Mosques have been opening their doors to people of all faiths, and none, to share iftar, the meal Muslims have when they break their fast each evening during Ramadan. These events have been taking place in scores of community centres, living rooms, parks – even flash mobs – across the country.
It’s all part of the “Big Iftar”: a month-long opportunity to show Islam in practice. It comes at a time when myth-busting is more important than ever; research earlier this year showed that nearly half of all Britons thought that a clash of civilisations between the West and Islam was inevitable, and less than a quarter thought that Muslims were compatible with the British way of life.
This follows unprecedented crackdowns on anti-Muslim hatred. The setting up of a cross-government working group to advise the government on Islamophobia and the government being the first to fund an organisation to record anti-Muslim attacks and support victims.
We can take inspiration from the Somali community of Muswell Hill, whose centre was razed last month. With the help of the Al-Khoei foundation, they held their own Big Iftar this weekend, to which they invited Mr Pickles. This is a community which has defied those who tried to create division; it has kept calm and carried on. And there couldn’t be anything more British than that.
One is the utter criminality cloaked in the guise of politics or religion by a few deranged individuals on the periphery of the Muslim community who are putting the whole community on the dock. The second is the violent response from far right activists combined with a divisive narrative from some columnists that poisons ordinary people’s mind against the Muslim community. Both are dangerous and they feed on each other. The author argues that in order to defeat this twin menace we need to be careful of our words and language; they matter, especially if they come from senior public figures. The root cause that separates people in any society is ignorance leading to fear of unknown. The local communities across the country generally get on well with one another, due to the fact that there is less ignorance of each other’s lives and more public interaction in their daily life. They are served by the local police, religious or community centres and other civic organisations. But, nationally and regionally, we very much need to find creative ways to bring our diverse people together. Pragmatic political decisions by our politicians, more constructive input from our media and judicious commentary from powerful individuals are what we need today to spread the message of realistic hope and allay the fear of the other; we all have a duty to dispel myths surrounding other communities. This needs a clear strategy and inclusive approach by people in authority – political and civil, Muslims and non-Muslims, religious and non-religious.
Under the rules, swimmers — including non-Muslims — are barred from entering the pool in normal swimming attire. Instead they are told that they must comply with the “modest” code of dress required by Islamic custom, with women covered from the neck to the ankles and men, who swim separately, covered from the navel to the knees.
The phenomenon runs counter to developments in France, where last week a woman was evicted from a public pool for wearing a burkini — the headscarf, tunic and trouser outfit which allows Muslim women to preserve their modesty in the water.
But across the UK municipal pools are holding swimming sessions specifically aimed at Muslims, in some case imposing strict dress codes. Swimmers were told last week on the centre’s website that “during special Muslim sessions male costumes must cover the body from the navel to the knee and females must be covered from the neck to the ankles and wrists”.
Labour MP Anne Cryer, whose Keighley, West Yorkshire constituency has a large number of Muslims, said: “Unfortunately this kind of thing has a negative impact on community relations. It’s seen as yet another demand for special treatment. I can’t see why special clothing is needed for what is a single-sex session.”