This is the first year I’ve spent Ramadan in London and it’s definitely been an interesting one! The fasts here in London are from about 3am until 9:30pm! Long days and probably the longest I’ve ever fasted. I was a little worried about this, but as long as one eats nutritiously (and very sparingly) and drinks tons of water from Iftar to Suhoor (and takes a nap in the afternoon lol) it’s not so bad!
We visited a number of different kinds of Mosques they have here: wealthy one’s, ghetto one’s, big one’s, smaller one’s, even a brand new one! Each mosque has a different set up for Ramadan. A few distribute Iftar snack bags to the public with Samosas, fruit and water, and one even provided a full little Biryani boxed meal donated by a local restaurant. Some pray 8 rakats and some pray 20. Recitations go from Shaatri-esque loveliness to fast-Desi-qirats. Some have the Imams do little talks before Taraweeh begins. In the last 10 days they also have Qiyaam around 1am and provide Suhoor. The nice thing is that it feels like a carnival in the Middle East sometimes as they set up tents and stalls and sell things during and after Taraweeh, like cakes, ice cream and my favorite: burgers!!
Despite the huge numbers, the Mosques are very organized with a lot of volunteers that are usually clearly marked in every Masjid wearing vests. They help direct people, distribute Iftar, clean up and make the ladies move up and make space and try to make the kids that are running around go back to their Mums! It’s actually really nice to see the amount of people helping and being active here (instead of like the one or two ppl who have to do everything at Mosques in America!)
I’ve had a lot of good experiences (and also some not so good) during Ramadan. I met some very nice people like a sister in a wheelchair whose name is Banaan (fingertips! –like the one’s Allah will resurrect us from on the Day of J.), a friendly Greek convert and an Italian one with two beautiful little girls with blonde hair and blue eyes. I hung out in the last 10 days with an American sister whose husband is here to teach classes during Ramadan. (We went to Halal KFC for fried chicken and Bebzi like true Americans of course and giggled over Britishisms!) One evening at Taraweeh I saw some beautiful deaf Muslims signing away at each other and one translated the talk to the others. It’s really fascinating going to all these Mosques and meeting so many different people and seeing everyone from policemen, to taxi-drivers, to bus drivers still in their uniforms all praying together. London Muslims are really diverse, even for Muslims, and are from every tiny country on the globe and are so numerous and part of society here it’s really fascinating.
One thing to note is that Ramadan is on a big scale here. Mosques are hugely crowded big city affairs. You have to go early and be prepared for crowds and sometimes ugliness. Just going to the Mosque to pray, dealing with the crowds, annoyingness, the weather etc brings to mind memories of Hajj! It’s so similar to what it feels like there. (For the Westeners at Hajj it’s not very difficult for us in terms of accommodation or food, but what’s really difficult is dealing with other people, personal space, the crowds, ignorant ppl etc.) The one thing I feel that is really missing here and does not compliment their huge numbers and organization is Adab; just basic consideration and kindness, having the character of a Muslim. I don’t know if it’s just because it’s a big city or because Muslims are so fractured here, but it’s glaringly lacking, even in Ramadan. Basic things like just saying Saalam, or talking to someone next to you, or not gossiping in a foreign language, sharing one’s food, making room for elderly sisters. And honestly I find myself doing it too! If no one else is doing it, why should i? Then I have to shake myself and remind myself Adab is for Allah and not anyone else!!
I do miss my community back home where everyone knows each other and everyone makes huge efforts to be kind and earn good deeds in Ramadan. Everyone invites each other over for Iftar or hosts open Iftars at the Mosques. Community Iftars are really special and bring everyone together. I remember one community Ramadan Iftar we girls even made a pact for everyone to go sit with someone new and to make at least one new friend! If someone did not have food everyone would immediately give their entire plate to that person! But alas, even though I missed that, alhamdulillah in every place there are good things to take and learn from. I was able to attend many Ramadan seminars in London, Iftar fundraisers and lovely talks and workshops. The sheer amount of money they raise for Muslim causes in London during Ramadan is absolutely incredible, and praying with thousands of Mussaleen has it’s own special qualities.
Here I leave you with a few pics…(sorry abt the quality, it’s all i could surreptitiously get!)
And a Blessed Ramadan to everyone. May Allah accept.