by Sadiq Khan (new mayor of London)
Is it really that bold to be the first Muslim mayor and be unafraid to be Muslim? I don’t call myself a Muslim politician; I’m not a Muslim spokesperson or leader, and it’s important to clarify that because otherwise you’re defined solely by your faith. We all have multiple identities – I’m a Londoner, a son and a father – and City Hall isn’t a pulpit. But, as Ramadan starts, I’m aware that it’s a great opportunity to do things in the community and break down the mystique and suspicion around the religion. If you’re someone who doesn’t have Muslim friends and your only experience of Islam is what you see on the news – the angry man with a beard doing or saying something terrible – then you may inadvertently associate that with Islam and think that is what it’s all about. So, I’m making it a priority this month to get out there and build bridges by hosting Ramadan meals around the city at synagogues, churches and mosques.
The best way for people to understand each other’s faith is to share experiences. Fasting is a good way to do this because, when you’re breaking bread with someone, inviting non-Muslims to have that iftar meal together, it shows that it’s not a big deal, nor is it spooky or weird.
When I was growing up, you had to explain to people why you weren’t eating. Now, in a cosmopolitan city such as London, where for 1,000 years there has been an open exchange of trade, ideas, people and culture, most people know someone – perhaps at work or through friends – who will be spending this month fasting. Ask them how they are! It makes a big difference when someone spends just a minute to see how you’re doing. I’ve had friends fast through solidarity – they don’t always make it through the whole day, but it’s a kind gesture.