In April, the Museum of London announced that it was seeking to collect both objects and first-hand experiences to reflect Londoners’ lives during the time of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Today, as part of the wider Collecting COVID project, the Museum of London is pleased to share details of one of the earliest initiatives developed, aiming to reflect how the Muslim community experienced Ramadan during lockdown.
Ramadan this year was from the 23 April to 23 May, at a time when London and the rest of the UK were at the height of lockdown. With restrictions in place such as social distancing and the closure of mosques, communities were unable to celebrate the festival in their usual way.
Londoners therefore adapted and found unique ways to celebrate the festival. The Museum of London was keen to capture this distinctive moment and shift in Ramadan celebrations to ensure future generations of Londoners will be able to learn about and understand this extraordinary period.
The museum has captured this through different strands including collecting an audio recording of the public calls for prayers at the Musallaa an-Noor mosque in Hackney, documenting the experiences of young Muslims in West London and working with seven groups of families or households from various London boroughs.
Aisling Serrant, Community Engagement Manager at the Museum of London Docklands, who is leading on the family strand of the project said: ‘Some of the key parts of Ramadan, such as spending time with family and friends and visiting the mosque, have not been able to take place this year or had to be adapted to virtual or socially distant means. It was important to capture the experiences of families at this time as it was an unprecedented experience for the many Muslims living in London. We are in the process of collecting a range of items ranging from photographs, film and audio recordings and physical objects to tell the stories of these families.’
While the project is ongoing with objects and experiences still being collected, a few reflections from participants have been collated for release now:
Nafisa from Waltham Forest said: ‘Ramadan this year was in some ways strange but in many ways more meaningful, focused and somehow we were more spiritually connected even though we were ‘disconnected’ from the wider community. My main reflections were how there is beauty in everything and pleasure in simple acts, how we can stop and take stock of our friends and family and be grateful always for the peace we live in despite the uncertainty of the world and to continue to pray, do small, consistent good deeds and remember God in good times too.
I hope future generations looking at our experience will ponder and reflect on their own lives, their own relationships and be grateful for the little things and find value in non-material things. That they will see that whatever life throws at them, it is important to find the silver lining. To have hope in the darkest of times and to take resilience, strength and comfort from our stories.’
Shazia from Redbridge said: ‘Given that our Ramadan experience is always characterised by such collectiveness, Ramadan during ‘lockdown’ was at first met with some nervousness!
As the days and weeks passed, there were many wonderful ways and means available for us to reap the rewards of Ramadan. Prayers at the mosque were replaced with congregational prayers at home, attending the mosque to hear valuable reminders about life were replaced with online sermons delivered by the Imam, Islamic study gatherings at the mosque were replaced by family discussions and presentations by the children in our living room, volunteering to feed the homeless was replaced by donating to the local foodbank. We still shared Iftar meals with our family and friends by sending (and receiving!) lovingly prepared food.
This ‘lockdown’ Ramadan gave us greater opportunities, whether to simply focus more and connect or to learn the most invaluable lesson of gratitude. So much of what we had always taken for granted each and every Ramadan was now truly appreciated’.
Iffath from Croydon said: ‘I am an Anaesthetic Nurse and wanted to take part in the Museum of London’s collecting project in order to represent the frontline NHS staff who embraced this challenging Ramadan and allow future generations to learn that fasting in PPE was challenging physically, however, mentally it strengthens your mind and helps you grow as a person. My main reflections of celebrating Ramadan in lockdown were how important it is to slow down in life, absorb the beauty around us, and finally, that there is always so much more we can do for our community’.
Amanah and Wasim, brother and sister, from Tower Hamlets said:
‘In Ramadan in lockdown I discovered I can play on my own, but it was a miserable time because we couldn’t go out and meet our cousins’. – Amanah, six years old
‘Ramadan in lockdown was really sad because you couldn’t meet anybody, and you had to entertain yourself. We hope future generations see that it was a hard time, and everyone was affected but we survived this ordeal’. – Wasim, ten years old
Hussain, from Barking & Dagenham said: ‘It was very unusual as Ramadan is much more than just fasting and refraining from food during the day. The main differences were there were no communal events, no eating together with extended families, no prayer at the mosque, no listening to reciters of the Quran from all over the world who come to the mosque. However, there were still similarities in that we still fasted with a set timetable, still prayed at home, did what we normally do within the house’.
Shabna, from Walthamstow said: ‘Muslims are often presented as one homogenous community, I hope that by seeing different families’ stories through the Museum of London’s collecting project, people will learn that Muslims are diverse and that we navigated our way through COVID-19 with our own unique challenges and contributions’.
Saaraa, from Kensington and Chelsea said: ‘Ramadan during lockdown was different, but it gave us time to really focus on family at home and making the best of our situation. I felt the purpose of Ramadan a lot more this year as we really did have more time to reflect on the Quran and God. I’m pleased we were able to contribute to this project as I love what the Museum of London stands for and wanted to be part of a project that celebrates and shares the experiences of Muslims and people from all backgrounds and times.’
The Collecting COVID project is hoping to collect both physical and digital objects, reflecting the voices and experiences of a broad range of Londoners. From those working on the front line to those quietly working in the background, from parents turned home-school support to young people online gaming, the museum wants to collect objects from those that can tell the story of London in lockdown.