Hina Bokhari AM writes: Being a Muslim candidate during Ramadan

When I reminded my Lib Dem colleague, Richard Poole, that I was going to be fasting for the next four weeks of the elections, he asked immediately how they should support me and how to show respect to Muslim voters during the campaign. So I thought it would be useful if I shared some useful facts and insight into the month of Ramadan and how it may impact Muslim candidates like me and voters in the next phase of the election campaign.

Firstly, I want to thank Richard for showing an interest. When I was younger, few would ask about my faith. Now I have friends who want to join me in fasting and come over for Iftar, the meal at the end of the fast, at sunset. Lots has changed in people’s perception of Islam, sadly because of some very negative Muslim imagery in the media after the New York September 11th attacks. But from this difficult time also came positive curiosity, a genuine keenness to understand and to learn.

As a Muslim woman in politics, I am proud to talk about my faith and encourage people to learn and participate in our traditions and customs. I’m so proud that during the first lockdown we held the Lib Dem Iftar which included MPs, councillors and members fasting along with other Muslim Lib Dems. It was a great immersive learning experience which I would love to do again.

Some of the common questions or comments made every year I fast is whether it is ok to eat and drink in front of a Muslim while they are fasting. It really is not a problem. Muslims don’t expect you to stop eating just because we are. The other question is … “what? not even water?” Yep. That’s right, we don’t even drink water when we fast. And not everyone has to fast, for example if you are not medically able to do so for health reasons. Women also have reasons for not fasting, including while they are breastfeeding or pregnant. The best way to support your colleagues who are fasting is to allow them time to have breaks for prayers or rest. Muslims continue to work, go to school, even take part in major sporting competitions during Ramadan. We will be campaigning too. However, be mindful and understanding if there are certain times we can’t make canvassing sessions.

Muslims start fasting from sunrise and will get up very early to pray and then eat at sunset. This means that energy levels may be best in the mornings or after sunset. Practising Muslims will want to pray at the mosque in the evenings too. If you’re canvassing, you may find a Muslim household very busy during sunset hours. No one will be offended if you knock on the door. Keep the conversation short, say “Ramadan Kareem” and you may get a samosa or date if you’re lucky. The best time to canvass for a Muslim candidate would probably be daytime (it is for me). I try to have lots of breaks, avoid too many staircases and pace myself. (Admittedly, as my friend Cllr Jenny Batt will tell you, don’t canvass with me when I’m hot and thirsty. I get very grumpy.)

Ramadan for me is a chance to reboot spiritually – refocus on my faith and the year ahead. This will be an especially important Ramadan, as for two years we have not been able to celebrate with friends and family properly. This year is also particularly poignant because of the suffering we are seeing in the country and world. With food and energy prices going up, the sacrifices Muslims make by not eating and drinking focusses our mind on those less fortunate. I always love that first sip of water after fasting. It makes me realise how lucky I am to be in a country that has clean, safe water from taps. Ramadan heightens all my emotions, to focus my prayer and help all those who are in need. Charity is therefore a big part of this month.

I also want to mention how brilliant it is that we have so many diverse candidates standing this year in the local elections. I was shocked that I was the first Muslim woman elected in Merton in 2018, its partly why I will be standing again. We need more women like me elected. Women and ethnic minorities are still underrepresented in politics. As one of the first Muslim women London Assembly members, I am therefore proud that two of the London Lib Dem Mayoral candidates this year are Muslim women; Dr Saleyha Ahsan and Cllr Rabina Khan. Outside of London, again there are many fabulous candidates but I want to give a special mention to Shahida Rahman who is standing in Cambridge and will be the first female Muslim woman elected there if she wins. We are breaking barriers and we are doing it with the support of many Lib Dem colleagues.

Thank you to all the allies, and may Ramadan be a great month for us all. Ramadan Mubarak!

* Hina Bokhari is a Liberal Democrat member of the London Assembly.

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6 Comments

  • Catherine Smart 2nd Apr '22 - 10:12am

    Thank you for referring to Shahida Rahman: we in Cambridge think she would be a really good councillor if we could get her in. So thanks for the advice on how to support her. The point about the timing of canvassing sessions is especially useful. There are many more people at home at the moment so day-time sessions are not the waste of time they used to be.

  • Merlene Emerson 2nd Apr '22 - 3:02pm

    Thank you Hina for sharing your faith and experience with us and for flying the Libdem flag. Happy Ramadan Kareem!

  • Thank you very much Hina for your very informative article. I’m a christian candidate married to Jas (Jassim) who is muslim and fasting at the moment and for the first year ever in our married life (nearly 30 years) I am fasting with him. Your words inspire us, thank you!

  • Joyce Onstad 3rd Apr '22 - 9:01pm

    Thank you so much Hina for sharing your faith and explaining the meaning of Ramadan. It is inspiring to me as a Christian and I am sure to people of other faiths or none. Ramadan Kareem!

  • Harun Rashid 5th Apr '22 - 3:17pm

    Thank you Bina writing this.
    Happy Ramadan Mubarak.

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