Ramadan 2022: Muslim diasporas

Posted by Becca Parkinson - Friday, 8 Apr 2022


This April, Manchester University Press is running a series of blog posts to mark the holy month of Ramadan. Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, and is observed by Muslims worldwide as a month of fasting, prayer, reflection, charity and community.

Today, Ipek Demir, author of recently published Diaspora as translation and decolonisation, reflects on Ramadan in the context of Muslim diasporas.

The experience of the month of Ramadan, the holy month of fasting and abstinence, can be very varied – depending on which country you live in.  Even within a country, different cities, neighbourhoods and families have their own interpretations, and their own Iftar and Suhoor practices. One can experience different Ramadans in different Muslim-majority spaces.

Many Muslims, for example, will have been surprised with the drum beating and singing of Turkish songs at dawn in the streets of Turkey during Ramadan – aimed at waking up people to have their last meal before the day of fasting starts. Yes, people do have alarm clocks in Turkey, but this tradition continues, despite its unpopularity with some, of course. One thing is certain; the society becomes alive and community spirit is awakened through the various customs of Ramadan, such as the communal breaking of fasting simultaneously in a locality. We are also seeing calls for an Eco-Ramadan.

The society becomes alive and community spirit is awakened through the various customs of Ramadan

But there’s also something special and different about Ramadan when one is part of a Muslim diaspora. For me, it has been amazing to learn about overlapping but also different understandings and practices of Ramadan from Muslims from different parts of the world living in the UK. The fast and abstinence during the month of Ramadan, different eating practices, food rituals, the Suhoor at dawn, the breaking of the fasting at Iftar time and celebrating Eid al-Fitr at the end of the month of Ramadan, all gain a special additional understanding and meaning. This is because the month of Ramadan is extremely important in the making of the Muslim diaspora.

In my recent book Diaspora as translation and decolonisation published with Manchester University Press, I examine how the decolonising role of diasporas should be central to understandings of diaspora. I discuss how diaspora research remains too tightly hemmed into discussions of the nation, and trapped in methodologically nationalist narratives or discourses of hybridity.  It is such that it has become difficult to conceive of diaspora outside the nation, despite many of today’s diasporas having emerged out of historic relations of subordination, colonisation, expansion and retraction of empires, that is before the rise of the nation-state.

Diaspora is also often used synonymously to mean ethnicity or imply ethno-nationalism, or at best, promote a hybrid understanding of these. Some diasporic groups do, of course, share a common ethnic identity, but diaspora and ethnicity are not synonymous; neither is diaspora and the nation. In order to question bounded understandings of diaspora, not only do we have to have empire as a central axis of diaspora theorisation, we need to consider collective identities besides the nation as part and parcel of today’s diasporas. For example, we should consider the relationship between indigenous identities and diaspora, or religious identities and diaspora. These types of interventions to theorisations of diaspora, which I elaborate on in my book, can in turn allow us to re-examine and place Muslim diasporic subjectivity at the centre of diaspora studies, and help challenge nation-centric and reductive understandings of diaspora.

Through their readiness to engage with Muslim subjectivities, their transnational engagement with Muslimness, and their decolonial political drive in the new home, Muslim diasporas present a perfect case of how diaspora research can and should move away from simply being reduced to homeland/nation-state politics or to hybridity.  We need, however, to also move away from seeing all members and actions of a community being hallmarked with the label ‘diaspora’.

We should allow for heterogeneity, and also make room for a temporal understanding of diaspora rather than seeing diaspora as an everlasting feature of a group. Even within a close-knit community, not everyone is stamped with the same worldview or has similar understandings of common practices, or is mobilised in the same way.

As I explain in my book, I see diaspora as a special case of migration whereby politicised decolonial subjectivity is associated with mobility. From this perspective, then, Ramadan and its practices for Muslim diasporas should also be examined through a new perspective, namely for some carrying a meaning about culture and faith, but also beyond these as building a Muslim subjectivity which is closely related to questioning power, othering and coloniality (for example, The People’s Review of Prevent).

As such, the drums of Ramadan not only continue to beat in Turkey, and wake people up for Suhoor, but also in diaspora, creating new subjectivities and spaces for politics and change.

Ipek Demir is author of Diaspora as translation and decolonisation, published by Manchester University Press in February 2022.

Look out for other blogs in our Ramadan 2022 series on the MUP website.

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