Rumy Hasan's blog posts for 2015

The costs of Ramadan need to be counted



Islam is a demanding religion, requiring a considerable amount of time and effort on the part of believers to fulfil duties of worship. The core duties are known as the “five pillars of Islam”, the most burdensome of which is the fourth pillar, the injunction to fast during daylight hours (whereby no food, drink, smoking or sexual activity is permitted) during the lunar month of Ramadan, that is, 29 or 30 days. This is necessarily a debilitating requirement, whose health and economic impacts can be significant (children, the ill and elderly are exempted).

There is mounting evidence to show that fasting in the month of Ramadan has a negative effect on health which, in turn, can have an adverse impact on productivity and economic output. Naturally, the longer the period of fasting, the greater the effect – this is particularly so when Ramadan falls during the summer months in north European countries, as at present. The duration of the daily fast this year in Britain is about 19 hours.

Research by the Dutch academic Reyn van Ewijk points to an array of long-term health problems resulting from Ramadan fasting. For those women who chose to fast during pregnancy, it may cause considerable negative health effects on the offspring, irrespective of the stage of pregnancy in which Ramadan took place.

Exposure to fasting before birth is associated with a poorer general health. It also increases a person’s chances of developing symptoms that are indicative of serious health problems, such as coronary heart disease and type 2 diabetes and, among older people who were exposed during certain stages of gestation, may lead to anaemia.

Occupational health researchers have highlighted various adverse health consequences from severe dehydration, including headaches, dizziness and nausea.

In the Muslim world, one word encapsulates the economic reality of Ramadan: “slowdown” – meaning that less work is done and more slowly. An article in Arab News in July 2013 suggested that productivity declines by as much as 35% to 50% as a result of shorter working hours and the change in lifestyle during the month so that decisions and vital meetings are postponed until it is over.


In an extensive survey, economists Felipe Campante and David Yanagizawa-Drott show that Ramadan fasting has a significant negative effect on output growth in Muslim countries. A survey by Dinar Standard, the growth strategy firm, estimates that in the Organisation of Islamic Conference countries the working day is reduced on average by two hours during Ramadan (PDF).

If we assume 21 working days in a month, this translates to a loss of 42 working hours. There is no indication that these hours are made up during the rest of the year. If, on average, 1,700 hours are worked during the year, this loss represents a 2.5% reduction in output per year.

Productivity declines not only from the physical strain of fasting but from the disruption to the flow and organisation of work. It is reasonable to assume that decline in productivity would further reduce economic output by at least 3% each year, which represents a significant annual recessionary impact of Ramadan.

It is revealing that OIC countries have never undertaken extensive research to ascertain the precise impact of Ramadan on their economies. What is more surprising is that international organisations, such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and United Nations Development Programme, have also not carried out this research; perhaps because of its sensitive nature.

It is sometimes argued that rather than Ramadan having a deleterious effect, it actually increases subjective well-being among Muslims. But the use of subjective well-being with respect to authoritarian doctrines, including religions, ought to be treated with caution, especially under autocratic regimes. This is especially true for Muslim-majority countries where apostasy and blasphemy are simply intolerable.

Given this, adherence to the tenets and rituals of the faith is demanded, and shown approval by the family, wider community, and (it is hoped) the almighty. To do otherwise risks bringing shame and dishonour to the family, clan, and society at large. So, it naturally follows that when asked about fulfilling religious duties, the believers deem this to be a gracious cause for improving well-being even if the duty in question – such as month-long fasting – is demonstrably harmful to the person’s health.

Accordingly, the supposed positive subjective well-being effects of Ramadan are a flawed indicator of genuine well-being. Medical science has long made clear that regular intakes of food and drink are a sine qua non for good health and soundness of mind. Given the significant and rising numbers of Muslims living in Britain, it is high time that the issue of the health and economic consequences of Ramadan fasting is given due consideration by national and local governments, businesses and society at large.


First published in The Guardian's Economics Blog on 3rd July 2015

The dangers of mixing politics and religion (letter in The Guardian)



Giles Fraser rightly highlights the president of the Hindu Forum of Britain, Trupti Patel, arguing that only a Conservative government will defend the caste system in the UK but, unsurprisingly, goes wrong in his comparison with imams supporting the disgraced former mayor of Tower Hamlets.

The principled position is to argue that political parties and local and national governments must refrain from granting privileges on the grounds of religion. Politicians, and indeed the wider public, should be reminded that back in 1936 the leader of the “untouchables” in India, BR Ambedkar, in his 1936 book Annihilation of Caste, thought that “Hinduism is a veritable chamber of horrors”. In her introduction to the 2014 edition of Ambedkar’s classic work, the Indian writer Arundhati Roy argues that “for a writer to have to use terms like ‘untouchable’, ‘schedule caste’, ‘backward class’, and ‘other backward classes’ to describe fellow human beings is like living in a chamber of horrors”. So legislation that seeks to prevent such typology and attendant discriminatory practices in the UK is absolutely necessary.

Published in The Guardian on 21st May 2015

This is the link to Fraser's article on 16th May 2015:

Feminist critic of Islam (letter to The Independent on Ayaan Hirsi Ali)



Feminist critic of Islam

In his profile of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Rupert Cornwell refers to her and her husband Niall Ferguson as “conservatives with a shared antipathy to soggy liberalism” (11 April). But it is not quite as simple as that.

While it is true that Ferguson is a neocon historian, Hirsi Ali comes from a different perspective. Her first political affiliation was with the Dutch centre-left Labour Party and it was her disillusionment with them that led her to switch to the conservative-liberal Party for Freedom and Democracy before this party also failed her regarding her asylum status.

In her consistent opposition to the conservative, misogynistic aspects of Islam, she is, in fact, a feminist revolutionary. The “soggy liberals” and feminists who should have supported and championed her have, instead, offered apologies or silence for all manner of reactionary, illiberal beliefs and practices emanating from religious-ethnic minorities, especially from Islamists. One egregious example is that of Germaine Greer defending female genital mutilation back in 1999 on the grounds that to outlaw it amounted to “an attack on cultural identity”.

It is hardly surprising then that Hirsi Ali (who was subject to genital mutilation) fled to the US, where she was welcomed with open arms by the American Enterprise Institute.

Rather than Joan of Arc, she is better understood as following in the footsteps of one of the great champions of women's rights, Mary Wollstonecraft, who was brazen in her criticisms of the subordinate position of women in Islam. Alas, though modern feminists warmly embrace Wollstonecraft, on that issue they remain silent.

Accordingly, Hirsi Ali's frustrations and impatience with them and the “soggy liberals” is entirely justified.

Published in The Independent on 15th April 2015


Here is Rupert Cornwall’s profile:

Appearance on BBC1's 'The Big Questions'



I was invited to take part in a debate on "Are we too afraid to talk about race?" on BBC1's The Big Questions on 22nd March 2015. Unfortunately, I could not get my contribution in on the second question on religion:


Integrating Muslims



In his 19th January letter to 1,000 mosque leaders, the UK communities secretary Eric Pickles asks how belief in Islam can be part of British identity – an acknowledgement by the government that there is lack of integration among Britain’s Muslim communities. The immediate response by Muslim leaders and organisations was typical: take umbrage and put up a “do not disturb” sign. But on 1st February the Muslim Council of Britain opened the doors of some mosques to the public as a gesture of goodwill and openness. However, it was no more than tokenism, and does not address the lack of integration. This issue is now of profound importance throughout Europe and many are losing patience with that “do not disturb” attitude of so many Muslim organisations and their demands for separate rights and resources.


One who is impatient is Ahmed Abutaleb, the Moroccan-born mayor of Rotterdam, who aroused much controversy when he bluntly told Muslims on live Dutch television on 13th January: “If you don't like freedom, for heaven's sake pack your bags and leave. If you do not like it here because some humorists you don't like are making a newspaper, may I then say you can f*** off.” Such blunt comments have long been considered beyond the pale in mainstream political circles and in polite society at large. But Abutaleb’s terse view is probably shared by a majority of Europeans. The situation of Muslims in western society is now at the forefront of political thinking and will not go away. On the contrary, unease, disquiet, and tensions are likely to increase.

Whilst addressing Muslim radicalisation is now the highest priority, there are wider, societal, concerns about Muslims in the EU, which are deep-rooted. In France, an opinion poll conducted by IFOP in October 2012 found that 60% of respondents consider the influence and visibility of Islam in France are too high, and that 43% of French believe the presence of a Muslim community in France is a threat to the French identity; only 17% consider this is a source of enrichment.

In Germany (which, after France, has the second largest Muslim population in the EU), since October 2014 there have been regular and substantial anti-Islam marches and rallies (especially in the city of Dresden) organised by a newly formed grassroots movement by the name of PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West). What is invariably omitted in media coverage of these protests is that the potential support for such a movement is very strong. For example, a survey by the Bertelsmann Foundation in January 2015 found that 57% of Germans considered Islam “very much” or “somewhat” of a threat and that 61% believe that Islam is “incompatible with the western world”. Similar protests have started in Norway, Denmark, the Czech Republic and Austria.

In the Netherlands, long renowned for its tolerance and liberalism, the anti-Islam PVV (Party for Freedom) led by the controversial Geert Wilders is currently leading in the polls: in November 2014 the party called for the closure of all mosques to “de-Islamise the Netherlands”. Concerns in the Netherlands about Islam have increased sharply over the past decade and a half. For example, an extensive survey conducted by Paul Sniderman and Louk Hagendoorn as far back as 1998 – before 9/11 and the war on terror – showed that approximately half the Dutch population thought that “western European and Muslim ways of life are irreconcilable”.

In Britain too, there has been rising unease about Islam. This is evidenced by the British Social Attitudes Survey of 2010 which highlighted the fact that of all the major religions in Britain, only Islam generated an overall negative response. Similarly, a Populus poll in 2011, considered the largest survey into identity and extremism in the UK, found that 52% of respondents agreed with the proposition that “Muslims create problems in the UK” (a far higher percentage than for other religious groups). Indeed, such negative responses are likely to have increased during the intervening years given recent troubling phenomena. These include the Trojan Horse plot in Birmingham in which hardline Islamists were attempting to take over the running of a number of state schools in areas which are almost entirely comprised of Muslim neighbourhoods; the scandal of the “grooming” and child sexual exploitation of white girls by gangs of men from a Pakistani Muslim background in several towns and cities (in Bristol the perpetrators were Somali men); the killing by Islamists of the soldier Lee Rigby in Woolwich, London, in May 2013, and various terror threats that have been thwarted. These all increase negative views on Islam and Muslims.

What is true, despite different policies, is that the outcome has been similar in towns and cities in several European countries with large Muslim populations. Rather than a new respectful, tolerant, all-encompassing and socially cohesive society envisaged by advocates of multiculturalism and multifaithism, with accommodation of separate cultural and religious demands, instead we see segregation, ghettoisation, resentment, alienation, communal stress to the point of hostility, and the leading of what Ted Cantle, author of the seminal report on Oldham riots in 2001, termed “parallel lives”. There is widespread consensus that multiculturalism has failed. Indeed, the reality is that many Muslim communities have become “psychically detached”, with few points of contact and little affinity or identity with mainstream European society.

The task for policymakers, which is now urgent and important, is how to undo the separatism and high levels of psychic detachment, which have reached worrying proportions and are generating considerable unease in all EU countries with significant Muslim populations, and to advocate values that can forge commonalities. Some, such as Ukip leader Nigel Farage have suggested that Europe’s values are based on a “Judeo-Christian culture”. But surely this is mistaken given the long history of persecution of Jews in Europe by Christians. Moreover, Pope Francis explicitly rejects freedom of expression in regard to religion – perhaps not altogether surprising for the head of a church which, until 1966, had a “list of prohibited books”.

So Judeo-Christian values – even if there is agreement on what they actually are – will not be efficacious if Europe is serious about integrating its Muslim citizens. What millions in Paris marched for last month are enlightenment, and secular values which can form the bedrock of a European identity that encompasses all its minorities. Those who are not prepared to adhere to these are values are, of course, in the words of Mayor Abutaled free to pack up their bags and leave. Muslims certainly have a large choice: the 57 countries of the Organisation of Islamic Conference where the values so cherished throughout Europe are largely forbidden.

First published in Le Monde Diplomatique (English) 28th February 2015

Letter to the Independent re Eric Pickles letter and MCB's initiative



Mine is the third letter:


Published in The Independent on 3rd February 2015

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