The Public Acknowledgment of the Month of Ramadan in UK and France Amid Persistent Social and Economic Challenge

Ramadan, the ninth month of the Muslim(lunar) calendar and the holy month of fasting and prayer started for Muslims in Europe on March 23 2023.

Ramadhan lights, Charity, and Unemployment.

For the first time  London’s Piccadilly Circus [fn]It’s a street illumination which runs from Coventry street and joins Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square. The shapes are due to light up every day throughout Ramdhan. The lights will illuminate the street throughout the month, all the way to April 23.[/fn] has been lit up to welcome the Islamic holy month . This is the first time a European city has put on such a display for the festival with 30,000 sustainable lights.[ii] Mayor of London Sadiq Khan switched on the display as many gathered to celebrate the historic moment on Tuesday, 21 March 2023.  Khan tweeted that this is a genuine representation of how the capital city commemorates its diversity. The concept has been curated by Ramadan Lights UK, a not-for-profit organisation which aims to spread awareness of the month of fasting.

The beginning of the month of Ramadan was also marked by the press release of the Charity Commission for England and Wales [fn]Charity Commission is an independent, non-ministerial government department accountable to Parliament. It is the regulator of charities in England and Wales and maintains the charity register.[/fn] praising the generous spirit of Muslims during Ramadan.[iv]

The public gesture of acknowledgement was appreciated by many Muslims.[v] Others however expressed their skepticism. Afroze Zaidi, the editor of Canary called it a “superficial recognition of diversity and  politically safe”. She said that such steps make institutions appear to be doing something about racism without actually addressing it in a way that might cause those in power any discomfort. As they don’t call for accountability from the ruling party that’s institutionally Islamophobic.[vi]

This public acknowledgement seems indeed minimal in the light of the  findings by the  ONS (Office of the National Statistics) [fn]Office of the National Statistics- is the UK’s largest independent producer of official statistics that also conducts the census in England and Wales every 10 years.[/fn] that highlights that 68% of the total Muslim population in England and Wales live in areas with the highest unemployment, compared with 26% of Christians and 25% of respondents who said they did not follow a religion [vii]. The ONS suggests the younger age profile of this group is a contributing factor as to why Muslims in England and Wales had the lowest rates of employment. Those who identified as Muslims are generally a younger cohort than other religions and more likely to be studying. The percentage of students among those who said they were Muslim was almost twice that of the overall population. While press releases are being issued praising the generosity of British Muslims at the same time the government is yet to comment on these findings and how unemployment impacts those observing Ramadan in the UK.

Ramadan in France

Among French Muslims there is a debate on moon sightings: on the one hand, there are astronomical calculations that clearly predict the phases of the moon. On the other, there is a tradition of observing the lunar month with the naked eye, and its appearance in the sky at the beginning of Ramadan marks the beginning of fasting.  The Council of National Muslim Federations, which meets at the Grand Mosque in Paris, believes that the two methods complement each other. This is why, the start date of Ramadan is always known in advance. According to the  2017 survey by Pew Research Centre the Muslim population stood at 5.7 million as of mid-2016 [ix]  which represents 8.8% of France’s population. French Muslims face several issues, including Islamophobia and discrimination. Many reports have highlighted vandalism attacks targeting mosques, cemeteries, and individual businesses. [x]

For the thousands of Muslims currently incarcerated in France the holy month is particularly challenging. There are no official statistics about the number of Muslims in French prisons, however, in 2016, the Ministry of Justice reported that around 26% of the prison population requested special accommodations during the month of Ramadan. Some prisons provide upon request special meal offerings during Ramadan. However, many inmates choose to make their own meals, using the food provided to them as well as ingredients they can buy for themselves from a catalogue of the prison’s food suppliers. Some suppliers offer additional products like dates, halal kebabs, olives and harissa .[xi]

Ramadan and Football.

England is home to several high-profile Muslim footballers, including Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah, Chelsea’s Hakim Ziyech, and Manchester City’s Riyad Mahrez.Referees across the English football leagues Premier League and EFL have been asked to pause evening matches during the holy month of Ramadan to allow Muslim players to break their fast, Sky Sports News reported on March 23 2023.[xii]

By contrast,  the French sports outlet, L’Equipe, reported that the Muslim players on the France’s national football team have been called on to postpone fasting for a few days until the end of France’s matches that take place e during the holy month.[xiv]

“The French staff will not force anyone not to follow their faith, but Les Bleus’ staff has still given recommendations in the hope that the players will choose to postpone fasting for five days during the team’s Ramadan matches.”[xv]

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