Page last updated at 15:02 GMT, Tuesday, 2 September 2008 16:02 UK

Anger at council fasting request

Muslim preparing for Ramadan in Rawalpindi, Pakistan
Muslims worldwide are fasting during the holy month of Ramadan

Councillors in east London have reacted angrily after being asked to observe Muslim fasting rules in meetings held during Ramadan.

Tower Hamlets councillors were asked to "not partake of any refreshments" until Muslim councillors received their permitted evening meal, known as Iftar.

Liberal Democrat councillor Stephanie Eaton said: "This is going too far."

The council said it wanted councillors to be sensitive about eating "whilst others in the room are fasting".

Muslims fast during daylight hours in the holy month of Ramadan, which began in the UK on Monday.

Tower Hamlets has a high Muslim population, recorded at 36% in the 2001 census, and its 51 councillors were asked to observe a number of changes during Ramadan.

I am concerned that this gives the impression that the council is going to be Muslim-run and that Islam is given special status
Councillor Stephanie Eaton

This included refraining from eating refreshments supplied during late-night meetings "until after the Iftar refreshments are served", an email from Democratic Services head John Williams told them.

Ms Eaton felt the move was "inappropriate" and "divisive".

She said: "I am quite happy to make accommodation in my working life for my Muslim colleagues but Tower Hamlets residents, and my colleagues, come from all different backgrounds and religions."

She added: "I am concerned that this gives the impression that the council is going to be Muslim-run and that Islam is given special status in the council."

In addition, a number of council meetings have been cut or rescheduled to enable Muslim councillors to return home in time for their permitted meal.

Conservative councillor Peter Golds said it was "a pretty rum way of doing things".

RAMADAN
Muslims believe the Koran was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad during this month
The period is used to increase self-control and abandon bad habits
Fasting between dawn and dusk, known as sawm, is obligatory for every able Muslim
Muslims try to recite as much of the Koran as they can during the month
Some Muslims move into mosques during the last 10 days of serious reflection

"The council has been pretty slow during August so it is not a good time to reduce the number of meetings," he said.

Meetings have previously been adjusted to accommodate Ramadan, "but not as overtly as this," Mr Golds said.

Despite Mr Williams' email, a council spokeswoman said there was "no suggestion" that non-Muslim councillors were asked to refrain from eating or drinking during Ramadan.

"All that's being asked for is courtesy to be shown to the sensitivities around some councillors eating during council meetings whilst others in the room are fasting," she said.

A Muslim Council of Britain spokesman said non-Muslims often do not eat in front of Muslims who are fasting during Ramadam out of courtesy.

"It is very considerate to do so, but that is their own choice," he said.

"Practising faith is a person's free choice. You cannot impose it on anyone."


SEE ALSO
In pictures: Ramadan Kareem
01 Sep 08 |  In Pictures
The trials of Ramadan fasting
12 Sep 07 |  Magazine

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