Ramadan support group a ‘very Toronto type of community’ | Toronto Star
Pacinthe Mattar can’t forget about her “worst Ramadan on record.”Ramadan support group a ‘very Toronto type of community’ | Toronto Star
In 2013, the young journalist was living in downtown Toronto, half a world away from her family in Kuwait. For the first time in decades, the Islamic month of Ramadan, when Muslims are required to fast from dawn until dusk, had entered the summer days. Mattar worried about how she would survive the long days of fasting without any food, water and in particular — caffeine.
But what she feared most was being alone.
“A few years ago, I totally fell off the Ramadan wagon. I stopped fasting, and I just gave up,” says Mattar. “I felt really bad about it.”
Growing up in the Middle East, Ramadan was “non-negotiable,” she says.
“In Muslim majority countries . . . you feel like the whole world is fasting with you. Everything is sleepy and slower and you are celebrating with your family, and you break fast together,” says Mattar. “The sense of community is so strong.
“What I found here was a complete absence of that, for me, a person living on my own completely unattached to any family unit.”
When the Ramadan of 2014 rolled around, she turned to her Facebook friends to ask for help.
“Is anyone terrified of this Ramadan this year? Because I am and I could use some help,” she posted one day. A dozen or so people responded to her plea.
So she created a Facebook group, the Ramadan Support Group, and invited everyone who responded over to her apartment for breaking fast together, a meal called iftar.
One person, a “near complete stranger” — Ausma Malik, now a TDSB trustee — showed up with dessert.
The Facebook group now has nearly 200 members. For most people, it’s simply a place to post Ramadan and food memes and share tips on how to deal with coffee withdrawals or with work events filled with food. There are no real rules, except for “no judgment,” says Mattar.
Somehow, without much effort, a “very Toronto type of community” has emerged.
“It’s given me back this community I was looking for,” says Mattar.
Fast forward to 2016, and 40 or so people are crammed into a party room of a condo in Liberty Village to break fast together. Many of them haven’t met before, but you can’t really tell.
“Ramadan is all about family and friends, but when you are alone in a new place, it’s not easy,” says Nadia Shaikh, who moved from Boston to Toronto last year, and heard about the support group through friends. “It’s completely changed Ramadan for me.”
Sana Malik remembers reading Mattar’s original post back in 2014 and “it was like she read my mind,” says Malik. “It’s cool to find people with similar outlooks on life and religion.”
As sunset nears, the group gathers almost instinctively, around a large table filled with Egyptian food. Introductions are made as dates are passed around.
Mattar announces the call to prayer, and tells everyone to “start eating, because that’s what we are here for.”
There’s no hesitation, no formalities and everyone digs in. It feels a little like family.