“At the time, the conditions we were living in were terrible – I was surviving with my two children on £5 per week – we could only afford bread, sugar and tea. I could manage on one slice of bread per day, my oldest son on two. For my youngest son I used to boil the bread in water to make a porridge so that it would last longer.” (Tamara, destitute citizen of Nottingham)
It is evening but I am still waiting for the grace of a sun that won’t set. Yet, in spite of having fasted eighteen hours, I have still eaten more than Tamara, thanks to a hearty Sehri (dawn) breakfast. And I will certainly make-up for the loss of nourishment and sustenance at Iftari (dusk). There is however another dimension to my fast which is about consideration, support and connection with those who are less fortunate. I am glad to be part of a faith that prioritises our community and social responsibility in every dimension of its practice. The Prophet Mohammad’s life (pbuh) and at the essence of the Qur’an is a message about looking beyond oneself to seeing the fragility in all of us and empathising with the commonality of our humanity and the basis of our spirituality and path to God. The fast is an opportunity to exercise this relationship: to bear the pangs of hunger and suspend the needs of our own body not just to perform better our prayers, but to jolt our consciousness to the needs of others. I am blessed to feel my hunger as time-limited, but for Tamara, and the other two-hundred or more destitute people living in Nottingham, there is no grand Iftari meal at the end of the day. Tamara’s account is one of many documented by the Citizens for Sanctuary which commissioned the largest piece of research on destitution in Nottingham – that is those who have no right to work and no recourse to public funds. I was keen to contribute to the work of the Commission not just in my professional capacity but also with respect to my community and humanitarian responsibility as a citizen of Nottingham and as a Muslim.
Ramadan brings these threads together: the spiritual, the social and the humanitarian. The absence of food and water alerts us that we often take for granted that our basic needs are met; we should not then dismiss this awareness by over-eating and indulging ourselves at the break of the fast. This is after all a month-long requirement which suggests the idea of something to be developed and worked on for thirty days – not thirty discrete stand-alone days. I wanted to address both the over indulgence which has become common place in Ramadan, and is antithetical to it, with the consideration to supporting others from within our means. I set up a small local group consisting of a handful of Muslim women who alongside their own Iftari meal plate up an extra meal for someone who is destitute. We deliver these meals as close to Maghrib as possible three times a week to a minimum of ten individuals in Nottingham. For the most part we have been supporting Muslim families, including young children, who have been fasting, but we also support non-Muslims. It has been a pleasure to work with the Muslim women on this project – their generosity and consistency of support has been overwhelming. They are the ‘housewives’ who are often neglected in exchanges and actions, but their significance for collective patterns of action is demonstrated here. It is also good to see the mutual exchange of prayers and well-wishes across families that may not have otherwise ever met or connected. I hope this is one step, however small, towards belonging to a community of others and recognising that we are all vulnerable and incomplete. That is, ‘to do’ compassion and empathy.
Dr Saima Masud, Clinical Psychologist