During Ramadan, Muslims who can do so are obligated to both fast and do charity work. Fasting from sunrise to sunset represents both cleansing one’s spirit to become closer to God, and an attempt to gain a better understanding of human suffering. Muslims are called to practice self-discipline and sacrifice, as well as reflect upon and show compassion for the poor and less fortunate.
As a result, during Ramadan, which most Muslims observe this year from early May to early June, communities are very charitable. Donations are usually focused on those who are hungry and in poverty, but these Canadians have also found other fantastic ways to help their communities.
Feeding homeless people in East Vancouver
For the next few weekends, Tarek Ramadan and his team of 10 volunteers with the Muslim Contribution Society will provide meals in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside for people who are homeless.
“The humanitarian part of [Ramadan] is enormous. Our faith says we have to be merciful towards the people who are poor or hungry. This is what Islam is all about,” said Ramadan.
The organization is using a local restaurant’s space to prepare the meals.
Ramadan hopes to feed more than 300 people per weekend during the holy month and continue after that as well. He estimates they will need about $600 a day to cover expenses.
He said their contribution is appreciated. One woman said that the organization had provided her with her first hot meal in five weeks.
Four-year-old collects toys to give to kids on Eid
When Farida Pedhiwala’s son Adam turned three last year, she wanted to teach him about Ramadan and the act of giving.
Pedhiwala said he didn’t understand the concept of money, so she tried to speak his language. They talked about giving toys, which made more sense to him.
She and her family, who live in Mississauga, Ont., collected 150 toys last year, but wanted to do more this year.
Last weekend, Pedhiwala held an Eid-al-Fitr gift wrapping event with 30 kids from ages eight to 13. Together, they decorated the gift bags, wrote short notes to the recipients, and wrapped close to 200 gifts.
Eid al-Fitr is a celebration that marks the end of Ramadan in which families come together, eat, and give children presents.
Donations came from around the GTA, and some overseas friends and families sent Walmart or Toys R Us gift cards.
“[Muslim kids] don’t see physical representations of Ramadan [here]. I think it’s important to find different ways to get the kids involved and excited through various events,” she said.
Pedhiwala hopes to build partnerships with stores next year to get toys sponsored or at a discount.
Over 200 volunteers help run Calgary’s Annual Food and Clothes Drive
Since 2009, Calgarians have been collecting donations for people in need in their city through a food and clothes drive that the Muslim Families Network Society runs during Ramadan. Almost 85 per cent of all the charitable donations that the organization collects each year come in the holy month, said Idrees Khan, who is with the Muslim Families Network Society.
She said it’s a time when Muslims are more keen to give their zakah, or alms, which is one of the five pillars of Islam.
Nearly 200 volunteers help run the yearly drive. Muslims and non-Muslims of all ages collect and distribute the donated items, which include transit passes, grocery gift cards, toys, non-perishable food items and books.
Money is also donated as part of the drive. Last year, $15,000 came in and Khan predicts around $20,000 will be raised this year.
Khan said giving is part of her religion, quoting a saying by Prophet Mohammed: “He is not a believer whose stomach is filled while the neighbour to his side goes hungry.”
Lebanese meat shop in Scarborough gives out free shawarmas
During Ramadan, restaurant owner Ali Dbouk is keeping a sign in his store’s window to welcome anyone in need of a meal, Muslim or not.
Dbouk said Ramadan helps Muslims understand the experiences of those without food. “When you’re thirsty or you’re hungry, you feel it for a couple of hours, but [people in need] feel it for a couple of days, a couple of weeks.”
Ghadir Meat & Restaurant, in Toronto’s eastern Scarborough neighbourhood, has been serving free meals during Ramadan since 2017. He said customers love the idea so much that some voluntarily add extra cash on their bills to help with the initiative.
“I’m not asking for help, we’re doing it from our heart, but it’s good to see it from these customers,” he said.
Supporting Muslim foster caregivers
FosterLink helps pair Muslim foster children with Muslim foster families. The program assesses families interested in fostering children and sends their referrals to the Children’s Aid Society (CAS).
Shahzad Mustafa, FosterLink’s founder, said CAS tries to match children with families that share their cultural and religious background. “It’s traumatic enough that a child is being removed from their home. It’s more traumatic to be placed in a home where they’re not familiar with the racial, religious, food and ambiance of the home,” he said.
FosterLink started up last year, and Ramadan is when they solicit donations. Their goal is to collect $12,000 for events and seminars to raise awareness about foster care.
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