What Ramadan has taught me about understanding

The 27th night of Ramadan is revered. It is understood to be the night the first verses of the Qu’ran were revealed to Prophet Muhammed. It’s called Laylat al-Qadr – the Night of Power.

Many Muslims head to the mosque to pray all tarawih (extra prayers during Ramadan) and yesterday for the first time in a few years I decided to do just that. I went along to the Inclusive Mosque InitiativeInclusive Mosque Initiative‘s prayer evening and 9 hours after leaving I am still floating.

We spent the evening praying, in dhikr (a Sufi form of devotion where you repeat prayers and the name of Allah) and discussing reasons why we were there. It was incredibly powerful and massively different to my usual Friday nights. It gave some headspace and time to reflect on what’s happened over the course of the past 27 days. Forget dervishes, my head is whirling.

Looking back at my first diary post, I mused about the changes in my life – new home and a different working pattern. How trivial compared to the events of Orlando, Jo Cox and then Brexit. To work through those on zero energy, dropping a couple of waist sizes along the way, has been a challenge. The really important thing for me during Ramadan is to reflect on what things are like for others. So I’ve been thinking, what was life like for the shooter, Omar Mateen? What was life like for Jo Cox’s murder? What is life like for those who voted Brexit? Constantly going counter to my own status quo has brought up a range of emotions and feelings. Were they justified? Were they sane? Were they understood?

It’s the last question I get stuck on. Omar Mateen was not understood. I took to writing about it, was invited onto Sky News and organising a big gay iftaar to do my part in making sure that something like that doesn’t happen again. Reports are now coming in that there was no evidence that Mateen was gay and so the question remains – was he driven by homophobia that had been ignited within Islam? Is it okay that this homophobia means that 49 people are no longer in this world as a result of his actions?

Trying to understand Brexiters has caused a lot more inner turmoil. As a native Londoner and someone who has lived in Germany, I am pro Europe through and through. But as I drove out to Calais I saw the vote remain signs turn to vote leave as we crossed the M25. I saw the 4,000 odd people in The Jungle and heard about their journeys across Europe. It’s a massive failure on behalf of politicians. They are not from the people, for the people. Like in any business, if the management is so disconnected from its workforce, there will be an uprising. Brexit is just that. Cameron, Gove, Johnson. They’ve all failed to get out of the bubble and understand what’s happening on this island. And now we have the result, two of them are failing massively at being what we need so sorely right now: a leader.

Yes articles appear that it’s not binding. Article 50 might not be invoked. And thousands have taken to the streets of London to march but quite simply – we are where we are because as people, we were losing the ability to understand others. We’re fed by an algorithm of news that is based on a Britney Spears song: Gimme More. Enough is enough. Have a conversation with someone who has an opposing view. Have that conversation in real life. Look them in the eye and understand where they’re coming from. The internet is ruining us otherwise.

Every day we have a need to understand others. I remembered that yesterday as the bus was terminated at 4am. Why? Because a pale-looking gentleman threw up on the bus two stops before mine. I could have gotten angry. I could have tutted. I couldn’t have shouted ‘get out of my city’. But I looked at him and understood that he just had too much to drink. And it’s not surprising why. Britain is in an uncertain and scary place and as a young person, it’s hard to see the promise. But together we have to get through it. And understanding is the only way through it.

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