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Ramadan: Observing the holy month in Sheffield during lockdown

Ramadan is not just about food and praying. The ethos of fasting lies within developing personal power.

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A volunteer at Nether Edge and Sharrow Food Bank.

During Ramadan, Muslims refrain from food and drink from dawn to sunset.

But the Covid-19 lockdown has meant there have been no communal iftars - meals after sunset - or tarawihs - congregational prayers extending into the small hours of the night. Loved-ones and communities have had to make do with virtual substitutes.

Ramadan is not just about food and praying. The ethos of fasting lies within developing personal power. By refraining from things ordinarily permissible, like food and drink, Muslims aim to nurture levels of self-control and mindfulness that they rarely manage outside Ramadan.

This self-control extends to everything they do - not being argumentative, being patient with others, and being mindful of how behaviour influences others. So Ramadan brings an opportunity to be better for yourself and for those around you. With first-hand experience of hunger and an active effort at self-awareness, it's unsurprising that giving and caring for those around you becomes a core part of Ramadan, ample examples of which are being seen in our city.

Sheffield's Madinah mosque has teamed up with health and wellbeing service Ship Shape to give food parcels to any vulnerable person in the community. Despite fasting up to 19 hours a day in the heat, Muslims continue to work on the frontline as NHS staff, carers, drivers, supermarket workers. Local businesses such as Balti King, Pakistan Muslim Centre, the Sheffield Taxi Association and many others are supporting the Sheffield Ramadan Food Box initiative to provide any frontline worker in Sheffield who is fasting with an iftar and sehri, or pre-dawn meal, at home or at their place of work.

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Nighat from Nether Edge and Sharrow Food Bank.

Nether Edge and Sharrow Food Bank, run by a small group of Muslim volunteers on Abbeydale Road, are delivering over a 100 food packs every week and offer support to the S2 Food Bank. They are also providing Ramadan packs to people who are vulnerable and those who are self-isolating.

The Ramadan packs have festively appropriate ingredients for vulnerable families to cook and enjoy traditional Ramadan foods like pakora. The packs were initially promoted as halal because the group noted an unmet need accommodating vulnerable Muslims. However, since their initial launch, Nether Edge and Sharrow Food Bank have dropped the word from their awareness material, primarily because they don't want non-Muslims to perceive any barriers to accessing their service.

They cater for vegetarians and vegans and also do requests. Although they have opening hours, they have opened their doors as late as 11pm. They have helped homeless people who have turned up at the doorstep, supported people to navigate universal credit, gone shopping for people who are self-isolating, and given aid to families as far away as Rotherham and Worksop.

The group says their ethos lies in not turning away anyone who needs help. Nighat, a member of the group, told me, "We try to be flexible with our help and we don't care if someone is Muslim, Pakistani, or from Sheffield. We see everyone as human."

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Roshni Asian Women's Resource Centre.

Roshni, an organisation that supports vulnerable Asian women, have intensified their lockdown efforts and are also delivering Ramadan food packs. They are acutely aware of the pressures on vulnerable women and children's mental health in lockdown unable to celebrate Ramadan in ordinary ways in communities and mosques. They are concentrating their efforts on people's spiritual and mental health needs, for example by delivering craft books and organising Zoom sessions on crafts for children, and virtual wellbeing and yoga sessions for some of the most vulnerable women in Sheffield.

Roshni and others are now gearing up for Eid. Volunteers are adamant that even if people are isolated, they should have Eid. They are planning food packs that will include ingredients for families to cook Eid desserts. They will be organising Zoom sessions so people can dress up and celebrate.

Noreen at Roshni told me, "We will have Eid. It will be a different Eid, but it won't stop us reaching out to families and communities."

The lockdown has meant we have all had to refrain from what is ordinarily permissible. We have all become more aware of those around us and we have seen communities come together. In some way, this year, we have all had a little experience of the spirit of Ramadan. So it follows, Eid Mubarak to all!

Filed under: #Coronavirus

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