After four weeks of exploring the beautiful traditions of Muslims around the world, we’re wrapping up this year’s Muslims Who Fast.
This Ramadan we’ve spoken to converts, a traveller, a model, a blogger, a couple who revealed a surprise pregnancy, and other wonderful people who shared their iftar with us.
To end, we chat with Zarah Sultana, the Labour Member of Parliament for Coventry South.
She was elected in December 2019, becoming the youngest MP from a Muslim background.
In Parliament, she’s been raising issues from the climate emergency to student debt, corporate lobbying and the growing dependency on food banks.
It’s also Zarah’s first Ramadan in Parliament, meaning she still has to carry out all her day-to-day duties and maintain a relationship with her constituency, all under lockdown.
She uses her downtime for prayer and worship to make the most of Ramadan.
Let’s find out more about Zarah and see what she’s eating.
What are you having for iftar?
The menu for iftar today is fruit, samosa chaat and saag (spinach) with roti, washed down with some mango lassi.
Spending this Ramadan under lockdown has meant that I’ve had the opportunity to cook a lot more and learn some new dishes!
What’s a Ramadan must-have?
An absolute must-have for breaking my fast is dates, water and fruit.
When Ramadan falls during the spring and summer months, watermelon and mangoes are my family’s fruits of choice. They’re refreshing, hydrating and incredibly tasty.
How is this Ramadan different for you?
It’s my first Ramadan as an MP and it’s the first one being spent in lockdown away from family and friends. This has meant all the activities I usually depend on to keep connected with people have been stripped back.
Growing up, I was taught that feeding a fasting person holds immense rewards, so I’m used to iftar being one of the most communal parts of Ramadan.
As an MP, I would usually be travelling back and forth from my constituency, but with Parliament being held virtually, I’ve had to quickly re-adapt. Some days I spend nine hours on Zoom calls, including speaking in the virtual House of Commons, and regular meetings and events with constituents.
So I’ve had to carve out some time in the evenings and nights to ensure I’m getting the time to exercise, eat well and pray.
What does Ramadan mean to you?
The month of Ramadan signifies a really important part of my year. It’s an opportunity for me to reassert my sense of purpose. Ramadan acts like a spiritual reset by enabling me to become closer to God through fasting and prayer, but it also reminds me of my purpose in all aspects of my life and work.
It’s a period of self-reflection about what I’ve done so far in the year and what I can improve on in terms of my spirituality and personal life as well as professionally to ensure I am serving and representing my constituents to the best of my ability.
How do you stay in touch with your constituency under lockdown during this month?
Normally, I would be visiting organisations, attending events and meetings and holding surgeries with my constituents on issues they need my support with.
Since lockdown, I’ve continued everything virtually and have been updating constituents through my regular newsletter and a weekly video online and virtual surgeries.
As lockdown measures have eased ever so slightly, I’ve been able to volunteer at our local food bank.
The spirit of Ramadan really is in serving people, and for me, serving the people I represent in Coventry South, the working class and the marginalised is priority.
Any particularly fond memories of Ramadan?
I have a friend who hosts a big iftar every year in Manchester and it’s a beautiful gathering of hundreds of people who might have not seen each other all year. Two years ago, it coincided with the Champions League final in which Liverpool lost against Real Madrid.
Being a Liverpool fan in Manchester and losing in a European final, it was an emotional iftar but I have loads of fond memories of this annual event which is unfortunately not happening this year.
Also over the years, I’ve been part of small WhatsApp groups where we reflect on chapters of the Qur’an and their relevance to society today.
My favourite verses to return to have been from Surah ad-Duha. It was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad during a time of great anxiety and uncertainty, something which I know a lot of people will be feeling right now.
Reciting this chapter and finding comfort in the message that God sends has been an immeasurable help.
Any favourite Ramadan snacks/meals?
While I love trying new things during Ramadan, the classics in South Asian cuisine will always be my favourite. Ramadan wouldn’t be Ramadan for me unless there’s some pakoras, samosas, bhindi (okra) curry and dhaal with buttered roti.
Thanks for reading every week. We’ll see you next Ramadan.
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