Ramadan is celebrated during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and is observed by Muslims around the world. This is a time of fasting, prayer, and self-reflection. On May 23, Muslim residents in Seattle will join the global Muslim community for Eid al-Fitr to celebrate the “festival of breaking the fast,” marking the end of Ramadan.
Usually this time of year, grocery stores selling Halal meats—meats that meet Islamic dietary restriction standards—are packed. Located in South Seattle, Sharif Grocery & Halal is the largest Halal meat wholesaler in Washington state. Sharif’s Grocery also sells other items including spices from around the world, houseware goods, and ornate rugs imported from Turkey.
Fardowsa Salad has worked as the manager of Sharif Grocery & Halal for 11 years. But this year, Fardowsa says, “it’s completely different from other Ramadans.”
During Ramadan, customers typically purchase not only Halal meats but also household items like rugs, furniture, and decorative curtains to prepare their homes to welcome family and guests who gather to celebrate.
Once the COVID-19 pandemic began, Fardowsa says she noticed purchases from their regular clientele decline. The ‘Stay Home, Stay Healthy’ order has eliminated the ability to host large community gatherings and celebrations.
As a result, patrons have changed their spending habits from home decorations and household items to just the essentials like food. “People will buy (items), but not anywhere near what they used to,” says Fardowsa. “Usually for Ramadan people cook a lot, but since we are not gathering, they are not buying decorations. They might think that it’s not important.” The disruption of COVID-19 on traditional shopping habits and priorities for this year’s celebration has left the store with inventory they have paid for but won’t be able to sell as originally anticipated.
Despite challenges with moving inventory, Bile Yusef, owner of Sharif’s Grocery, decided to find ways to give back to his community since COVID-19 has created an unusual and difficult Ramadan this year. He and the staff began gifting each customer a bag of rice with their purchase—totaling more than 600 bags to community shoppers.
In addition to giving back to the community, the grocery store staff have implemented new protocols to protect the health and safety of customers and employees.
Fardowsa says they include, “a box of gloves for customers, and painting the floor with stickers that say six-feet distance.” She acknowledges that enforcing the rules can be a challenge at times, but says, “we let customers know nicely.” Fardowsa mentions that they also try to limit large groups of families from entering the store at once. Families are asked to keep children and other adults in the car to allow only one person per family to shop at a time.
As an essential worker, Fardowsa worries about her potential exposure to COVID-19, given how regularly she interacts with customers. She’s especially concerned about the health and safety of her family and says, “I don’t want to be the issue for someone being sick.” Fardowsa stresses the importance of following the guidelines of social distancing within the store since the small grocery can get busy during this time with customers coming in rushes to shop for Ramadan.
In an attempt to keep the community informed on the latest Public Health Guidance, the store offers translated information to keep patrons and employees safe. Public-Health Seattle & King County provides business owners guidance on how to safely operate their establishments according to the Governor’s phased re-opening plan, with information available in 13 languages.
On May 11, King County announced its latest directive for the public to wear face coverings in indoor public settings—including businesses and grocery stores. This new directive presented a challenge to grocers and businesses owners in need of securing face coverings for their employees. In response, the City recently developed “Seattle Protects”, an online marketplace that connects local manufacturers with organizations, businesses, nonprofits, community groups, and individuals in need of cloth face coverings.
COVID-19’s impact goes beyond new public health protocols or shopping habits. The ‘Stay Home, Stay Healthy’ order has impacted Fardowsa and so many other’s ability to gather with friends and family, or even go to a Mosque.
Although the response to COVID-19 has required adjustments to how the grocery store operates and how Fardowsa and others celebrate the ending of Ramadan during Eid, Fardowsa remains grateful for the support and help from customers and others during this challenging time.
As many in our community celebrate the end of Ramadan this weekend, in addition to other observances such as Memorial Day, we encourage everyone to remember and thank our essential workers like Fardowsa and so many others.