Postcard From Zaharah: Ramadan buzz in London

There was a bit of excitement these last few days as Muslims in London started Ramadan. For the first time, beautiful lights, such as those welcoming Christmas and Deepavali festivities, illuminated the night skies in London's West End to usher in the fasting month.

The short but busy Coventry Street in London's theatre town is lit up with "Happy Ramadan" using 30,000 sustainable lights depicting crescent moons and stars and traditional lanterns.

And a small Kaabah.

Designed by and the brainchild of Aisha Desai, founder of non-profit organisation Ramadan Lights UK, the lights were switched on by Mayor Sadiq Khan on Tuesday, making London the first European city to have such a grand display for a Muslim festival.

Desai was inspired by her fondness for Christmas lights and had in the past years created the illuminations on a smaller scale in her neighbourhood.

She did it "to raise that awareness as well to let our neighbours know that this is a really important month for us".

The awareness and understanding of our neighbours and the community about our religious activities are indeed important, especially during this holy month.

There are nightly activities at mosques and religious centres where people congregate to pray and eat.

And the celebrating crowd can be quite noisy.

As usual, Malaysia Hall in London is the place for Malaysian Muslims to gather for prayers and after-prayer meals, which are usually sponsored by individuals, or Malaysian organisations and businesses here, something which we look forward to every year.

There will also be food bazaars and charity events there.

However, we are mindful to leave the premises quietly and not disturb residents.

This is especially so when people go there to perform the Qiamulail at 2am or 3am.

Respect must be earned and we must not invite backlash.

Already people are concerned about two incidents where two Muslims in two places — Birmingham and London — were attacked. The two were set on fire as they were leaving mosques.

A man has been arrested.

For the 1.3 million Muslims in the United Kingdom, celebration in Ramadan has always been a time to demonstrate and show what Islam is, to their neighbours, colleagues, friends and strangers.

For this, the Ramadan Tent Project (RTP) has done a lot to create understanding and bring awareness, turning strangers into friends.

This year, the RTP, which organises open iftars at landmarks — such as Trafalgar Square, Victoria and Albert Museum, British Library, and Wembley Stadium in celebrating their 10th year — have included another venue, the Chelsea Club Football stadium at Stamford Bridge, and it is already fully booked.

They have indeed come a long way in their mission.

I attended the first open iftar at my alma mater, the School of Oriental and African Studies, in 2013.

Homeless people, strangers, rabbis and imam, and people from all walks of life were were invited to join in the breaking of fast.

There was no need for bookings on the Eventbrite ticketing website.

Last year, more than 2,000 people attended the event at Trafalgar Square, breaking fast and praying together.

There were Muslims who brought their non-Muslim friends.

These events offer Mercy Humanitarian UK (MHUK), which used to be Mercy Malaysia UK, to participate in their charity work.

Last year, they roped in Malaysian restaurants to cook Malaysian food for the open iftar at Trafalgar Square.

This year, MHUK chairman Haliza Hashim, a TV3 correspondent, said they were sponsoring the event tomorrow at 22 Bishopsgate, a commercial skyscraper in London.

While it is a time to get together with friends, it is also a time to reflect that tolerance must be practised by all.

We cannot expect people to be tolerant of others while we feel entitled.

It bothers me to no end when I heard rants from some quarters questioning why the Ramadan lights will be on only for a month, or in only a short street.

The same goes to complaints about prayer rooms without ablution facilities in some shopping centres.

The fact that there are more and more praying areas now shows that the understanding of what Islam is and what Muslims need is getting through to people.

Years ago, when our children were small, we were approached by their headmaster to ask us why our son, who was then 7, was asked to fast.

We told him that it was for him to practise fasting, and that he could break his fast if he could not finish it.

He then put students who were fasting in a separate classroom when other non-Muslim students were eating.

When he found students arguing about who was to be the imam, he invited a parent each day to lead prayers.

This Ramadan, we are being told by another school that our 8-year-old grandson is not allowed to fast at school.

However, he is free to do so during the weekends.

I am thankful for these little gestures. We learn to give a little and take a little. To all observing the holy month, have a blessed Ramadan.

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