Despite the enticing produce in their windows, Muslim-owned retailers on East London’s Brick Lane are unusually quiet as the cost of living crisis bites into Ramadan earnings. The historic street is the hub of London’s Bangladeshi community. It’s normally a central destination for shoppers during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
However, this year, Muslims have had to pare back on non-essential items. That’s according to Taj Stores co-owner Jamal Khalique, who has had to put up his prices to keep pace with double-digit inflation.
Jamal told Agence France-Presse (AFP):
Khalique added that people are “purchasing what they need, necessities, not extra things like they normally do.”
Business is also depressed across the road at Rajmahal Sweets, which would normally be bustling with shoppers picking out Iftar treats to break the daily fast. Rajmahal worker Ali, who declined to give his last name, said:
People have no money because of this crisis.
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England and Wales are home to nearly four million Muslims. According to census data released in 2022, just under 40% of these Muslims live in the most deprived areas. That makes the cost of living crisis particularly painful for communities like those around Brick Lane, one of the poorest parts of London.
Supermarkets muscle in
A November 2022 survey by the campaign group Muslim Census found that nearly one in five British Muslims were relying on handouts from charitable food banks.
Sahirah Javaid works with Muslim Hands, a charity that runs two community kitchens in London and Nottingham. She told AFP:
It’s shocking to see how dependent people are becoming on food banks.
Food poverty makes Muslims unable to break their fast with their community.
Huzana Begum is another one of those feeling the bite of inflation. Whilst browsing the shelves of Brick Lane’s Zaman Brothers store, she said:
Before, if we brought £20 here, we would get everything. It’s very expensive now.
While Begum has tried to cut down on groceries in general, Ramadan poses a unique challenge.
Iftar meals after sunset bring together relatives and communities, and she is hosting and cooking for extended family. That usually means spending rather than saving. Begum said:
We have a plan, me and my husband, every month we can save money from my work and from his salary as well. But this month, we can’t.
Independent retailers such as those on Brick Lane are seeing more competition from supermarket giants like Tesco, Sainsbury’s, and Asda, which have been targeting Muslims with their own Ramadan ranges.
Khalique, of Taj Stores, said:
They can afford to slash their prices. We can’t. So obviously, they do divert the customers to them.
We’ve been established since 1936, I’ve been in the family business for 34 years, and I’ve never felt hardship in my life. But I’m feeling it now.
If this continues, God knows if we can carry on.
Featured image by Clem Onojeghuo/Unsplash
Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse
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