Long Reads

These beautiful illustrations show the reality of Ramadan during lockdown

Due to the coronavirus pandemic and UK lockdown, Ramadan looks slightly different in 2020 compared to previous years. Here, Arooj Aftab shares illustrations of what the month means to her, from fasting during the day to sharing iftar meals over Instagram.

Being a young British Muslim in the UK is a privilege – I get a taste of both cultures. However, it still comes with its challenges, whether that’s finding a balance between both worlds, or facing ignorance and struggling to find acceptance

These experiences have shaped who I am and what I stand for. Throughout the years I have grown to accept, love and appreciate who I truly am and that is why the month of Ramadan is so important to me.

Ramadan is also one of the most significant months in the Islamic calendar. It’s a time to reflect and give back, and it gives me a chance to make a deeper connection with my faith on a spiritual and religious level. It also brings about a lovely sense of community and family, which is really trying in these current circumstances. 

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“Now more than ever, Ramadan is giving me a chance to reflect on what’s important to me”

This will be my first Ramadan without seeing any of my family or friends back in Bradford, so this year feels really different from any other. I’m still lucky enough to live with my twin sister in London and thankfully, through the power of technology, my mum and grandmother are able to teach us how to whip up traditional Pakistani dishes through FaceTime for iftar (our attempts are not as good as theirs, but still decent!)

Although there isn’t a physical community presence this year, there is definitely a virtual community. I’ve never seen the online Muslim community that I am part of come together like this before and it feels so uplifting and positive. For example, I’m taking part in Instagram’s #MonthofGood challenge, which involves people sharing their acts of goodness, both big and small, on Instagram. It can be something as simple as leaving a nice comment on someone’s feed.

There’s also Facebook’s #RamadanTogether project, with the likes of Dina Tokio and Basma Khalifa sharing their stories. This has encouraged me to share my daily experiences of fasting and to connect with other Muslims online. It’s sparked a new creative wave for my illustrations, which I’m really excited to share.

All of my illustrations have a meaning behind them, and are inspired by thoughts I have in relation to Ramadan. I believe there is no particular way that a person who practices Ramadan looks, and that’s why I’ve decided to incorporate the images of hands into my artwork instead of faces. Anyone can take part in this beautiful month – whether you wear the hijab or not, and whether you’re practising, learning, reconnecting, or just intrigued. I want the hands to reflect all of these people and be welcoming and relatable.

Ramadan 2020: kindness and the #monthofgood  

During the month of Ramadan, we are encouraged to be kind and giving. After all, acts of kindness go a long way, especially during the current climate.

There are so many people from all walks of life who are performing acts of kindness and inspiring others to do the same, from raising money for a charity or sharing something that might be helpful, like a new recipe.

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Ramadan in lockdown: “I had Iftar over Zoom with my family and still felt the warmth of camaraderie”

Communities are coming together and creating an amazing movement online where you can feel that connection and love for all.

If we weren’t in lockdown I would have loved to help charities collect money or feed the homeless and the vulnerable, but instead, I have donated to a few charities online and I’m checking in on people more. I’m also planning to do a few virtual iftar dinner parties via Instagram live. I’m keen to spread love and gratitude through a screen and have a good chat! 

Ramadan 2020: sacrifice and being thankful  

If there’s anything I get asked the most during Ramadan, it’s the “not even water?!” question. I’ve always found this amusing because people’s reactions are priceless. There are definitely misconceptions around this!

During Ramadan we fast from sunrise to sunset for 30 days. Every day, once the sun sets, we are able to break our fast and consume food and water. However, Ramadan is about so much more than this.

Ramadan is a month of sacrifice that allows us to reflect on the things we take for granted in our day-to-day lives, and to think of those less fortunate than us.

It teaches us to be thankful, because there are people around the world who don’t have access to the things that many of us are so lucky to have.

For me personally, Ramadan teaches me to be less ignorant and more appreciative. It teaches me to go through a test of sacrifice that is eye-opening and gives me a whole new perspective on life.

Ramadan 2020: peace, love and harmony

Ramadan is the month of forgiveness. We are encouraged to ask for God’s forgiveness for any wrong doings which, in reflection, encourages us to forgive others. This month of good creates the path to become a better person, and to be selfless and bring more peace, love and harmony to the world and the people around you. All of this paves the way for positive energy. 

Ramadan 2020: sincerity

Completing your prayers and giving your time to God during Ramadan is very significant. Muslims around the world show a lot of sincerity during this time, and from sunrise to sunset five different Islamic prayers are split throughout the day.

Personally, on my journey, I find myself learning every day. I’ve found that praying has somewhat become a form of meditation for me. Once I’ve completed a prayer I feel zen and at peace. Many of us will have felt lost and disconnected from the outside world over the last couple of weeks, so this act has definitely bought a lot of calm into our lives and it is something I’d like to put into practice even when Ramadan is over.

Though the circumstances across the world this year are different, there’s still a lot of gratitude. We are all in this together and while we are connected through the online world, the community spirit is stronger than ever. 

All illustrations by Arooj Aftab


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