Nfld. & Labrador

A hamper drive is helping these St. John's students make the most of a challenging Ramadan

As Ramadan is usually one of the most social months of the year for Muslims, international student Akheel Mohammed can only describe this year as “difficult." As Meg Roberts writes, he's trying to make it easier for others.

Students have bought groceries for dozens of people

Members of Memorial University's Muslim Association are raising money to buy food hampers for the local Muslim community as well as others. (MSA MUN/Facebook)

Ramadan is usually one of the most social months of the year for Muslims, although international student Akheel Mohammed can only describe this year as "difficult" because of COVID-19 restrictions. 

But Mohammed and a group of other Muslim students are trying to make it easier for some.

The Muslim Students Association at Memorial University is offering iftar hampers to students and families who are fasting from dawn to dusk and anyone else in the community who may be struggling.

"As soon as Ramadan started we were like, 'We have to do this, we have to do something for the community,'" said Mohammed, a second-year mechanical engineering student from India.

This is a very, very different Ramadan for every single Muslim.- Akheel Mohammed

"We know out there people are suffering and some people are not well."

He said the suffering is evident by the numbers of names his group has collected.

Large reaction

Mohammed said when the association opened registration on a Facebook page, they thought they would get maybe 50 or 60 people.

It was double that in the first week. 

Akheel Mohammed is the vice-president of MUN's Muslim Student Association. (Submitted by Akheel Mohammed)

By their third week, the handful of Muslim students has delivered over 200 hampers.

"We were quite surprised," he said. "It's really sad to see because this pandemic has been hitting everyone really hard."

People who are seeking help can register on the association's Facebook page. Every Friday, groceries are delivered using a contactless system.

Groceries are sanitized and bagged before they are delivered to people's doors. (MSA MUN/Facebook)

Each hamper costs between $20 to $25 to supply, which means the group is relying on donations through Facebook, GoFundMe and the local Muslim community. 

"Before we could even ask for donations, they were ready to give," said Mohammed.

The best part of the initiative, according to Mohammed, is the reactions they get from people after they've been helped. 

Because of the contactless delivery system, the group says it receives kind words through video messages and Facebook messages.

"That is the most happiest part in the whole process."

Students celebrate without family and friends

Ramadan, Islam's holiest month, is a time for self-reflection and self-discipline while spending time with friends and family.

But with COVID-19 safety measures in place, large iftar dinners with friends and family are prohibited.

The group says it was surprised by the number of people who are in need of groceries. (MSA MUN/Facebook)

"This is a very, very different Ramadan for every single Muslim," said Mohammed. "It's really, really difficult. It's unusual."

"The most important part of Ramadan is missing," he said, referring to communal "tarawih" prayers that happen every night in mosques around the world.

But he said as international students they are sticking together to make this year's Ramadan the best they can. 

"We are really glad to do this work for Canadians and everyone.… It really brings joy to all of the international students."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Meg Roberts is a video journalist with CBC Newfoundland and Labrador, based in St. John's. Email her at meg.roberts@cbc.ca.

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