London’s muslims reflect on difficult summer during Ramadan’s longest day

It’s 9.15pm in western Europe’s largest mosque and the crowd who have come to celebrate Iftar, the breaking of the fast for the day, is patiently waiting to pounce on a strange unidentified green drink and samosas.

The devotees at the Ahmadiyya Baitul Futuh Mosque haven’t eaten or drunk anything since 2.40am today – the longest day of the year and one of the longest days that anyone fasting around the world will observe.

In the sweltering heat chief Imam Naseem Bajwa is explaining the importance of sacrifice and the spirit of Ramadan, which encourages forgiveness and giving, to the mixed crowd of muslims and visitors who have been invited to join.

Reaching heights of 34 degrees, it also happens to be the hottest day of the year so far but drinking water is forbidden until sunset.

Jamal Akbar, a banker and father heavily involved in community outreach, said: “You find that your body very soon adapts to the lack of food after the first few days.

“It’s the water that’s difficult, you appreciate that glass of water a lot more when you haven’t drunk for so many hours.”

But beyond the physical discomforts of the heat and thirst, this has been a difficult fasting period for British muslims, particularly those in London.

Before fast was broken a prayer was offered to the victims of the London and Manchester attacks as well as the victims of Grenfell Tower, and the imam took the opportunity to condemn acts of terror and emphasise the country’s solidarity and resilience.

He said: “The terrorists seek to divide our communities, to disrupt our lives and undo the work we have done to achieve social harmony but they never have and never will succeed.

“We have seen again the darkness of evil and its destructive force, but we have also seen the solidarity and resilience of our communities and of our country.

“Our gathering here today is a further reflection of our strength and our message is clear, that we stand united against extremism, united in prayer and united in peace.”

A sentiment that has been shared by many over the past few bloody months, but the rise of Islamophobia in the country is clearly a cause for concern for muslims, and Jamal partly blames the media for feeding a negative image of the community.

He told me how when he was contacting the press about a multi-faith fundraising event he was organising, he was asked whether anyone would be burning flags or poppies.

He said: “When there is a negative story there should also be a positive one because it is only a very very small minority which carries out these attacks.”

He added that the Grenfell Tower incident was a powerful muslim story, showing what the positive impact the community has, but that it wasn’t being given anyway near enough press coverage.

During the early hours, when the fire was just taking hold, it was muslims who were the first on the scene to wake people up and assist them out of the building – during Ramadan many are awake through the night to observe prayers.

In the days that followed, local mosques opened their doors and muslim community groups flocked to the site to offer donations and help, partly because of the heavy emphasis on good deeds during Ramadan.

Umar Bhati, 19, aspiring human rights lawyer who had rushed to the site, said: “When I heard what was happening I asked two or three of my friends and just went.

“It’s our city and we need to help each other.”

On Sunday muslims across the country came together to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, the end of Ramadan and the fasting season and an occasion that carries a sense of new beginnings and ‘rebirth’.

Looking back, it has been a difficult month.

However, although there may be more challenges to overcome and attacks from and on muslims, the muslim community is clearly an integral part of this country and will continue to help make dark times brighter.

In this hot room in south London filled with strangers joking and sharing meal it seems difficult not to be optimistic that this open and charitable side of Islam will win through.


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