The British Science Association is committed to increasing the number of people who are actively engaged and involved in science; reaching under-served audiences; and transforming the diversity and inclusivity of science.  

Before Ramadan, we brought you the story of Zaffer Khan, the Chief Executive of One Voice Blackburn, an organisation that has partnered with the British Science Association. As one of the BSA’s community leaders, Zaffer has a unique insight into challenges facing the Islamic community in Blackburn and Darwen. We caught up with Zaffer after Ramadan to get his reflections on what he is calling a ‘once in a lifetime experience’ of practicing in lockdown. 

Like many people, Zaffer Khan (pictured above) has used his car less and walked more than ever since the beginning of lockdown, giving him plenty of time to reflect on the recently-completed Ramadan. While there were initial fears about the lack of time at the mosque, the overall experience has been a transformative one. 

"This last four weeks has gone really quickly, needless to say," says Zaffer. 

"A friend said we wouldn’t be able to experience this type of Ramadan until we were retired. But because of lockdown we could halt all the hustle and bustle of life and spend that time with family, and read the holy Quran." 

Ramadan is the ninth and most significant month of the Islamic calendar. It is the month in which the teachings of Quran were first revealed, and is one of five fundamental elements of importance to the religion. 

This year's month-long practice was observed against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic that has swept the world. In the United Kingdom, more than 38,000 have died from the virus, and a disproportionate number of them are from the UK's ethnic minorities

Zaffer says the timing of Ramadan could not have been more appropriate given the unrest and uncertainty throughout the world. 

"I think it has been a good time for reflection for everyone, not just Muslims. I think it's been a good time to look at the simpler things in life, to look at things in life from a different perspective.  

"Within our religion there is more mention of the environment in the holy book than there is of prayer, and that’s something we've all been able to improve."

As Zaffer mentioned earlier, the opportunity to sit and be present in a working from home setting has been a blessing. But what about those whose worlds have shifted considerably in these uncertain times? 

Sixteen-year-old Ayah Abdulsalam (pictured above, right, with the British Science Association Engagement Officer Alyssa Chafee) had been preparing for her A levels mock exams when the pandemic struck. Those examinations were cancelled two months ago, throwing stress and anxiety into the fold. Ramadan was the perfect antidote to pour her focus into. 

"Last year I was focusing on my GCSEs, so I didn’t have time to spiritually connect with God, or pray as much I used to," she says. 

"Now the exams have been cancelled, I have more time to focus on that spiritual side rather than exams and studies." 

"I've been reflecting on my relationship with God, and if there’s anything I can do to strengthen it. I reflect on my actions, morals, intentions, ethics – anything I can do better to make me a better, more well-rounded person." 

For Ayah, Ramadan is the opportunity to experience how those who don't have food live. There's a spiritual purity that comes with humbling yourself to act as those who don't have anything.  

Zaffer encounters the haves and the have-nots on a daily basis. He understands how difficult it is for the most disadvantaged to be going through this pandemic. He also knows that the UK's ethnic minorities will be overrepresented in other areas as a result of the pandemic. 

"I think there's been a disparity in discussing how people at both ends of the spectrum can engage. When we come out of this, a lot of those repercussions will be felt in mental health, where there will again be large disparities. 

"Now more than ever we have seen that housing is important, access to good broadband is important, access to available food. All of those things are really important." 

As the sun sets on the most pertinent Ramadan in modern history, the One Voice Blackburn chief executive says the message remains the same.  

"It's the simpler things we should be thinking about. Do we need as many commodities in our lives that we yearn for, that we have to pay for when we often don’t have the money? It's a much simpler existence to minimise your life."

For Ayah, who is part of the One Voice Blackburn group West End Girls (WEGs), Ramadan has been a chance to re-emphasise the positive aspects of living in the moment, as the country slowly works to return to a sense of normality.  

"You’re not doing your usual routine and going out with your friends and taking good moments for granted.  

"I'm not the sort of person who goes out very much, because I'm quite busy. But one thing the pandemic has made me realise life is too short for worrying about anything."