Sadiq Khan has said he wants to use Ramadan to reduce suspicions surrounding Islam as the prepares for his month of fasting for the first time as Mayor of London.
Since his resounding victory at the election last month, Mr Khan has been held up as a symbol of tolerance and multiculturalism as the first Muslim mayor of a major European city.
But the Labour politician insists he doesn’t not want to be defined solely as a Muslim but as a Londoner as well.
In an article for the Guardian he wrote: “I don’t call myself a Muslim politician; I’m not a Muslim spokesperson or leader, and it’s important to clarify that because otherwise you’re defined solely by your faith.
“We all have multiple identities – I’m a Londoner, a son and a father – and City Hall isn’t a pulpit”.
But he is also aware that the month of Ramadan – which begins on Tuesday – is a “great opportunity to do things in the community and break down the mystique and suspicion around the religion”.
He said he would be hosting the traditional Ramadan meals around the city at synagogues, churches and mosques throughout the month.
The meals, known as iftar, are large dinners where Muslims break their fast together after nightfall.
In Islam it is believed that those who you break your fast with during Ramadan share the holy blessings that come from it.
Mr Khan, who was MP for Tooting for 11 years before becoming mayor, praised the multiculturalism and diversity of modern Britain, saying everything had changed from when he was growing up in the 70s and 80s and would constantly have to explain why he wasn’t eating.
He said: “Now, in a cosmopolitan city such as London, where for 1,000 years there has been an open exchange of trade, ideas, people and culture, most people know someone – perhaps at work or through friends – who will be spending this month fasting. Ask them how they are!
“It makes a big difference when someone spends just a minute to see how you’re doing. I’ve had friends fast through solidarity – they don’t always make it through the whole day, but it’s a kind gesture.”
He said this year his fast was especially “scary” as he was facing the prospect of 19 hours with food or drink.
During Ramadan, Muslims cannot eat or drink at all during hours of daylight so it can be especially difficult when it falls in the summer.
The Islamic calendar is based on the lunar cycle meaning it moves backwards along the Georgian calendar, hopping 12 days every year.
Despite this, Mr Khan’s diary is still full.
He said: “My diary is still full for Ramadan – we’ve got the EU referendum coming up and I could even have to open my fast on stage with a glass of water at an event.
“Last year, we had a big selection campaign during Ramadan, so there were lots of very hot hustings, where I had to perform while fasting.
“That’s part and parcel of it. What you don’t want to do is try to completely change your lifestyle, because it sort of defeats the object of it and the sacrifice”.
He said he is often “miserable” during Ramadan because he has to go to “lots and lots of boring meetings” without coffee.
But there are exceptions in place for surgeons or members of the armed forces who do not need to fast if their job depends on it (similarly the sick, children and pregnant women are not expected to fast).
“But it’s impressive how much your body can and will endure – much more than you realise” he added.