I joked with a friend before embarking on making Parliament Ramadan conscious that my aim was to ‘get Parli RamaWoke’. Did I succeed? To some degree, I think I did.
I’ve worked at Parliament for over a year, within that time I swiftly moved from one role to another, jumping from the Commons to the Lords, finding my groove and my feet in the process. Whilst my experience thankfully has been mostly smooth and positive thus far, it’s easy to feel lost in any large work place, particularly as a Black, Asian Minority Ethnic (BAME) employee. With competition to stand out and be noticed for one’s work merit, we often find ourselves standing out for the wrong reasons, raising puzzled questions and looks in the process.
As Muslims observe fasting during the holy month of ‘Ramadan’, in the cooperate and public world, employers and colleagues often have many questions. Prior to joining Parliament, I was once asked by a former colleague, ‘are you still starving or whatever?’ My dismay and offence was quickly disregarded by those present and it was then that I realised, there’s work to be done.
When joining Parliament, I was relieved to see pre-established work place equality networks (WEN’S). These networks and safe spaces aim to empower and represent the needs and interests of minority groups. ParliREACH represents race, ethnicity and cultural heritage, it was here I found myself comfortable, confident and ready to thrive. I worked collaboratively with members of the network to host a series of Ramadan events, and the reception around Parliament was warm and welcoming.
Phase one was to engage with departments around Parliament, from security, to catering, to facilities to safety teams. With almost three thousand people working at Parliament, we wanted information, posters and documents encouraging Ramadan consciousness to be far reaching.
Phase two was to host an informal Lunch and Learn drop in and exhibition stall in the hub of Parliament. This was done prior to the start of Ramadan so as to get everyone ‘Ramadan ready’! As MP’s, Peers and staff from both houses, dashed to grab lunch or between meetings, they were lulled over to the stall by the allure of dates and asked questions and engaged. Simultaneously, those who had the luxury of an hour-long lunch break, popped along to an informal Lunch and Learn. Parliament’s first ever Muslim Serjeant-at-Arms, Kamal El-Hajji, delivered a sermon of some sorts, reciting Qur’an and discussing the spiritual significance of Ramadan for Muslims. He then delved into how colleagues and management could support Muslim staff. This was followed by practical health advice from Parliament’s Occupational Health Nurse, Jane Rose. The floor was opened for questions and answers; the majority non-Muslim audience engaged positively and left with new knowledge.
Phase three of operation ‘get Parli RamaWoke’ consisted of pairing up with the Diversity and Inclusion teams of both the Lords and Commons to host Parliament’s first ever iftar in the Palace of Westminster itself. We were lucky enough to have the support of the Speakers Chaplain Rose Hudson-Wilkin, who just weeks before had spoken at Harry and Meghan’s wedding! Rose emphasised the importance of working together and shared her experiences as the first ever female (and black) Speakers Chaplain. This warm evening was symbolic in initiating dialogue and discussion over dinner with both fasting and non-fasting guests. Special shout out to those guests who weren’t Muslim but had fasted in solidarity with their Muslim friends and colleagues!
Phase four will take place post Ramadan so as to maintain the consciousness of Islam and Muslims in Parliament. A tour of London Central (Regent’s Park) Mosque has been organised, followed by a Q & A with Dr. Dubayan, the Director General of the Mosque. The visit will include an observation of prayers, history of the Mosque, current issues faced by Muslims in the community, as well as an opportunity for Q and A, and dinner. Dinner because we know breaking bread with friends and engaging in dialogue and discussion is always enjoyable and a great way to connect with people!
After all of the above, I like to think for 2018 at the very least, operation make Parliament RamaWoke was a success. Of course, this is not to say our work is done as Muslim’s in this particular institution, there’s more to do and other issues remain, however with a little bit of determination and with a lot of support from other colleagues, departments and networks, we are able to take the necessary steps to having these much-needed discussions!
By Khadijah Khatun