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Halfway down: how are Bristol's Muslim students finding Ramadan during a global pandemic?

Last year's Grand Iftar on St.Mark's Road, Bristol - the largest street celebration of its kind in the UK. Credit: Shamus Butt.

As we hit the halfway point of this year's Ramadan, Muslim communities at the University of Bristol have been telling us about their rituals and the impact of social distancing measures.

The holy month begins at the first sighting of the new moon, during the ninth month in the Islamic calendar.

It is well-renowned that many Muslims fast every single day during Ramadan, not drinking or eating from dawn until sunset.

They will eat a 'Suhoor' meal before sunrise and break their fast after dusk with 'Iftar' - often sat with friends and family.

Credit: Shamus Butt
Ramadan 2019 celebrations at Bristol's Turkish Community Centre. Credit: Shamus Butt.

The Islamic community believes this period of abstinence enables them to become closer to Allah and improve devotion to their faith.

There is also an understanding that fasting means they can empathise better with underprivileged and deprived communities - often increasing their contributions to charity during this time.

However, many Ramadan traditions have been severely disrupted this year.

Mounir Benzineb says the unique circumstances for Ramadan 2020 gives Muslims an opportunity.

The government's 'Stay at Home' guidelines mean extended family gatherings, Iftar dinners and Islamic classes have been widely cancelled.

In response, many Muslims have found alternative ways to carry out their rituals from home.

This includes decorating their houses with Quran citations and optimising the opportunity to pray with immediate family members.

We also heard about a mosque in Bristol providing online platforms to support local Muslims - streaming prayers and faith discussions.

In the second story from last week's round-up of our 'feel good' community tales (see below), Shamus Butt - the Charity Secretary of Muslim Medics Bristol at the university - told us about these virtual services:

Mounir Benzineb, a first-year Mathematics and Computer Science student, suggests Muslims should embrace the time in solitude: "It's very easy to look at this situation as a negative and think 'my Ramadan is ruined'.

"What's important is, as Muslims, we should be seeing this as a blessing.

"It's a beautiful thing, being able to not only strengthen your bond with God, but also strengthen your bond with your family.

"This Ramadan is going to be very different, but I think it's all about finding ways to make it as beneficial as possible".

Sara Almansour, a Masters student at the University of Bristol, says daily fasting is significantly longer in the UK than the Middle East.

Historically, the Holy month's dates correspond to when the Quran was first revealed to the Prophet Muhammad.

Yet the Islamic calendar is based on monthly cycles of the moon, meaning Ramadan is never a fixed annual date on the Western calendar.

Plans for the special festival which normally marks the end of Ramadan - with gifts and a feast for loved ones - have also been hampered this year.

This is epitomised by the Indonesian Ulema Council - the country's top Muslim clerical body - advising people who are living in Indonesian cities to avoid visiting their hometowns to celebrate 'Eid al-Fitr'.

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