x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 July 2017

Fasting at Olympics will be a joy to behold

As a Muslim Londoner, I can assure Muslim athletes and visitors that my city will present an Olympic Ramadan experience that will surprise and uplift you.

My Olympics tickets arrived this week. I was originally down on the Games - with the looming transport difficulties, risks of terrorism and possible disease pandemics - but now I've decided to ditch my British gloominess and embrace the occasion.

But there's a challenge to negotiate: it will be Ramadan, and I'll be fasting.

When the Olympics were first announced for London during July, there was immediate uproar about its conflict with the holy month. How would the many Muslim athletes from around the world combine their desire to fast with one of their great sporting moments? Was the timing inconsiderate, perhaps even a deliberate slight?

Much has been written about the challenge facing Muslim athletes. I sympathise deeply with their conundrum: how to balance a great moment in their sporting careers with the important duty to fast. After all, not only is fasting a deeply ingrained obligation that connects the believer to the Creator, it brings with it a sense of deep spirituality and community that Muslims are loath to sacrifice.

However, as a Muslim Londoner, I can assure Muslim athletes and visitors that my city will present an Olympic Ramadan experience that will surprise and uplift you.

Of all the cities that could have been home to an Olympic Ramadan, London feels like the right place. One of Ramadan's aims is to instil a sense of connectedness to the world, and London does that daily with its global heritage and connections. And set in the context of a national population that is not Muslim, the fasting experience is enhanced, spilling over to our neighbours and friends.

Muslim Londoners know how hard fasting is when it's not the social norm. And this year fasting in London will be tougher than ever, as night falls after 9.30pm and dawn breaks early. But this will only enhance the sense of camaraderie.

London's Muslim population centres around the areas surrounding the Olympic park and village will be transformed during the Games, and not just for the sporting events. Ramadan will be celebrated by a diverse community of Muslims, the most diverse in the world, from Turks to Somalis, Yemenis to Pakistanis. As such, Ramadan options for Muslim visitors will be plentiful.

Fancy some traditional Bangladeshi cuisine for your iftar? From the Olympic village head over to many restaurants at nearby Brick Lane. How about praying in a beautiful Turkish-style mosque? It's just a bus ride over to buzzing Hackney. And who can forget Edgware Road, with its myriad Arabic eateries in West London.

An iftar will be co-hosted by London Citizens - a group that believes that people have the power to make change in their communities - and the East London Mosque, one of Britain's oldest and largest Islamic institutions. Just a stone's throw from the Olympic park, 3,000 people will be invited to break fast together. "The more the merrier," says one of the organisers.

Most Olympic venues will have a mosque very close by, where visitors can go to pray, learn and break fast. It's ironic that this fact has upset some of Britain's bigoted pundits, who have not yet come to terms with our city, the global village. But paradoxically, Britain's multicultural population was actually one of the winning factors for its successful Olympic bid.

And for me, that is exactly why Muslims Londoners should feel proud of their city. Observing Ramadan will be a unique challenge for athletes, but for Muslim spectators, it will be an opportunity to enjoy one of the world's great global events with one of the world's great Muslim populations.

Shelina Zahra Janmohamed is the author of Love in a Headscarf and writes a blog at www.spirit21.co.uk