After the loss and destruction caused by the February 6 earthquake in Turkey and Syria, this year's Ramadan will be difficult for everyone in the region, including myself. During night time in Gaziantep, Turkey, I still feel the world shaking. I watch the lightbulbs to see whether they are moving, to make sure another earthquake is not happening. I might keep thinking this way and not sleep well for a while.
During past Ramadans, waking up for suhoor, the pre-dawn meal, used to be a beautiful thing. Today, when I wake up before dawn, it is because of the tremors that I imagine, knowing fully well that those are in my head, but the fear just will not go away.
Iftar will also be strange this time around because I will spend this Ramadan alone, away from my family who moved away to another place, a relatively safer place. My sister's house, where we used to have iftar together, is now scheduled for demolition and we had to move out in a hurry. I feel a mix of fear, sadness and anxiety.
Ramadan is a special time for Muslims. I remember earlier when the days were filled with memories of family, being together, food and traditions. I don’t know if there will come a time when these memories will once again be a part of my life, and not mere feelings from the past.
I used to love sharing suhoor and I think about the way we would sit around, all sleepy, eating white cheese, oil and thyme. I loved the way we would get together to break our fast, at sunset, slightly cranky from hunger, making jokes and laughing. My mother prepared the types of food and dishes that we liked, but she would always say she couldn’t finish everything before the call to prayer. My father would bring the famous Ramadan maarouk, the sweet bread, which we ate with tea after ending our fast, and then we all gathered to watch television as a family.
Like most of the Syrian population in Turkey, I know what it is like to lose my home. I lost it once already when I had to leave the country that I loved. As hard as it was, in Turkey, I found a place I could again call home, and now it has been taken away from me again.
What has happened here feels too cruel. Some might think that we Syrians are used to it, but we are not. I think about my Turkish friends and those suffering. It is a very difficult feeling. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.
During the holy month, an intense sense of family, and of social rituals, exists among us Muslims and emphasises our sense of community; it gives us a sense of belonging, an increased feeling of sharing and it is a unique experience. I don’t know what Ramadan this year is going to be like. I find myself thinking about how many of us have lost family, friends, neighbours. Our communities across southern Turkey and Syria are broken, our families are lost, our sense of belonging shattered. Millions across the areas destroyed by the earthquake last month are in the same situation as me. I think about them all the time. I have lost a lot, but so many others have lost so much more.
We are still living in a state of fear, panic and sadness. Each of the aftershocks – which are still happening regularly – take away what is left of our sense of safety and stability.
Gathering is what gives Ramadan its value as a social ritual among Muslims, as it gives us a sense of belonging to a community, where you can find social support, and leave sadness and isolation behind.
In my capacity as a case management officer at International Network for Aid, Relief and Assistance, particularly during our field work responding to this disaster, I met many families who told me about their feelings of deprivation.
Rawan was one such, who lost her mother in the earthquake. She lives in a state of sadness thinking about Ramadan starting and remembering her mother, who used to prepare the most delicious dishes, including a favourite dish of every family member. She says that without her mother, Ramadan no longer had meaning for her.
Umm Hani’s family had just moved to their new home in Islahiye, in southern Turkey, when the earthquake struck. After years of displacement following the loss of their home in Syria and spending years in refugee camps before moving to Turkey, the walls shook violently and everything in the house fell to the ground.
Amira and her children survived with minor injuries, but they left their new home in ruins. As Ramadan approached, Amira and her family could only feel one thing, a deep sadness. They were always looking forward to spending Ramadan together in their new home. Today they have gone back to living in a tent, struggling to make ends meet.
Yara is a volunteer in humanitarian work, who used to wait for the weekend to share Ramadan rituals with her family. Now she is unable to do so because her family moved away, after losing their home in Antakya to the earthquake.
Ramadan is the most distinguished season of the year for Muslims, during which they remember the values of love and solidarity while learning what it means to truly belong to a community. However, earthquake victims may not be able to experience this feeling. Those who are luckier can use this time to give back to their communities, support earthquake victims, and show compassion and support those who are struggling. Ramadan can also be an opportunity for Muslims to meet and support each other, even if they are physically distant.
This Ramadan will carry a completely different meaning and flavour. This year will be very different for me as well. I will be fasting while working in the field. I will help people who really need it. Maybe I will put myself to work because this is the time for giving. Although I am already giving everything I can, I will find the strength to give more. I see the smiles of gratitude on the faces of families and hear the laughter of children, and after a long and hard day of work, when I hear the maghrib call for prayer, I too will say I gave something of myself today.