Celebrating Ramadan

Connecting Across Countries and Culture

Diversity is a cornerstone of Perkins Eastman.

“Diversity is one of our most important assets — diversity of practice types, diversity of thinking, diversity of cultures, and diversity of backgrounds. Diversity brings new ideas into the conversation, enables us to solve problems in new ways, and allows us to connect and appreciate each other,” says Barbara Mullenex, AIA, Co-Managing Principal of Perkins Eastman’s Washington, D.C., studio. She added “We’re particularly proud that, collectively, our staff of about 130, speaks more than a dozen different languages.”

Celebrating Ramadan

Danya Hakky, Ahmed Zaman, Christina Bahou, and Fawzia Ahmedali all celebrate Ramadan annually.

Barbara Mullenex has written an encouraging email to her studio each workday for the last six weeks, ever since the team began working from home.

“Today is the first day of Ramadan,” Barbara wrote last Friday. “I asked four of our colleagues, Danya Hakky, Ahmed Zaman, AIA, Associate, Christina Bahou, Assoc. AIA, LEED GA, and Fawzia Ahmedali, AIA, LEED AP, Senior Associate, to share their thoughts about this holy month, which is observed by 1.8 billion people. This helped me think through this time in context of mindfulness and reflection, with greater appreciation for the simple things that truly bring joy, and respect for the natural world around us during this beautiful spring season. I am profoundly grateful for their willingness to share their thoughts,” Barbara wrote, adding:

“Maybe, I will try a day or two of fasting in solidarity and in hope that I too can refocus.”

Danya Hakky, who is sheltering-at-home in Virginia, wrote:

“Ramadan Mubarak!
(May you have a blessed Ramadan)

I remember a conversation with my grandmother’s neighbor over morning coffee years ago. She was telling my mom and grandmother how hard Lent was going to be for her that year, and they were saying they were apprehensive about the long days of Ramadan. But come Lent, we shared our vegetarian dishes, and come Ramadan she had a dish ready for us for “iftar” (the daily breaking of the fast). We were connected… and at a moment like this, this memory stands out in my mind, a moment of human connection across faiths and time. Something I think we all need to feel a little more of during these strange times.

Things will surely be different this Ramadan, what I’ll miss most is the connectedness and feeling of oneness it usually brings. Neighborhood kids, particularly in the Middle East, won’t be running up and down delivering dishes between neighbors right before sundown, friends and extended families won’t gather and break their fast, and the massive tents with long tables and chairs serving donated meals to the hundreds in need breaking their fast side by side will sadly not be built. But I have faith people everywhere will find ways to stand together. Ramadan is above all a time of reflection and growth as the things that anchor us; food, routines, and habits, are disrupted, we are allowed to float on a spiritual journey, one that realigns values and renews our commitments to be kinder, more patient, caring, charitable and selfless. So the hungry will be fed, the lonely will be embraced, strangers will show kindness, families will reunite (digitally) … and this too shall pass.”

Ahmed Zaman, who is working from home with his wife, an engineer, and his 18-month-old toddler in Maryland, said:

“Ramadan is a pause from the everyday routine to realign through deep introspection. For 30-days we fast from sunrise to sunset, and at the superficial level it’s a disruption for what we deem as normal. When depriving yourself of food and letting go of your daily attachments — yes, even water — it allows your mind to wander, search, and ponder the important existential questions. The idea is to leave in a better state of mind than that with which you entered — arriving at some clarity about the person you are presently and the person you want to become. For 30-days you wrestle with that and you start to purge the habits worthy of letting go and carry the positive aspects forward. By happenstance, I feel like this quarantine is starting that process for many of us. We are all craving this human connection right now. When we get through this pandemic, I am optimistic that connecting with one another will become a restorative common portrait of public life across the globe.

With all this in mind, it’s definitely going to be a very different Ramadan this year with social distancing. I’m looking forward to Zoom meetups at sundown with extended family and friends and preparing meals with my family in our solitude. I’m also looking forward to achieving a deeper connection with myself along the way.”

Christina Bahou, who is sheltering in place with her four siblings and parents in her hometown of Amman, Jordan, shared:

“Today is the first day of Ramadan, and all you hear is beautiful silence. We’re under full military lockdown on the weekends (Friday and Saturday) so there is no noise pollution, only chirping birds. I don’t think I’ve ever heard natural silence, it’s actually a bit overwhelming. Usually on this day, as the first day of Ramadan, family and friends unite over iftar. Iftar is quite literally “break-fast” at sunset, when all those practicing break their 12-hour fast. Typically with dates and coffee, followed by an overload of food.

I think regardless of one’s religious beliefs, this month, in particular in the Middle East, offers some calmness to our otherwise frantic lives. People function at a slower pace, stores open late and close early, no one is on the streets at sunset, and the nights are filled with playing cards, drinking tea, and smoking Hooka. Of course this year, it’s different; people cannot physically unite over a good meal, it’s being done virtually just as everything else is.

There is some sort of resemblance to our current lifestyles, sometimes we just need to take a mental or a physical break, and just slow down. We’re all physically far away from each other but we’re all healthy and fortunate. We have running water, food, heat, and a roof over our heads. It’s a good time to be grateful and to count our blessings.”

Fawzia Ahmedali, who is sheltering at home in Washington, D.C., reminisced:

“It’s been a long time since I fasted for Ramadan or even really celebrated Eid-al-Fitr (the big feast following the month of Ramadan). The last time must have been when I was 11 or 12 — before I turned into a rebellious teenager and stopped doing what I was told to do.

Oddly, thinking back, all my memories of Ramadan have to do with food. Endless summer holidays spent at my grandmother’s with loads of cousins and squabbling aunts preparing the feast for when we broke our fast at sundown. The table would be loaded with endless varieties of sweet and savory snacks, cold drinks, dry fruits, and again at “dinner” later in the evening with even more “Malabari” dishes overflowing with spices and of course generous amounts of coconut oil.

All these memories have made me really nostalgic for family and I’m tempted to set up a Zoom call with cousins this weekend — if we can negotiate a time that works for all strewn across several countries and continents. I know that for the next month, our family “WhatsApp” group will be filled with photos of people’s iftar feasts — especially now that we all have the time and nowhere to go. Maybe I’ll try and fast one of these days just to make my grandmom happy — wherever she is — and I’ll complain to all of you around 3 p.m. when I’m feeling hungry and cranky.”

Peace and Ramadan Mubarak!

– Barbara
Barbara Mullenex, AIA
Co-Managing Principal of Perkins Eastman’s Washington, D.C., studio