As mayor of London, the Islāmic holy month provides an opportunity to break bread and build bridges between communities
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. We all have multiple identities – I’m a Londoner, a son and a father – and City Hall isn’t a pulpit. 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 this month to get out there and build bridges by hosting Ramadan meals around the city at synagogues, churches and mosques.
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.
This year will be especially tough. Because of the lunar calendar, Ramadan moves back by 12 days each year and we’re now at the peak of long summer days. A lot of these fasts are going to be 19 hours long. It’s scary. My diary is still full for Ramadan – we’ve got the EU referendum coming up and I could even have to open my fast on stage with a glass of water at an event. Last year, we had a big selection campaign during Ramadan, so there were lots of very hot hustings, where I had to perform while fasting. That’s part and parcel of it.
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. Of course, there are Islāmic injunctions in the event that fasting affects your performance as a brain surgeon or if you’re in the armed forces, but it’s impressive how much your body can and will endure – much more than you realize.
Anyone who knows me knows that I’m miserable during Ramadan. Some would say I’m miserable all year round, but it does affect my mood. 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 on May 5 proved that London believes you can do both at the same time.
(Source: Mayor Sadiq Khan’s opinion piece was originally published for the Guardian Newspaper on Sunday June, 5, 2016)