Sisterhood shines as Muslim women face Ramadan under lockdown
"I'd regularly invite my close friendship group to come over and have Iftar with my family and we'd pray together, bake together, eat together and just stay up talking until the morning," she told The New Arab.
For the past few years, Maryam's exam period clashed with Ramadan, so she created peaceful, but emotionally charged sessions of all-nighters with fellow Muslim students cramming information for exams and rushing to meet deadlines.
For Muslims, Ramadan has always been a time of reflection, but also a time of socialising. Under lockdown, Muslims have had to slow down their schedules of communal Iftars and suhoors and stay home instead.
Women, especially, find a sense of sisterhood in Ramadan. Catching up in mosques, girly nights in after Iftars, and gathering to share activities during the day were once a norm that have been suddenly stripped away.
Organising from home
Since lockdown, community organisers have had to make many changes to the way they socialise. Blogger and organiser Seeds of Selma has in the past brought women together to discuss consciousness, spirituality, energy and natural living.
|Ramadan has always been a time of reflection, but also a time of socialising. Under lockdown, Muslims have had to slow down their schedules|
By hosting events on consciousness, she raises the awareness for bridging the perceived gap between Islam and spirituality. She told The New Arab that the way she brings the Muslim community together under lockdown is "extremely different."
"We've all had to adapt to such drastic circumstances, and although we haven't been able to interact with each other properly (and nothing beats real-life interactions), I am very grateful that we have been able to stay connected to each other through different online platforms," she explained.
Before Ramadan, Selma organised an online "sisters circle" to discuss health and wellbeing during the holy month. "Humans have a remarkable ability to adapt – albeit at varying levels – and this pandemic has highlighted that," she explained.
For many, new connections have been forged. Fatma, 24, says she has taken her love for her faith to the online world to meet like-minded people and make new friendships.
"What me and a few friends have been doing is every day after Iftar, we have a halaqa and discuss the Quran, stories related to hadith," she told The New Arab.
She said her daily sessions have helped to increase their Islamic knowledge, but also to build new, meaningful and hopefully long-lasting connections. "It's been really cool. I knew two people and now I've met so many more people."
For others, existing friendships have flourished as empathy between loved ones grows during such difficult circumstances.
"My friends and I are not having a problem with the lockdown," Atefah, 27, told The New Arab.
"My circle is very small and we're understanding of the circumstances of the place. We all downloaded apps and did virtual quiz nights, FaceTimes and long-distance walks in the park with a friend."
Sisterhood is an important part of the lives of girls and women across the world. It provides company in times of loneliness, creativity in times of slumps and solidarity when facing patriarchal oppression. But sisterhood also has one unique attribute that other communities cannot provide – a space for the feminine to flourish.
Every woman defines her femininity differently. Each woman takes it as her own and connects with it in a way that resonates with her, at that moment of her life.
"Feminine energy is all about trusting, allowing and receiving," hypnotherapist and women's mindfulness coach Sotoda Saifi told The New Arab.
For her, and other energy workers and coaches, feminine energy has divine connotations in that it is able to feel, receive and manifest. To work on femininity is to foster self-love.
"When someone doesn't feel good enough, anything anyone says will trigger them," she explained. To embrace the inner feminine is to foster so much acceptance through accountability, meditation and tapping into subconscious habits that allow women to heal from toxic standards.
"Do personal inner work, for people to believe in your inner work, be in the present moment and your reality will start changing as you embrace love that you intrinsically deserve from yourself," she urged.
Feminine spaces that encourage such levels of self-love, through mutual affirmation, emotional outlets and general kindness under a nurturing safe space is important for many Muslim women during this lockdown Ramadan.
|Sisterhood is an important part of the lives of girls and women across the world|
"I'm blessed to have an incredibly close group of Muslim girlfriends and we catch up regularly, whether to send pictures of the latest thing we've cooked and share recipes, discuss spirituality, or just talk about families," Maryam said. Despite differences in time zones, they have still managed to keep in touch.
Selma says the growth in sisterhood during the pandemic is reflective of the work Muslim women have been doing to unlearn judgemental ideas and foster a true bond where women can find a safe space to be vulnerable.
"Praise be to God, in the past few years we have seen a collective effort to ameliorate and strengthen the ties with the women in our lives. It is so beautiful to see such a transformation, where comfortable spaces are being created for women to just come as they are," she said.
"We are so strong individually and imagine if we come together and we multiply such forces. We have so much potential to positively impact other women in our lives, we just have to give ourselves the space and the opportunity to do so."
For Atefah, her way of establishing feminine bonds is through checking in on her loved ones to ensure they are doing well emotionally. "This is a very challenging time for me, so I stay in touch with my friends to make sure we're all okay."
"I also want to make sure women are doing their best to keep their self esteem high. One thing that scares me is seeing women go down a rabbit hole of eating disorders because they put pressure on themselves to lose weight during lockdown," she added.
Amina Aweis, a software engineer and YouTuber has aimed to wind down this Ramadan, after an overload of social media.
"I don't live with my parents, so this Ramadan has been very different in that I used to always go visit them, have Iftar with them and prepare food over the weekend for myself – something that I suddenly can't do this year," she told The New Arab.
"Not being able to see my family has obviously affected me." However, when it comes to socialising online, she is trying to connect with herself and find peace in slowing down.
"I am completely embracing the fact that I'm fasting alone this year. Before, I was alone but I had the option to visit family and friends, go to events, go to the Mosque and this year I don't have that option and it's been isolating. Because of that, I've had to adapt my routine and accept that this spiritual time of the year is going completely solo for me," she explained.
"The only form of interaction where I feel a part of a discussion is social media," Amina said, urging that despite the fact that she has the option, she is honouring her soul's boundaries and is embracing introversion to prevent communication overload.
"I have been self-reflecting a lot more than socialising, partly because everything I'm doing right now from my job to staying in contact with people is online. I have found it overwhelming and draining to constantly stay online," Amina said.
|With the fast-paced nature of the 21st century, we were always running after time, and running after ourselves. So now, we are confronted with the healing that we have long been avoiding|
"There have been moments, even before Ramadan where I won't speak to anyone for days on end, and then I would find myself yearning communication, so I would find myself engrossed on social media, or keeping up with family and friends online. It's been a mixture of both."
In her introverted bubble, Amina has been sustaining sisterhood by creating content on her social media and her YouTube channel to create conversations and to connect with others. Her sharable content, such as her videos means her ideas can be accessible to anyone, without her having to be consistently present, but still connect with other sisters.
"A lot of people who are seeing a Black Muslim woman online talking about tech have reached out."
Despite having a quieter Ramadan, Amina urges that staying true to her feelings and boundaries has created a space where she has been able to network and make new friends.
For Atefah, she is using the introspection to establish a stronger relationship with God. "I have always prayed with my sister, but now I'm learning to find the confidence to pray by myself," she said.
|Existing friendships have flourished as empathy between loved ones grows during difficult circumstances|
"Last year, I couldn't fast because of health reasons, so right now I'm just grateful that I can participate. Things may be hard, but I'm thankful to be here and to be able to focus on my spiritual self, as opposed to going out like previous years," she said.
Selma has observed that Ramadan under lockdown is allowing new paths and lessons for the collective consciousness as introspection creates new space for healing.
"On one hand, because of our collective experience, we are all experiencing the same whirlwind of emotions, so we all understand each other without needing to explain ourselves. But there is only so much we can share as a collective, as simultaneously we are all going through our own individual healing crises," she said.
"With the fast-paced nature of the 21st century, we were always running after time, and running after ourselves. So now, we are confronted with the healing that we have long been avoiding."
"What this period has highlighted was the urgency of some of our own internal battles, which has partly silenced the socialisation aspect, because we have just had so much time to sit with our own thoughts and think about our own healing," Selma added.
Diana Alghoul is a journalist at The New Arab.
Follow her on Twitter: @SuperKnafeh and Instagram: @flowerknafeh