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Covid-19 – how has Ramadan been affected in Tooting?

Covid-19 – how has Ramadan been affected in Tooting?

Local trainee journalist Georgie Lee is speaking to residents, organisations and businesses in Tooting to see how they're adapting to the Covid-19 pandemic. In the first of this series, she talks to mosque leaders and local charities to find out how they are coping during Ramadan.

The holy month of Ramadan commenced this year on Thursday 23rd April, a month into the UK Covid-19 lockdown, and Muslim communities across the UK are adjusting to restrictions on gatherings.

An important feature of Ramadan is engaging with one’s community and attending communal prayers. But Tooting mosques have been closed over a month already, and congregation members have had to learn how to navigate using online solutions.

Social interaction is a big part of Ramadan and this year social activities such as breaking fast together, gathering at mosques and engaging in normal interaction, are missed.

“Since I was a child I’ve never been at home during Ramadan, even during prayer times,” says Ali Jaffri, Trustee of the Idara-e-Jaaferiya Mosque on Church Lane. “Closure of mosques across the UK has caused huge disruption to those who treat them as a second home. People attend two or three times a week. In this respect, people are missing having somewhere to gather with others.”

Idara-e-Jaaferiya Mosque
Idara-e-Jaaferiya Mosque and Ali Jaffri (inset)

Due to the current lockdown restrictions, Mr Jaffri has dedicated his time to training elderly members of his congregation on Zoom. The mosque is just one of several in Tooting to host online events such as live streamed prayers and lectures.

Ali, who works in IT, says that it is vital for the more senior members of the community to stay connected: “those that live on their own are our primary concern,” he says.

Showing respect to the elderly is a particularly important teaching in Islam. The Idara-e-Jaaferiya Mosque has set up a youth group dedicated to supporting elderly and vulnerable members of the community. Under-30s carry out visits to check in on people and deliver food for the breaking of the fast. During the early stages of lockdown, when there was a shortage of hand sanitiser, they bought and delivered bottles to their neighbours.

Mr. Jaffri says: “When we break our fast in Ramadan it is like a food event that complements prayer. We deliver special items such as dates and special drinks to those that are high-risk and vulnerable, typically the elderly.”

The mosque also offers its members new opportunities to unite during lockdown. Lectures and prayers are recited by Imams and streamed live on Facebook. The mosque usually hosts two-hundred and fifty events a year and at the moment, Ali notes, “we’re hosting far more than that.”

“Sometimes there’ll be up to three online events in one afternoon. We cater to a wide demographic. Events are hosted for women, children, and are offered in multiple languages.”

Arshad Daud, Vice-Chair of the Tooting Islamic Centre and Balham Mosque, has just launched Radio Ramadan for the ninth consecutive year. 

“This year Radio Ramadan takes on a different function,” says Mr. Daud. “It enables us to reach out to people at a time where they need to know their community is still there.”

Arshad Daud
Arshad Daud, Vice-Chair of the Tooting Islamic Centre and Balham Mosque (image: Tooting Islamic Centre and Balham Mosque)

The Tooting Islamic Centre and Balham Mosque have a 24-hour, 7-days-a-week radio schedule covering a wide range of topics. Sahar Beg, founder of mental health organisation Mind Works UK and food charity Tooting Community Kitchen, is just one recent speaker on the programme.

“I’ve changed our food model at the Tooting Community Kitchen to suit the current circumstances,” Sahar says. “We still provide our regular hot meals to the public but with the addition of long lasting items that can make up to 3-4 meals in a week.’

Ms. Beg wants to limit the number of times people leave their homes, so that low-income families who struggle to find meals need not expose themselves to unnecessary risk. Cereal, tea, bread, and rice are among the longer-lasting items that are packed up.

Tooting Community Kitchen
Food parcels distributed by the Tooting Community Kitchen (image: Sahar Beg)

Tooting Community Kitchen currently operates with just four volunteers at a time, due to social distancing restrictions. They pitch every Saturday evening, 6pm-6:30pm, and last week they produced 25 pre-packed, long-lasting meals for vulnerable people in Tooting.

Ms. Beg has lived in Tooting all her life. Like Ali Jaffri, she notes that one of the ways in which the community keeps in touch is by delivering sustenance to families who are fasting.

“It is especially difficult for people who live in flats and for people who are elderly,” she says. She explains that mosques have been instrumental in reaching out to those who might be vulnerable: “Mosques in Tooting know their congregations,” say Sahar.

Tooting’s Muslim population accounts for over 20.7% of its residents and has always been community led. Mind Works provides counselling services across south London boroughs and Sahar speaks regularly on Radio Ramadan about positivity, the importance of reflection, and the ways in which isolation can be reduced during lockdown. She also has plans to address the spike in domestic violence seen across the UK since lockdown began.

The pandemic has, and will undoubtedly continue, to strengthen communities across the UK. The measures taken by Tooting’s Muslim community highlights the area’s strength, sense of civic duty and wealth of support that exists amongst its residents.

If you'd like to learn more about Georgie and her work, please email or see her LinkedIn profile.

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