By Hasina Momtaz

Close to 70,000 people celebrating Eid in Small Heath Birmingham
Close to 70,000 people celebrating Eid in Small Heath Birmingham

Muslims around the world have just finished celebrating Eid Ul Fitr, the joyous festival which follows the month-long fasting, self-discipline and spirituality of Ramadan.

But what was it like celebrating Eid in the UK against the backdrop of rising Islamophobia, daily media negativity, political scrutiny and the constant threat of being monitored for radicalisation and extremism? How did Muslims feel about celebrating this year, with everything that is going on in the UK, the hundreds of teenagers and now the two families that have allegedly gone to Syria to join IS and the continual spotlight being on Muslim communities?

Around the country, there seems to have been an overwhelming feeling of optimism, resilience and a determination to enjoy the celebrations and forget about the bad stuff that is going on – even if it was only for a few days.

Fariha, a young student from London, says she would “Like to live in a Utopian society where Muslims can practice their faith without being treated any differently to people of other faiths. However due to the rise of Islamophobia, Muslims feel more and more uncomfortable identifying themselves as Muslim as the whole community is labelled as terrorists. This has resulted in a huge increase in attacks on ordinary British Muslims who are just trying to get on and live their life. It gives me more confidence in my religion because it shows how powerful one religion can be. Despite all the negative propaganda against Islam, it is still the fastest growing religion worldwide”.

Iman, a 32-year-old London doctor says “Despite rising levels of Islamophobia, it is an absolute privilege to be a practising Muslim at Ramadan and Eid. The whole community unites like no other during this amazing month, families over iftar, worshippers over tarawih prayers, the youth over soup kitchens and food banks. And there is no community that I feel luckier to be a part of than ours on the day of Eid”.

Amongst the younger generation, Ibrahim Rahman, a 24-year-old filmmaker and web developer says “Celebrating Eid in my hometown of Cambridge has always been a pleasant experience for me. Although I am concerned that British Muslims will be closely monitored, I feel the best way I can personally respond is by showing others what Eid is really all about – a wonderful, joyous day of celebration that promotes unity, happiness and peace”.

In Bradford, people say they are unaffected by what’s going on and it won’t mar their special day.

“That’s how the media portrays Muslims on a day-to-day basis, but it doesn’t affect my life or stop me from celebrating. Eid is a celebration with family and friends and I think, regardless of what’s going on right now, it doesn’t change anything” says Ayesha Hussain, a 22 year-old student.

Rizwan Akbar, 32, a Sales Rep, said “Ramadan is a time to think about others. The families that have gone to Syria will be in my prayers but it won’t affect me from celebrating Eid. There are bad things happening all over the world but that shouldn’t stop us from enjoying the time we have right now to celebrate with our family.”

“People just like to paint us in a bad light. Obviously it affects our community and our race but when it comes to celebrating Eid it won’t really affect me. Eid is about family and celebrating and having a good time.  We need to unite and tell everyone that despite only a small population turning to extremism it won’t stop a nation from celebrating” says Tubassum Farhat, 25, Accountant.

In Luton, the community have been reaching out to their non-Muslim neighbours in the true spirit of Ramadan.

Sanawar Choudhury, a respected Bangladeshi businessman, said a multi-faith iftar was held last week “In Luton, a media declared ‘hotspot’ for Islamic radicalism, attracting nearly 3,000 people sharing the message of Islam – peace and goodwill to all of humankind”.

But Dilara Khan, Founder & President of the British Bangladesh Chamber of Women Entrepreneurs thinks “We are in a time of immense pressure globally. Over the years we have been seeing an increase in extremist activities. Unity is fundamental and a sense of belonging is crucial. We as a community need to talk about these incidents and take leadership in joint work to educate and raise awareness of extremist activities”.

21 year old university student, Tasmia Salim, UCLan SU Education Officer, believes “There is an undeniable tension that underpins our celebrations, a discomfort that arises from the persistent monitoring of our masjids, the demonising of our dress and the visceral violence channelled by right-wing organisations and government alike towards our way of life”.

Mumtaz Khan, a social worker manager, community activist and TV presenter says “Being the victims of unfair prejudice and discrimination and the rise in Islamophobia may in fact be the cause of this supposed ‘radicalisation’. In the past, celebrating Eid and observing Islamic practices may have been something that did not require thinking twice about.  We are now less inclined to adopt such practices due to the fear of being labelled as ‘ radicalised’ or ‘extremist’”.

But others don’t think this is the case.

“We’ve never met Islamophobia” says Shai Hussain, a 33 year old DJ / Screenwriter.  “Whether or not we’re being monitored, I feel Eid is the one day that Islam is allowed to be freely celebrated. And with the media increasingly exploring what Ramadan is, it feels like more people empathise with what Muslims choose to go through for the month, and Eid is becoming something that Muslims and non-Muslims can celebrate together. Eid is probably the one day I feel safest being a Muslim”.

Salam Jones, a 44 year old professional carpenter, says” Despite what we say about them, the British are a very ‘accommodating’ bunch that tries to stand up for what it believes. And one of those beliefs is that people in general HAVE the freedom to pray to whomever one desires. I think once they understand that for us it’s like a sort of ‘Xmas come early’ they respectfully put aside any misgivings they have about Muslims and identify with the sentiments behind this special day”.

Amber, a mother from Croydon, says “We fast the whole month of Ramadan for Allah’s sake so we celebrate the end of fasting to rejoice our submission to Allah alone. Islamophobia or being monitored does not change it”

“With the elevation of Islamophobia the portrayal of Muslims is bleak and daunting. However, the reality, away from media, we witness the streets of London are filled with joy, laughter and peace. This conveys immense optimism for Muslims and non – Muslims, for a better and prosperous future” said Shaeb Khan, 40, Managing Director of an IT development company.

So there you have it.  Some mixed views but for the majority of Muslims in the UK, Eid was a day of celebration, unmarred by the ugly spectre of Islamophobia or by politics. From teenagers to university students to professionals to families, the overall Eid message is one of harmony, unity amongst all mankind, peace and tolerance – the true beliefs that lie at the core of Islam.