After nineteen hours without food, nor even a drop of water, the prospect of the single succulent date which breaks the fast looms ever larger in the mind as sunset nears.
A few minutes after nine o’clock last night, similar scenes were doubtless playing out in mosques and Muslim homes around Britain. But this event was a little different. As the imam’s prayer rang out across the high ceilinged courtyard, many of those kneeling to pray were in khaki uniforms while others wore headscarves. The Ministry of Defence had invited Muslim soldiers and civic Muslim groups to break their Ramadan fast with a celebratory feast in the Whitehall citadel of the British defence establishment.
New Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said he was proud that the occasion marked his first public speech in the job. ‘It has never been more important that our Armed Forces represent the breadth of the society we serve,’ he said, noting how few people know that 400,000 Muslims fought for Britain ‘with loyalty and pride’ in the first world war a century ago, and another 600,000 in the second world war.
The event launched a new Armed Forces Muslim Forum, committed to deepening relationships between the armed forces and Britain’s Muslim communities.
Almost a decade ago, Iman Asim Hafiz became the Armed Forces’ first Muslim Chaplain. He has served on tours of Afghanistan. Now he is Islamic adviser to the service chiefs, and spent the last year using his boundless energy and considerable charm to build the relationships that could make the new forum possible.
‘Love of your country is a Muslim duty,’ said Hafiz. ‘Serving your community is part of the Muslim faith.’ Governments have to take the political decisions about war and peace; but the values represented by those who serve in the armed forces — courage, discipline, respect and protection of our country — are widely shared in the Muslim community, he said. That