AS Colchester’s Muslim community observes the holy month of Ramadan, it has sent out a message of inclusiveness with non-Muslims invited to learn more about Islam.

Until mid-June, thousands of Muslims will abstain from food and other pleasures between dawn and sunset for on average 18 hours a day.

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and one of the Five Pillars of Islam, making it one of the holiest religious events.

Habib Ahmad, Imam at Colchester Mosque in Priory Street, says the mosque is only able to cater to a small number of people during Iftar - the name of the evening meal meant to be enjoyed with family and friends, and typically broken with dates.

But once renovation works are completed at the mosque to make it larger - "we hope to have an open Iftaar in the future to welcome non-Muslims too".

He said: "We try to emulate the life of the prophet Muhammad who would break his fast with dates, that's the number one reason, but also dates are good to eat from a nutritional perspective at this time.

"If you don't have dates, it's better to drink water than anything else. Those are the two things the prophet would do.

"Each day one person will take responsibility to provide for between 45 and 50 people for Iftar.

"It might seem like a big responsibility but Muslims are generous people, particularly during this month.

"The slots go really quickly."

Essex University's Islamic Society is catering for students and staff by holding night prayers and communal Iftar dinners at a small cost.

Given the increased awareness of the physical and mental benefits of intermittent fasting, Ramadan is a particular time of interest for non-Muslims alike looking to improve their health.

The first few days are the hardest, Habib says, but afterwards your body will naturally adjust to eating less, you will feel more energetic and internally cleansed.

Habib said: "We live in a culture where we're told you have to eat three meals per day, five hours apart and if you don't, it's bad for you.

"Because of that mentality, people are scared to live without food for 18 hours but lots of health practitioners are recommending fasting.

"When a person becomes appreciative of the benefits, they're naturally going to be more interested in doing it.

"But even Muslims get nervous as we approach Ramadan."

To contact the mosque for information or tours, please call 01206 794919 in advance to speak with Imam Habib.