• Zain Ali is Head of the Islamic Studies Research Unit at the University of Auckland

Ed Sheeran's new song is playing on the car radio. My kids and I are singing along to the new tune, until they loudly correct me, it's not Bombay Girl it's Galway Girl!

It appears I am suffering from a bout of Ramadan brain, it's a bit like Mommy brain, except that it's caused by a lack of sleep and low blood sugar. We have breakfast as a family at about 5am and then won't eat or drink till just after 5pm. Even my 6-year-old son is keen to join in, he tells me how he fasted the whole day at school except for when he had morning tea and lunch.

One of the remarkable experiences of Ramadan is the feeling of empathy, not eating or drinking most of the day helps you realise just how fortunate we are. We know that at the end of the day, we will be able to have a cool cup of juice and a nice warm dinner. There is a moment, however, just before you break your fast when you realise there are folk in this world that are going hungry, not as a matter of choice.


It is a bittersweet moment to enjoy a meal and realise your good fortune, as it happens this is the month when Muslims are required to give charity.

Last week was the halfway point for the month of Ramadan, and in about two weeks we plan to celebrate the Eid festival with family and friends. Ramadan this year has been a bittersweet affair.

The beginning of Ramadan saw terror attacks in Europe and the Middle East, and it is likely that more of this evil is on the horizon. My heart goes out to the victims and their families.

I sense that many Kiwis are worried about terrorism occurring here in Aotearoa. The fear is about being caught up in an attack, being killed, injured, or worse to have your son, daughter or loved one fall victim in an attack. These are reasonable concerns, as there is no way to guarantee immunity from such evil. It is fortunate that we have been relatively safe, and I pray we remain safe from the scourge of mindless bloodshed.

A consummate politician recently described Islam as a house in need of a clean. For some, I imagine, the metaphor was too generous, Islam for them is less of a house and more of a shack in urgent need of demolition.

When thinking about Islam, I prefer describing the tradition of Islam as an ocean, a vast ocean, in which are zones of darkness where shark-like predators lurk, there are also clear warm waters with precious pearls and coral of exquisite beauty. We don't normally let our fear of sharks stop us from exploring and enjoying the ocean.

Accordingly, we shouldn't let our fears determine our attitude toward Islam and Muslims.

The beauty of Islam is its people. I recently had the opportunity to meet two groups of Muslims.

The first were a group of Indonesian Muslims, who invited me to share an Iftar - breaking of the fast - meal with them. I am normally used to attending Indian Muslim events where things can be quite formal and serious. But not the Indonesians. The guest speaker, a turbaned, bearded elder, had the group rolling around in fits of laughter. If only I could understand Indonesian.

The second group I met were from the Aga Khan Muslim community. They were interested in publicising the Aga Khan Award for Architecture.

The Aga Khan network has helped redevelop a number of historic sites; my favourite example is the transformation of a 500-year-old rubbish dump in central Cairo into the Al-Azhar park, a park that now attracts millions of visitors every year.

As we approach the end of Ramadan, feel free to wish your Muslim friends, colleagues and neighbours a happy Eid. The house of Islam has an incredible range of Eid sweets and savouries, and I hope Kiwi Muslims will feel free to share these around - with perhaps a Galway song about a tasty little halal meal.