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Ramadan Lives

Ramadan Lives

Issue 2 Nov / Dec 2003

Ramadan touches the lives of hundreds of millions of Muslims around the globe, uniting all races and backgrounds. Here in the UK nearly two million people have their own unique experiences of the holy month, whether they are Asian or Arab, aged 16 or 60. For many it is the best time of the Islamic year - a time to reflect, a time to develop, a time to be together and most importantly, a time to be closer to God. Remona Aly asks a family, a city worker and a student for their perspectives on Ramadan…


The Gamiet family from Slough are South African yet their roots stretch to Holland, Indonesia and India. Arshad and Mariam were both brought up under the apartheid regime. Twenty five years ago they decided they wanted to bring up their children in a free society and came to the UK. Arshad, a writer and illustrator, recalls Ramadan in Capetown:

“It was a cultural tradition that all the families in the area would cook a dish for iftar (breaking fast) and distribute it to the neighbours, so we had a variety of up to 12 dishes on the table. We carried on this tradition of sharing with our neighbours here in Slough, and we also give food to our non-Muslim neighbours.”

Mariam, a midwife and psychiatric nurse, prepares special South African dishes for Ramadan like koeksisters (doughnut with aniseed and coconut), frikadel (spicy fish or meat cakes), and other foods of Dutch and Indonesian origin. She tells us how the whole family helps in the house:

“Chores are allocated to different family members – everyone takes a turn in laying the table the night before for suhoor, and whoever leaves the house last clears it all away.”

Their eldest son, Khaled, who lives across the road with his wife Nazeema and two children, sometimes comes over to share suhoor with the rest of the family and they all have a meal together every night. Mariam speaks of how the family like to make Ramadan a time for more reflection, for more reading of the Qur’an, to strengthen relations between families abroad and enjoy discussions about the wider Muslim community,

“At this time, the whole Muslim world is doing exactly the same as you are doing, and it hits you that this unity is not only on a family level, but also at a community level and a global level.”

Over the last four years, the family have become involved in the diverse ‘Royal Holloway’ community, where university students and local residents come together at weekends to break their fast on campus. It was within this community that the couple’s second son, Abdul Hameed, met his wife Nadia, with a little help from his sisters as Ameena tells us ‘We found him his wife!’ Abdul Hameed, 3D Animator points out there is much less TV watching in the house: “We don’t watch movies much at all during Ramadan, which has been really difficult these last two years with the release of Lord of the Rings!”

Ayesha, an Art and Archaeology student at SOAS, London, appreciates the opportunity of praying tahajjud and fajr with the family in Ramadan:

“It gives you support knowing that the family is there fasting with you. It’s a blessing to pray together and eat together.” Last Ramadan, Ameena, a History and Spanish student at Royal Holloway, missed spending iftars at home when working and recalls “I wanted to be with my family even more at that time and realised how rewarding it is to have a family.”

Many people do not get the opportunity of having iftar at home, as emel learns from Ihtesham Ashraf, a city worker at Deutsche Bank. Ihtesham just completed his year as a graduate analyst in e-derivatives.

“Working in an establishment in the City can be difficult at times. Long hours can be very tiring especially if you have a deadline and cannot be motivated to work when iftar is only a few hours away.”

“I’m thankful there is a prayer room at work, but when you’re alone at work with non-Muslims for whom it’s not an issue of what you’re going through, it can be a bit depressing. Within investment banking there has always been a ‘pub culture.’ Personally I feel it’s a decision people need to make to see if they can cope with leading an Islamic lifestyle as well as a busy work life. I’m not going to deny it can be a struggle to gain spiritual benefit in a city job.”

Ramadan is an exceptionally good time to put things in perspective and detach yourself from the ‘rat race’ where every day can be the same – travelling on the underground, a long tiring day at work, coming home, eating and sleeping. Ramadan is the ideal time to break the cycle. One should not get self absorbed in work so much that it’s only a matter of skipping lunch, rather it is the ultimate taqwa-building exercise, a blessing from God; a month from which we can learn many lessons, not only curbing ones appetites and desires but also endeavouring to get closer to Allah, most High.”

Yaser Ali graduated in Computer Science with Management from King’s College, London. He recollects Islamic Society improvised iftars and a crowded university prayer room.

“The great thing about Ramadan at King’s was that so many students would come along to the iftar. Not just because they were getting free food, but because everyone is filled with a sense of Islam. I think you can liken Ramadan to an MOT. You undergo some servicing of your soul and it gets you back on track.

Ramadan was always a lively and uplifting time where you would get to meet non-regulars in the prayer room and connect with people you hadn’t really come into contact with before.

The sisters made an effort to bring cakes and party food and send them to the brothers. We were always grateful but never returned the favour. At the breaking of fast every day there would be a brief talk given by various people which was always an interesting focus for the evening. Sometimes, though, I would have to break my fast during a lecture with dates and Yazoo, but usually I would make it to the prayer room.

We would often go on ‘mosque-crawls’ to sample iftars. I can tell you that the food in Mayfair mosque is marvellous. For tarawih, a King’s favourite was to go to hear the powerful Egyptian Qaris at Regents Park Mosque.

There were some overseas Muslim students at King’s who we used to look out for. I remember a young first year fresh from Pakistan who was always smiling and jolly but I could tell he was missing his family during Ramadan and at Eid. He would try hard not to show it though, perhaps because it isn’t considered very macho.

A few non-Muslims also came along to iftar out of curiosity or because they were interested in Islam. There were even some people who converted to Islam during Ramadan, such is the inspiring quality of the month of fasting.”

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