyer and Labour MP for Tooting won an election to become the Mayor of London in 2016. He is the first Muslim mayor of a major Western city, and observes Ramadan every year.
It is the first week of Ramadan, the holy month when Muslims fast between dawn and sunset. London Mayor Sadiq Khan argues that it is a time to bring all communities and faiths together.
Is it really that bold to be the first Muslim mayor and be unafraid to be Muslim? I don’t call myself a Muslim politician; I’m not a Muslim spokesperson or leader, and it’s important to clarify that because otherwise you’re defined solely by your faith.
But, as Ramadan starts, I’m aware that it’s a great opportunity to do things in the community, and break down the mystique and suspicion around the religion.
If you’re someone who doesn’t have Muslim friends and your only experience of Islam is what you see on the news — the angry man with a beard doing or saying something terrible — then you may inadvertently associate that with Islam and think that is what it’s all about. So, I’m making it a priority to get out there and build bridges by hosting Ramadan meals around the city at synagogues, churches and mosques.
“Anyone who knows me knows that I’m miserable during Ramadan. What I usually miss the most is caffeine.”
The best way for people to understand each other’s faith is to share experiences. Fasting is a good way to do this because, when you’re breaking bread with someone, inviting non-Muslims to have that iftar meal together, it shows that it’s not a big deal, nor is it spooky or weird.
When I was growing up, you had to explain to people why you weren’t eating. Now, in a cosmopolitan city such as London, where for 1,000 years there has been an open exchange of trade, ideas, people and culture, most people know someone who will be spending this month fasting. Ask them how they are! It makes a big difference when someone spends just a minute to see how you’re doing.
This year will be tough. Because of the lunar calendar, Ramadan moves back by 12 days each year and we’re now in summer. It’s scary.
What you don’t want to do is try to completely change your lifestyle, because it sort of defeats the object of it and the sacrifice. It’s impressive how much your body can and will endure — much more than you realise.
Anyone who knows me knows that I’m miserable during Ramadan. What I usually miss the most is caffeine; I go to lots and lots of boring meetings (not this year, of course, because now I have the best job in the world!) and I need caffeine to keep going. So, this year, in preparation, I tried to cut down on coffee in the lead up to it. Food isn’t the issue — you get over that. The other big myth is that you lose weight in Ramadan. Not true.
Part of me doing this is to show that it is possible to be someone with Western, liberal values and be a mainstream Muslim. My election proved that London believes you can do both at the same time.
According to research, British Muslims are the most charitable group in the country, and I believe a lot of that comes down to Ramadan — it’s a month of sacrifice, reflection and humility. It’s a real leveller, too — you can’t not have empathy.
For instance, as mayor of London, I’m more aware than ever that in this city, the second-richest in the world, 100,000 people had to access a food bank last year — and I can, to a degree, understand that experience (I say that with the recognition that, unlike people who are homeless, I get a big feast at the end of the day).
There is a role that Muslims in the public eye play: to reassure people that we are OK. It’s not because we’re more responsible; it’s because we’re more effective.
We have the most diverse city in the world, but we don’t have people mixing as much as they could. I want to enable people to have a sense of belonging.
This is an extract from an article published in The Guardian in June 2016. You can find the full version in Become An Expert.
- Should everyone try fasting during daylight hours for a month, regardless of their faith?
- Fasting during Ramadan is one of the Five Pillars of Islam. Choose one of the other four and create a short video or presentation about it for the rest of your class.
- The ninth month of the Islamic calendar is considered holy for Muslims, as this was the month when the Quran was revealed to the Prophet Mohammad by the Angel Gabriel.
- Ramadan meals
- Sadiq Khan began this tradition in 2016, his first year as mayor and the year this piece was first published. He will be attending similar meals again this year, although the dates and locations have not been confirmed.
- The meal, after sunset, during which Muslims break their fast. It is often shared with friends, family and members of the wider community.
- Lunar calendar
- The West follows the Gregorian calendar (365 days), based on the Earth’s orbit around the Sun. The Islamic calendar is based on the cycles of the Moon. It lasts for either 354 or 355 days. This is why Ramadan falls at different times each year.
- There are exceptions for children, pregnant women and people with jobs like brain surgery, where their performance can mean the difference between life and death.
- By polling company ICM in 2013.