With less than a week till Eid celebrations, Ramadan is almost at an end. This holy month has been filled with a time of self-reflection for many of us, and for some, even a time that challenges our faith and strength as a Muslim. Many of us experience the same challenges around the world and sometimes, all it takes is to read about other’s experiences to keep ourselves motivated and inspired ❤️

For this instalment of our Ramadan Around The World series, our contributor Arisa shares her amazing journey as a Japanese Muslim revert living in the United Kingdom 😊 Read on to find out more about her inspiring journey.

1. How is Ramadan like in London?

Credit: @nurarisamaryam on Instagram

Alhamdulillah, London has a large Muslim population and wherever you go, you will usually find Muslims and halal restaurants. Even in the supermarkets, they will have a section for Ramadan selling Halal food, dates and etc. There are also numerous mosques where you can have iftar and pray tarawih and this is the time of year when they are most active and busy. There is a very good get-together social and spiritual feeling during Ramadan with many families and friends having iftar together. Currently, Ramadan is closer to the UK summer so fasting hours are long. Regards to the weather, this is the UK; you never know what you’re going to get – sunny one day and raining the next.

2. What’s your biggest challenge or struggle during Ramadan and how do you overcome it?

The biggest challenge during Ramadan is the lack of sleep and long fasting hours. You can only eat and drink for around 6 hours, so it’s often quite challenging to break iftar, pray, eat dinner, go to the mosque for tarawih, and then sleep, as it’s only a couple of hours until you need to get up for suhur again. Many Muslims choose not to sleep at all, but this is really hard to sustain during the weekdays if you work or study full-time. Balancing spiritual and worldly necessities can be quite strenuous, particularly when I compare my time experiencing Ramadan in Japan. I try to work around the lack of sleep by taking a short nap if such as when I’m on the train, free at home, and so on.

3. What are the timings for sahur and iftar like especially in summer VS winter? How does this affect your fast?

Fasting during the middle of the summer in the UK can last for about 19 hours, which is roughly from 2:30 to 21:30. This feels a lot like a marathon, with the final 3-4 hours being particularly challenging.

 London East Mosque

On the other hand, fasting during winter is extremely short and easy, which is about 6:00 to 15:50. This just feels like skipping lunch and having an earlier dinner instead. It’s also great as tarawih at the mosque is a lot earlier and it frees your evening for other Ibadah too.

4. What are some of the activities locals in London do during Ramadan?

There are many iftar events in London. Most mosques will have at least dates and other fruits with some snacks for iftar, but others will also provide whole meals. There is much going on in terms of community activities, especially on the weekends, with extra Islamic talks and halaqas throughout Ramadan.

London Central Mosque

Given a large number of Muslims here, there are a number of events for Muslims and also open non-Muslims, with the mayor of London Sadiq Khan holding a Ramadan and Eid Festival celebration in Central London, many charities providing iftar to homeless people as well as Muslims, and public iftar events were non-Muslims can have iftar with Muslims and experience what it’s like for us and learn more about Islam. It’s also a really good opportunity for Muslim friends to meet-up, spend some time at the mosque, catch-up, and have iftar together.

5. Are there many non-Muslims where you are? Do they understand fasting and what are their reactions to it?

Credit: @nurarisamaryam on Instagram

Where I currently live in London, there aren’t a huge number of Muslims. But yes, they understand fasting and it’s natural for them to have Muslims in London. It’s also compulsory for children in primary and secondary schools to learn about different religions, including Islam, and aspects such as Ramadan. They are exposed to the many mosques, increased number of Muslim activity at night between iftar and August, advertisements in supermarkets and TV, in addition to having neighbours, friends and coworkers who are Muslim. There are plenty of opportunities to learn about it.

6. What does Ramadan mean to you and how do you take care of yourself during this month?

For me, Ramadan is the special month to be closer to Allah and Muslim brothers and sisters. I drink a lot of water and consume less food during Ramadan and I try to keep my body warm using hot bottle water since my body gets cold whilst I’m fasting.

7. How do you reconnect with your faith or God during this month?

I try to read Quran, increase my prayers, duas and dhikir and I also try to go to a mosque to eat iftar and pray together with sisters here. These things strengthen my Imaan.

8. What tips would you give to someone who’s visiting London during Ramadan?

Take naps while you can! Drink much water!

9. What unique dishes do locals or your family eat for sahur or iftar? What restaurants for iftar would you recommend to visitors who visit London?

The UK is a Muslim minority country, so we don’t have traditional dishes as British Muslims per se. But each family has own cultural background and they have own sahur and iftar menu.

Iftar at the mosque

I’m a Muslim revert, so I always cook normal dinner for iftar and eat only fruit and oats for sahur. I recommend visitors to go to London mosques or iftar events here to get to know Muslims here! InshaAllah.

10. How do you celebrate Eid in London?

A typical day will start early in the morning, getting ready and dressed for Eid, followed by a trip to the mosque for prayers with the family. As there are so many people wanting to pray at the mosque, most have to hold three, four or sometimes five Eid prayers consecutively in order so that everyone is able to pray their Eid prayers. Once prayers are finished, there are usually lots of Eid greetings, and then time spent leisurely in the mosque. There will often be food and markets stalls at the mosque for people to eat and buy things if needed.

Shops in London preparing for Ramadan

Closer to lunchtime, our family will all go to one family member’s house for food and celebrations, where we eat, relax, listen to nasheeds, give presents and enjoy the day. The older members of the family will usually do the cooking and catch-up with each other while the youngsters play. It’s a lovely family day.

 Credit: @nurarisamaryam on Instagram

Last year, I went to Europe’s largest Eid prayer in Birmingham, UK. This year I will pray at my favourite mosque in London and have an Eid party with friends. I also would like to visit the Eid festival in central London. InshaAllah.

11. When did you convert to Islam and how long have you been fasting for?

I reverted to Islam in January 2015 and this year is my 5th Ramadan.

12. What challenges did you face getting used to Ramadan at first?

I tried to fast during Ramadan before becoming a Muslimah, but I couldn’t stand my hunger and thirsty and I gave up fasting after just half a day. So, at first, I was worried whether I could fast or not. However, it was not a problem. My first challenge of Ramadan was that my family didn’t allow me to fast because they thought it would be harmful to my body and it would cause a problem whilst I was working in a company where no one understands my religion.

So, I had to fast without being noticed by any of my families. I woke up at night for sahur and ate simple food in a dark room. When my mother woke up hearing the sound, I told a lie that I needed a toilet.

At work, I told my colleagues that I was fasting. Although I wanted to take a nap or rest at lunchtime.

13. Where did you draw your support or encouragement when you began your revert journey?

Credit: @nurarisamaryam on Instagram

Only from Allah. Alhamdulillah.

14. How has Ramadan changed or improved for you over the years?

Ramadan is not only my event anymore. I don’t have any problems in terms of fasting with my family now. Alhamdulillah. My mother also joined an iftar dinner at a mosque in Tokyo when I was there and because of this event, she allowed me to wear hijab. I often went to my grandparents’ house with my mother and sister and we had iftar together, although I was the only one who fasted. So, I can say that Ramadan changed my family and improved our relationships over the years. Now, my family and I are talking about celebrating Eid parties together as a family when I move back to Japan. InshaAllah!

Arisa’s amazing journey as a Muslim revert and her experience celebrating Eid and Ramadan concludes our United Kingdom segment of our Ramadan Around The World series ❤️

Head over to our Ramadan Around The World section to read more inspiring stories of Muslims around the world 😊

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