How might restrictions imposed on gathering this Ramadan reveal new forms of generosity?

Yellow by Palmwood
4 min readJun 21, 2020

Though the traditions of Ramadan are not originally my own, for someone who grew up in Dubai, Iftar gatherings have continually greeted me with open arms by neighbors, friends and even complete strangers throughout the holy month. I’ve especially always admired the public Iftars that fill up empty parking lots and sidewalks, enchanted and struck by the tranquil setting of hundreds of people peacefully sharing food, space and prayer. Bearing witness and being welcomed to participate in these has collectively shaped my ‘outsider’ understanding of the faith.

When the pandemic began changing every aspect of our lives, I was curious to learn how social distancing might affect the celebrated values of this ritual, realizing it may not allow for the vibrant experience it is known for. With proper safety measures, I started out across Dubai over the course of several weekends where a few of these public Iftars typically happen to find food distribution queues or bustling food market pop ups in their place. The experience was more fraught with the logistics of safety than it could be about togetherness, but what was significant of this Ramadan was how readily people adapted beloved rituals for the greater good and safety of all.

I am grateful to all of the people I met and their generosity to show and share their Ramadan with me.

I hope these photographs may remind us of a time when culture was asked to shift, but the spirit of Ramadan was still very much present.

At the back of a line that wrapped around the public park in Al Bada’a. People like Hyderali (center), from India, stood in line for an hour or more to receive a food parcel.

Everyone suffers from this pandemic, high and low.

— Fazil, India, volunteering at the daily food share at Al Karama Grand Mosque
Rashed and Rashed from Dubai Police, monitor the lines at the distribution point in Al Bada’a
Sholaye, Nigeria — Al Bada’a Park
Asim, Pakistan — Al Bada’a Park
Lines spilling in and out of the converted public park in Al Bada’a which prior to Ramadan had sat dormant and off-limits for several months. Al Shafie Mosque in the background.

Once people patiently stood through the lines, it was a very swift grab and go experience with individual volunteers handing out each portion of meal, fruit, and drink. People were ordered to vacate the area immediately upon collection and no loitering was tolerated. I could tell how proud some of the volunteers were when some of them wanted to take their mask off to show their identity for the photograph. Al Karama Grand Mosque (left page), Al Bada’a Park (right page).

Instead of eating meals in large groups, many friends would bring their parcels home or find a secluded area to share their meal, much like this group of non-muslims from India sharing a refreshment in a discreet and shaded area of Al Quoz out of the sun’s rays.
Retail businesses had started to re-open, and the buzz of a pop-up fruit market replaced what was typically a communal iftar lining these alleyways surrounding the Al Kuwaiti Mosque seen across from the Bustan Al Arab textile shop managed by Ihsan, who is from Afghanistan.
Islam and his friend who invited me upstairs to their apartment to breakfast with them, Deira.
After gathering with the ten other men who live in this household for iftar dinner, the roommates held prayer before dispersing for evening walks until the curfew or stay into lounge into the night over tea and dates. All men, who are from Afghanistan, work together across multiple textiles shops for the same business owner.

Find ways to see things through other’s eyes

Before asking to make a portrait of someone you’ve just met, say hello, and start by asking about anything else first. Chances are if you went up to a stranger simply to ‘take’ their picture and they said no, you’ll never know if you just missed an opportunity to connect with that person on a deeper level, regardless of making a picture. Respect the alignment of whatever time and place you find yourself with others and make acquaintance.

The camera can be an obtrusive means of connecting with people, remember that most things may be more important to be experienced than to be recorded. Lugging around an old analog camera doesn’t make it any different from holding up a smartphone depriving you and others of a shared experience. You may want to cry about a missed shot, but instead, just revel in the moment.

Issue no.1Safety

By Evan Collisson

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Yellow by Palmwood

An intersection between design, policy, culture, education, and society