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Muslim U of R community members band together in the spirit of Ramadan to help others

By University Advancement and Communications Posted: May 11, 2020 11:00 a.m.

Labiba Aboguddah, a fourth-year sociology student and President of Ebtihaj Organization, helps to distribute food hampers at the Islamic Association of Saskatchewan. She is just one of the many Muslim students at the U of R involved in the Regina Muslim Community Emergency Response hamper drive.
Labiba Aboguddah, a fourth-year sociology student and President of Ebtihaj Organization, helps to distribute food hampers at the Islamic Association of Saskatchewan. She is just one of the many Muslim students at the U of R involved in the Regina Muslim Community Emergency Response hamper drive. Photos: University Advancement and Communications

In times of crisis, communities comes together to support those who need it most. During the COVID-19 pandemic, and in the spirit of Ramadan, members of Regina’s Muslim community have banded together to create meaningful impact.

Regina Muslim Community Emergency Response (RMCER) formed this past March to provide assistance to those experiencing challenges as a direct result of the pandemic. The community based group has been offering grocery and medication pick ups and drop offs, friendly phone calls for those who are lonely, and providing support for international students.

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U of R Muslim Students’ Association incoming President and Hill School of Business student Ashar Usmani and Muaz Ahmed, current MSA President and Electronic Systems Engineering student, hand out food
hampers to those in need.

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Haris Khan BSc’18, former URSU
President, directs traffic to ensure
all food hampers can be picked up
while maintaining proper social
distancing protocol.

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Hill School of Business student Salmaan Moolla has been impressed by the contributions of U of R students in a time of need.

The group has seen significant contributions from University of Regina faculty, staff, students, and alumni who have mobilized in support of others in need.

Labiba Aboguddah, a fourth-year sociology student and President of Ebtihaj Organization, became involved with RMCER after members of her community reached out about ways to help those in need. She has since been busy coordinating volunteers to fulfill the grocery drop offs, as well as getting the word out in the community.

We have been reaching out to the vulnerable and anyone who is in need of services,” said Aboguddah. “The Holy Quran emphasizes helping those in need and performing good deeds whenever possible – particularly during Ramadan.”

Ramadan, the holiest month of the year for Muslims, takes place this year from April 23 – May 23. Those celebrating Ramadan use the month as a time to self-reflect, pray, spend time with family and friends, and give back to the community. Observers will fast from dusk to dawn as a form of worship, a chance to get closer to God, and a way to become more compassionate about those in need.

“As we get to have a little experience of hunger, this motivates us to give to those that experience hunger more than they should – those that can’t always afford to put food on the table,” says Aboguddah. “We empty our stomachs to feed our souls and this is done by giving back to the community.”

The success of RMCER has since inspired a partnership with the Islamic Association of Saskatchewan, which has culminated in the highly successful contactless food hamper pickup program. Salmaan Moolla, a fourth-year U of R business student and member of the Association, notes the inspiration for the program came from a desire to adapt typical Ramadan celebrations to help the community – while keeping everyone safe by practicing social/physical distancing and wearing masks.

“Every year during Ramadan, we gather at the Mosque each night and feed hundreds of people after their fast and anyone else who needs a hot meal,” said Moolla. “This year, although we can’t gather, we can give out food hampers to keep the spirit of Ramadan alive.”

Initially created as a one-off event at the start of Ramadan, the hamper program has taken place each week since and will continue for the foreseeable future. People from the community can contribute groceries by dropping them off at the Islamic Association of Saskatchewan on Wednesdays, which are then sorted and packed by volunteers into hampers and handed out on Sunday afternoons from the Association’s parking lot.

Volunteers with RMCER had heard of interest from many U of R students looking for ways to assist with the food hamper program. The U of R’s Muslim Students’ Association (MSA) was approached and have been able to utilize their network to contact potential volunteers and get the word out to those in need. Muaz Ahmed, President of the MSA, saw the tremendous opportunity for his organization to lend a helping hand.

“We recognized that there was a need for these services in the community,” said Ahmed. “U of R students have volunteered to help with planning, management, promotion, and distribution of the food hampers. It is beautiful to see so many different members from our community collaborating so effectively.”

With classes now finished for the Winter semester, many students have been seeking out opportunities to help out wherever possible. Moolla noted that among the more than 50 volunteers that have been assisting with the hamper drive, U of R students have played a critical role in the project’s success. 

“U of R students have been key to much of what the RMCER has been able to accomplish,” said Moolla. “They have been doing the groundwork: making deliveries; sorting food; posting on social media; working on the website; and, recruiting new volunteers.”

Public safety is top priority for the group. Each volunteer is outfitted with personal protective equipment, including masks and gloves. When community members drive up to collect their food hampers, volunteers communicate with drivers through their car window for their household needs, then open either the vehicle’s back door or trunk to load in. All interactions are contactless and ensure proper social distancing protocol is taken.

“We are fortunate to have many doctors and nurses in our volunteer community including Dr. Shaqib Shahab, Chief Medical Health Officer for the Government of Saskatchewan, who we look to for guidance,” said Moolla. “They are making recommendations and ensuring everyone can remain safe.”

Each week has seen more than 150 hampers handed out to deserving people in the community – and larger numbers are expected as word of the program continues to travel. If someone is unable to come for the hamper pick up, they can contact RMCER who will dispatch a volunteer to make a contactless drop off. Ashar Usmani, incoming President of the MSA and RMCER volunteer, has been moved by the tremendous team effort from all involved to help those who need it most.

“It is truly inspiring to see so many people working together to do something good,” said Usmani.

For anyone interested in donating groceries to the food hamper program or is in need of the other services offered, please visit the Regina Muslim Community Emergency Response website or Facebook page to learn more.

Check out #UofReginaCares for more stories about U of R students, alumni, faculty, and staff who are using their ingenuity, resolve, and hearts to care for our community during these challenging times.