This Ramadan, Muslims find new reasons for charity

The pandemic has shut off much of the holy month’s rituals but not its spiritual meaning.

Members of an Iraqi charity deliver free food to a woman during a curfew imposed to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 in Kirkuk, Iraq.

For the world’s 1.8 billion Muslims, this year’s holy month of Ramadan, which starts Thursday, may seem like a retreat from tradition. The pandemic has led Islamic leaders to close mosques. They have asked the faithful to avoid large gatherings after each day of fasting. Yet many Muslims have decided they can still put their beliefs into action – through acts of charity toward the most vulnerable.

In Iraq, thousands of people are tapping social media to gather food and deliver it to poor people in lockdown and out of work. They are responding to a recent call from Iraq’s respected Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, to help the people irrespective of their race or religion. He also gave the faithful permission to skip the fasting this year.

In Calgary, Alberta, the city’s mosque has set up a food bank for 400 families of all faiths. In India-controlled Kashmir, Muslim volunteers are dropping bags of food at the doorsteps of poor neighbors during the night so as not to shame them.

In Britain, Muslims are covering the cost of funerals for those killed by COVID-19. In Massachusetts, an Islamic society is holding an online “walk for hunger” to raise money for the needy. In Australia, Muslims groups are dropping off meals to hospitals for health workers during Ramadan.

“The prophet Muhammad said the most beloved people to God are those who benefit others most,” Tarek El-Messidi, founding director of CelebrateMercy, told Religion News Service. His nonprofit, along with similar Muslim groups in the United States, has raised more than $500,000 for low-income Americans hurt by the coronavirus crisis.

In many countries, government services have faltered in response to the pandemic. “Often the first people on the scene within communities most impacted by the outbreak are informal networks, groups of people connected by social ties, including community organizations, faith groups and clubs,” states Mouchka Heller of the World Economic Forum.

In the U.S, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, and other houses of worship to work with the underserved, such as homeless people and those in prison. “Consider how your organization is uniquely able to assist the local community,” states the CDC website.

Many of the world’s faithful have decided that physical distancing does not mean spiritual distancing. During this year’s Easter, Christians found fresh ways to express love toward the needy as did Jews during Passover. For the coming month, Muslims will do the same. It is a form of victory over a virus, making people who are suffering feel whole during the holy days.

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