Skip to main content
27 Apr 2021 | 10:10

Muslims across the UK are currently observing the holy month of Ramadan. The Sport for Development Coalition, which includes numerous Muslim and other faith-based organisations, spoke to some of its network members about how the month impacts on their work in community sport. 

Like other practising Muslims, Sab Bham is up well before dawn and preparing to break the fast which he and his family observe during Ramadan, so they are well prepared for the day ahead. They will abstain from food and drink from dawn until dusk. 

Sab is the founder of Salaam Peace (pictured below), a community engagement programme across North and East London which uses sport and education to bring people together from diverse backgrounds. He explains: “Ramadan is an annual training programme like an athlete going away in the winter for high-altitude training. It’s for you to work hard for a month on your mind, body and spirit. That carries you on for a whole year.” 

Sport is a valuable distraction whilst fasting as it keeps people busy, so Salaam Peace continues to offer its wide-ranging programme of activities throughout the holy month, with only the starting time changing sometimes. Sab says: “Our group cycling is usually on a Sunday morning, so we suggest to run it later in the day between 5pm and 7pm for these weeks.” 

Salaam Peace

Across London in North Paddington, Hasna Kahlalech is relieved that lockdown restrictions have eased and outdoor sport is accessible again. The female grassroots organisation that Hasna leads, Step Up 2 Fitness (below), organises training sessions in various sports and supports women and girls from ethnically diverse groups to secure access to sports facilities. During Ramadan, Hasna says activities such as tennis or fitness walking are a good way to be active while fasting. “As long as you don’t do intense work-outs like sprints and burpees, exercise is okay,” she explains. 

Hasna cites numerous reasons for low rates of activity amongst young women and girls, with even lower rates amongst ethnically diverse communities. “Many girls become very self-conscious with their body. Therefore, they tend to withdraw from it,” she says.

Sometimes parents fail to support their daughters to become more active, whilst a full timetable and exams at school can also prevent girls from being able to enjoy exercise.

PRIORITY

“If the parents don’t have the drive and passion for sport, these girls get in a habit of not exercising. It’s important to make sport a lifestyle and a priority because it’s good for your mind and body and it’s the best free medicine,” explains Hasna. 

The pandemic has exacerbated the problems that women and girls from ethnically diverse backgrounds face. Nonetheless Step Up 2 Fitness is back on track as grassroots sport returns. “We took the decision to continue and the response has been really great so far. The women are really anxious to get going,” says Hasna.

Step Up 2 Fitness

Before the pandemic, more than a thousand women were playing football, basketball and other sports and activities in Redbridge, mainly thanks to Muslimah Sports Association (MSA, below) which hosts at least 15 training sessions a week, mainly for women from ethnically diverse backgrounds. “We have a huge variety of sports, mostly in the evening because we try to cater for moms and working women,” says coach Reha Ullah, who is also a trustee. 

Like Step Up 2 Fitness, Reha and her colleagues have identified different reasons why women from ethnically diverse communities are much less active than other groups of individuals. That’s why understanding and accommodating cultural nuances and sensitivities are a key part of MSA’s offer.

“If we can provide a safe and secure environment for women to come and exercise and take part in sports managed by women, they will be more likely to sign and join,” says Reha.

SUPPORTIVE

“Obviously, we wear a hijab and the spaces that we work out and exercise in have to be secure from public viewing. It’s open to all women but we focus on Muslim women, so that they feel comfortable enough to come in and remove their hijab if they want to.” 

What stands out with MSA is the team spirit and camaraderie, especially while many individuals are fasting during Ramadan. “Our teams have some non-Muslims as well but they are very supportive,” explains Reha. “If a Muslim player needs five minutes out, someone else hops in. They have each other’s back.” 

Muslimah Sports Association

To support Muslims getting active during Ramadan, Kevin Coleman – Head of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion at Brentford Football Club – has previously helped to create this guidance with the Football Association.

“Ramadan is such an important month from Muslims that it’s important for football to understand this and recognise this in the way they run the game. This will be more and more important in coming years as Ramadan falls during the business end of the football season,” says Kevin.

As for the football club itself, he adds: “At Brentford we are a professional club and a community trust, and both organisations need to make sure we deliver football and other community projects to all the diverse communities in our local area.

“When it comes to matchdays, our window to the world, they should be inclusive. If you’re vegetarian, Muslim or Jewish for example, there should be food that is appropriate and includes you… (and) there shouldn’t be so much offensive or discriminatory language. So we work hard to encourage people to report anything untoward, so we are able to deal with it and include everyone."

COMMITMENT

While it’s easier to adapt the catering at a stadium than to completely stamp out offensive language, eradicating verbal abuse from all football grounds remains a long-term commitment.

“There are people who wouldn’t use a certain kind of language in their day job at the office but then they go to a football ground on a weekend and think it’s acceptable. Well, it isn’t and this is a culture that all of football needs to work hard to change,” says Kevin.

Although the pandemic prevented Brentford from introducing a proposed Ramadan football league this year, they still delivered an online Iftar and Kevin is confident that his club will continue to support its diverse local communities.

“Our communications team create content on the good work the club has done; in order to make the perception of the club inclusive. We are also looking at physical programmes like for example a diverse coaching programme and other interactive community programmes from our new community hub in Gunnersbury Park. Using the power of our club badge, the players on the pitch and our staff on the ground, we hope to make everyone feel included.”

In the end, all of the projects support the spirit of Ramadan throughout the entire year: to try to be better and make the world a better place. Ramadan Mubarak!