WORLD

What It's Like To Observe Ramadan As A Refugee

25/06/2017 7:06 AM AEST | Updated 27/06/2017 4:18 AM AEST

The holy month of Ramadan is meant to be a joyous and spiritually rewarding time ― but for Muslims who were forcibly displaced from their homes because of conflict and persecution, it’s also full of emotional and physical hardships. 

The United Nations’ refugee agency, UNHCR, estimates a record 65.6 million people were forcibly displaced around the world at the end of 2016. Among them are 22.5 million refugees who have crossed an international border searching for safety.

It’s difficult to know for sure how many of these refugees personally identify as Muslims. The UNHCR estimates that a significant number of refugees worldwide come from Syria (5.5 million) and Afghanistan (2.5 million)  ― both Muslim-majority countries.

Muhammad Hamed / Reuters
Syrian refugee boys read the Koran inside the Quran Memorization Center at the Al-Zaatari refugee camp in Mafraq, Jordan, near the border with Syria, during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan on June 1.

Islamic Relief is a faith-based international organization that provides humanitarian aid to refugees and displaced families in 13 countries, including Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan.

Some Muslim refugees are unable to practice the traditions that made Ramadan joyful for them in years past ― like decorating their houses, eating particular desserts or drinks native to their hometowns, or gathering with their extended families to eat iftar, an evening meal, according to the organization. Despite their difficult conditions, representatives at the organization said that many strive to keep the daily fast.

An acting programs manager for Islamic Relief told HuffPost in an emailed statement that Syrian refugees in Jordan face both physical and emotional challenges. The employee, who asked to remain anonymous for security reasons, wrote that malnutrition is a pressing problem, whether refugees are living in camps or in urban areas. Many refugees find themselves becoming dependent on food parcels given out by charity organizations.

Being in Jordan also means being far away from relatives, the programs manager wrote. Since Ramadan is a time of year for big family gatherings, the absence of these loved ones means the iftar meal is sometimes tinged with sorrow.

“Although it is hard to spend the fasting month away from their country and relatives, many refugees said they have started to adapt to their new life in Jordan, especially when generous neighbors sometimes drop off meat and food for Iftar,” wrote the employee. ″[It makes] them feel that there seems to be a little good in the world.”

Muhammad Hamed / Reuters
A Syrian refugee man reads the Koran inside his home at the Al-Zaatari refugee camp on June 1.

An Islamic Relief project officer said that the situation in Lebanon has become “critical.” The country has the highest share of refugees per capita in the world, according to the Directorate-General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations, the European Commission’s department for overseas humanitarian aid and civil protection.

It’s becoming increasingly difficult for Syrian refugees in Lebanon to obtain legal residence permits, which means they have limited access to work opportunities, or are forced to work in unfair conditions. 

As a result, refugees are “sinking deeper into debt and depletion of their saving,” said the Islamic Relief employee, who also asked to remain anonymous for security reasons. 

Based on Islamic Relief trips to refugee camps and shelters, the employee said that refugees rarely decorate for the holiday or prepare traditional sweets. 

However, most of families shares the iftar together since they can’t afford enough food only for themselves,” the employee wrote. “So we usually see two to three families are breaking the fast together mainly in shelters.” 

Muhammad Hamed / Reuters
Abu Rustom, founder of a Syrian refugee folklore troupe eats Iftar with his family and troupe members, during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan at the Al-Zaatari refugee camp on June 1.

Paul Donohoe, senior media officer for the International Rescue Committee in the Middle East, told HuffPost that Eid al-Fitr, the family focused festival that marks the end of Ramadan, can be an especially difficult time for refugees. 

While visiting a tented settlement in Lebanon last year, Donohoe said he spoke to refugees who said that Eid was full of sadness because they remembered the loved ones they had lost in Syrian civil war. 

“It was also tough to be so far away from surviving family members, some of whom will still be in Syria, and others who have ended up in Europe or even Canada,” Donohoe told HuffPost. “Also, despite their daily struggles and the financial difficulties they face in Lebanon, I was told that they would try to still make sure that their children received at least one present at Eid, often a new piece of clothing.”

Below, HuffPost has gathered photos of refugees and displaced people around the world observing Ramadan in 2017.

  • Muhammad Hamed / Reuters
    Syrian refugees boys read the Koran inside the Quran Memorization Center, during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan at the Al-Zaatari camp near the border with Syria June 1.
  • Muhammad Hamed / Reuters
    Members of the Syrian refugee folklore troupe Abu Rustom, sell traditional juices at the Al-Zaatari refugee camp on June 1.
  • Muhammad Hamed / Reuters
    Children of Abu Rustom, founder of a Syrian refugee folklore troupe, prepare to join the family table at the camp June 1.
  • Muhammad Hamed / Reuters
    A Syrian child sits in a basket at the back of a bicycle with her father at the main market, during at the Al-Zaatari refugee camp June 1.
  • Muhammad Hamed / Reuters
    A Syrian refugee man makes traditional sweets during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan at the Al-Zaatari camp June 1.
  • Muhammad Hamed / Reuters
    A Syrian refugee man carries a watermelon as he rides a bicycle on the main market at the Al-Zaatari refugee camp June 1.
  • Muhammad Hamed / Reuters
    A Syrian refugee man reads the Koran inside his home at the Al-Zaatari camp.
  • Muhammad Hamed / Reuters
    Abu Rustom, founder of a Syrian refugee folklore troupe eats Iftar food with his family and troupe members at the Al-Zaatari refugee camp June 1.
  • Muhammad Hamed / Reuters
    Aisha prepares Iftar food for her family and her husband's troupe members at the Al-Zaatari camp June 1.
  • MOHAMMED ABED via Getty Images
    A Palestinian man reads a copy of the Koran outside his home at Al-Shati refugee camp in Gaza City on June 6.
  • MOHAMMED ABED via Getty Images
    A Palestinian man reads a copy of the Koran, Islam's holiest book, with a young girl outside his home at Al-Shati camp in Gaza City on June 6.
  • SAID KHATIB via Getty Images
    Palestinian children fill jerricans with drinking water from public taps during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan at the Rafah refugee camp, in the southern Gaza Strip, June 11.
  • Muhammad Hamed / Reuters
    Syrian children ride a bicycle with their father at the main market, during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan at the Al-Zaatari refugee camp June 1.
  • - via Getty Images
    Rohingya refugees walk next to huts in a makeshift camp in Bangladesh's Cox's Bazar district on May 30, after Cyclone Mora made landfall in the region. The district is home to 300,000 Rohingya refugees, most of whom live in flimsy makeshift camps after fleeing persecution in neighbouring Myanmar.  
  • MUNIR UZ ZAMAN via Getty Images
    A Rohingya refugee sits near a house destroyed by Cyclone Mora in a camp in the Cox's Bazar district on May 31. Aid workers warned May 31 of an "acute crisis" in Bangladesh after a cyclone destroyed thousands of homes and devastated camps housing Rohingya refugees, leaving many without food or shelter.
  • MUNIR UZ ZAMAN via Getty Images
    Houses belonging to Rohingya refugees and damaged by Cyclone Mora are seen at a camp in the Cox's Bazar district on May 31. The cyclone was packing winds of up to 84 miles per hour when it struck, damaging thousands of homes as more than 300,000 people fled villages in the coastal district of Cox's Bazar, which bore the brunt of the cyclone. 
  • Erik de Castro / Reuters
    Displaced Iraqi family from Mosul prepare a simple meal for their Iftar, during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan at a refugee camp al-Khazir in the outskirts of Erbil, Iraq, June 10, 2017. Picture taken June 10.
  • Muhammad Hamed / Reuters
    Children of Abu Rustom, founder of a Syrian refugee folklore troupe, prepare to join the family table at the Al-Zaatari refugee camp June 1.
  • Erik de Castro / Reuters
    Displaced Iraqi family from Mosul bake bread for their Iftar, during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan at a refugee camp al-Khazir in the outskirts of Erbil, Iraq June 10.
  • Erik de Castro / Reuters
    Displaced Iraqi family from Mosul eat a simple meal for their Iftar, during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan at a refugee camp al-Khazir in the outskirts of Erbil, Iraq June 10, 
  • Erik de Castro / Reuters
    A displaced Iraqi woman from Mosul prepares food for her family's Iftar at a refugee camp at al-Khazir in the outskirts of Erbil, Iraq June 10.
  • Erik de Castro / Reuters
    A displaced Iraqi woman from Mosul use fire to heat a makeshift oven to bake bread for Iftar, during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan at a refugee camp al-Khazir in the outskirts of Erbil, Iraq, June 10.
  • Erik de Castro / Reuters
    Displaced Iraqi family from Mosul eat a simple meal for their Iftar, during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan at a refugee camp al-Khazir in the outskirts of Erbil, Iraq, June 10.
Also on HuffPost
Ramadan Around the World

More On This Topic