London, Asharq Al-Awsat—Despite being expats and practicing different customs to those of the West, Muslims from around the world who are living in London have not abandoned the religious rituals and social customs they practice during Ramadan. The multicultural nature of British cities, and particularly of London, has made ample room for Muslim communities to freely practice their customs and celebrate the holy month.
When you walk the streets of London, at first you are unlikely to notice any signs of Ramadan, except for the occasional iconic double-decker bus driving past with an ad for a Muslim charity on the side, reminding the faithful of their charitable obligations.
The Ramadan atmosphere, though, is hard to miss on Edgware Road, the heart of London’s Arab community, and the other neighborhoods where Muslim communities live. Here, you immediately get a sense of the religious and cultural heritage Muslims have brought with them from their home countries.
The mosques across London are filled with the prayers of believers from many nations. This is especially true of the Islamic Cultural Centre and the London Central Mosque in Regent’s Park. The mosque, popularly known as the Regent’s Park Mosque, is a destination for thousands of worshipers during Ramadan.
This Ramadan, the mosque is running religious classes, forums, cultural seminars and serves up suhoor, the meal Muslims eat before sunrise during Ramadan.
The center’s director, Dr. Ahmad Al-Dubayan, explains that “during the Taraweeh [special Ramadan prayers], you notice long queues of worshippers of different nationalities flocking to pray in profound reverence and to listen to the recitation of verses from the Qur’an.”
Even London’s Muslim youth are observing Ramadan, which involves additional prayers and abstaining from food and drink between sunrise and sunset. “You notice that the Muslim youth have a great concern for the holy month of Ramadan,” Dubayan said.
“On the other hand, we cannot deny the fact that the identity of some Muslim youths have become weak after they have lived such a different life [in the West],” he said, adding that the cultural center offers special lectures for young people to learn about Islam.
Elsewhere in London, Arab shops and restaurants are decorated with Ramadan lanterns and Islamic tableaux. Grocery shops are stocked with traditional Ramadan foods, which have often been specially imported from Muslim countries.
Some restaurants are serving up the iftar meal at sunset, as Muslim customers flock to break their fast. Other establishments are providing free meals to the poor and needy during Ramadan.
The social custom of exchanging visits, sitting in coffeehouses and visiting malls is also practiced in London. But the long days and short nights of northern Europe are making it difficult to pass the night celebrating with family and friends, as happens in the Arab world.
Nonetheless, the tradition of staying up at night has come to London, where cafes and restaurants—especially those owned by members of London’s Southeast Asian Muslim community—are staying open late for the holy month. This is especially true among the Asian Muslim communities in London.
Statistics show that the majority of Muslims in the UK come from south Asian countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh and India.
The Kuwaiti population is also very active in celebrating Ramadan in the capital, just as they are back home. Many Kuwaitis are meeting with friends around a breakfast table in the early hours of the morning, in the style of the traditional Kuwaiti Diwaniya gathering.
The Kuwaiti Embassy in London is also observing social customs, with the aim of establishing contact between its citizens. The embassy opens its doors to its nationals and staff throughout the whole month of Ramadan. These gatherings are concluded with a Ghabqa, a traditional Kuwaiti Ramadan banquet.
Muslims constitute around 5 percent of the population of the UK, numbering around 2.7 million according to the 2011 census, and are about 12 percent of London’s population.