'We long for the month to be full of goodness': This Ramadan, life's hardships keep Syrians from celebrating
For Syrians, the holy month of Ramadan has begun in the midst of suffocating living circumstances. Jasim Al-Abdullah lives in the countryside near Deir az-Zour in eastern Syria, a region controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
He says to Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, The New Arab's Arabic-language sister publication: "This Ramadan is completely different due to the sheer number of challenges the people face – civilians are being squeezed on all sides by escalating prices and low salaries, which aren't enough even to cover normal daily costs. This is especially the case for those on low incomes and the unemployed."
He adds: "We used to undertake special preparations for Ramadan – there are some delicious dishes which are only ever cooked in this month, but this year we haven’t been able to do them. We don’t have the means, so we are being forced to tighten our belts."
"Ramadan gives us a chance to help those families most in need – so before it starts we always try to help some families, everyone gives what they can afford, and this is what makes this month so special. However, as for me, I haven’t done anything this year because I can’t afford to"
Charity is under strain as everybody struggles
"Ramadan gives us a chance to help those families most in need," Al-Abdullah explains. "So before it starts we always try to help some families, everyone gives what they can afford, and this is what makes this month so special. However, as for me, I haven’t done anything this year because I can’t afford to."
In Qamishli, Ramadan preparations underway seem muted says Ahmed Khalil, explaining that: "People's circumstances are really hard – the usual Ramadan atmosphere is completely absent. But this is to be expected when people don’t have what they need to live remotely normal lives – especially in this month, on top of which we are seeing costs rise relentlessly."
Rocketing prices add to the troubles
Khalil points out that the prices of basic staples like olive oil and vegetable oil are through the roof, there is no electricity and no fuel. He adds: "Even in the face of all these problems and crises, the SDF isn’t trying to come up with solutions, while civilians are facing increasing pressures in every aspect of their lives."
Sayed Mahmoud, another Qamishli resident, says: "Ramadan is the month of tolerance, brotherhood, goodness and giving. We used to anticipate the coming of Ramadan several days before it was due to start and prepare mentally, opening our hearts for this month. But this year, in addition to the consequences of the war, the hardship we face is exacerbated even further by rising prices which are affecting everyone.
Fear replaces inner peace this Ramadan
"People should be feeling a sense of inner peace as Ramadan starts, but unfortunately, there is a feeling of fear in the air right now – we are scared that we won't be able to provide for our children. So how are we supposed to feel that it is the month of forgiveness?"
Mahmoud poses the question: "How can the poor and destitute make ends meet? And how can good people support them during Ramadan?" He describes the situation of those living in the camps as nothing short of catastrophic, stating that there should be cooperation and brotherliness to lighten the load on the poor and needy: "We long for the month to be full of goodness."
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He adds, "There is some taking advantage of Ramadan – and the lack of any kind of accountability – to raise prices," but he hopes that "charitable people will help families in desperate circumstances."
'I hope the joy we have lost will return'
For those living in northwest Syria, the situation is no better. However, there is one improvement in Idlib city this year says Ali Al-Yunis: "We have electricity". He also remarks on having failed to prepare in the usual way for Ramadan this year, explaining that the difficult circumstances left him with no energy.
"The joy that used to coincide with the start of Ramadan has vanished from people's faces. The streets and the markets which used to be crowded with people before Ramadan are no longer like they were. Here, people are depleted and exhausted, and I am one of them, even though I don't have the material problems many are facing."
He adds: "The special feeling I always used to get in the run-up to Ramadan has disappeared. Most people around me are the same. I hope that time will move on and the joy we have lost will return."
"In my heart I hope I can gather with my brothers and my family. Year after year, I miss my family, relatives and friends more and more, who I used to get ready with for the coming of Ramadan"
In the camps, in which nearly a million internally displaced Syrians are living, experiences are similar, and like elsewhere in Syria, the preparations for Ramadan have been practically non-existent. Despite this, the excitement of children has not been dampened, says Ghufran al-Khalid, who lives in one of the camps close to Al-Dana town.
Children are unfazed and ready to celebrate
"My children gathered paper, scissors and colouring pens, and cut them up and coloured them to make Ramadan lanterns and crescent moons to hang up in our home. I tried to stop them at first, because I felt so miserable with the situation we are living in, with the displacement and homelessness, but then I overcame those feelings, realising that they have the right to celebrate the start of this month."
As for Asaad Abu Jaber in Damascus, he also says the current circumstances prevented him from making any special Ramadan preparations.
"I didn't prepare at all for Ramadan. All I have done is wait for it to start with my family, and in my heart, I hope I can gather with my brothers and my family. Year after year, I miss my family, relatives and friends more and more, who I used to get ready with for the coming of Ramadan."
This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition. To read the original article click here.
Translated by Rose Chacko