A British Teacher Finds Islam in Ramadan
We are often too busy to see the pattern which our life has taken and which has led us to where we are today. By reflecting on what has been, we can learn to be grateful and learn to see all things as part of Almighty Allah’s eternal plan for us.
I look back at my first Ramadan as a Muslim and ponder on all that has happened in my own life since then. That first Ramadan was very special. Before talking about that, though, I need to say something about the two Ramadans before it.
I was Head of Religious Education in a Boys' School in South London and it was my responsibility to teach the pupils about the world’s different religions. In English schools the pupils learn information about the six major world faiths: Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Islam, Sikhism and Hinduism, although no preference is given to any.
I had already visited Egypt and seen for myself how sweet and gentle Muslims can be. Now, though, I had to teach about Islam. Since I was not Muslim, reading about Islam was one of the ways I prepared for my lessons, learning as much myself as I would teach the pupils.
In schools in the UK, as in many non-Muslim nations, there is usually no allowance made for pupils of any religion who wish to pray. Many of the boys in this school where I taught were Muslim, and many of them were from the Arab world.
Just before the first Ramadan I was at the school, the pupils approached me and asked if they could use my classroom to pray, even though they knew I was not Muslim. Allah works in very extraordinary ways, using the simple things of life to work marvels in our lives.
My classroom was the only room in the school with a fitted carpet and a washbasin, essential for the prayers, so it was my classroom that was to be used. I agreed to their request, but the head teacher asked that a teacher be present to supervise the pupils. So, for the whole of Ramadan I sat at the back of the classroom every lunchtime, while the boys prayed the noon prayer and, on Fridays, the Friday congregational prayer.
By the end of that Ramadan I knew how Muslims prayed and I could recite the prayers to myself, even though I didn’t know what they meant. After Ramadan we kept using the classroom at lunchtime for prayers, and this continued all year.
The following Ramadan, while still not a Muslim, I fasted along with the pupils, to show my solidarity with them. Not long after that, Al-hamdu lillah, I embraced Islam. But that is another story. The example of the students had led me to become Muslim. I then joined the pupils each day for prayers, the newest Muslim and the least knowledgeable of all.
During the time between the end of lessons and the Call to Prayer we watched a film about the life of the Prophet. We then prayed the sunset prayer together, with the oldest boy leading the prayers and reciting the holy Qur’an in a very beautiful voice.
As the sun was setting, gathered together in that simple classroom, it was as though an angel came down to visit us. After prayers we had an iftar party. Everyone had brought some food or drink, however little or how lavish, to share with the others and we had a splendid meal.
Although this took place after the events of September 11, 2001 when many in Britain were deeply suspicious about Islam and Muslims, many of the non-Muslim teachers came to congratulate us and to wish us a happy Ramadan.
The head teacher had to be in a meeting, but he took some dates with him to eat at the time we were going to break the fast. The headmaster had learned from us that the Prophet used to break the fast during Ramadan by eating some dates, and so he wanted to do this out of respect for what we believed.
In a Muslim country it is easy to take one's Muslim faith for granted. Friends and family are there to encourage us in our fasting. There are special programs on television to help us know more about Islam and to keep it constantly before our eyes.
Celebrating Ramadan in a country that is not Muslim, on the other hand, can be difficult. Often you can be the only one who is fasting. After breaking the fast there may not be anything special to do in the evening, especially if there is not a mosque nearby.
That evening of my first Ramadan as a Muslim was a very special evening that I will never forget. It gave witness to others about the message of Islam and, for those present, it was a real celebration of the joy and the brotherhood of Islam which touched all of our hearts. Al-hamdu lillah.
Idris Tawfik is a British writer who became Muslim a few years ago. Previously, he was head of religious education in different schools in the United Kingdom. Before embracing Islam, he was a Roman Catholic priest. He now lives in Egypt. For more information about him, visit www.idristawfiq.com.