Walking a Mile in Muslim’s Shoes: Why is Sergeant James Whelan and hundreds like him volunteering to fast along with their Muslim colleagues and communities?
Musa Sattar, UK
‘Caffeine and water definitely present the most challenge to me, particularly the former,’ said Sergeant James Whelan. ‘I love the challenge and I hope it conveys solidarity with my Muslim colleagues.’
Despite the tough nature of his job, Sergeant James Whelan from Surrey Police is one of the many volunteers who took part in the Fasting Collective Initiative and wants to continue it in future.
Why is James Whelan and hundreds like him volunteering to fast along with their Muslim colleagues and communities?
As the sun began to set over the quaint town of Tilford in Surrey on 18th April, I witnessed a sense of inclusivity and brotherhood, which is a unique beauty of living in a multicultural place like the United Kingdom. This is in line with the true teaching of Islam, as the World Wide Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad (aba) has been reminding us that the solution to the world’s conflict is in living with harmony and creating a sense of brotherhood without any discrimination.
A group of non-Muslim British police officers and staff and firefighters to the fire service gathered for a meal unlike any they had experienced before to show respect to their Muslim friends and the community at large. They had just completed a full day of fasting during the Islamic month of Ramadan, abstaining from food and drink from dawn to dusk, as millions of Muslims around the world do every year.
This beautiful ambience caused me to reflect on the stark difference between this kind-hearted nation and places around the world where minorities do not even feel safe in practicing their faith. And here our non-Muslim friends are fasting and demonstrating the values of this nation, who embraces everyone with wide open arms.
The Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association UK (AMYA UK) conducted a National Fasting Challenge alongside Surrey Police and Sussex Police, Surrey Fire and Rescue Service and Surrey County Council under the Fasting Collective Initiative. This marked the third year of this initiative and this time around 120 members volunteered to take part in the challenge, increasing their first-hand knowledge and experiencing Ramadan.
For these officers, the decision to fast was an act of empathy towards their Muslim colleagues. As they broke their fast, known as iftar, with a traditional meal of dates, water and some savoury snacks, they reflected on their experience.
‘I have participated every year that it has ran and I have made the mistake in the past of being overly focused on trying to get enough calories and fluids on board before the fast starts – with a view to suppressing my hunger and thirst,’ said Sergeant James Whelan, ‘This I have found to be ineffective and, more importantly, I think it misses the point of the day. Instead, I now focus on the acceptance of hunger and thirst. I do this by reminding myself that the Islamic community does this for the entirety of Ramadan. I find that thinking this way serves to recalibrate my perspective on hunger and thirst – essentially, I stop feeling sorry for myself.’
As the sun began to rise earlier that morning, the officers and staff gathered virtually for a pre-dawn meal, suhoor. The morning session was hosted by Farhan Hayat from the diversity and inclusion team. Imam Mansoor Clarke joined the session and provided some great tips. This allowed them to really think about what Muslims experience every year in Ramadan and to gain true insight into the Islamic fast. As Muslims use this month to better themselves in morals and character, this message was also conveyed to the volunteers to show that the Islamic fast is more than just refraining from food and drink.
For the officers who took part in the fast, the experience was a powerful reminder of the importance of empathy and understanding in building stronger, more inclusive communities.
‘I must say it has been a humbling experience for me,’ said Dan Quin – Chief Fire Officer for Surrey Fire & Rescue Service, who also participated in the fast. ‘The sense of discipline and dedication that I observed today was truly inspiring. It made me appreciate the strength and spirit, of spirit and faith that drive the Muslim community during Ramadan. This iftar meal is an excellent example of cohesion and respect that can be foster between communities’
‘As police officers, it’s important for us to understand and respect the different cultures and faiths that make up our communities,’ said Lee, Area Commander with Surrey Fire & Rescue Service. ‘This was a small but meaningful way of showing our support for our Muslim colleagues and building stronger relationships with the people we serve.’
As we walked into the mosque the beautiful contrast created a light hearted humour in the air where we as Muslims keep our head covered to show respect while our respected guests took off their hats as a gesture of respect.
As the group finished their meal and reflected on their experience, they were filled with a sense of pride and gratitude for the opportunity to take part in this meaningful act of worship.
It’s easy to get bogged down in the negativity that surrounds our emergency services in the media. However, it is crucial to remember that the majority of those who work in these services are amazing people who work tirelessly to keep us safe and support us. Events like the National Fasting Challenge is a shining example of this. Hibat ul Mohsin Abid, the Director of Outreach and Public Relations told me, ‘we are inspired by the experience and warmth shown by the participants.’ The initiative seeks to educate and inspire non-Muslims about the holy month of Ramadan.
‘This event has really kick-started our desire to make sure that we create more informal spaces where the community can see the officers beneath the uniform’ said Andy George, Chief Inspector in the Police Service of Northern Ireland.
As Tim de Meyer, Chief Constable of Surrey police has rightly put, ‘It’s been a real exercise of discipline first of all and of sacrifice and of realising what it means to have something in abundance all the time and then to be deprived of them. My tip to anyone who’s contemplating becoming involved next year is to make sure you do it because it’s a formidable prospect to have to fast but you learn an enormous amount from it and you learn a great deal from the people you meet.’
About the Author: Musa Sattar has an MSc in Pharmaceutical Analysis from Kingston University and also serves as the Assistant Manager of The Review of Religions and the Deputy Editor of the Science & Religion section.