Ramadan lights on display in central London over Easter

London's famous Coventry Street is decorated with Ramadan ornaments
London's famous Coventry Street is decorated with Ramadan ornaments - Anadolu

Ramadan lights will be on display in London’s West End over the Easter Weekend.

The holy month - the most significant in the Islamic calendar - is being celebrated with lights in Oxford Street and between Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square. They were switched on earlier this month by Sadiq Khan, London’s mayor, after Westminster’s Labour-run council gave the go-ahead.

This year marks the second year that the Muslim celebration has been marked with illuminations in central London.

The lights are funded by the Aziz Foundation, a charity founded by Asif Aziz, a billionaire property developer whose company owns sites including the London Trocadero that occupies much of the block between Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square.

The lights - wishing a ‘‘Happy Ramadan’’ - have drawn plaudits but prompted a warning from prominent local Conservatives that the council must also support the other major faiths during important festivals.

Last week Network Rail was forced to remove an Islamic message on the departure board at London King’s Cross.

The Ramadan message on the train times board at King's Cross
The Ramadan message on the train times board at King's Cross - Twitter

The rail operator faced criticism following its decision to display a “hadith [Islamic epithet] of the day” to celebrate Ramadan, as part of a diversity initiative.

Among the criticisms Humanists UK said it felt public train stations “should not be urging ‘sinners’ to repent”, after the phrase was used in the message.

Paul Swaddle, leader of the minority Tory group on Westminster council, offered full support to the Ramadan lights but questioned why a Ramadan display in the window of Westminster’s city hall offices had not yet been replaced by an Easter one in time for this weekend.

Mr Swaddle said: “The thing I would question is this: there has been a Ramadan celebration in the window of Westminster city hall. But I just wonder if the Easter one is going up very soon? Easter is one of the most important Christian festivals of the year but what are they [the Labour council] doing to celebrate it? I am not aware they are. I suspect the window display is not going to change.”

The period of Ramadan occurs at a different time every year because the Islamic calendar is aligned with the Moon. Easter falls within the month of Ramadan this year, as it did in 2023 and 2022. However up to 30 years can pass between the two coinciding.

Pro-Palestinian protests continue to take place in central London every weekend. Some Jewish leaders, as well as senior politicians, have complained that the capital has become a no-go zone.

A man takes a selfie in front of the lights in Coventry Street, London
A man takes a selfie in front of the lights in Coventry Street, London - Anadolu

Tim Barnes, the Conservative candidate for Cities of London and Westminster, said: “Westminster sees protests every weekend that highlight the heightened tensions we see around the globe. I think the Ramadan lights are to be welcomed, but it’s critical that we are seen to be welcoming to all of our major communities and are even-handed in how we represent and promote major festivals and religious holidays.”

The Ramadan lights were switched on by Mr Khan with support from Adil Ray, a TV presenter and actor, and Rahima Aziz, the daughter of the charity’s founder and a trustee of the Aziz Foundation.

The lights are the idea of Aisha Desai who was inspired by the festive Christmas lights in central London.

She initially crowdfunded to bring lights to her local community before securing funding for the central London display.

Ms Desai has been awarded a Points of Light award for the initiative and this year’s design features Islamic designs and illuminated signs wishing “Happy Ramadan” to passers-by.

Raising awareness of other religions

She has said that she hopes it will raise awareness of Ramadan but encourage people from other religions or organise their own displays.

“It’s spreading awareness in such a nice way through art and light installation,” she said. “It was the idea that came from me but I encourage Muslims and people from other faiths to continue on and do it.”

A spokesman for Mr Khan said: “Sadiq is proud that as Mayor he’s stood up for Londoners of all faiths, taking part in a host of festivals and celebrations, including around Easter. He’s attended churches around both Christmas and Easter, while visiting church-run foodbanks.

“The Mayor’s office continue to help facilitate the world-famous staging of the Passion of Christ in Trafalgar Square, which attracts thousands of people every year.

“Sadiq is immensely grateful for the hand of friendship offered to him by Christian friends and neighbours. This Sunday, Sadiq looks forward to joining a local church congregation as they celebrate Easter.”

Festivals from different faith groups

A Westminster City Council spokesman said: “The council supports festivals from different faith communities throughout the year, and the Ramadan lights form part of that activity.

“The West End hosts millions of visitors a year from around the world and these lights will add an attractive extra dimension to Oxford Street for those who observe Ramadan and those who don’t.”

The council has pointed out that it “routinely supports” a wide range of other faith activities throughout the year including Christmas, Easter, Palm Sunday, Eid, Diwali and Hanukkah.

Christian Concern, a group which promotes Christian values, said that it planned in the future to put in a “number of applications” for decorations to celebrate Easter.