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These Mainers Are Delivering Ramadan Supplies To Muslim Families So They Can Stay At Home

Zoe Sahloul and other members of the New England Arab American Organization are helping Muslims in Maine get the supplies they need to observe Ramadan.

The holiday, which began last night, brings families and friends together to share food and prayer. This year, social distancing has made the celebration more challenging.

Sahloul spoke with Morning Edition host Irwin Gratz as she and her team were out delivering ingredients for meals that are part of the holiday’s most important traditions.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Sahloul: So we thought we’d go pick up, buy the foods for them that we know they need. And for us to deliver door to door and to prevent them from leaving their home and go out to buy these.

Gratz: You’re out doing deliveries as we speak?

We are now preparing for a delivery to the Augusta area, where we have around 400 family members that are going to be receiving deliveries.

Tell me why foods play an important role in the holiday.

In Ramadan, the individual will stop eating a little before sunrise, and they stay with no food or drink till sunset. And usually the meal has to be very well balanced in order to have the energy do this again and again for 29 days, for the month. So really, it takes a lot of the energy of the person. As the caregiver, as the parent, we need to make sure that our children have this meal. And usually during this month, like it’s a month of giving, so a lot of neighbors would share their meal, we’ll get together and we’ll provide for each other. So the community really comes together. Unfortunately, now with isolation, it’s really hard to do this. So each family now is going to have to eat alone, going to have to stay at home.

It seems that changes like this would force people to focus on what’s more at the core of their religious belief. For Ramadan, beyond being with family, what does that mean?

This is what the religion teaches us to do. Be good and be peaceful, and this is what we’re going to continue teaching our kids, hopefully.

Doing good for your neighbors, that actually takes on a whole different and special meaning given the circumstances and given what you’re doing to try to get foods to people.

So now we are doing the good by helping out these families, in case they’re not in a position, like especially a loss of employment, they have lost their jobs. We know that we have a lot of families, they are separated from their loved ones. It brings us back to the feeling of why we left our countries, where it was unsafe for us to go out because we don’t know if we’re going to stay alive. And again, this is what what you’re facing unfortunately with the disease now. It doesn’t matter which country, which religion, you know, we have to stay in isolation, to hide, to protect our family, our children and our neighbors.

There are always times that you remember because the holidays are so important to individuals spiritually. So I guess I’m curious as to what this feels like for you. And what do you think you’ll remember years from now about this holiday?

I’m having the same feeling of what I used to feel as a child. I grew up in Lebanon during the war. It reminds me of this time where you stay in and only your parents will leave you. They let you hide in a safe room where they know if things get bad, you’re going to be safe. Leave some food with you. And then for the family to go out and try to get something. Like today I feel, you know, grateful for us to be able to minimize the chance of this virus spreading by having our families stay at home, while we are going out, making sure we’re following all the right procedures. And for this to be like a small drop in the bucket of giving that everyone needs especially in Ramadan.

Sahloul and the New England Arab American Organization’s efforts have been helped along by the Maine Community Foundation, NIHA, and the Maine Initiative.