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Open kitchens become lifeline for UK Muslims during Ramadan

Open kitchens become lifeline for UK Muslims during Ramadan
5 min read
18 March, 2024
The Open Kitchen is helping out with the cost of living crisis by providing food during Ramadan, as 39% of UK Muslims live in the UK's most deprived areas.

I once heard a quote that said, "The nourishment of the body is food, the nourishment of the soul is to feed others." The Open Kitchens in both Hounslow and Nottingham embody this idea. Over the last 5 years, these community kitchens have been open every single day, throughout every Ramadan, Christmas, bank holiday and weekend, providing over 500,000 hot, restaurant-quality meals to those who need them most.

There is a real sense of harmony and joy at The Open Kitchen, with people of all backgrounds, races and religions welcomed by a friendly face, with no questions asked. There are no vigorous forms to fill in, no discrimination, no embarrassment, just the helping hands of ordinary people from the community doing extraordinary things.

The effects of the cost of living crisis

Last year the Cost of Living Crisis report released by UK charity Muslim Hands and FareShare Midlands, demonstrated the importance of initiatives like The Open Kitchen, which were described by service users as "lifelines" amid soaring inflation.

The findings highlighted how low-income families and individuals were severely impacted by a range of factors including job losses during the pandemic and Russia's invasion of Ukraine contributing to the rising costs of energy and food bills.

The daily struggle to survive as well as being mentally pushed to breaking point was also shared by service users. This struggle has touched all parts of society including the Muslim community.

According to research by Muslim Census, even before the pandemic over 50% of Muslims were living in poverty and 39% living in the most deprived areas of England and Wales. Since 2021, one in five Muslims have used a foodbank and one in three have reported missing meals.

Food poverty is now a big issue in the UK, where one in five people struggle to put food on the table [photo credit: Muslim Hands]

Helping during Ramadan

These findings were sadly echoed by Kiren, a service user of The Open Kitchen. She told The New Arab, "I live with my brother, and I work part-time to make ends meet. I heard about The Open Kitchen online and have been receiving daily meals and essentials for the past year. This service has helped me a lot during the month of Ramadan, where I have been able to put food on the table for the family, including my four children, so we can open our fasts. Services like these are vital and I would dread to think if they didn’t exist. To put it bluntly, without this intervention, I would go hungry for days."

Each year since opening, both The Open Kitchen in Hounslow and Nottingham have consistently seen a rise in visitors and an increase in demand for hot meals and essential food items.

Imran Khan, the manager at the Nottingham initiative told me, "We have definitely seen an increase in demand since we opened our doors in 2021 and I believe that the rise in cost of living is playing into that. There is no doubt about it. We have seen an influx of vulnerable members of the community, including Muslims, visiting the premises. Some even asked whether we could donate clothes, as they cannot purchase them on their current budget."

Shazia, a volunteer at the Hounslow Open Kitchen spoke to me about the heartbreaking stories she has heard. "You have mothers that cannot provide milk for their children, and you see beneficiaries that are stressed out, unable to afford to put the freezer or the heater on. It is gut-wrenching to see how this crisis has so gravely impacted our community. Initiatives like this must exist, as it is a place for people to interact, connect and forget their worries."

School holidays where low-income families are reliant on breakfast clubs and school lunches are often met with difficulty.

With the Islamic month of Ramadan coinciding with the two-week Easter holidays, many will be looking to The Open Kitchen for meals to break their fast with and to feed their children.

The Open Kitchen has pledged to distribute over 15,000 hot meals during the 30 days across Nottingham and Hounslow. Ramadan has also provided The Open Kitchens with most of its half a million pounds worth of donations to ensure that its doors continue to stay open.

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With this in mind, I couldn’t help but go back to my conversation with Abdul Rahman, the Director of UK Programmes at Muslim Hands, who put it beautifully, "The Open Kitchen is a testament to our Islamic faith, where we are reminded of the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad, that he is not a believer whose stomach is filled while his neighbour goes hungry. We are proud of the legacy we have planted in the heart of Hounslow and Nottingham, which we owe to our dedicated volunteers and staff, despite the ongoing difficult climate."

With everything going on in the world right now, it’s the perfect time to come together and do something special in our local communities this Ramadan.

We should remember that we are never too small to make a difference. A small shop setting on a street in Hounslow and Nottingham is being a lifeline for hundreds of people every single day. A reminder that nothing is impossible. 

Sahirah Javaid is a senior press officer at the UK-based charity Muslim Hands.

Follow her on Twitter: @JavaidSahirah