17 Jul 2015

Eid relief for Europe’s Muslims after long, hot Ramadan


This has been one of the longest and toughest holy months for Muslims living in Europe, with some fasting 20 hours a day in the summer heat.

A boy takes a sweet at an Eid celebration in Rotterdam (Getty)

Ramadan is over for another year and Muslims are getting ready for the Eid celebration, writes Jamal Osman.

This year’s fast was one of the hottest and longest for Muslims in Europe. Islam follows a lunar calendar, so the holy month can fall during different seasons.

This year it began on 18 June, taking in the recent heatwave, and meaning that Muslims in England were obliged to fast for 16 hours or more of daylight, compared to 12 or 13 hours in Mecca. In the far north of Europe the fast could stretch for more than 20 hours a day.

Those who observed the fast will feel happy, with a sense of accomplishment. Others who chose not to fast may feel a sense of guilt.

Observing Ramadan in Europe is not the same as in Muslim countries, where there’s an organic feel to it. It becomes part of the daily conversation. People encourage each another. They congratulate one another. They praise one another. Behaviours and attitudes change. Even authorities and businesses relax rules. You work fewer hours, for instance.

You don’t get that in Britain. Instead, you find yourself constantly explaining the Ramadan rules. You answer questions like: “Is it okay if I drink / eat in front of you?” And even when you say: “It’s fine, don’t worry”, you still get an apology.

This is a small price you pay for living in a non-Muslim country, though. More and more people are beginning to learn about Ramadan.

Ramadan meal in Kosovo (Getty)

You think of Ramadan as a challenge that you have to overcome. You have to be disciplined and dedicated, willing to test your resilience. Imagine going without food or drink for perhaps 18 hours or more for weeks on end.

Muslims in general embrace the challenge. Before the fast begins – especially this year – you feel nervous about it. You doubt your ability to pass the test.

But once you get into the routine it becomes easy. Your eating schedule changes from daytime to nighttime. Your sleeping pattern changes. You become more spiritual, more sensible and considerate. I found myself respecting the British queuing system more than I usually do.

You become more forgiving and more charitable. In fact, a big part of the Ramadan objective is to experience what millions of poor people around the world go through every day.

You feel their hunger and pain. You appreciate what you have and learn to be happy with your situation. You complain less.

I remember a few occasions where people said to me: “The weather is brilliant today, isn’t it?” My instinctive response would have been: “Not for me, thanks. I’m fasting. And you don’t know what it feels to be fasting in a hot day like this.”

But then, since conversations about the weather are an important part of the British culture, I thought: “I must respect British values.”

Remember how politicians, commentators and even royals emphasise the need for Muslims to abide by British values?. Perhaps Ramadan has helped me to embrace them.

When it’s all over, you come out the other end feeling like a fully serviced car. Ready to go on for another year.