The East London Mosque is warning worshippers to make alternative travel plans as Muslims converge on the area for Ramadan celebrations that coincide with the Olympic Games.
The most holy month in the Islamic calendar usually sees around 250,000 people flock to the East London Mosque and the London Muslim Centre, which are expecting “significantly more people” this year.
The two organisations have had to plan for extra room during events such as the Centre’s daily Iftar (breaking of the fast), while an influx of Muslim tourists during the Games is also expected to add pressure on local mosques.
Ramadan, which is based on a lunar calendar, started yesterday and will continue until August 18, with the Games running from July 21 until August 12. The month involves fasting during daylight hours, closer observance of prayers, Iftar with family at sunset and a commitment to charity. It culminates in the holiday celebration of Eid ul-Fitr on the 19th.
The Games are predicted to cause major travel disruptions across London and local Muslims will need to spend extra time travelling to prayers if they are able to attend at all.
A spokesperson for the East London Mosque and London Muslim Centre in Tower Hamlets said that travel disruption “is to be expected during the Games” and that it is “understandable that some may not be able to travel to prayer”.
The Mosque told ELL: “We have asked our congregation to make changes to their travel plans and minimise use of cars, as there will be parking restrictions and heavy congestion.”
According to the Mosque, Transport for London has also been distributing pamphlets near the Mosque advising worshippers to get around more easily by planning ahead.
Transport for London acknowledged the additional travel pressures in the area during the Games but said they were working to keep disruption at a minimum, telling ELL: “We’re working hard to minimise the impact on Londoners and businesses and to keep the capital moving. TfL has worked with more than 20,000 companies, including faith organisations, across London, to help them prepare for Games-time travel.”
The East London Mosque has specifically planned activities and events for the summer, such as an Islam & Muslim Heritage Exhibition, where visitors can find out about the history of the East London Mosque, Muslim beliefs, art and culture. They’ll also be running regular timed tours of the Mosque.
A citizen’s Iftar will take place on August 2, an interfaith event that over 3000 people are expected to attend. Night prayers at the Mosque are also expected to attract over 5000 worshippers every night throughout the month.
The Mosque said: “We feel this is a good opportunity for many people all over the world, including the many Olympic visitors we are hosting in London, to join in the festivities that come along with Ramadan. The Muslim community is happy as ever to welcome fellow Muslims to London.”
For Muslim athletes, however, the situation is particularly difficult. An estimated 3000 Muslims will participate in the Games, and they will need to choose whether to fast and potentially risk their athletic performance, or defer from the fasting requirements. Muslim athletes participating in the Olympic Games this year include British rower Mohamed Sbihi and French boxer Rachid Azzedine.
According to the East London Mosque, the decision whether or not to fast is for individual athletes to make. They said that it may be unsuitable for Muslim athletes to fast if they are “competing in a highly strenuous sport, which requires them to replenish fluids at which point they will have to make compensations for fasts deferred or missed.” Athletes could, however, “feel enlightened spiritually by fasting, hence giving them an edge over other athletes when they are competing in the games.”
Either way the Mosque says it is ready to take care of the needs of Muslim athletes if they wish to visit during prayer or Iftar times.
Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari, Board Member for the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, told ELL that the dates for the Olympics were chosen by the International Olympics Committee and that LOCOG “had to work within that”. Therefore, they concentrated on making facilities available for the athletes and spectators who fast during Ramadan.
The Olympic Village will include a large multi-faith centre, with a common lounge and specific areas for the five largest faiths. Bari said: “We are very proud to provide such a large multi-faith facility with dozens of chaplains from all religions.”
The LOCOG Faith Services Team will also provide break-a-fast packs for Muslims observing Ramadan during the Games. Halal food and prayer room facilities will also be available at Olympic venues.
Bari said that he had been questioning the Board on issues of diversity and inclusion at every stage of planning and it had been a key consideration of LOCOG in delivering the games.
“LOCOG appointed recruiters to ensure that diversity and equality was considered when employing workers and awarding contracts to businesses,” he said. “I am assured that the recruitment levels reflect the proportion of minorities in the United Kingdom.”
Commenting on the legacy of the Games, Bari said that the regeneration and infrastructure that will be left behind after the Olympics will provide “tangible benefits” to local communities in East London.