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Corona Diaries: Ramadan in Lockdown

June 13, 2020

One of the most uplifting pieces of TV I’ve seen since we were confined to our homes was Ramadan in Lockdown. It’s a series of five-minute snapshots showing how Muslims in Britain adapted to the month of fasting without the usual traditions – of prayers in the mosques, family gatherings and communal meals.

I loved it because of the characters. There were a couple of NHS doctors, the family of a doctor who died of the virus, a nurse, a teacher, a guy who runs a business whose staff were furloughed, a restaurant owner and a chap from Bradford who’s into keeping fit. Men, women and kids from all over the country whom you might encounter in a street, who might be feeding you, delivering supplies to your grandparents, teaching your kids or trying to keep you alive in hospital.

I’m not a Muslim, nor am I particularly religious, but these little clips of kind, bright, funny and devout people brings back memories of many Ramadans I lived through in the Middle East. Despite the fasting restrictions, which didn’t apply to those of us who weren’t Muslim but required us to eat and drink away from those who were fasting, it was my favourite time of the year. I explained why in On the First Day of Ramadan, a piece I wrote ten years ago when I was living in Bahrain.

I don’t know much about those who produced the series, but they did us all a service by providing a counterpoint to the narrative of those who regard Muslims and their religion as a threat to the “British way of life”. Not that there aren’t people in our country who dream of the black flag flying over Downing Street. But the people we saw in Ramadan in Lockdown definitely aren’t among them.

I hesitate to say that they’re just like you and me because that implies that you and I are distinct and separate from a group of fellow-citizens who are fully engaged in the wider society in which they live and work, but who also have a strong sense of religious community. I prefer to say that we are them and they are us.

And if we can’t respect and cherish these people who spent the fasting month tending to the sick, feeding the needy and performing other acts of generosity mandated by their religion, then we should be ashamed of ourselves.

Muslims are not the only people who have reached out to those in need during lockdown. So have Christians, Sikhs, Hindus and people with no religious beliefs.

But the toxic hue painted over an entire section of our community badly needs counteracting. This series goes some way towards doing that.

One of my saddest memories of working in the Middle East came when a Saudi teenager came up to me during a workshop I was running for kids preparing to go university in foreign countries. He felt the need to tell me that he was not a terrorist. Of course he wasn’t, but it was a poignant reminder of the suspicion and misunderstanding that still plagues us – and can still be exploited – wherever people of different faiths live side-by-side.

The people who feature in Ramadan in Lockdown are fellow-citizens whom I’d be glad to have as friends and neighbours. Not just because of the love they show to each other, but because of their innate decency to which we can all relate.

Do watch the series, which is on All4, and if you like it, get your friends to do so too.

6 Comments
  1. Andrew Robinson permalink

    I will watch it on VPN (keep sending the recommendations!).

    As the token Khawaaja at Disney Corners KSA in 1997 and 1998, I had two Ramadans and a two shift system for a >lunar month – 10.30am until 1pm (at least) in the office in shirt and tie, then 9pm until 1am at the big shop on Tahlia Street, Jeddah, in uniform.

    It was the biggest sales period of the year with Eid il-Fitr tagged on the end. Some of the product was “difficult” to get through the port. Large amounts of “grease” and meetings “to infinity and beyond” were necessary to get effigies of Woody and Buzz in, while the Little Mermaid and even Pocahontas were far too sexy. The Hunchback and Hercules were banned – crosses and gods, a definite no-no.

    The series will hopefully be an antidote.

    I wonder if MBS has reduced the “Greased Lightnin'”….? (if you’ll excuse the mixing of studios)….

    One piece of positivity: My wife and sons 9 and 7 arrived in Jeddah (after my 3 months solo stint) on the night of the first REAL Disney show (with characters from Disneyland Paris) at Danube shopping centre. The family came straight from the airport, exhausted….and, watching from backstage, I’ll never forget their faces – the only blonds in the crowd…. Unfortunately, next morning we woke to hear that Princess Diana had died.

    When the character actors (we called them “minders”) came round to us for dinner, the kids were really disappointed that Goofy, Droopy, Winnie, Tigger, Eeyore and King Louie were so tired they were fast asleep at the Sheraton.

    They both STILL BELIEVED…… proper “kareem”, that.

    • Nice stories Andrew. One of my big memories was the dramatic traffic hiatus in the half-hour after sunset, after which all hell broke loose. Sadly those who went through Ramadan would know all about streets without traffic…

  2. deborah a moggio permalink

    Lovely. Wish it were available here. All the film makers I know are European. Wish I knew one here to recommend doing something similar.
    However, that being said, I would want it paired with something that would shine an equally bright and enlightening light (oh dear) on white privilege.
    It’s wonderful to learn about the “others” and, pardon my cynicism, make them more “human” and “real” and “accessible”, but at least as important, and lately to my mind MORE important, is showing the world the reality of what we, as whites, get away with.
    We need to break down the idea that “our way” is the ideal.

  3. deborah a moggio permalink

    Both getting to know people and admitting our complicities?
    Absolutely!
    The two go hand in glove, no?

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