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This Is London
Last updated at 02:59am on 29.08.08
Councillors have been ordered not to eat during town hall meetings while Muslim colleagues fast during the holy month of Ramadan.
All elected members at Left-wing Tower Hamlets Council in East London have been sent an email asking them to follow strict Islamic fasting during September no matter what their faith.
As well as restricting food and drink until after sunset, the authority’s leaders have decided to reduce the number of meetings throughout the month so they do not clash with the requirements of Ramadan.
The seven remaining meetings scheduled to take place will also include special prayer breaks to accommodate Muslim councillors.
But some members of the Labour-run council say the demands favour one religious group over the others.
Dr Stephanie Eaton, leader of the Liberal Democrat group, said she would ignore the restrictions.
She said: ‘The Liberal Democrats have enormous respect for the contribution of all faith groups and cultures to the life of the community of Tower Hamlets.
‘But we fervently believe that the rules of any one religion should not be imposed upon others.
‘I was rather disconcerted to see that the arrangements put in place for Ramadan, which we support for Muslim colleagues, have been imposed upon all councillors.
‘We object to the request that non-Muslim councillors observe the fasting rules for Ramadan. This sends out the wrong message to our community.
‘Our community consists of a huge number of different religions, all of which should be valued, and no one religion should be accorded more status or influence than others.’
This is not the first time the council, which has a broad ethnic make-up, has courted controversy.
It has been criticised in the past for being ‘overly politically correct’ after calling its staff Christmas meal a ‘festive meal’.
And it has also staged a Bonfire Night party which featured a Bengal tiger instead of Guy Fawkes.
During Ramadan, strict Muslims are obliged to fast between sunrise and sundown.
They must abstain from all food, drink, gum chewing, tobacco, and any kind of sexual contact.
The holy period falls on the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, and this year it begins at the start of September, which means there are more daylight fasting hours than if it fell in later months.
Most of the council’s debates are scheduled to start at 6.30pm.
But with the sun not setting until an hour later, devout Muslims will be unable to break their fast – known as Iftar – until midway through the meeting, where they will be given a 45-minute break.
Food and refreshments, such as sandwiches and biscuits, are normally laid on at town hall meetings.
Controversy has arisen because all members have been told not to eat until after sunset, out of courtesy to their Muslim colleagues, and so there will be food left for them later in the evening.
In the memo to councillors, John Williams, the council’s head of democratic services, said: ‘It is requested that members do not partake of any refreshments until after the Iftar refreshments are served.’
Council bosses said the arrangements were in place ‘where it is not reasonable to expect members observing Ramadan, and who are required to attend a formal committee or other meeting, to travel home in time for sundown in order to break fast and undertake prayers’.