Across the world, Muslims of all cultures and backgrounds are now preparing for the holy month of Ramadan. Perhaps the most important month in the Islamic calendar, Ramadan is a unique opportunity for Muslims to be at one with Allah through fasting, prayer and spending more time reading the Qur’an.
Syria is a country of rich cultural traditions, and Ramadan used to be a time of great joy and anticipation for Muslim families. However, after six years of brutal conflict, this Ramadan will unfortunately be another difficult month for civilians who are struggling to survive.
Before conflict devastated Syria, families were able to gather together to share traditional Syrian food throughout Ramadan. They would break their fast at sunset with iftar meals consisting of soup, lots of different salads (Fatoush), soup, special Ramadan bread, varied meat dishes, fruit and traditional deserts.
Now, with so many killed and over half the population forced from their homes, many families have been broken apart. Previously strong and close-knit communities are shattered, and people are often too scared to be hospitable or they simply don’t have enough food to share.
In pre-conflict Syria, people would spend hours in the markets, buying groceries for the whole month of Ramadan. With nutritious iftar meals shared between friends, relatives and neighbours, no one ever needed to feel alone during Ramadan. This year, Syrian refugees sheltering in makeshift camps in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey fear that they will be very alone throughout the holy month.
The famous sweetshops in Damascus would be packed with customers, but after violence broke out many closed and some relocated to Jordan and Lebanon. Massive price hikes on essential goods such as fruit and vegetables have rendered thousands of families unable to purchase even basic foodstuffs. It’s a common phenomenon that during wartime, prices rise, but in Syria this happened on a very large scale. Combined with widespread losses of jobs and incomes, this has created a food crisis within the country.
According to sources inside Damascus, a kilo of lemons has increased in price by more than 600% since the war began. Some families used to be able to get by on just 70 USD a month, now the same family needs more than 1,000 USD. Those with family members who live outside the country are increasingly relying on them for support, but there are many who don’t have this luxury. Street sellers in Damascus report that the atmosphere in the holy month is one of worry and fear rather than excitement, and more people are choosing to stay at home rather than browse the markets.
Across Syrian cities, the mosques would hold huge iftar meals and be sites of constant worship and Islamic chanting. Even non-Muslims would stop to listen and feel enchanted by the atmosphere. Ramadan in Damascus would encourage different religions to interact, with Muslim-Christian events held in the Azem Palace, where Christian hymns and Muslim chants would be performed.
The holy month of Ramadan would be a time when social solidarity and charitable giving would transcend class and religion. Neighbours, friends, relatives and complete strangers would show great care towards one another, offering food, non-alcoholic drinks and other gifts. The image of Syrians displaying great generosity during Ramadan is sadly one that has been largely lost, as poverty and violence still cast a shadow over the country.
When discussing how the observation of Ramadan has changed for the people of Syria, it’s important to recognise that Syrian families are enduring severe shortages of food, water and electricity during all 12 months of the year.
In besieged areas, families are literally starving to death. They cannot move freely and are often inaccessible to humanitarian aid agencies. Food and water are fast running out, and many places are completely without essential medical supplies.
With your help, we can feed Muslim families as they break their fasts during the month of Ramadan. Just £65 will provide a hungry family with a food parcel that will last them the full holy month, and a £4 donation will provide a single hot iftar meal.
Now is the time to give.