Muslims Who Fast: Fatima, a vegan, strives for an eco-friendly Ramadan

We’ve been sharing all kinds of stories for our mini-series Muslims Who Fast – including a surprise pregnancy.

Today we chat with a vegan Muslim: Fatima Zara Alarakha, a climate change campaigner with charity Islamic Relief UK.

The South Londoner and art student is striving to be more sustainable to protect the earth, especially during lockdown, when plastic waste has gone up.

She has been breaking her fasts with delicious plant-based meals and stresses the Islamic importance of taking care of the environment.

Before lockdown, Fatima was excited about the opportunities for activism at the climate change conference COP26, scheduled for November.

She had been planning, with the help of Islamic relief, to raise awareness of the environmental crisis and how people in and out of the Muslim community can help.

Instead, she is focusing her efforts on having an eco-friendly lockdown, especially during Ramadan.

Let’s learn more about Fatima and the food she’s eating for iftar.

Who are you and what do you do?

I’m an activist and Fine Art student. When I’m not painting portraits, I’m actively seeking out new ways to become a more sustainable person – usually by reading books and articles on current climate issues, scrolling through Instagram for inspiration on zero-waste and minimalist lifestyles and speaking to friends and family about their efforts to becoming more environmentally friendly.

What are you having for iftar today?

Today we received our bundle of fresh produce from our neighbour’s greengrocer, so we had a fruit salad containing apples, pears, oranges, grapes, mango, strawberries, blackcurrants, and kiwi.

I also blended up a few combinations of fruit to make some super sweet and tasty smoothies alongside our main meal. This is a great way to make your Iftar more colourful!

For mains I made a sweet potato and red lentil curry, served with couscous and topped with nutritional yeast and pumpkin seeds.

How do you celebrate Ramadan normally?

Ramadan is the time of the year when we become more conscious of the deeds we commit, and so to try and increase our good deeds, we like to help each other out. For me, that means cooking up some healthy and nutritious food that will fuel bodies for the fasting hours.

I’ve always been conscious of what I put in my body, which is why I decided to go vegan in 2016. Not only has it helped me on a personal level by improving my health and wellbeing, but it’s also lowered my carbon footprint and impact on the environment – which as a Muslim and steward of the earth, is my duty to keep green and beautiful.

My family was very supportive of me going vegan – with the exception of my three brothers constantly making jokes about me eating ‘rabbit food’ – and although they aren’t vegan themselves, they use Ramadan as a month to cleanse their bodies so they are more willing to eat my plant-based meals. 

How are you dealing with Ramadan under lockdown?

Since the lockdown has been in place, my productivity and energy levels have been at an all-time low. As someone who thrives off of being on the move constantly, being stuck at home with the company of my parents and three brothers – who I love dearly, but have definitely tested my patience – has taken a toll on my mental health.

However, seeing the beautiful ways in which communities have come together has lifted my spirits.

On my street alone, we are collectively helping each other out through a group chat we’re now all on, and actually discovered that we have a neighbour who runs a small local greengrocer, which we’re supporting by buying fresh produce from weekly. 

Do you have any Ramadan traditions?

This Ramadan will be an especially unique one because of the lockdown in place. Praying Taraweeh (the congregational prayer at night) at the mosque is something many Muslims really look forward to.

So for me, having to pray at home instead means I won’t get that same heart-warming presence of the ummah (the Muslim community) around me. Instead, I’ll be praying at home with my family, and continuing our tradition of sitting together to read the Qur’an before suhoor (the meal before sunrise). 

And special memories from past Ramadans?

We know it’s Ramadan when my dad makes us his infamous egg and beans on toast for suhoor, which is something he’s kept up since we were kids.

So my first Ramadan being vegan was a little sad as I could no longer be served his masterpiece of a dish.

But it made me channel my creative and sustainable side, so now I eat a jazzed-up version of his original recipe by tofu as the egg replacement and using the leftover mixture of veggies that I will have made for iftar earlier

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