Originally written for the FCO in Indonesia as part of my Chevening duty to share about the Ramadhan experience as a student in the UK, this writing has been reposted on UCL SPP's website, and it was also featured in the printed/online version of SPP's Tavistock Times. Thanks to David Hudson! :D
So, here I am re-posting in my own blog without revising the grammar mistake I found since its first online appearance (and its rather ridiculous picture of mine :p). I hope you enjoy reading it! :)
Every Muslim is a walking ambassador of Islam
13 October 2011
The following article appeared at http://ukinindonesia.fco.gov.uk/en/
© British Embassy, Jakarta, Indonesia
Dyah Widiastuti, Chevening Scholar 2010/2011, Student of MSc International Public Policy, School of Public Policy.
On Ramadhan and on being “a walking ambassador of Islam”
“Every Muslim is a walking ambassador of Islam.”
That was a sentence I heard from a Canadian religious teacher in my 13th day of this holy month, my first Ramadhan here in London, the UK.
His words reminded me of my reason to come to the UK. I wrote in my scholarship application over a year ago that I wanted to communicate with the world about the benevolent face of Islam, and to learn about multiculturalism from the UK (of course, besides becoming a full-time student!). The intention was getting stronger as one of the scholarship interviewers said (responding to my question): “Being British is about being proud of the British multiculturalism.”
So, there I was, listening to an inspiring advice about Ramadan. The teacher talked about the importance of good characters of a Muslim, and he mentioned three important good characters: tolerance and forgiveness; indiscriminate generosity; and self-reflection. He said that the point of Ramadhan was to transform ourselves to have good characters.
On tolerance and forgiveness, the cleric gave example when Prophet Muhammad conquered Mecca. As he arrived in the city gate, the people of Mecca were terrified with what would happen. To everyone relief, the Prophet said: “No blame upon you and may Allah forgive you as He is the most merciful.” No bloodshed happened.
That was not the first time I heard the story, but I felt happy to listen to it again. Having studied international relations for the last 10 years, I am always interested in the emphasis on tolerance in religious teaching. And thankfully, this is often the main theme of religious speech here.
The advice was special because I listened to it in my university, known as the first secular-based university in England, the first to treat people from different religious background equally, which is also mocked by some rivals as the home of “the Godless scums of Gower Street”. And it was a “National Ramadhan Conference” that I attended; now you can see the paradox with the “Godless-ness”. My university has been a place where I learned about British multiculturalism, in the class as well as in its social life. It held events that I had never even heard of before, such as public debate between a Muslim and an Atheist on the concept of God; Islam Awareness Week where everyone can ask anything about Islam; and a lecture about cultivating multiculturalism.
I start recounting every blessing I have received as a Muslim in the UK, not only during this Ramadhan, but since my very first day. Unlike what I thought before I came to the UK, I feel that living a Muslim life is not difficult here. Five-time prayers (shalat) are easy, as the university provides a contemplation room. Also, I will never forget the shalat that I did in two historic churches in the city of Oxford, when I could not find anywhere else to pray (thanks to the generosity of their people!). I also find no problem for wearing hijab (Islamic headscarf), as surprisingly there are so many hijabi London! I have never experienced any negative treatment about it. I am also thankful to the thoughtfulness of my classmates, both British and international students. My dissertation submission deadline will arrive together with the end of Ramadhan, so the pressure is imaginable. Some of my classmates were amazed with the 18-hour length fasting, and they kindly showered me with various suggestions on how to deal with it. Some of them suggested to “pay it back” another time, some suggested to work at nights and sleep during the day. They also asked me “How’s Ramadhan?”, by emails and texts, as I started isolating myself for the dissertation deadline. I simply feel blessed.
These experiences are real example of tolerance and generosity, two important ingredients of healthy multiculturalism. They make me realize how this place has made easier to see how we can embrace these two good characters.Every Ramadhan is always special for me. But this Ramadhan in London will be unforgettable. It reminds me about the transformative aim of Ramadhan and inspires me to accomplish the mission of being a good “walking ambassador of Islam”.