As told by director and stylist, Basma Khalifa, to ELLE UK: If someone would have said to me that Ramadan this year would be during a global pandemic, I probably would have replied with an eye-rolling emoji and moved on. Or, perhaps a gif or meme, if I was feeling particularly flippant.
The month of Ramadan is usually a time that’s filled with love, prayer and a celebration of how thankful and grateful we are for all that we have. For me, it has become part of a predictable yearly routine. But, like many things during 2020’s love and life in the time of COVID-19, we’ve been forced into a new routine. A new normal. One that looks uncertain, feels unsure and is unsettling.
Ramadan is a holy month of the year in which Muslims around the world fast from just before sunrise to sunset every day for 29 or 30 days, depending on the moon. Because of the lockdown, I began Ramadan this year thinking it would be much easier. I wouldn’t have to wake up early for work, no more trekking across London for meetings that would involve me talking until I ran out of saliva (people love to talk in media and fashion), and no more dodging industry people who ask if you want to go out for dinner. ‘Easy,’ I said to myself, ‘I’ll just chill out, do video calls with my friends and family, read books, and dive into the hoarding cupboards that I have never had a chance to sort out.’
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Trying to make some boss moves from my bedroom and my sofa. Were I only wear leggings and I don’t remember the last time I put shoes on. Whoever said we needed a whole wardrobe of clothes was lying. (I actually really miss wearing make up and wearing my garms everyday so who am I kidding). Is it time to get dressed up as if we are going to work? What’s the jist? 👩🏾🦱💫
But, in all honesty, it’s been harder. Much harder. Avoiding food and water during Ramadan hasn’t ever been a challenge before but, mentally and emotionally, my mind has struggled like never before. Perhaps Ramadan was easier before, precisely because of those distractions that I mentioned – though tricky to navigate, they actually gave me something to do. Working days and running around London meant that, even on a normal day, I would forget to grab a quick bite to eat, let alone drink a bottle of water. I was constantly occupied and my mind elsewhere, so when it eventually came time to break my fast, it was a welcome surprise. Sunset already, is it?
And, at the weekends, I’d travel across the UK to spend it with my extended family and we’d stay up late and sleep until noon. That’s what Ramadan was for me, year in and year out. And, I looked forward to it.
There have been some humbling moments during this time that have given me some hope. Taking part in Instagram’s #monthofgood challenge has been so rewarding. Instagram has been asking people to share their acts of good – big or small. It’s been so humbling to give a simple thanks to the healthcare professionals or send nice messages and comments of support to each other while fasting. Facebook has also been running a #ramadantogether global campaign where creatives share their Ramadan content, having a chance to meet people like Arooj Aftab has made me realise the power of community during this holy month.
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A Ramadan Poem by Basma Khalifa x FB x IG 🌙 I wrote, narrated and directed this piece for Facebook and Instagram. It represents all of us around the world in the most succinct way I could possibly convey. This means a lot. Quarantine has been life changing in so many ways. I’m sure in years to come we will look back on this and remember the hardships, how we felt and how we got through it. But I hope we do look back on it and take away lessons for our future selves, remembering our strengths and though sometimes challenged, our positive attitudes. To my dream team 🧡 @dumashaddad thank you for being my most epic co-pilot and incredible editor. @_geomusic for killing the music! @tooloudenough for being the best sound engineer in the game. And mostly to @m1r1am786 thank you for the opportunity, the endless excitement and cheerleading. This happened because of you. ❣️ To everyone during this month, keep close to your strength. To those fasting while continuing their work on the front line. Thank you. We stay home for you. #ramadankareem 🌙❤️
This year with this solitude, I’ve had much more time to myself to reflect. Halfway into the first week of Ramadan, I started to get frustrated with myself. Why did this feel harder than usual? My anxiety rose, but never enough to cause my dedication to seeing out the fasting for the day waver. I treated it like being in the gym, challenging myself to lift that heavier weight. So, just like the gym, I accepted the challenge, even if I was unsure if I could see it through.
But what I did come to realise is that food and water are a welcome distraction during a lockdown. Pre-Ramadan, I would spend hours thinking of different recipes to make. Going from shop to shop looking for the yeast to make focaccia bread. Or, baking banana bread like I was in the Great British Bake Off. And, unnecessarily cooking elaborate meals like a lamb shank for one. It was freeing me from hours of Netflix (how can there be nothing to watch anymore?) or that 100th video meeting I’d sat through. Without the part of my day of cooking during lockdown because it’s Ramadan, I began to feel overwhelmed. At times, food for me was also a bad mood repellent. A bite of dark chocolate to boost my endorphins always worked before.
At the beginning it was frustrating and ‘hangry’ was a common mood of mine. However, slowly, I have started to learn the power of vulnerability (hat-tip to Brené Brown). I’ve started to learn that avoiding myself isn’t going to get me very far and working out my feelings on a day to day basis rather than distracting myself is a better longterm strategy for survival. It’s been interesting to get to know who I am without the everyday distractions of life and learning to temper my inner child who usually stamps her feet and gets exactly what she wants when she wants it. I’ve also learnt to give myself a break because it isn’t easy, and that’s okay. Self-compassion is not selfish. Confinement can be quiet, but also unbearably loud at the same time.
I’m taking Ramadan one day at a time. And, perhaps for the ~2 billion Muslims around the world taking part, the true purpose of Ramadan and the strength in faith makes more sense now than ever.
I know I will come out of Ramadan, just like other Muslims. And, I’ll come out of the lockdown too, just like most people in the world. And, perhaps, learn what really matters to us in life. It’s a shame that it would have to take a pandemic to help us realise it but better late than never.
This article originally appeared on ELLE UK.