I was thankful for a partial lockdown for a second year running during Ramadan – but with fasting coinciding with restrictions easing, it is proving much harder than I thought with some new challenges.
The pandemic has been an unsettling time for all of us, particularly for those of faith who have had to adapt to celebrate holy periods such as Easter, Passover, and now Ramadan, for the second year running completely differently.
For Muslims like myself, Ramadan is a period of abstaining, prayer and self-reflection, and a time that is usually spent with an abundance of family and friends. Although last year was more of a time of social isolation, breaking fast with your household only (in my case mum and dad), which I found surprisingly enjoyable. I had very little distractions and didn’t need to change out of my lockdown uniform which also served as sleeping attire. But this year, coinciding with the easing of lockdown restrictions, my life is like a ‘expectation vs reality’ meme. I feel like posting a picture of myself smug in comfy clothes versus what it has actually been like: having an argument with my wardrobe because I have no clothes to wear to meet my friends for the first time in months.
Here are the few of the expectations I convinced myself would happen in comparison to the reality of what Ramadan has been like so far.
Expectation: Yes, I don’t have to make all that effort 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. I have actually become accustomed to being at home, like a bear hibernating in a constant slumber.
Reality: My social life is as busy as it has ever been.
I should have thought that my friends would go a bit OTT with booking outdoor tables for catch up’s. I am honestly booked up most evenings and on the first night of ‘deciding what to wear’ realised that having numerous wardrobe clear outs to pass the time over lockdown was not my brightest idea. I have nothing to wear!
I have also forgotten how to socialise and communicate with the outside world properly. It’s been a while, but I am sure it’s like riding a bike!
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 relative 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 in the diary and the invitation must have got 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 having a deep conversation about a hypothetical future spouse.
Reality: Now that restrictions have eased, there is no escaping being asked about my future.
Extended family pile into the back garden to all eat dinner together. I have nowhere to run.
I am sure other British-Arab women can relate. Marriage remains a significant time for many British Muslim families and there is a cultural expectation that finding a spouse should be a priority but, as we move down generations, women are becoming more empowered and prioritising themselves and their careers. It isn’t the be all, end all. But men never seem to get asked the same question!
Expectation: I don’t have to walk past all those lovely smelling lunchtime treats!
Finally, 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.
Reality: I forgot that there is a Pret on every corner.
Is it just me or have new locations popped up since we have come out of lockdown? I don’t remember there being so many everywhere I go! When Ramadan is over, I will be ordering everything on the menu but in the meantime, I will continue to have a pep talk with myself each morning – ‘I can do it. Pret isn’t even that yummy…’
Although, my parents always make such an effort during Ramadan to cook the most delicious Iraqi food such as biryani and dolma, but my eyes are much bigger than my stomach! I can never finish it all.
Needless to say, this Ramadan has so far been one to remember but for both myself and everyone I have spoken to during this challenging period, lockdown has made us all take time from our hectic daily lives to appreciate what we have and what we might have taken for granted. I didn’t realise how much I missed my friends and family, and it has been incredible to reconnect with everyone – albeit in smaller groups than normal – but I am thankful all the same. There is still such a sense of community even when we cannot all attend mosque or have elaborate celebrations to mark the month.
I hope that next year’s Ramadan sees mosques as full as they have ever been with everyone vaccinated and that festivities for all religious periods will be vibrant, but for now, with two more weeks of Ramadan, I will continue to reflect. While it has not been the Ramadan I was expecting (it is meant to be a test after all), I can’t help but smile and picture my expectation vs reality meme gaining a lot of likes on social media.
Aya Bdaiwi is a project manager at Faiths Forum for London – an interfaith charity that works with nine major faith communities to empower and educate. Aya is a passionate feminist and has an interest in community cohesion and human rights.
Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.