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'There's guilt to feel like we're going to be able to break our fast': Muslims in Canada observe Ramadan with heavy heart, while Gaza slowly starves

Canadian Muslims feel 'disempowered', 'ignored by leaders' as they observe climbing death tolls, spreading hunger in Gaza, Imam says

Muslims across the world are marking the beginning of Ramadan, the holiest month of the Islamic calendar year — but it's happening with a heavy heart. Many in the community are struggling to grasp the uplifting spirit of Ramadan while members of the Palestinian-Muslim communities abroad continue to lose their lives due to the Israel-Hamas war, with a climbing death toll, starvation and suffering in Gaza.

“You're coming to this month and you're expecting it's going to be a beautiful with your family and friends. You're gonna break bread and you're gonna enjoy a meal together and it's unavoidable," said Ibrahim Hindy, Imam at the Tawheed Community Centre in Mississauga, Ontario.

The reality is that there are people in Gaza right now who don't have a meal or are dying of starvation. There's guilt to feel like we're going to be able to break our fast at the end of the day and they're not going be able to eat anything.Imam Ibrahim Hindy, Tawheed Community Centre

The month of Ramadan holds special significance in the Muslim religion because it is the month in which the Quran is said to have been revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. Throughout the month, for 30 days, Muslims will observe a fast from sunrise to sunset, by refraining from food and water. During the month, they’ll gather more often, especially at night for prayers when the Quran will be recited amidst prayers.

“It's a month of worship and of one that connects us to our faith and our religion,” said Hindy.

During Ramadan, the dinner table is filled with families gathering together at Suhoor, the meal before dawn, and Iftar, the meal after dusk when the fast breaks. From mosques to community halls, local chai shopps to Tim Hortons, many Muslims will gather to eat together.

RELATED: The first day of Ramadan in war-torn Gaza as millions struggle to survive

Randa Baker, Right, who was displaced by the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip, prepares the Iftar meal with her mother on the first day of the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan at a makeshift tent camp in the Muwasi area, southern Gaza, March 11, 2024. The holy month, typically a time of communal joy and reflection, is overshadowed by the grim reality of a conflict that has claimed over 30,000 Palestinian lives and left vast swaths of Gaza in shambles. (AP Photo/Fatima Shbair)

“There's a social and community aspect because we're fasting. We come together when we break our fast, families eat together and the community eats together in the mosque,” said Hindy.

While the month is often considered celebratory, the current situation unfolding in Gaza has casted a pall of gloom on the community.

“We have the commodity of brotherhood and family that we're gonna be able to spend time with and many of them (in Gaza) have had their entire families wiped out,” he said.

The war, escalated by Hamas' Oct. 7 attack on Israel, has killed over 12,800 Palestinian children, 30,000 Palestinians, and has driven 2.3 million people from their homes in the past 5 months. According to the United Nations, a quarter of Gaza's population is starving, because they cannot find enough food or afford it at vastly inflated prices. While Palestinians are a diverse bunch, many are Muslims, and with Canada aiding Israel’s war on Hamas, and in turn leading to collective punishment of Gazans, Hindy noted it’s tough for the community to simply forget the atrocities during the holy month.

“The lives of Muslims are being devalued and there's always some geopolitical justification given to us as to why we can watch thousands of people being killed and not do anything to stop it.”

Is there a way to stay positive in light of global tragedy?

Volunteer arrange food plates to be distributed among people for breaking their fast during the Muslim's holy fasting month of Ramadan, in Lahore, Pakistan, Tuesday, March 12, 2024. (AP Photo/K.M. Chaudary)
Volunteer arrange food plates to be distributed among people for breaking their fast during the Muslim's holy fasting month of Ramadan, in Lahore, Pakistan, Tuesday, March 12, 2024. (AP Photo/K.M. Chaudary)

When asked how he tends to lead during this month and what advice he has for congregants at his mosque, Hindy said that advocacy is incredibly important, as is prayer.

“There is this feeling of guilt that a lot of people have. We're trying to reconcile it, to remind people that is a time of worship as well as prayer and a lot of people feel disempowered, and ignored by their leaders,” Hindy said.

Hindy said it’s been an ongoing discussion of how to thread the needle to ensure that people in the mosque and community are having their needs met, while also centring those suffering abroad in Gaza. At his mosque, there have been conversations on what to do with money typically used to feed the community and provide meals for Iftar, versus sending money to organizations helping in Gaza.

I think there's this balance of how do we be in solidarity with oppressed people and still build our strength within our local communities. Charting that path is not always easy.Imam Ibrahim Hindy Tawheed Community Centre

But Hindy believes with Ramadan underway, the month will allow Muslims to grieve together where the pain is widespread amongst the community.

“When we come together as a community, it's just a reminder for ourselves to be steadfast in standing up for what's true and seeing what is right. We're able to to feel strength in numbers and the strength in our brotherhood and sisterhood and together we can support each other against the difficulties put on us by the outside world,” he said.

Ramadan starts on March 11 and runs for at least 29 days until the crescent moon is sighted to begin a new lunar month in the Islamic calendar.