LAGOS - Wealthy Muslims and charity organizations are championing centers for free iftars across Nigeria to feed the poor during the holy fasting month of Ramadan.
"Our target is to provide 200,000 iftar meals to indigent people during the month of Ramadan," Muddathir Olaniyi Sanuth of Deen Communications Limited, the group behind one of the initiatives for free iftars, told OnIslam.net.
He said the iftar centers are being held in four Nigerian cities; Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt and Kano during Ramadan.
Ramadan, the holiest month in Islamic calendar, started in Nigeria on July 10.
As the holy month started, free iftar centers have sprung across many Nigerian cities.
OnIslam.net checks found that more and more iftar centers are spread across the country, from Lagos in the country's Southwest, Ilorin and Jos in North-central, Borno and Yobe in Northeast, Kaduna, Kano to Sokoto in the mainly Muslim Northwestern region.
Sanuth said the initiative, themed "The Feed A Soul Programme", will also be extended to prison inmates, especially in Lagos.
"This will include the inmates of Kirikiri Medium and Maximum Prisons in Lagos, tertiary institution, hospitals and children welfare homes," he said.
"We also hope to feed 20,000 people at different locations on the days of `Eid."
Sanuth urged the Nigerians to donate to the cause "of bringing smiles to the faces of our brothers and sisters in one distress or another.
In Ramadan, adult Muslims abstain from food, drink, smoking and sex between dawn and sunset.
Muslims dedicate their time during the holy month to be closer to Allah through prayers, self-restraint and good deeds.
It is customary for Muslims to spend part of the days during Ramadan studying the Noble Qur'an.
Many men perform i`tikaf (spiritual retreat), spending the last 10 days of the month exclusively in the mosque.
One of Nigeria's biggest Muslim congregations, the NASFAT, has held free iftars across its bases nationwide.
The program aims to "ensure that as many poor Muslims as possible are assisted to carry out their religious duty with relative comfort," said NASFAT National Imam Abdullahi Akinbode.
Akinbode said while previous iftar centers of NASFAT remain open, a dozen more have been opened to spread the gesture to more Muslims who need help.
Apart from state governments, politicians and wealthy Muslims are also organizing free iftars for fasting Muslims and sponsoring educative programs in the print and electronic media.
OnIslam.net also noticed a culture of free iftar across many Government Houses in the country.
A senator representing Kwara Central in the Nigerian Senate, Bukola Saraki, said in a tweet to have donated N100m to feed the poor across his constituency.
"The donation was announced so the people can know this has been made available to them. No insult or show-off are intended whatsoever as is being insinuated," said Saraki.
The UNDP indicates that at least over 60 percent of Nigerians, most of them found in the Muslim North, are living below the poverty line, surviving on less than a dollar per day.
"Yes you can feed the poor in the spirit of charity especially in the month of Ramadan," Mallam Sulaiman Rotimi, a Muslim social critic, told OnIslam.net.
"But the question is what happens to these (poor) people after Ramadan. They relapse into hunger?
He urged the government and wealthy Muslims to "ensure that as many people as possible are productively engaged". Sulaimon Olayinka Abdulfatai, a computer science student, agrees.
"There is nothing bad about giving to the poor. But even the prophet said it is better to teach people how to fish than to give them fish," he said.
"So, with N100million, for instance, one can create meaningful jobs for at least 200 graduates, rather than what is at best some political jamborees by our politicians especially those who go on air to advertise what they have given."
Igbaifua Aselemhe Ferdinand, a political science teacher, shares a similar view.
"First of all, we appreciate the fact that people are giving to the poor. But I have two questions for them: One, who is with the money so the poor would know where to go and get something to eat after fasting? Two, come to think of it, who would feed them after Ramadan?
Saadallah Ibrahim, a Muslim scholar, urged the government and wealthy Muslims to not only establish more industries to cut down the statistics of the country's poor but to institute "a concrete social security net, such as unemployment benefit and so on, so people would not necessarily become slaves in the process of accessing some charity provided by our politicians.Muslims make up around 55 percent of Nigeria's 160 million population.