Dear Muslims, stop cringing

A graphic showing a table with jugs of water and plates of food under a crescent moon and four hanging lanterns; underneath the table is the slogan "No, not even water".

Ramadan starts next week, and for the first time in a long while, the fasting days will be getting longer as the month progresses; most of the days will be long, starting (depending on your point of view) just after 1pm or some time around 2:30am and finishing just before 9pm and, towards the end, well after 9:30pm. Most Muslims will be working or studying during this time and most of us in the UK will not be working only around other Muslims. Every so often someone decides to make it a little bit easier for us by asking people not to eat right in front of us, especially food which smells, and it seems that some Muslims are over-anxious to tell them that in fact, we’re not offended and others really do not need to consider their feelings before they stuff their faces in front of fasting workmates or schoolmates.

A few years ago I had a conversation about this on BBC Radio London when the Daily Express (or Daily Spew as I called it at the time) made a story out of the fact that staff at Tower Hamlets council in east London, an area where there is a very high concentration of Muslims, not to eat during meetings or otherwise in front of fasting Muslim workmates. Back then, Ramadan was in September and the days were getting noticeably longer and more difficult, although (unlike today) they got shorter as the month progressed. The paper, you may recall, published a number of stories about things being ‘banned’ because Muslims complained or because council staff were afraid of offending Muslims, and often it was utter baloney: Christmas being renamed (tabloids repeated the story about ‘Winterval’ numerous times over the years, when in fact this was a promotion for a refurbished shopping centre which ran for two years and Christmas was part of it), piggy banks being removed and other nonsense like that. After the Leveson report, they had to come clean on the falsity of some of these stories and stop repeating them. But it seems the fear of them has never gone away for many of us.

Some of us have legitimate reasons not to fast at least some of Ramadan: periods, travel, illness or the threat of it (as with type 1 diabetics and long spring/summer fasts) and a few others. If any of these apply to us, we don’t eat in front of people who are fasting if we can avoid it. It’s basic consideration. Of course, contact with food is unavoidable for some people, such as restaurant workers or those with small children, and we have to prepare food in the last hour or so before iftar, and yes, as a Twitter acquaintance pointed out, you get Muslim food companies (like the sweet producer Ambala) making Ramadan prayer timetables that advertise their food. But for the most part, we do not want to go through the day being reminded of food any time we have a free moment and we don’t do that to each other.

So really we should not rush to tell non-Muslims that they really can feel free to stuff their faces in front of us at work and we really don’t mind, really. Do we really think that people who do not want us around, or do not want to see our headscarves or abayas or, where applicable, our brown skin will hate us any less because we don’t object to their stinking the office out with their cooked food during a working day and eating it in front of us when we are trying to concentrate on our work, or read, or whatever when we are hungry? Of course they will not. I do not see Muslims making this request, only non-Muslims trying to be considerate so please, do not throw it back in their faces! The people objecting are not those who need to eat at regular intervals or people with learning disabilities with no understanding of religion; we understand that. They are people who do not want us around, however much we tone our religion or our practice down. This is our country, many of us were born here and indeed even many Asian people are third or fourth generation; we are not unwelcome guests but are here to stay, so let’s not cringe in front of bigots.

Image source: TeePublic.

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