Merhaba Ramadan: Germany’s Muslims help homeless, people in need

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Regardless of the season or time of year, supporting others is part and parcel of daily life for any citizen of Muslim faith, as it for members of any other religion or belief, too. But from time to time, one comes across an extraordinary effort, something unusual, something even more outstanding. Enter the volunteers behind “Merhaba Ramadan,” an activity inspired by a broader Germany based civil society movement called “Merhaba & Mahlzeit” (translated as “Welcome to a Hot Meal”).

In this context, a recent conversation with Sedat Aydın allows for a better insight into the reasoning and motivation behind the group’s literally taking to the streets as well as to the shelters for homeless people in Germany’s Hagen, a city with a population of 195,000 located in North Rhine-Westphalia. It is interesting to note that the percentage of the population with an international background has reached 21.6% (source: City of Hagen, www. Hagen.de; data correct for 2021). What’s more, in the year 2020, 17.5% of those international residents had Turkish origins.

Hence talking about local charitable work, one might argue then that it is the Turks who do all the good work, but this would be an unfair assumption; what is true instead is that citizens of Turkey and those with Turkish roots have become the role model, but many other nationalities gave their time and support, too! We shall come back to that observation later when introducing the April 7, 2022, event in Hagen.

But notwithstanding the formidable presence and size of the well-integrated and well-represented Turkish community as part of the overall social fabric of this enterprising city, it takes a lot of courage, determination and effort to go that one step further, roll up your sleeves and show friends, neighbors and above all else those among us in need of a square meal that solidarity is a task for all of us and not only for the highly respected yet often overburdened public and private support structures (think Red Cross or Malteser International, to name only two out of a much longer list).

Lahmacun, ayran, coffee and more

Mr. Sedat is an entrepreneur and runs his own business in Hagen in the domain of real estate. We talked about his involvement in the nationwide “Merhaba & Mahlzeit” movement and how he at once stepped in when asked whether he could do something in his hometown of Hagen. Merhaba & Mahlzeit is an aid organization focusing on homeless people run by members with Turkish roots or close connections thereto. The association recently made many positive headlines and was for example featured in TRT German, including its chairperson Tolga Özgül, a personality highly respected amid both the Turkish and German communities. We agreed that this time it is better to put more focus on Hagen and in a further analysis discuss the wider implications for all of Germany and why poverty seems to be on the (dramatic) rise in what was supposed to be Europe’s economic powerhouse.

Together with his wife, brother and secretary, Sedat immediately started preparing for their very own support event and ever more so during the holy month of Ramadan. At stake: supplying homeless citizens with a square meal – traditional and delicious and above all else very filling lahmacun (flat Turkish pizza) and a hot drink (coffee). On the one hand he said after last weekend’s activity he hopes to stage another three or four similar events before the end of Ramadan. On the other hand, Merhaba & Mahlzeit for their part intend to run more support activities, not only in Germany but as far afield as Syria, Kenya and Pakistan.

The many assembled volunteers, who learned about the good cause from their association as well as a specifically created FaceBook page, walked from the main station into the city center to supply a meal to homeless people they encountered on the streets. They then proceeded to an emergency overnight dormitory for the homeless, and continued to provide hot drinks and meals.

The activities in Hagen were called Merhaba Ramadan to stress the special character of this time in the calendar of each citizen of the Muslim faith. Another pro-active sponsor – Enes Uçan, local entrepreneur himself active in Facility Management – greatly contributed, too, by offering delicious ayran, the famous and refreshing yogurt-based drink.

Helping others knows no nationalities

In Sedat’s own words, “it does not matter whether (you are) German or Polish or from wherever; we stick together so we will always find a way to progress, overcome obstacles,” referring to citizens experiencing difficult times often resulting in permanent homelessness.

Another project Sedat is involved with is collecting donations for a family in Turkey in need of $1.8 million for a rare spinal muscular atrophy – or SMA Type 1 – operation to save the life of their two-year-old child. One million has been collected at home and abroad already and he is confident that during Ramadan the remaining $800,000 can be sourced, too.

Verdict: Noteworthy, laudable

It is most definitely easy to compliment someone else doing good for our shared society. The trick, however, is to look over their shoulders and then at once swing into action ourselves. The spirit surrounding Hagen’s Merhaba Ramadan undertaking is absolutely contagious and thus one can only hope that many copy-cats emerge anywhere and everywhere, during Ramadan as well as during the other eleven months of the year.

Granted, it takes a joint venture of sorts to have a success story. Those among us running their own business will be in a more privileged position to donate more than others. Yet those volunteers among us who simply contribute their time and sympathy to a good cause are as necessary, and as welcome during the project.

The spin-off effects can be quite sensational. Let us consider three aspects in this regard. First, the pandemic and global health situation should have demonstrated to each and every one of us that human catastrophe can strike at any minute. No one is safe or immune, pun intended. Second, the unfolding war in Ukraine and the resulting human suffering underline that the unthinkable can become a reality overnight. And last, but not least, whether individual health during a pandemic, or common suffering during war, or losing ones’ employment, a dear family member or a roof over ones’ head is no longer a mishap reserved for the truly unfortunate among us but can occur to you and me in an instant.

This must encourage us to use our free time and available means, no matter how big or small, as effectively as possible in order to help others in less agreeable individual circumstances.

What is very important to remember is that it actually does not matter at all how big or how small an aid effort is – every effort counts, really.

We mentioned distributing a warm meal to hungry people whom we encounter a few blocks away from where we live. Then we heard about an undertaking to collect an immense sum of money so that a child in need and a desperate family who would otherwise lose their child can be spared from their undeserved fate.

Merhaba Ramadan, Merhaba & Mahlzeit – chapeau!

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