15 June 2016, The Tablet

Our perception of Ramadan highlights the gap between Christianity and Islam

Coverage of month-long Muslim fast just provides Christian readers with a sense of 'otherness'


Any reader of the British press this month could be forgiven for thinking that Ramadan is simply a fast, and a particularly gruelling month-long fast at that. Admittedly, this year sees the longest UK Ramadan in more than 30 years – it’s fallen late and coincides with the summer solstice, so the days are longer.

One day of fasting during daylight hours in the UK this year can last up to 19 hours.

Elsewhere in the northern hemisphere, fasting can last 20 hours - in the uppermost northern countries such as Finland and Iceland, with moderate summer climes. In the Middle East, fasting can last as few as 16 hours, but daily temperatures in the range of 35-40 degrees make those hours harder for observers in Oman or Saudi Arabia, for example. The UK is by no means the most difficult place to be a Muslim this summer. And yet, articles have shot out in abundance to stress the hardship of Ramadan in the UK this year, describing it as ‘difficult’ and ‘challenging,’, stressing its abnormally long duration. The Guardian has even set up its own interactive page for Muslims to report how longer fasting will affect them.

It’s great that Ramadan is big news, because of course it is big news. There are nearly 3 million Muslims living in the UK. Ramadan featuring more prominently in the press is a refreshing reminder of the UK’s shifting demographics and our willingness to embrace and support other religious denominations. It is also important to educate non-Muslims on the hardships observers face in order to encourage general mindfulness and support.

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Comment by: Kippy
Posted: 24/06/2016 01:12:40
One year, when Ramadan fell during Lent, I decided to try the fast for one day. I didn't find the food part so difficult (it's not that different from the Good Friday and Ash Wednesday fasts); the hard part was not being able to drink anything. Not only do we sometimes use liquids to feel fuller, one's mouth can get very dry with nothing at all to drink. I work in a school, and seeing children drinking from the water fountain definitely gave me some idea of what life must be like for those who must buy water that is trucked in or carry it for miles, or who must walk our city streets with no place to rest.

It reminded me of the European story of the baker who took a woman to court because she was enjoying the smell of his bread. The judge asked the baker how much the bread was worth, then dropped the coins onto his own desk, repaying the man for the smell of bread with the sound of money.

I also knew that Muslims often break the fast with a date, to convey the sweetness of life and for a number of other reasons. I didn't have a date, so I used a raisin; the sunset explosion of sweetness from one tiny bite was quite incredible.