A Ramadan in Mourning in Gaza

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Living through a Ramadan like no other, an Islamic Relief aid worker* in Gaza reflects on Ramadans gone by and shares his hope of seeing a ceasefire before Eid. 

It has been 160 days since this brutal war on Gaza began. This is the fourth day of the holy month of Ramadan.

We hoped there would be a ceasefire before the start of Ramadan, but none materialised so we are still living through the hardest times of our lives. It may even be the cruellest time humanity has witnessed in the modern day.

In fact, things have become even harder during Ramadan.  

Remembering Ramadan in Gaza

This month is supposed to be a time for doing good, for charity, compassion and solidarity. But Palestinians are starting their Ramadan displaced, living in tents and prevented from meeting their basic needs.

I miss everything we used to do in Ramadan. This year we are barely surviving. This year we face famine, not only fasting.  

For the past few years, everyone would start preparing early for Ramadan, hanging decorations, and lighting lanterns. Some neighbourhoods would even paint walls with vibrant colours. The mosques clean their carpets and fix their lighting to be ready to receive everyone coming to pray.

Last year, in my building, all the neighbours gathered and fixed some lights around the entrance, it looked magnificent.

This year, most of these neighbourhoods are gone. Some buildings still stand, but their residents are not there.  

In Gaza, some buildings still stand. But most residents have evacuated.  

Recently some of our neighbours from the building shared a video of last year’s decoration. It brought tears into my eyes being able to see my house before it was destroyed. I know it is uninhabitable now, but I hope I might be able to salvage some of my books, some of my personal items, my kids’ school bags and some toys if we ever make it back there.

My kids blame us for not allowing them to bring their toys when we left. We thought we would be back in a couple of days.  

Bombing and airstrikes replace the call to prayer 

Last Ramadan, I would get back from work and help my wife in the kitchen before it was time to break our fast. The kids would finish their homework and watch some TV. They enjoyed some of the shows that aired during Ramadan.

My son has been asking me about the show this year, asking why we’re not watching it on TV. I told him that we can’t run the TV at night because we’re saving batteries.  

I remember promising my children last year that I would take them with me to the mosque to perform night prayers this year. Even though they were young, they wanted to join me in going to the mosque every night after we broke our fast.

In the mosques, it usually seems as if everyone in Gaza is attending the night prayers. For that one hour, the streets empty, and once the prayer is over, life flows back into the shops, the markets and family homes.  

This year there are no night prayers at the mosque. We pray at home. It is too dangerous to go out after the sun sets.

Last year, the streets and shops were filled with recitals of the Qur’an, broadcast over speakers; and of course, we heard the call to prayer coming from the mosques.

Now, we hear bombing and airstrikes. We have drones buzzing over our heads all day long – a disturbing sound that only gives us the feeling of being monitored and tracked and marked as a target.  

Demolished neighbourhood in Gaza

Separated families 

In Gaza, the generosity of the people is unmatched, and it doubles in Ramadan. There is a tradition where men visit their female relatives including sisters, aunts, mothers-in-law and others to bring them gifts for Ramadan.

Generosity is also seen when families invite each other to have breakfast together. For example, I used to invite my sisters, their husbands and children to have an iftar at my parents’ house. There would be around 30-40 people gathered to enjoy Ramadan together. We’d break our fast and go to the mosque together to pray. Later at night, we’d gather for coffee and some Katayef (Qatayef, Ramadan sweets).  

This year, I could not visit any of my relatives. Travelling is very dangerous, and I cannot get gifts for them because there are no goods in the markets.  

This year, most families are spread all around the Gaza Strip and can’t travel to meet, and staying out after dark is a risky business. On top of this, we are not emotionally prepared to enjoy good times while all our loved ones are gone and all our belongings are destroyed, along with our memories, our livelihoods, and our city.  

Spending Ramadan in mourning, loss, fear and frustration 

Ramadan is a month for worship and compassion. It’s the norm that people prepare the most delicious food in this month and every family has their own recipes. Everyone also races to prepare food to distribute among people in need.

At Islamic Relief, we would distribute food packages to thousands of families every year. We also organised iftars for some of our communities where all our staff volunteered to assist with receiving guests and serving food to their tables. After that, all the staff would gather to clean and spend some good time together.  

This year, we are living Ramadan in mourning, in loss, in fear and frustration. The happiest time of the year is now so sad. We are not able to attend the mosques. Not able to do charity and help each other.

We are not even able to be in our own homes or walk our streets. We do not have Ramadan crescents or lanterns. It is dark.  

Yearning for a Brighter Tomorrow

I can’t compare this year’s Ramadan with anything we have lived through before as we are living the hardest times of our lives. I talk to everyone around me, and they are looking to leave the country in search of a better life.

This Ramadan is so hard and full of desperation. Without a ceasefire, my people are still being killed by bullets, airstrikes, bombing and starvation. Now, we only hope that we will have a ceasefire before the month ends. At least then we could enjoy Eid in some respite. Please, my readers, keep pushing for a ceasefire and an end to this madness.   

*This blog is anonymised to protect the safety and security of our colleague and others mentioned.

Editor’s note: This blog was submitted amid a fast-changing and deepening crisis. The information was correct as of Sunday 17 March 2024. 

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