Winnipeg filmmaker's documentary depicts the way Muslims observed Ramadan during COVID-19

A Winnipeg-based filmmaker accumulated video entries from Muslims around the world and created a documentary to show how they observed Ramadan during the COVID-19 pandemic for the second time.

The Year We Fasted Alone will premiere on YouTube at noon CT on Saturday

Filmmaker Nilufer Rahman pieced together 35 submissions from 12 different countries to make a documentary about observing Ramadan during the pandemic. (Snow Angel Films)

A Winnipeg-based filmmaker accumulated video entries from Muslims around the world and created a documentary to show how they observed Ramadan during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I was sort of feeling the anxiety of our time … and my response is usually to try to do something creative and something positive to put out into the world," said Nilufer Rahman, an independent filmmaker and creator of the film.

"The Year We Fasted Alone," with submissions from Muslims in a dozen countries, will premiere at noon CT on Saturday on the Snow Angel Films YouTube page, Rahman said.

The year 2020 marked the first time that Muslims observed Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting and heightened spiritual observance, without coming together, Rahman said.

"It's not just about not eating and drinking and fasting — it's very much a community experience," she said. "Muslims all over the world will break fast together, will go to the mosque, pray together," she said.

"The idea of not being able to experience Ramadan with community and with others in that way was very unusual. It was unprecedented."

Ramadan is the name of the ninth month in the Islamic calendar. It is considered one the holiest months for Muslims around the world.

Muslims believe that some of the first verses of the Qu'ran, the holy text of Islam, were revealed to the Prophet Muhammad during the month of Ramadan, so there is extra emphasis on reciting and reconnecting with the Qu'ran during this time. 

Ramadan is a month when Muslims abstain from basic needs and desires, such as eating, drinking and sex, from dawn until sunset. Muslims begin each fast with a pre-dawn meal and break their fast at sunset — traditionally with dates — followed by a full meal.

Ramadan is seen as a time for Muslims to deepen their connection with God while increasing their physical resilience and discipline.

Fasting during this month is considered to be one of the central pillars of Islam.

The pandemic Ramadans are an important point in history to mark, Rahman said, so she put out a call to Muslims worldwide a year ago, asking them to show how they observed Ramadan at a time of physical distancing and isolation.

The goal was to create a film that shows everyone's similarities and their connectedness, and do so in collaboration with many people, she said.

Rahman ended up receiving 35 submissions from people living in 12 different countries.

"I already knew there were so many wonderful voices and stories out there, and I just wanted to have the opportunity to collect some of them together and weave them together into a universal story that I know people will be able to relate to," she said.

After twice observing Ramadan during the COVID-19 pandemic, Rahman anticipates some changes will stick in the future.

While eventually people will be able to get together again, the virtual communities that some Muslims have created are likely to continue as well, expanding the community, she said.

"Hopefully the Ramadan experience will be an enhanced one, and there will be lots of opportunities for people to connect and learn and do all of the things that we like to do in Ramadan," she said.

With files from Wendy Parker