Post-Ramadan reflections: Muslims in the West seek solutions to social, political shortcomings
Living as part of a minority group in a country you call home and trying to maintain your connection to your identity can be a challenging experience for many.
You’re far from the land of your roots, which you continue to try to water and keep alive for the parts of you that you deem most integral to flourish.
This often means that in a drought of opportunities to nurture that connection, you may grasp at the touch of anything that makes you feel more aligned with yourself and your values.
"As they bid Ramadan farewell, some Muslims reflected on their experiences and issues the month arrived with, including a lack of social understanding, loneliness, exclusion and food insecurity"
Such feelings can intensify in moments of collective cultural or religious festivities, including Ramadan – a holy month for Muslims who fast between sunrise and sunset for 30 days before celebrating Eid al-Fitr.
This year, Eid day fell on Monday, after a month where many Muslims living in the West found deep importance in building a sense of community.
While many were able to gather to break bread together each evening in a spirit of devotion to their faith, many others were not.
As they bid Ramadan farewell, some Muslims reflected on their experiences and issues the month arrived with, including a lack of social understanding, loneliness, exclusion and food insecurity.
UK-based Muslims' experiences of Ramadan
“We should be recognised more, it shouldn’t be employees telling their employer they’re fasting, they should educate themselves and be more proactive about it,” UK-born Muslim Amina told The New Arab, explaining she hopes for the wider general public to be better informed on the Islamic practice after seeing "many" examples where people were not.
She also said it would “be nice to see more effort”, from public leaders, organisations and political parties to host Iftars – the meals Muslims break their fast with – for Muslims to “feel more valued… [as] small touches make a big difference”.
"Some British Muslims surrounded by a wider Muslim community still felt a sense of division, holding that a lack of integration exists between various ethnicities"
Amina was able to immerse herself in Muslim communities during the holy month when visiting lively mosques made her feel “really spiritual”.
However, some British Muslims surrounded by a wider Muslim community still felt a sense of division, holding that a lack of integration exists between various ethnicities.
UK-born Muslim Adnan, argues this created "a silent divide between us when that shouldn't be the case, especially during Ramadan”.
“Sometimes it's difficult because slight [cultural] differences in traditions or even politics can put people off mixing… but the new generation of Muslims tend to have a wider variety of friend groups from different backgrounds,” Adnan told The New Arab as he described his experience. He suggested the youth should be given more space to lead in community-based projects as a solution and “opportunity to bring different cultures together”.
Mohammad, who recently moved from Egypt to the UK, also explained that he found Ramadan to be lonely, due to a lack of visible or easy opportunities to find a Muslim community. He says this demotivated him and put him off making a larger effort to find solutions, stating that, being new to the country, he didn’t know that many British mosques provided free Iftars.
“This was my first Ramadan outside of Egypt and it didn’t feel the same, I feel like there was no Ramadan, there were no decorations anywhere and no mosques doing the calls to prayer... It didn’t feel like there was a shared experience in the fasting,” Mohammad told The New Arab. He added that it would have been “good to know areas with decorations or where Muslims gather”.
Many Muslim parents across the country also grappled with being part of the Muslim minority, as they tried to teach their children Ramadan's spiritual and religious values. “I make an effort, I decorate, I make Ramadan calendars, so [my children] can join in the countdown to Eid,” Sarah, a UK-based mother of two told The New Arab.
“It is important to have easy access to a wider Muslim community, especially for the kids… it grounds you… it’s good for your faith to be around others who believe the same way you believe,” Sarah said, explaining that living in Birmingham – where 21.8% of the population are Muslim, as opposed to 5% across the UK – allowed for Ramadan to be a more positive experience for her family.
Working to create a community
Some Islamic organisations worked to combat the issues raised by Amina, Adnan, Mohammed and Sarah throughout Ramadan, by aiming to build bridges of understanding. This includes the Ramadan Tent Project (RTP), which runs an 'Open Iftar' initiative, which provides free Iftars for Muslims and non-Muslims, as speakers take to the stage to discuss local social, political, cultural and religious issues.
“The Iftar itself is not just solely based on the meal but on a community spirit of exchange, to create that sense of family, warmth and compassion,” Omar Salha, the CEO of RTP, told The New Arab, explaining that RTP has connected over 350,000 people since it began in 2013. Omar stated one of his goals with the initiative lies in “developing understanding [and] dispelling myth misconceptions that we see in the media” regarding Islam that creates an “us and them… division”.
This year was the first year the project was able to bring communities together for face-to-face Iftars since the pandemic began. Omar noted the importance of such interactions during the holy month, stating it enhances communication and allows for a more “genuine interaction and engagement”.
A post-pandemic Ramadan
The pandemic also left financial fractures behind, which many Muslims were left reeling from during their fasts. This Ramadan, half of Muslim UK households were estimated to be living in poverty and struggling to feed themselves, according to UK based charity Islamic Relief. This figure compares to one in six homes in the general UK population living in poverty, as Islamic Relief called on the UK government to take action and offer financial help to those affected.
“It is important, now more than ever, to create a sense of security and belonging… the first Ramadan after the pandemic has seen a rising level of families struggling to make ends meet,” the charity told The New Arab.
Alongside partnering with RTP to provide open Iftars, Islamic Relief worked to raise awareness of Muslim struggles and provide food parcels globally and domestically to ease worries over food access during the holy month.
"This Ramadan, half of Muslim UK households were estimated to be living in poverty and struggling to feed themselves"
Omar believes there is a shared responsibility within society to tackle the issue of heightened food insecurity among Muslims, and for the general experience of Ramadan for those practising to be more positive. “We do need to work in a much more integrated manner, from a local, national and international level… the solution will not come from one entity and I think it needs to come from a source of genuine compassion and empathy,” Omar told The New Arab.
As the lunar month comes to a close and we say goodbye until its reappearance in 2023, it's clear that there's room for Muslims across the UK's experience of Ramadan to be elevated for a greater level of personal, social and financial comfort in future years.
Although fostering a sense of community and being acknowledged for their lived experience all year round is important, recognising, building awareness of, and allowing for a greater celebration of Ramadan appears to be particularly important to Muslims in the West, where an individual's connection to their identity as part of a minority group may need a little more fuel to thrive.
Aisha Aldris is a journalist and podcast host, accredited by the Broadcast Journalism Training Council. She specialises in social and humanitarian issues, alongside cultural identity and the arts.