Touchstone Tales — ‘Ramadan in Lockdown Luton’

May 06, 2020

Photography by Ferdusi Jahan

My and my husband, Asif’s extended family is a picture of what renowned academic and historian Paul Gilroy calls the ‘conviviality’ of cultures — multiculturalism as an everyday ‘lived’ reality, not some abstract construct, whose success or failure can be argued over by politicians.

Our family has members who are practising Muslims, devout Christians, ‘pick and mix’ Hindus, agnostics and atheists all rubbing along together mostly in harmony.

We celebrate Diwali, Eid and Christmas not necessarily as religious festivals but as occasions to meet up together, light a sparkler or two in memory of lost loved ones and eat chana bhatura, shami kebabs breakfasts or halal turkey with all the trimmings.

Spirituality and charity are present in everyone’s individual choices of how to live their lives and think about others less fortunate than themselves.

Close members of my husband’s family do observe Ramadan and Eid it’s usually a big gettogether and a whole day of visiting friends and family.

As sole custodian of my late mother-in-law’s shami kebab recipe, I always host the Eid breakfast — waking up early to make a stack of parathas which everyone looks forward to having with fried eggs, aloo bhujia (dry potato dish) and kebabs, after they have been to the mosque in their fineries for Eid prayers.

I always feel like a fraud indulging in the festivities without having done any of the penance and denial.

Recent family bereavements have meant that we had not marked Eid fully for a couple of years as a mark of respect, and this one was going to be special.

No one could have foreseen what was in store for the whole world!

Spending Ramadan in lockdown is unprecedented and now even the pilgrimage of Hajj looks set to be cancelled!

I have always admired the willpower and strength of people who fast during this month and their unstinting belief in their faith and working in Luton (albeit remotely at the moment) on Touchstone Tales, I am in awe as to how people have accepted the situation they find themselves in, and indeed are embracing it as an opportunity to connect with the values of this month even deeper.

In the words of Imrana Mahmood from Revoluton, who I am privileged to have working with me as co-ordinater on this commission,

‘Now, the blessed month of Ramadan is upon us and it is an experience like no other. It is usually a time of communal gatherings including family iftaris (breaking of the fast) and night congregations at the mosque, but having been thrown into a huge global crisis means Ramadan serves as a beautiful reminder that isolation need not equate to loneliness but rather a pathway for spiritual retreat, and being disconnected from one another physically is an opportunity to reconnect emotionally. Though we are having to practice social distancing, the time for self-reflection might be the key in actualising our hopes and dreams for the future.

‘Spending Ramadan in lockdown may be challenging for a multitude of reasons, but the lack of external pressures on how we spend our time is truly a blessing like no other. The opportunity to reconnect with our inner selves and transcend the materialistic nature of our current worldly sphere might very well be the catalyst in finally gaining the spiritual nourishment we need, otherwise what indeed is the purpose of life except the (re)turning of our hearts to the Divine’

(An excerpt from Imrana’s recent blog for The Courtney Foundation.)

The nearest I come to ‘submission’ is my regular yoga practice and in the quest for the mind and body to come together through breath, I am learning to ‘surrender’ to the present moment and accept that we are not in control of every event in our lives, but can learn not to be defined only by our life situation.

I would like to wish everyone Ramadan Mubarak and to share the Ramadan coronavirus appeal video posted by British Muslim celebrities! Stay safe!

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