Hajra Sardar, Communications and Engagement Manager at Manchester Health and Care Comissioning (MHCC), gives us an insight into what Ramadan has been like during lockdown following the COVID-19 outbreak.
Ramadan is an extremely special month in the Islamic calendar where Muslims fast throughout the month from dawn to dusk. Much preparation is done in advance including food shopping, filling the freezers with mum’s samosas, and competing with the best recipes in town! We find out which charities are in need of donations, and we contact loved ones across the world who may need financial support.
During the month of Ramadan, there is a real buzz in the community; people are rushing to mosques for prayers and every Muslim has the same routine and focus – fast, pray, eat and help others. It is a month for re-connecting your relationship with God, reaching out to those who are less fortunate, and exercising self-discipline.
The mosques are illuminated with coloured lights and the atmosphere is really electrifying. Just before iftari (meal) time, the neighbours are running to each other’s house to exchange treats and meals, and the whole Street is filled with the aura of samosa frying and onion bhajis, making you count the minutes before your iftari (meal) time.
Unfortunately, this year it is somewhat different, observing Ramadan in lockdown! I must admit, I had a real sense of anxiety a few weeks before it started, and especially our parents who were particularly upset at the thought of being in isolation during this time. Every time I mentioned it to them it bought tears to their eyes.
Once we accepted the situation, I feel we have been somewhat positively surprised with the experience. My experience this year has obviously been very different. My two boys, my husband and I are all at home together as we’re working from home and the school’s are shut, meaning we are able to conduct our prayers together five times a day which is absolutely lovely.
We have set daily challenges for the kids to carry out ‘acts of kindness’ and for each activity they fulfil they receive a prize. The boys have been able to join us cooking meals for ourselves and for others. We have been doing door-step deliveries of food to family members and vulnerable people in the community and in return we have been overwhelmed with lovely treats. We have embraced not travelling to work and doing school and mosque runs whilst fasting which usually becomes tiring.
The mosque’s live streaming talks have been very inspiring and spiritually uplifting. We have also fundraised over £500 to support food parcels around the world for those most in need!
There has definitely been more time for contemplation, family unity and bonding and love. I have really missed not being able to invite family and friends, and my mum’s annual iftari meal gatherings where 40 of us get together and have a big iftari party! I guess you appreciate more now than ever the things that you would normally take for granted!
However, thanks to Zoom and social media we have been able to stay connected with our loved ones and keep each other going when things get a little tiresome.
So what has MHCC done to help local Muslims during Ramadan?
In Manchester, my role at Manchester Health and Care Commissioning as an Engagement Manager has involved working with partners to ensure they are supported during these difficult times. I connected and engaged with local imams and mosques to find out where the gaps were and how they could also support us to share some key health messages.
In partnership with Adiba Sultan who is as a Health Development Coordinator for Manchester Local Care Organisation, we worked with local imams and GP’s to find out where the gaps were in people’s understanding; how they could also support us to share some key health messages, and help us develop some videos in different languages to re-iterate key messages to the communities.
All of the materials we produced have been shared with Manchester Council of Mosques with a request to play the video through all the local live streaming platforms and radio receivers, as well as sharing them on our own social media platforms. The videos have also been shared through various Manchester radio stations as well as through all local voluntary, community ans social enterprise (VCSE) organisations.
We have created a video with a Muslim GP who shares key health messages and personal experiences which will be released soon.
Ramadan guidance has also been written and shared with local mosques so that they can read it out themselves in their own languages.
Follow the link to watch the video produced in English by a local imam.There is also an Urdu version.
Acts of kindness
In Manchester, we have heard of some great stories and acts of kindness that is being done during this month and we would like to share with you what we have captured so far:
- Local mosques have quickly stepped up and those that weren’t on social media have created platforms to share sermons, insights, speeches and other special messages for their local communities. Including family quizzes and competitions.
- One of the mutual aid groups are cooking batches of meals for the homeless communities and dropping it off to distribute at a nearby hotel.
- Makki Mosque in Manchester is distributing around 100kg of dates and bottles of water to the local hospitals.
- A mosque in Longsight are cooking many meals and distributing to those that are vulnerable in the community.
- A single-mum who requested a baby high chair in North Manchester received a donation within 1 hour, following a shout-out on social media.
- Voluntary shopping and meals are being cooked by neighbours and friends for those that are isolated and vulnerable.
- Volunteers are continuing to sweep the mosques and carry out the cleaning duties
- VCSE organisations are going the extra-mile to support those communities that are digitally excluded including playing key audio/video messages on the telephone.
- Many gifts are being distributed to those that are in need and mosque imams who are doing a great job to keep the community united and motivated!
- 30 Day Ramadhan Homeless Feed – The Myriad Foundation have partnered with other Muslim organisations to bring a meal to the homeless in Manchester’s Piccadilly Gardens. Every day in Ramadhan volunteers will be present delivering food parcels.