At the best of times, this heaving metropolis of London can be a very lonely place for someone new to the city. Covid-19 restrictions have certainly not made things any easier. For Muslim students (and staff) who will be observing Ramadan at SOAS and who may be away from home and familiar surroundings for the first time, this loneliness can be compounded.
There are a few initiatives in and around SOAS that we hope will go at least some way to making things a bit easier. Whether it be the Thursday gatherings being organised by ISOC, the Wednesday Iftar (preceded by an open discussion) with the Muslim Chaplain or the returning Ramadan Tents programme nearby. These will hopefully be attended by both Muslim and non-Muslim students and be a place where questions can be answered. The most obvious one being, why do Muslims fast? In a previous talk, I did give my thoughts on preparing for Ramadan.
Although there are certainly great health benefits to fasting, it’s not the reason Muslims fast during the month of Ramadan. The simple reason is that Allah/God has commanded us to fast as an act of worship to Him and rewarded by Him. Indeed those likely to suffer physically from fasting are specifically ordered not to fast. This year Ramadan pretty much coincides with the month of April and Muslims at SOAS will be fasting from around 4:30 pm at the beginning of the month (gradually getting earlier) to 7:30 pm (gradually getting later). Certainly by mid to late afternoon many fasting students will naturally be feeling a few pangs of hunger and energy levels may be lower than normal. Then of course all that is temporarily forgotten with the joy of breaking the fast at sunset.
This year the early part of Ramadan coincides with the last days of Christian Lent. A period of 40 days leading up to the holiest day in the Christian calendar, Good Friday. The time Christians celebrate or mark the death of Jesus Christ who is known to Muslims as the Prophet Issa (peace be upon him). Traditionally many Christians fast during lent (not in the same way Muslims do) or abstain from certain indulgences. With all of this reflection, abstention, and remembrance going on, let us hope that it is a time of great kindness across the globe on an individual and state level. However, all of us need to also spare a thought for those trying to fast while in the middle of a war zone or other places of turmoil, and also those across the world who have no idea if they or their families will have what we might call a decent meal that day, fasting or not.
This year I am also going to be once again involved with the online radio station, UK Muslim Radio. Some great educational programmes will be broadcast and it will be worth tuning in from time to time. However it’s also a great opportunity for students to volunteer and conduct interviews, share their own thoughts, host programmes, read the book of the week, and just generally get stuck into a great project. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if interested.
May Allah bless the whole SOAS community at this wonderful and special time of the year.
(Hajj) Amal Douglas is the Muslim Chaplain at SOAS. He is also the author of ‘Call of The Twice Removed’ and ‘Zakat – Raising a Fallen Pillar’ and founder of the Open Trade Network.