So, we are half way through Ramadan and what an amazing buzz there is in the air!
Two weeks ago I was interviewed by Vanessa Feltz on her BBC London show as she asked for my reaction to the then newly launched Channel 4 Ramadan series and The Sun's headline that morning 'Ramadan a ding-dong'. She was surprised that not only was I not offended by the headline, I actually thought it was funny! (yes, I am married to a Showaddywaddy fan too..)
The '4 Ramadan' series has been really good and has been a great show of the diversity that is Muslim Britain. I and tens of thousands of others have been tuning in daily to watch muslims of all shapes, sizes, colours and ages share their spiritual, lighthearted or poignant reflections about the month and what it means to them. The honesty and the homely feel of the programmes have been a great insight that many will have not seen before. And as predicted to Vanessa that day, the call to prayer each morning has not caused national outcry (by blaring out of the TV as a 3am alarm call even if it's not switched on) Far from it. The artistic and carefully made video has been well received by everyone who has seen it.
Ramadan does mean that we go without food and drink from dawn to sunset and yes, in this heat and with such long days it is a challenge, no doubt (if I had a pound for each time someone has said to me 'I could do it but not without water' - I'd be a very rich woman!)
But it means so much more than that and the coming together of people, the sharing of food, the helping the poor and the millions of pounds donated in charity each year are aspects of Ramadan that make it so amazing and actually very difficult to explain in words.
This year, the number of new initiatives I have seen popping up have been nothing short of inspirational. The student style 'Ramadan energy' that fills my Facebook timeline puts Red Bull to shame, big time! In central London, for example, every day, the 'Ramadan Tent' has been set up by students from SOAS. Of course it is a great draw for Muslim students (free food and all!) but it is open to anyone and everyone and with this amazing weather we have been having, the atmosphere is second to none.
Homeless projects and Foodbanks have been inundated with food and offers of help from Muslim volunteers up and down the country, the start of new relationships that will continue through the year.
'The Big Iftar' and 'Iftar 2013' are encouraging Mosques to open up their Iftar meals to not only Muslims but others too and the campaign is being supported by anti racism organisation 'HOPE not hate' who have sent messages to their thousands of supporters encouraging them to take part. The Government has also shown support, with Home Secretary Theresa May kicking things off on the first day at an 'Iftar 2013' event in Maidenhead and this weekend we will see ministers such as Baroness Warsi and Eric Pickles sharing Iftar in Mosques in Leeds and London.
The ISB's Dine@Mine project is running again and we are seeing families opening their homes for Iftar and inviting people to share that experience.
And it is at this point that I share one of the highlights for me so far this year!
Comedian Jason Manford last night put up a request to share Iftar with a family after his gig in Manchester. He was inundated with offers, more than he was expecting! He then followed up one such offer from Rabia Rana and her family. Late the same night he finds himself sharing a family feast with them - curry, naan and samosas topped off with Krispy Kreme donuts and a cup of tea! His commentary and subsequent warm responses from his fans have been touching and have shown once again what this country really stands for.
Following the tragic death of Lee Rigby, I and many other Muslims spoke out publicly to condemn the horrific actions of those individuals and have worked hard across faiths to bring a sense of unity to such an ugly situation. Indeed I was invited to attend the private funeral of Lee Rigby which took place on one of the first days of Ramadan. It was a very moving and poignant service for us all and I was so glad to have been a part of it.
We have recently seen a number of serious attacks on Mosques and a rise in anti Muslim attacks across the country. The untimely death of Mohammed Saleem, loving father and grandfather in Birmingham on his way back from prayers left us all shocked and stunned and we are more determined than ever to make sure those guilty are brought to justice. Muslims are certainly feeling a sense that there have been double standards in the reporting of such crimes and that is something the government and authorities need to take seriously and not ignore.
Working with communities fairly and evenly is the only right way to go forward.
This week Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has spoken on this issue and a press release has been issued from the Jewish Board of Deputies and all the main British Jewish organisations and movements expressing solidarity and vowing to help where needed. It is all very much welcomed and shows the fantastic relationships that exist in our country.
Amid all of this we have to remain positive and hopeful. We have to make sure our resolve is strong and that the attacks by extremists from all sides will not be allowed to divide us.
Ramadan is a time of reflection and renewal, a time for vowing to be a better person through the rest of the year. And yes, a time for charity and doing good for others.
The Jason Manford moment and the other fantastic work I have seen have made me so proud to be British and so proud to be a Muslim and have set me up for the rest of the year and all that it has to offer (and yes, still another 2 weeks of Ramadan to go, wow!)
Indeed, stealing the title from the Channel 4 show, it really has been a 'Very British Ramadan' unlike any other anywhere in the world.
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