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Ramadan, Hajj, and the Olympics

A Muslim Londoner Perspective
By Saiyyidah Zaidi-Stone
Founder of Working Muslim- London
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We are lucky enough to have both Ramadan and the Olympics at the same time.

Even though we are in the middle of Ramadan the similarities between the Olympics London 2012 and the Hajj period cannot be ignored.

On 12th of Ramadan 1433 and the 31st July 2012 I visited the Olympic Park with my family. We were unable to get tickets to any of the events but a dear friend spent hours trying to buy tickets in May to visit the Olympic Park. Due to this we were able to go and participate in a very historic event for London that was over five years in the making.

There have been few complaints about the travel arrangements in London for the Olympics. Olympic lanes are working well and London continues to move efficiently which is wonderful news for business and tourists.  Perhaps most disappointing thing for the UK is the medal tally!

London is an amazing place to live at any time of the year. We are lucky enough to have both Ramadan and the Olympics at the same time; it is pretty exciting. In all sections of the community there has been both enthusiasm and scientism regarding the games with many concerned about the legacy and how people living in the locality will be supported before, during and after the event.

Getting inside the Olympic Park was relatively straightforward. All staff was happy and friendly, implementing the sunnah of the smile!

What impressed me most about the Olympic Park was that it was so efficient. I was able to make the Hajj in 2002 and it amazed me how many people were safely and securely moved from one place to another with little inconvenience- the same as for the Olympics.

The Hajj and Olympics

I know a conference took place a few months ago that looked at how the Olympics could benefit from the lessons learned of holding the annual Hajj event; a wonderful opportunity for Muslims to provide assistance and dawah.  Personally, ever since Olympics 2012 was allocated to East London I said that it was no big deal- Muslims in Saudi Arabia have arranged Hajj every year and it runs smoothly so the Olympics should be fine.

The games have a huge diplomatic role now and have done through time, similar to Hajj in many respects. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) determines the rules for how the Olympics will be conducted and ‘Hajj managers’ set out the parameters for Hajj. Both groups are accused of commercialism, nationalism, favouritism and many other isms!  There will always be cynics for successful events- it goes with the territory.

Without doubt both events bring a huge amount of commercial activity to the locality- rumours within media sources in London say that potentially £300b worth of business could be signed in London during the Olympic period. Given the original investment was a mere £3b the return on investment seems substantial.

 

For me and many other Muslims our focus is the Olympic event of Ramadan and winning the race for Jannah.

Olympics, Muslims, and Ramadan

Having said all of this, the one thing that everyone is agreed upon is that the Olympics creates a lot of discussion regarding Islam, Muslims and Ramadan. The last time the Olympics took place during Ramadan was in 1980 and conversations remain the same for athletes regarding ‘to fast or not to fast.’

For the Muslims of East London, an area which is one of the most religiously and culturally diverse in Europe, there seems to be very little impact from the Olympics.

Most Muslims are concerned regarding the length of the day of the fast and whether they will be able to get to the mosque for evening prayers. I know many who have recorded the Olympic opening ceremony and other events and will watch these once Ramadan is over.

What is it like for the athletes? There are over 3000 Muslim athletes taking place in the Olympics and arrangements for religious support, iftars, etc are in place.

 

And a Disappointment...

Walking around the Olympic Park I was impressed with the number of hijabi sisters and brothers with long beards- it felt like the rest of East London. However, as soon as you ask the ‘where can I pray?’ question or ‘are there any arrangements for iftar?’ then it is a huge disappointment.

I expected there to be prayer facilities and at least somewhere where one could have water and dates for iftar, but nothing. In the end we had to go to the Westfield shopping mall and pray and break our fast there, which was a lovely experience too.

It is substandard that the world can be looking at London as a world-class example of multi-culturalism and tolerance, yet there are no prayer or iftar facilities for the many fasting Muslims who attend the Olympic Games.

No doubt there are some lessons to be learned here. The most important point in all of this is that as a Muslim travelling to a predominantly non-Muslim event with a huge amount of security I did not feel targeted or alienated.

I also got to experience a little of a once in a lifetime event but for me and many other Muslims our focus is the Olympic event of Ramadan and winning the race for Jannah.

Related Links:
Fasting During the Olympics: Can I Do It?
2012 Olympics: Ramadan Challenges & Opportunities
Muslim Olympics Torchbearer
Hijab to Make History in London Olympics
London 2012: Getting Ready for the Olympics

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