Welwyn Garden City's Muslims celebrate Ramadan
PUBLISHED: 07:00 13 June 2018
Long summer days without a drop of water to drink - what's it like to celebrate Ramadan in Welwyn Garden City?
When the sun sets tomorrow (June 14), a small number of Welwyn Hatfield residents will be celebrating their most special day of the year - the festival of Eid al-Fitr, which follows the month of Ramadan.
According to the 2011 census, just 2.4 per cent of the borough’s residents are Muslim.
The Welwyn Hatfield Times spoke to one family, who are observing a traditional Ramadan, about what the holiday means to them.
IT manager Hasan Deen from WGC, who helps organise Welwyn Islamic Society, is celebrating with his wife Haseena and his children Iman, 12, Dawoud, six, and little Muna, who is two.
Most people, of course, associate Ramadan with fasting - going without food and water during daylight hours.
The fast is broken when the sun sets, by eating a date and taking a sip of water.
Then a big family meal begins, called iftar (‘breakfast’ in Arabic).
On many occasions, an iftar becomes an opportunity to invite friends and neighbours over for a feast.
But that’s just one aspect of Ramadan.
“That’s the physical part,” said Hasan. “And also, we’re supposed to get in touch with our spiritual side.”
This involves abstaining from sex during daylight hours, as well as trying overall to be a nicer person.
“You have to try and be the best person you can be, and be more patient than you’d normally be,” said Hasan.
Fasting allows him to more easily empathise with people who are less fortunate, he said.
“It’s kind of like at Christmas, you’re encouraged to be more kind.”
And given that Ramadan - whose dates follow the lunar calendar - falls in summer this year, the fasting days are longer and the recovery time at night is shorter. “It’s quite mentally and physically tiring,” said Hasan.
The day before he was interviewed, Hasan had had a stressful day at work.
What’s a tough day like when you’re hungry, thirsty, stressed and trying to only think nice thoughts?
“In a high pressure environment it does become interesting,” said Hasan, laughing. “A cup of tea wouldn’t go amiss!”
Not only that, he said, mentions of food are omnipresent.
“It’s amazing how many food references you see on TV, or on a billboard or in a newspaper. You get a craving for something and then you obsess about it!”
Hasan, who works in London, says his colleagues are very considerate, but he would never ask them not to eat and drink in front of him.
“Part of the fast is you’re not supposed to be inconveniencing other people with it,” he said. “We make the choice to fast, but we shouldn’t be imposing that on other people.”
Young children, the frail, the pregnant and the elderly, are not expected to fast, but the Deens’ 12-year-old daughter Iman is old enough to be doing her second fast. Just like Christian kids at Christmas, Iman gets a chocolate Ramadan ‘advent’ calendar, and sometimes gets to pick her favourite foods - pizza and burgers - for iftar.
“We try to make it as appealing to them as possible,” said Hasan.
But for the Deens, the connection they get with their families and communities makes it all worth it.
“You’re expected to do good deeds, as well as abstain from bad things,” said Hasan.
He emphasised that this means serving all of the community, not just other Muslims.
For him, this has taken the form of volunteering at a homeless shelter in the past, and organising multi-faith events through the Islamic Society.
“We have to recognise that we are not just one community, we’re part of a multi-faith town,” he said. And according to how he describes his 12 years in Hatfield and another 20 in WGC, it sounds like much of the rest of the borough feels the same way.
“I think it’s very welcoming here,” said Hasan, whose family roots are in Sri Lanka.
“That’s what makes this area so special - that we are able to practice our religion without prejudice. It’s really what I love about this area.”