Dearborn’s Ramadan lights may get switched o...

Dearborn’s Ramadan lights may get switched off, but a bright tradition is just beginning

More than 150 people participated in the first year of the Ramadan Lights Challenge — and the winning displays are glorious

Ramadan is a season of togetherness for Muslims in Metro Detroit. It’s a time when people come together after dark to pray, break the daily fast and stay up late to enjoy the company of their friends and family.

Of course, like so much else in 2020, plans changed this year.

That’s why Razi Jafri, a local documentary filmmaker who also works at the Center for Arab American Studies at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, decided to launch a contest to celebrate what has become a relatively new tradition for the region’s Muslims: decorating their homes in lights to celebrate the holy month.

“We wanted to create some positive energy in our community and beyond,” Jafri told Detour.

In collaboration with the Michigan Muslim Community Council and the organizers of Dearborn’s annual Ramadan Suhoor festival, the contest accepted entries from homeowners and onlookers to name the most creative light displays in four areas of Dearborn. They selected winners last week just before Ramadan drew to a close.

Jafri, 38, coordinates the documentary project Halal Metropolis, dedicated to increasing the visibility of Muslims in the region.

The competition was intended to raise the profile of the Ramadan lights tradition and provide a community-wide activity in lieu of the typical festivals. Jafri also aims to put the lights contest on equal footing with the city’s annual Dearborn Aglow holiday lights contest that spotlights Christmas lights.

But more than anything, it was a way to raise the community’s spirits during a tough time.

“Because of coronavirus, there’s been a lot of bad news every day. There was a sense of communal disappointment because we can’t be with our friends and family,” Jafri said. “So we wanted to create a safe and exciting and positive contest to bring a spotlight to the community and highlight the creativity that people bring to decorating their homes during this time.”

The tradition is fairly new in the American Muslim community, Jafri said — it’s not something he remembers growing up. He started noticing the lights over the past 10 years and began documenting the phenomenon with photos and film about three years ago. 

“Now, there’s such a proliferation and explosion of Ramadan and Eid home decor. The materials and the textures are no different than what you’d see for Christmas or Easter or Halloween,” Jafri said. “It’s a bit of a whirlpool you can dive into on Etsy and Pinterest.”

Jafri sees the lights as a symbol of how Muslims have become part of America while making America part of their culture as well.

“This highlights how American Muslims are a part of the cultural fabric of America, and how they contribute culturally. This is their way of expressing themselves and celebrating the holidays.”

The contest received more than 150 submissions. Here are the winners:

East End: Rana Hussein Sobh

Rana Hussein Sobh family. Photo courtesy Razi Jafri.

Dearborn Heights: Farah Hammoud

Farah Hammoud family. Photo courtesy Razi Jafri.

West End: Waqas Sarwar

Waqas Sarwar family. Photo courtesy Razi Jafri.

South End: Ali Alzookery

Sobh Family. Photo courtesy Razi Jafri.

Nina Misuraca Ignaczak is a contributing editor for Detour Detroit. She is the founder and executive editor of Planet Detroit, a digital media startup that tells Detroit’s environmental stories while building a community of engaged readers who are informed and empowered to act personally and publicly. She is an award-winning freelance journalist who writes, edits and produces stories about the environment, place and identity. Her recent work has been published by Detour Detroit, Belt Magazine, HuffPost, Detroit Free Press, WDET, Crains Detroit Business, Business Insider, Curbed Detroit and Model D. Prior to her career in journalism, she worked in urban planning in the local government and nonprofit sectors. She has a Master of Science in Natural Resource Ecology and a Bachelor of Science in Biology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Twitter: @ninaignaczak