By Martin Beckford, Telegraph Religious Affairs Correspondent
All members of Tower Hamlets Council in east London, where 36 per cent of the population follows Islam, were sent an email asking them to abide by the restrictions observed by strict Muslims during the holy month.
They have also been told that the town hall's business agenda will be reduced throughout Ramadan to accommodate Muslims, with only seven committee meetings scheduled and special prayer breaks included in the evening events. Tower Hamlets Council has previously insisted that staff call their Christmas meal the "festive lunch" and replaced Bonfire Night celebrations with a show based on a Bengali folk tale. Some councillors on the Labour-run authority claim it is favouring one religious group over the others.
Cllr Stephanie Eaton, leader of the Lib Dem group, said she would be ignoring the new Ramadan regime and added: "I was rather disconcerted to see that the arrangements put in place for Ramadan, which we support for Muslim colleagues, have been imposed upon all councillors.
"We object to the request that non-Muslim councillors observe the fasting rules for Ramadan. This sends out the wrong message to our community. "Our community consists of a huge number of different religions, all of which should be valued, and no one religion should be accorded more status or influence than others."
Strict Muslims are compelled to fast between sunrise and sundown during Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar. This year the holy month begins at the start of September, which means there are more daylight fasting hours than if it fell later in the year as it has done recently.
To accommodate its Muslim councillors, Tower Hamlets has decreed that there will be only seven committee meetings during the month. At sunset, which will fall during the meetings that start at 6.30pm, there will be 45-minute adjournments for members to eat and pray.
Tea, coffee, sandwiches and special Muslim snacks called Iftar packs will be on offer in a separate room to the meeting chamber. But councillors have been told not to start eating until after sunset, both out of courtesy to Muslims and to ensure some of the food is left for them.
In the letter to members, John Williams, the council's head of democratic services, said: "It is requested that members do not partake of any refreshments until after the Iftar refreshments are served." A spokesman for the council said: "All that's being asked for is courtesy to be shown to the sensitivities around some councillors eating during council meetings whilst others in the room are fasting.
"Non-Muslim councillors have simply been asked to ensure that there is Iftar food available for Muslim councillors, because in previous years, Muslim councillors wanting to break their fast following prayers had found that the Iftar packs had been eaten."
Someone should just tell these stone age Neanderthals to