I Was Dreading Ramadan In Lockdown. But There Have Been Unexpected Perks

I miss Iftars and my mosque, but I’ve been able to reconnect with my faith in a way I hadn’t before.
Courtesy of the author
HuffPost UK
Courtesy of the author

The coronavirus pandemic has been an unsettling time for all of us, but particularly for those of faith who have had to adapt to celebrate holy periods such as Easter, Passover, and now Ramadan, completely differently.

For Muslims like myself, Ramadan is a period of fasting, prayer and self-reflection, and a time that is usually spent with family and friends. This year, it’s instead been a time of social isolation. Inspired by those ‘expectations vs reality’ Instagram memes, I felt like doing one of my own this Ramadan Posting a picture of myself smug in my comfy clothes not worrying about seeing my favourite Pret sandwich staring at me, versus what it has actually been like: pulling my hair out and talking to myself because I’m so desperate for social interaction.

Here are the few of the expectations I convinced myself would happen in comparison to the pleasant reality of what Ramadan has been like.

Expectation: Yes, I don’t have to dress up to leave the house!

I’ll be honest, it usually takes me forever to decide which Hijab best matches my outfit, setting my alarm that little bit earlier to make sure I have enough time to get ready. More time to sleep.

Reality: I have not changed out of my PJs for seven weeks.

Even for zoom meetings with colleagues, as long as my top half is presentable, they will never know, or I opt for no video camera. It’s not only because I love being comfy, but because I have had so many clothes wardrobe clear outs to pass the time, I have no other clothes left.

Expectation: I can avoid seeing that person you always dread talking to at Iftar!

When we break our fast at sunset each day, there’s always that one aunt you see once a year that chews your ear off and asks about when you’re getting married. I love to reply with sarcasm, it usually works when I say that it’s next week and the invitation must have gotten lost in the post. You haven’t eaten all day and so all you want to do is stuff your face and not make small talk or have deep conversations about a hypothetical future spouse.

Reality: Being at home for Iftar, I am yet to find a good enough excuse to get out of doing the dishes.

I have nowhere to run.

Expectation: Hey, I don’t have to walk past all those lovely smelling lunchtime treats!

Finally, I don’t have to fight temptation or worry about non-Muslim friends or colleagues eating in front of me. I have a pep talk with myself each morning to tell myself I can do it. I don’t have to worry about being in a meeting and being the only one fasting. What gets me the most is probably the sweet smell and taste of caffeine. It doesn’t bother too much though, you get used to it after all these years. Unless I am having one of those bad days.

Reality: I am now clock-watching like never before.

I’m throwing myself into work tasks and hoping, pray, that enough time passes that I can see light at the end of the tunnel. Instead it’s 2pm, and I still have six more hours to go, and have to give a pep talk to myself: “Aya, come on, you can do this!”

Needless to say, this Ramadan has been one to remember. For both me and everyone I have spoken to during this challenging period, lockdown’s actually made us all take time from our hectic and frenetic daily lives to focus on things that we maybe didn’t pay much attention to.

For me, one of the purposes of Ramadan is to retreat from our social life to devote more time to our own spiritual and mental wellbeing – and I am definitely looking after myself and investing in self-care. And I have appreciated more than ever being safe, being healthy and, at the end of the day, having food on the table.

I’ve been able to spend more time connecting with my faith and spirituality more than I have been able to before. Ramadan normally being such a social time, I’m so thankful for things like FaceTime, which let me see my friends for our virtual Iftars and make sure I don’t miss out on my niece and nephew growing up. It has, of course, been tough not being able to go to our mosque during this time, but I’ve seen how so many are trying to instil a sense of community online.

In such unprecedented and difficult times for all, I hope that others are finding solace with social isolation during Ramadan and that we continue to be healthy and safe, taking nothing for granted.

Aya Bdaiwi is a project and communications manager at Faiths Forum for London - an interfaith charity that empowers faith communities

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