For over six hundred thousand Muslims who call London home, Eid al-Fitr is an important celebration marking the end of Ramadan.
On the eve of the festivities, we sat down with Londoner Maya Sleiman to learn about what being a Muslim means to her.
“I have my own inter-pretation of Islam.” Maya Sleiman, a personal assistant and young mother to three-year-old Lana, doesn’t look like your average Muslim woman. She doesn’t wear a hijab, niqab or burka. But then again, why should I have expected her to? The things we see on the news or let’s be honest here, Facebook, build up a narrow perception of particular groups and communities of people, causing us to pass judgement before we’ve even done our research. Sleiman was born in Lebanon and moved to London with her family to escape the Lebanese Civil War in 1987. Moving countries as a one-year-old and growing up in London, her family balanced Islam and Western culture in the home, as Sleiman recalls “my dad used to have the occasional drink in the house on a Thursday night but on Fridays, our holy day, he would play Quran on the stereo all day – and loudly.”
At a time when so many of us feel disillusioned by the support systems and institutions that are meant to exist to serve our best interests, a personal spirituality can become a way to cope with the stresses of life. “Islam to me is more of a spiritual path between myself and my God. I don’t follow certain aspects of Islam that the majority of Muslims follow, but that doesn’t make me any less of a Muslim.” After going through a challenging time last year, Sleiman started doing more research and going deeper into Islam, integrating other practices and disciplines like mindfulness and even science, “fitting together like a puzzle” to form her own veiw of the world.
Maintaining a strong personal connection to her faith has been an important way for Sleiman to cope with prejudice she faces as a Muslim woman living in the UK today. In 2007 the Mayor of London commissioned a study, which found that over the course of one week’s news coverage, 91% of articles in national newspapers about Muslims were negative – and this was during a pre-Trump and pre-Brexit time. Islamaphobia has turned Islam into, as Sleiman puts it, “an ugly religion”, and has made many Muslims feel ashamed and fearful of practicing their faith openly as they used to. Despite this, Islam remains the fastest-growing religion in the UK, with the population set to triple in the next thirty years, according to the Pew Research Centre. The consistently negative way
in which Islam is portrayed in society used to bother Sleiman, but she has found peace within herself and takes comfort knowing that her God is the highest judge.
Sleiman hopes her daughter doesn’t forget Islam and applies it to her life in a way that feels comfortable to her, whilst also having knowledge about and respecting other religions. “Our family has integrated many cultures and faiths. My dad’s brother is married to a Christian woman. She celebrates Eid with us and we celebrate Christmas with her. We make each other feel comfortable and accepted because at the end of the day, we’re all the same.”
Celebrate Eid Festival on Saturday 8th June at Trafalgar Square. For more information visit www.london.gov.uk/events
4 Things You Might Not Know About Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr
During the month of Ramadan, Muslims fast from sunrise to sundown to honour the month that the Quran was revealed to the Prophet Mohammed. Apart from food, fasting also includes abstaining from taking medications, drinking any liquids, smoking, and
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, but the date changes each year. This is because Islam uses the lunar calendar, so it isn’t a fixed date in the Western calendar. This year, Ramadan is expected to begin on the evening of Sunday May 5 and is expected to finish on Monday June 3, depending on the sighting of the moon.
Fasting is one of the Five Pillars of Islam, which form the basis of how Muslims live their lives. The other pillars are faith, prayer, charity and making the pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca.
Eid al-Fitr means ‘Festival of the Breaking of the Fast’ and celebrates the end of Ramadan. The festival traditionally lasts for three days and involves donning new clothes, gift-giving, prayers and greeting one another with “Eid Mubarak,” which means “Have a
WORDS Alison Tanudisastro
PHOTOGRAPHY Sam Rockman