On a dark March night, throngs of Londoners flock to Piccadilly Circus, the heart of the city’s theatre district, where they wander in groups below twinkling stars, moons and lanterns.
The light installations over London’s Piccadilly Circus have long been associated with the city’s Christmas celebrations, but this year, for the first time, a new canopy of lights has been installed to celebrate Ramadan/Ramzan and the city’s vast Muslim community.
After officially switching on the lights on Tuesday, the 21st of March, the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, highlighted in a tweet how “London is now the first major city in Europe to host a spectacular light display to mark Ramadan. It’s a true symbol of how our capital celebrates our diversity.”
The spectacular display, which includes 30,000 sustainable lights installed above Coventry Street, was the brainchild of Aisha Desai, founder of Ramadan Lights UK, and sponsored by the Aziz foundation, a charity aimed at empowering and inspiring leadership amongst the Muslim community.
Welcoming pedestrians to the street with ‘Happy Ramadan’, the installation features different phases of the moon as well as stars and Islamic lanterns. It will be on display for the entirety of the Islamic holy month.
On an official trip to London, Minhal Rizvi, 32, who resides in Pune, came to view and take pictures of the Ramadan lights. Away from home during Ramzan, he felt that the grand installation and the celebratory mood made him feel connected to the Ramzan celebrations that he is homesick for.
The installation, "shows the welcoming nature of the British people. I think a lot of British people are also appreciating these lights. It also creates awareness and encourages curiosity about the month of Ramadan and what it means for the Muslim community."
For Intessar, 40, a Muslim woman living in the UK for the past 10 years, the public installation and its location in Central London have already made her Ramadan feel all the more special.
“For the first time, I feel I’m still in the East. We’ve always decorated the inside of our house with lights, but to see grand installations outside for the first time in this country makes me feel grateful. During Ramadan, we try hard to stick with our traditions and religion whilst living in the West, so this light installation is encouraging. Our religion’s reputation, especially due to the media, is not very good, so this is a chance to show who we are and what the Ramadan spirit is all about.”Intessar, a 40-year-old Muslim woman living in the UK for the past ten years.
To many British-born Muslims, the installation is a momentous event marking the city’s first public installation recognising a religion which is observed by over a million people in London alone.
For Maria, 23, the representation has been long overdue, but she believes it will bring positive change. “I’m really happy. As a British Muslim, it’s nice to see the representation for us. I think having the lights up gives everyone in the city an awareness of what’s happening and subtly forces them to look into the religion a lot more, which is always nice.”