As London gets busy to host the Olympics in August, mosques across the country are gearing up for the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan -- which this year coincides with the Games.
Officials and Muslim organizations launched the Iftar 2012 program in London to welcome the thousands of athletes and visitors who will flood the British capital for the sporting event.
Participating mosques will serve Iftars or evening meals to break the fast to visitors, welcome athletes to their premises and celebrate the event with non-Muslims.
British hockey star Darren Cheesman, a Muslim convert, displayed his sporting skills to local scouts at the event.
“The fact that you will never have a Ramadan, and Olympics, in London, at the same time, ever again. It’s a great way to use something that the whole country is going to be focused on, and saying: ‘Hold on, there’s another big event going on this month -- Ramadan,” Cheesman said.
“There’s a load of Muslims in this country who are all there and let’s use it as a chance to open our doors and build community links and start to show each other what we are really about,” he said.
The scouts were star-struck. One of them, Haafizah Ahmed, said: “It’s good because we learn new skills and we haven’t played with a real Olympic champion before.”
British Home Office minister James Brokenshire said the initiative will not only celebrate the Muslim faith, but also Britain’s multicultural mix.
“I think Iftar 2012 is a fantastic initiative to bring communities in the UK together and to really celebrate Islam. The Olympics and Ramadan are taking place at the same time over the course of the summer and we want this to be an inclusive Olympic and Iftar 2012 will help achieve that as well as celebrating the culture that we have in this country -- reflecting the country we are and we want to be,” Brokenshire said.
Ramadan this year starts on July 20, exactly a week before the Olympics. Many athletes may find it challenging to fast during the day, but Cheesman -- who has had to drop out of the Games due to injury -- said he finds Ramadan inspiring.
“It’s actually a good thing. I love the challenge of waking up in the morning, having suhoor, being with my family and starting my day ... Ramadan a a whole, take away the fasting -- it’s a beautiful time and it enhances your sporting ability rather than takes it away,” he said.
London’s Islamic Cultural Centre said it was ready for the event, having hosted group Iftars every year.
“The logistics program we have on a yearly basis is quite magnanimous. So we have this team set up who provide the food to facilitate the welcoming of visitors and worshippers who come here. We have this team set up on a regular basis, in fact, not only with the accompaniment of Iftar 2012 but over the years, the logistics of it has been very smooth,” said Omar Saddique, the center’s visits officer.
Organizers have said more than eight million tickets have been sold for the Games.