Caring for others in Ramadan highlighted by a new initiative launched at a UK hospital.
Shiraz Shah, spends hours every day besides his mother’s bedside on the Dementia Ward of the Manchester Royal Infirmary (MRI). Just two years ago, the 35 year old, car salesman, spent long periods at the same hospital on a cancer ward before his father passed away.
The prospect of another lonely Ramadan, led to the creation of ‘Hospital Iftars’, an initiative to provide a fast breaking meal and community atmosphere to families and healthcare workers.
With just a handful of volunteers, food, fruit, desserts, tea, coffee, and water have been served in a corridor space outside the Multi-faith prayer hall every evening of the Holy month.
Reverend Peter Gomm, Head of Chaplaincy at MRI, joined staff and visitors for iftar.
He told AboutIslam there was some caution at first regarding the idea.
“NHS trusts are averse to risk of course. But now it’s about recognizing this community is taking responsibility for the setting up, the clearing up and all aspects (of the iftar program), which is brilliant. Iftar is a great opportunity for people to meet and eat after a long fast, it’s very exciting.”
The UK’s National Health Service is reliant on a large number of Muslim key workers at all levels. Consultants, domestic staff, specialists, nurses, security, and technicians who are UK Muslims as well as those from across the world all support the Health Service with their skills.
The Hospital Iftar program at MRI is the first time staff and Muslim visitors in a UK hospital at the time of breaking the fast, can eat together in a community atmosphere every night of Ramadan.
The initiative is entirely grassroots with a rota of cooking set up by local sisters with the Muslim Youth Foundation paying for caterers on nights when there may be a shortfall in food. On the first night 15 meals were prepared. This has now grown to an average of 120 meals per night.
Food for Everyone
No one who takes a seat is refused food.
Josephine’s epilepsy has affected her legs and she is currently in a wheelchair. She joined fellow patient Kareen at a table. She told AboutIslam, “It’s absolutely brilliant. They all come and speak to us which is good.”
As patients they are allowed only cold food such as fruit and biscuits, but it’s the atmosphere that keeps them coming back.
“They work so hard and make you feel really welcome. Every night for a month! They don’t do that in other communities do they?”
This Ramadan thousands of non-Muslim Britons have enjoyed iftar which falls around 9.30pm. On Tuesday night at least 300 Londoners gathered in a Bloomsbury park sitting side-by-side on the ground at an “open iftar” laid on daily by another small community group, The Ramadan Tent Project, which invites all comers to join them and eat for free.
These initiatives combining food and a friendly atmosphere impact perceptions between communities in Britain, now home to some 2.7 million Muslims, according to census data.
Word of the Iftar service has spread at MRI. An increasing number of wards request food delivered to family members unable to leave loved ones to go downstairs for the buffet of rice, chickpeas, salad and sandwiches.
The night I volunteered, a ward sister guided me to a paediatric resuscitation room at the far end of children’s Accident and Emergency. Propped into a sitting position on a trolley bed, Somali British mother Jannah, in a red shawl, clutched her vomiting one-year-old daughter Ayah. As the bag of dates, water and biryani was handed to her, she began to cry.
“Allah has heard my heart’s dua,” she said. “I didn’t expect to be here tonight. My phone is dead, even my husband doesn’t know where we are. But Allah helped me to break my fast. Subhanallah.”
Shiraz and his team have collected dozens of similar accounts.
“It dawned on me how isolating Ramadan would be stuck in the hospital. Doctors have to break their fasts too, sometimes eating a Mars Bar mid-shift.”
After the services success this Ramadan a ‘Hospital Iftars’ charity is proposed, allowing the scheme to reach more hospitals nationwide next year.
“We are already in conversation with other NHS Trusts to get this rolled out nationwide in 2019. The response form the community and service users has been amazing,” Shiraz told AboutIslam.
Let’s remember to make duas for those involved in this project and for all those with friends and relatives suffering ill health.
If you would like to support this initiative or would like to see it offered in your local hospital visit: