Trishla Parekh | London, Ont. | March 22, 2023
With Ramadan beginning Thursday, Western Journalism Studio asked Londoners how they are preparing for the occasion.
“Ramadan is one of the world’s best kept secrets,” said Asim Hussain, a Toronto-based artist professionally known as Student Asim.
“You’ve got two billion people celebrating Ramadan but if you ask the common person, they don’t know much about it. Most people haven’t even been in a mosque,” he said.
Inspired to share stories of Muslim people, Student Asim created a website called islamophobia.io, where people are encouraged to send stories about their experiences as part of the Islam faith.
He first started his project in response to a incident in London, Ontario where members of a London family were killed by a hate-fuelled terror attack.
In the days leading up to Ramadan, he has received many stories like the one below.
The tagline of the Ramadan campaign is “Not even water?”
Student Asim said that is a common question he gets regarding fasting practices during Ramadan.
While he understands this is a natural point of curiosity, hearing this year after year makes him think that people only have a basic idea of what Ramadan is, when “it’s so, so much more.”
To Student Asim, islamophobia.io s a form of “collective narrative change-making” that gives people agency to tell their stories in their own voices, instantly.
“You don’t need to wait on the government,” he said. “And people as young as ten-years-old can write,” he said.
He also states that the forum extends to allied communities, whether that be people traveling to Turkey or those who have a Muslim neighbour.
“The first person that was killed from a hate-fuelled attack after 9/11 was a Sikh man, who was perceived as Muslim due to his religious head-wear,” Student Asim states. He uses this as an example to show that even those who are not Muslim have had experiences related to them. Sharing these stories help to increase a sense of understanding and community between different cultures, he said.
Whether it’s a poem, a screen-play, or blog post, islamophobia.io does not care about style or word choice.
“We care about you and we care about change,” said Student Asim.
Western students find their own unique ways to celebrate Ramadan
Alhawraa Almarouq and Zahraa Alshammaa are first-year students at Western. Originally from Kuwait, they are far from their families during this special occasion.
“We feel like we are limited with what we can do, but I’ve made some DIY decorations on my door,” said Almarouq.
They express missing their families during this time. “Ramadan is huge, there. My family spends all night together at my grandma’s house,” Almarouq said.
They have run into some conflicts at school, with a midterm falling on Futor, the day they break their fast.
As first year students, they are on a meal plan. Suhoor, the final meal before fasting begins, usually occurs at one in the morning, before sunrise. However, their residence stops serving food at 11 p.m. When asked how they will cope, they respond, “We are thinking UberEats” with a giggle.
The purpose of Ramadan, they said, is to feel what poor people feel. “After sunset, we finish our fast and can eat as much as we want. Poor people have nothing. They fast for days,” Almarouq said.
To be put in their shoes feels “amazing” they both agree.
The London Muslim Mosque is also busy in preparation for Ramadan.
They are hosting multiple lectures, five prayers throughout the day, Taraweeh night prayers, and iftar, the meal after sunset.
“It is open to anybody in need, lonely, alone or anybody who wants a feeling of community around them,” said Zeba Hashmi, the second vice chair on the Board of the London Muslim Mosque.
Hashmi said she knew members of #OurLondonFamily, who were run over by a car in a 2021 hate-fuelled attack.
“It was a very big sacrifice their family had to make to set this impetus moving forward, in terms of acknowledgement of the Muslim community,” said Hashmi.
Now, she said she feels “a whole lot of support” from organizations and elected representatives in the City of London.