Fort McMurray rallies to support Muslim community during Ramadan

People and businesses are rallying to support the Muslim community in Fort McMurray recover after widespread flooding that damaged many neighbourhoods.

The Islamic Centre has been delivering 300 to 400 meals every day

Mayor Don Scott, fourth from left, poses with volunteers helping Muslim residents recover after recent flooding in Fort McMurray forced them from their homes. (Markaz-Ul-Islam Fort McMurray/Facebook)

People and businesses are rallying to support the Muslim community in Fort McMurray recover after widespread flooding that damaged many neighbourhoods.

Roughly 1,000 Muslim residents were evacuated and needed extra support as the flooding came in the midst of Ramadan.

During Ramadan, Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset. Before the fast begins, they have an early morning meal known as suhoor. The fast is broken with a shared meal known as iftar.

Mohammed Al-Zabidi, president of the Markaz-Ul-Islam, said the Islamic centre is delivering between 300 and 400 meals a day to evacuees. 

"With people fasting from dawn until dusk, that's about 18 hours," he said. "They need to have a nice meal, a little bit different than what they're offering at hotels and restaurants."

Some people have been able to go home, while others are still staying in hotels, private accommodations or work camps. 

Al-Zabidi said organizations such as Islamic Relief Canada, Penny Appeal Canada and Human Concern International have made donations to the Islamic Centre. They've received about $50,000 to help pay for the iftar, and have received other kinds of donations as well. 

On Saturday the Islamic centre will hand out 15,000 bottles of water. It has also given away care bags with bread, water and hygiene products. 

'It's like a family'

Abdurrahmann Murad is Fort McMurray's imam. He lives in a downtown apartment with his family. They were forced to leave their home last week. He hasn't been able to return. 

Murad said there has been a lot of support, and the Markaz-Ul-Islam has been helpful in providing iftar. 

"They've been doing an outstanding job providing people with meals," he said.

Murad said the most challenging aspect of the evacuation is not being able to access his home and having only limited clothing. 

"In my mind, it was impossible that our building would be closed," he said. "The toughest part is not knowing what will happen with your stuff."

He said the food and water are never a concern for him because there is so much support from the community. 

"It's like a family," he said. "It just feels good."

Naina Akhtar owns Village Foods & Spices Bazaar with her mother. They have been donating food to the evacuees. (Jamie Malbeuf/CBC)

Naina Akhtar and her mother opened Village Foods & Spice Bazaar about a year ago. In May, the pair aren't taking paycheques. Instead, they are donating food and meals to evacuees and volunteers. 

Akhtar had to evacuate during the 2016 wildfire so she knew the kinds of challenges flood evacuees may face.

"We knew it's going to be a challenge for a lot of people not having anything for suhoor and iftar, because we have certain times we can eat," said Akhtar. "There were a lot of people that were actually struggling at that time."

Akhtar said they were already seeing lower sales because of COVID-19. The small grocery store is only allowed to have two customers inside at a time.

Akhtar said they've donated some meals or offered them at half-price. 

They've given out more than 200 meals, but have had to slow down as a result of the boil water advisory. She said they haven't just been donating to the Muslim community but to volunteers as well.

"People have been fasting and going through this drastic change and all this stress in their lives and they're still keeping up with their Ramadan and their fasting."