On Monday this week I was invited to attend a dinner to celebrate the volunteers and community groups who together ran RamadanFM, which was broadcast during Ramadan throughout Forest Gate and East London. A genuine community radio station, run by volunteers most of whom had not been involved in radio before, it was a great achievement to run a station with a huge variety of programmes during a month when the participants were fasting during daylight hours. And from the number of people attending the event it seemed that all of those involved had turned out for an evening’s celebration: remembering the shows, thanking participants and supporters, and enjoying food together.
I knew a little about RamadanFM, largely through the facebook updates of my friend and Labour colleague Shagufta Nasreen. I met Shagufta through the West Ham Labour Women’s Forum, and she is a constant source of inspiration for me: softly spoken, gracious and unfailingly polite, but with a steely core of determination to do right, and seemingly boundless energy which she dedicates to the community around her and helping to improve people’s lives. In addition to her community work, she was a DJ during the month of Ramadan, co-presenting the political programme on RamadanFM, and somehow managing this alongside her family commitments, too!
The evening was an eye-opening event which gave me renewed respect for the enthusiasm, faith and determination of all the people who came together to run a community radio station. As well as thanking many of those who took part, we all heard more about the work done by the Minhaj Welfare Foundation, which does charity work all over the world, particularly focussing on access to education and healthcare.
Being at the event made me appreciate all over again some of the great things about living in Forest Gate: primarily the cultural diversity and the people. There was such warmth in the room (and not just from the hot weather or the delicious food). Everyone there was so welcoming to everyone: the councillors who came along, the various guests, the children who sat at the tables alongside their families.
This year I have somehow felt part of Ramadan in a way I haven’t before. I am always aware of Ramadan – in previous years this was largely through feeling sympathetic for my neighbours as they fasted through the hottest part of the year! But this year I thought a lot about what it must mean to devote a month to charity, to faith, to fasting and prayer. I think being a part of the ‘Big Iftar’ event that we attended after a Labour meeting contributed to this. Sharing Iftar with people from all different backgrounds and faiths was a lovely experience. It was very moving then, as it was on Monday, to feel people around me sharing the spirit of their religion in such a friendly and open way.
So a huge thank you to RamadanFM for extending such a generous invitation to me and my colleagues. And I wish all those involved all the best in their future efforts – I am certain we will be hearing more from them.