September 2, 2009 / 9:28 AM / 10 years ago

Recession makes Dhaka alms givers reticent in Ramadan

DHAKA (Reuters Life!) - Muslims traditionally give more alms during the Ramadan holy month, but this year, the global economic crisis has made some in largely impoverished Bangladesh less generous.

Volunteers distribute free food for iftar (breaking fast) inside the national mosque in Dhaka September 2, 2009. REUTERS/Andrew Biraj

Workers’ remittances and ready-made garment exports are the mainstays of Bangladesh’s economy.

But many Bangladeshi workers overseas have lost their jobs due to the economic downturn and the garment sector has also been hard hit, with Abdus Salam Murshedy, president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, saying some textile exporters could be facing financial difficulties.

All of this bodes ill for beggars such as Hanufa Begum who come to Dhaka each year during Ramadan to seek enough alms to take home to her family at the end of the fasting month.

“I don’t know how much I would actually earn before I go back home ahead of Eid-al Fitr,” said the mother of four, referring to the feast that marks the end of Ramadan.

Nearly 90 percent of Bangladesh’s 150 million people are Muslim. About half the population lives on less than $1 a day.

The troubled garment sector employs some 2.5 million people, and some workers say they have not been paid for months.

“Nowadays we find it harder to put together a decent meal to break our day-long fast,” said factory worker Nazmul Hossain.

Traditionally, in addition to giving out money, wealthier Bangladeshis also cook extra food during the month which they serve to the poor to break their fast.

In the past, the dishes have included nutritious meals such as hearty soups, grilled chicken or mutton as well as fruits and juices. But this year, Hanufa said she was breaking her fast most days on a glass of water and some puffed rice.

“This is not because they (the rich) are drifting away from what Islam dictates, but because of the ongoing global recession that has also impacted Bangladesh and forced a cut on expenditures by its nationals,” said Liaqat Ali, a college teacher, explaining the decrease in generosity.

To make matters worse, many traders have hiked food prices during Ramadan to take advantage of the increase in consumption during the month.

Sabuj Mia, who sells iftar at a makeshift shop in the capital Dhaka, said people are buying less as staples for iftar, the breakfast meal, have become dearer.

“This is a hard time for both traders and consumers,” said a grocery owner who declined to be named. “I will offer less to the poor because my profit has shrunk.”

Writing by Anis Ahmed, editing by Miral Fahmy

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