Shereen Malherbe

A wandering novelist


June 2016

A Newbies Guide to Surviving a British Summer Time Ramadan


Written & first published for Muslimah Media Watch

This guide is a light-hearted insight into some of my experiences embarking on Ramadan for the first time. It goes without saying that this might not apply or be relevant for everyone, but I wanted to share it nonetheless, so others who might be fasting for the first time don’t feel alone in their Ramadan experiences. Please share away or print out and pass it on to any newbies you might spot. Better still, invite them over for Iftar! Ramadan Mubarak.




  • Day one, you will be very enthusiastic. You will wake up an hour before dawn and try to consume two litres of water and three meals before the adhan sounds on your phone. This probably isn’t advisable. I was sick before fajr.
  • If you are praying, be aware that the prayer times are not standardized in the UK so choose a main mosque and download the prayer times so you don’t accidentally eat during daylight hours.
  • Try to make your prayers wherever you are. My brother made his prayers in a stationery cupboard one year…yes, that tiny closet in your office that stocks spare staplers.
  • Bring your prayer stuff to work if you need to, however, it might be a good idea to let people know you will be wearing something different if that is the case. Somebody told me I looked like a ghost in my white prayer shawl. I will sew a floral one this year.
  • Ramadan does not have to curtail your social life, but you should also not feel pressured to socialize if you are just not in the mood. For example, you may receive multiple invites to the beer garden – if you don’t feel like it, it may be best not to go. Sometimes it can hard enough saying you don’t drink alcohol, never mind saying you can’t drink water.
  • You may have to get used to solitary meals late in the evening. This can be difficult, but on the other hand, there is a blessing in all this extra time for dua and prayers. Plus that first glass of water never tasted so good.
  • If you have decided to begin to wear hijab, you may decide that now is the month to try it out. Go for it, but don’t be fooled; three years in and I’m still struggling to wrap it right. Watch plenty of YouTube tutorials before you start.
  • Try and get to your nearest mosque for some congregational prayers so you don’t feel alone. Last year, I watched the Taraweeh prayers via YouTube just so I could pretend to have someone to pray with.
  • And/or if possible, visit a 24 hour supermarket in a bigger town and see if it has run out of yoghurt and has stacks of dates at the door. If the answer is yes, there are fasters about. Hang around after iftar and make some friends.
  • Prepare a stock answer for the following frequently asked questions;
  • How do you survive by not eating or drinking for 30 days and nights?
  • Aren’t you hot in that?
  • ‘The enthusiastic non-Muslim faster’. Last year my sisters wanted to fast with me for a day. It felt good to not be alone and they came away with a new appreciation of what it feels like.
  • If you are feeling up to it, (and if this is something you support and are interested in) this could be a perfect time for Dawah and introducing people to the beauty of Islam.
  • Don’t put pressure on yourself to learn everything there is to know for your first Ramadan. But add ‘research Layla Al Qadr’ to your list as this is one you probably don’t want to miss.
  • Decorate your house/room/space with some reminders on the Holy Month and follow some Muslims on social media so you feel part of the community.
  • When you reach the end of Ramadan you may feel so happy that you buy everyone gifts whether they are expecting them or not. You may be hoping that in some way it makes it easier when you tell them you won’t be buying Christmas presents this year… it probably won’t.
  • After Ramadan, you are going to seriously appreciate that first cup of tea in the morning (for non-Brits, you can replace ‘tea’ with ‘coffee’).
  • Remember, when the winter comes around, you will have one of the shortest fasting days in the world. Think how much easier that will be!

Source for header image.



Life as a female artist in Saudi Arabia: An interview with Light Studio

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This post was written & first published for Muslimah Media Watch

At the recent three-day Film & Comic Convention in Dubai, I was struck by the number of young, female collective art groups from the Gulf region. One example of such a collective, Light Studio, has members who travel from Saudi Arabia to attend conventions such as this in order to sell and promote the work they do as artists and storytellers. Curious about what it is like to be a woman artist in Saudi, I caught up with some of the members to talk it over with them:

Thank you for giving us an insight into Light Studio. How was your experience at the convention?

Fatima: It was great but overwhelming at the same time. It was great meeting all those amazing artists who were very nice and helpful. However, it was overwhelming because you see all these talents around you and you start wondering if you can get people to notice you.

SM: Tell me about Light Studio and your aspirations for it

Fatima: Light Studio is a creative space focused on: art, animation, development (games & apps), and interior design. We love what we do and are passionate about it. I hope that one day our work will be recognized globally so that the world can see the amount of local talent we have. I also would like the world to see works that truly reflect the Islamic & Arabic culture without all the misinterpretations around these days.

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SM: Why did you choose to set Light Studios up rather than working individually?

Fatima: I started the group because I see a lot of talent around me that no one knows about. Talents who could do so much in this world if only they had the space, tools and the environment to flourish. I give them encouragement and guidance so that they keep going and improve. I think being part of a group is like being a piece of a puzzle; together we can make a beautiful scene and each one completes what the other lacks.

Layla: I chose to be part of the group to show people who think art is not a job that they are mistaken. Creative people have so many things to offer. We also we want to enrich the Arabic content of animation and games, as it is clear there are few animation, movies and games by Arabic talents.



SM: Are there any downsides to it?

Fatima: It is a responsibility. Now you have people who believe and share the same vision as you, it means you have to work harder to make this vision become a reality.


SM: Where do you get your artistic inspiration from?

Fatima: From life!

Layla: I get inspired by a lot of things, from different artists around the world, architecture, nature inspires me in many ways, books, movies. The list goes on!
Zainab: For me it is human nature.


SM: Your art works featured above are anime/manga which is originally from Japan. How is it being received in Saudi and the Gulf region?

Layla: “Anime & manga” artists don’t receive the same treatment from society or even from fellow artists who have different styles. I won’t say that we are in the shadows, instead we have come a long way in proving that we are here and we have a lot to offer to people.

SM: Have you ever planned to go to Japan to visit the birth place of anime?

Fatimah: Yes, I have thought about it and I would love to go one day when I can afford it, not just for the sake of anime but it just seems like a great place to visit.

Layla: I agree with Fatimah!
Zainab: I have thought about going there, not for anime itself but because I think it is a unique country.

SM: Do you draw on inspirations from Saudi Arabian culture or art as well as anime?

Fatima: I write stories and I take inspirations from my local culture as well.


SM: What is it like being young female artists in Saudi Arabia?

Layla: Art in general in Saudi Arabia is very welcomed and supported in many ways which you can see through galleries and events that encourage artist’s participation.

Fatima: There are definitely struggles, but I don’t think these struggles are specific to female artists only. I see them as struggles for all artists. It would also be good to have more academic institutions that provide specialized art programs and courses and to see an increase in spaces to showcase young artist’s work.

SM: How is the landscape changing in regards to young, Muslim female artists in the Middle East?

Fatima: Social Media, just like everywhere in the world, is a powerful tool that young people in this region are definitely using to get their voices heard. Artists have built online communities to connect with each other wherever they are in the world they are.

SM: For those reading who may want to embark on art as a career, what advice would you give them?

Layla: Art is a journey you have to live through all of its ups and downs so no matter what happens, don’t stop, always practice and seek advice and critiques from artists around you. Don’t be ashamed about your work and hide it because then you will not learn and improve.

Fatimah: Practice and never give up. There is no such thing as “I can’t do it” or “I don’t know how to do it”, everything can be achieved by hard work and determination.

If you would like to find out more about Light Studio and their work, visit their website.

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