As fire took hold of a West London high-rise apartment building early Wednesday morning, some Muslims in the area were awake to prepare for Suhur, the early morning meal that is eaten during the holy month of Ramadan.
As a result, they were reportedly among the first to react to what would become a deadly, devastating blaze ― pounding on doors to wake up sleeping neighbors, moving quickly to collect relief supplies, and throwing open the doors of mosques to offer victims shelter.
One local resident told HuffPost UK, “Muslim boys saved people’s lives. They ran around knocking on people’s doors. Thank God for Ramadan.”
Another resident was filmed by HuffPost UK saying, “If it wasn’t for all these young Muslim boys around here helping us, coming from mosques, people would’ve [been] dead ... more people would’ve [been] dead.”
“They were the first people with bags of water giving to people, helping people. They were running and telling people,” she said.
At least 12 people died and dozens more were injured in the fire at Grenfell Tower, which broke out about 1 a.m. London time. Local police anticipate that there may be more people in the building who are unaccounted for.
During Ramadan, many Muslims wake up to eat Suhur before the Fajr prayer, which in London falls around 2:39 a.m. After this pre-dawn meal, many won’t eat again until iftar, an evening meal eaten after the sun sets.
Khalid Suleman Ahmed told HuffPost UK that if it weren’t for Ramadan, he wouldn’t have normally been awake at the time the fire started.
When he started smelling the fire, he looked out his window and saw smoke drifting from the floor below him. He claimed that he didn’t hear a fire alarm go off in the building. (Other residents have also claimed the same).
“I woke my auntie up, then got clothes on and started knocking on neighbours’ doors. Every house opened except two,” Ahmed told HuffPost UK.
“I would be up this late on a Friday night possibly but never a random midweek night unless it was Ramadan. There are a lot of Muslims living there and people choose up to stay up and wait so it was certainly a factor for me and others. It probably did save lives.”
Another resident of the area who lives near Grenfell Tower told Sky News, “If it wasn’t for Ramadan, there would have been more casualties,” since more people would have been asleep when the blaze broke out.
Muslims from other areas of London also showed up early in the morning to assist with relief work, according to Channel 4 journalist Assed Baig.
Zia Salik, head of fundraising at the humanitarian organization Islamic Relief, told The Independent that he lived near Grenfell Tower and could see the fire from his window as it started early Wednesday morning.
Islamic Relief began coordinating its response soon after. It has set aside £10,000 from its emergency fund to help survivors. The organization is also sending over 6,000 water bottles to the area.
“When something like this happens sometimes you do feel a bit helpless but at the same time we know that some people have lost everything. They’ve lost their homes, they’ve lost their belongings, they’re going to be without shelter for the night,” Salik told The Independent.
Islamic centers and mosques in the area also responded on Wednesday by opening up their worship spaces for survivors looking for shelter.
Al Manaar, a Muslim cultural heritage center located near Grenfell Tower, has been coordinating distribution of relief supplies to survivors ― things like food, toiletries, blankets, and water. The center also announced on Facebook that “anyone of any faith or no faith is most welcome to walk in to have some rest, sleep, and or have some water and food.”
The center is also offering an evening iftar dinner to anyone who needs it.
In a Facebook post, Masjid Annoor, an Islamic center a few miles away from the blaze, said that its doors are open and “will remain open for anyone that has been affected ... Everyone is welcome. Irrespective of religion or background.”
Other faith groups ― including local Christian churches and Sikh gurdwaras ― also opened their doors, offering survivors temporary shelter.