Most people know that Ramadan is a month of fasting for Muslims. But it is also a time for thinking about the less well-off. Traditionally in Muslim countries, tables are laid so that the poor can eat together, like the rest of the community, after sundown. This phenomenon is spreading to countries outside the Muslim world.
French charities are gearing up to offer special meals for those in need. But in a time of economic crisis, there have been fears that there would be a shortfall in donations.
'A Chorba for Everyone'
One charity, A Chorba for Everyone, ramped up its campaign this year to make sure no one would go hungry during the holy month (chorba is a North African soup that is traditionally taken at the beginning of the evening feasts during Ramadan).
A Chorba for Everyone was set up in 1992 in Paris and is funded by private donations from businesses and grants from the city council. For the last three years, the charity has been working all year round to raise funds for Ramadan.
People digging deeper
The charity’s budget this year is 85,000 euros, up 5,000 euros on last year, nearly half of which comes from the city council, the rest through private donors. One anonymous money transfer company provided 10,000 euros to the fund.
Charity chairman Ali Hasni said he had been worried about the effects of the recession on donations. “But we doubled our efforts by advertising on community radio and TV.”
This year, A Chorba for Everyone will hand out up to 2,000 Iftar (the feast after sundown) meals every day, as well as food parcels containing essential items such as milk, oil and sugar. The 19th arrondissement of Paris, home to a substantial North African and African population, has given the charity space for a large marquee near the city’s Canal Saint Martin.
Another charity, Secours Islamique (Islamic Relief) has seen its budget to help the needy increase by 50 percent, crisis or no crisis.
This NGO will be distributing 150,000 euros (compared to100,000 euros in 2008) during the fasting month through dozens of charities across France.
"Our budget has increased dramatically,” says Secours Islamique’s public relations Director Djamel Misraoui. “It was feared that the crisis would affect things, but fortunately people do continue to think of others.”
Hot meals to all comers
The Grande Mosquée de Paris – the country’s principal mosque – is also keen to dispense charity during Ramadan, although its focus is on helping the homeless, regardless of religious denomination. The mosque provides free hot meals at night to all comers.
The mosque has an annual budget of 170,000 euros for free meals (80,000 euros of which is provided by the state) and throughout Ramadan it will hand out 500 Iftar meals every night.
“The recession will not affect our mission of solidarity and assistance for those in the greatest need,” says General Manager Zoubir Salhi.
“Crisis or not, we are always on the side of those in need, the doors to the mosque are always open and the food is always good," Salhi says. "And if our budget runs short, we will make calls to the faithful and use some of our operational funds to fill the shortfall.”