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Religious diversity: rethinking religion
Religious diversity: rethinking religion

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3.3 Islam and Ramadan

If we think about the function of food-related practices, we can probably agree that eating with other people who share the same dietary practices creates, maintains and strengthens communities. Conversely, people often avoid others who they know or suspect of not abiding by the same dietary rules. In some extreme cases, they might avoid them altogether, in all social contexts, not just those involving food.

In schools and businesses, in homes and religious venues, people from different religions (as well as those who consider themselves to be ‘not religious’) come together. It is a common human experience that people who eat together build friendships. They may gain mutual understanding more quickly than those who only talk with each other. Many rituals around food sharing in religious traditions are intended to serve just this function.

In the film clip below, a group of Muslim friends talk as they eat in a small café in Brighton. They come from different countries (India, Pakistan, Turkey, Syria and Bangladesh) but now live and work or study in England.

They also come from different Islamic traditions: Sunni, Shi’i, Ismaili and Alevi. They do not pretend to represent what all Muslims from those countries or communities think or do. Their conversation is about the similarities and difference between their own experiences, attitudes, preferences and practices.

Much of the filmed conversation in the Brighton café is about the foods that the participants associate with the ‘breaking of the fast’, Iftar, that follows after the sun sets on each day of Ramadan.

Activity 10

Before you watch this film, consider what you might know about Ramadan practices. As you watch the film, listen carefully to the different views expressed. Consider if the opinions and practices expressed by the individuals are different from your expectations. Then reveal the discussion.

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Discussion

We learn a lot about the food preferences of families and communities in different places. As the friends talk, we learn that they object to the idea that particular eating or fasting habits, or particular clothes, define who is or is not a Muslim or what a ‘good’ Muslim should or should not eat or wear. They agree that what the restraints of Ramadan is intended to teach has more to do with being a responsible, decent and moderate person than specific food habits.

We gather hints about the influence of the diverse origins or backgrounds of the five friends. There are also some interesting comments about changes of diet and religious observance that took place when each of them moved to Britain. The fact that they are friends who happily share food together is, itself, worthy of note at a time when so much conflict seems to be generated by people from similar religious and national contexts.