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A lantern that has moon symbol on top and small plate of dates fruit with night sky and city bokeh light background for the Muslim feast of the holy month of Ramadan.
Afghan refugees

Celebrating Ramadan after fleeing Afghanistan

Photo: Getty/Baramyou0708

Twenty-eight-year-old Sahib* arrived in the United Kingdom last year with his wife and two children after fleeing Afghanistan. Since settling in South East England, he has been supported by the International Rescue Committee’s (IRC) integration programming, which equipts refugees with the knowledge they need to navigate their community and become self-sufficient. Below, he writes about his experience celebrating Ramadan for the first time in his new country. 

Ramadan is the holiest and most sacred month in Islam. To celebrate with our full zeal and zest, we prepare for weeks beforehand, buying and preparing special dishes for the month.

For my family, this is the first Ramadan we are celebrating in the UK. It’s a big change from celebrating in my home country, Afghanistan. We are completely split apart from the rest of our family and living in isolation, with no Muslim community at all.

No option but to leave 

I arrived in England in August of 2021 with my wife, Hajra, who is 25 years old, and my daughters Maryam and Ghazala (5 and 4 years old). I had worked with the British Army in Afghanistan and received death threats and intimidation. I had no option other than to leave the country to save my life. 

It was an abrupt departure. We all were crying as we were forced to leave the rest of our family behind in a life-threatening situation. I will never forget that moment. I worry about my parents, who are still at risk. 

We all were crying as we were forced to leave the rest of our family behind in a life-threatening situation. I will never forget that moment.

When we landed in the UK, the government sent us to Manchester to spend ten days in quarantine as a COVID-19 precaution.

We then stayed in a hotel in London for two months until we were moved to a house in South East England, where I have lived with my family since.

In a carpeted room, Sahir's daughters stands among her toys

My daughter playing with her toys in our new home in South East England.

Photo: Courtesy of Sahir

Celebrations while missing home 

Ramadan is a month of worship, recitation of the Holy Quran, prayers and fasting. I observe the fast and it purifies my heart from bad deeds and forbids me from committing evil. I seek forgiveness for my sins and increase my self-discipline.

As a Muslim living in the UK, I especially miss the ‘Salah, Taraweeh’, a congregational prayer that we offer at the mosque that is considered to have more social and spiritual benefits than praying by oneself. When praying ‘Salah, Taraweeh’ together at night, we stand in straight, parallel rows behind the chosen Imam (usually the person who has the best knowledge of the Holy Quran) and face in the direction of the sacred mosque in Mecca. I do not have words to describe how much I miss this special prayer. Here in the UK, we live in a village where there is no mosque or Muslim community.

We are living thousands of miles away from our family and do not have the opportunity to celebrate Ramadan together with them. However, we do talk with them over the phone and share experiences and hurdles. I talk with my parents through a video call. It makes me happy to hear from them. My daughters are very dear to my father and mother and every single day they are keen to talk to them and see their faces, which makes us all emotional.

The only way to celebrate Ramadan with my family this year is to have a chat with them on an audio or video call and pray for each other's safety and health.

 

I have a big family back home, and I feel distressed whenever I am not able to talk with them. In particular, I love my mum. She is ill, and our departure left her in agony. The only way to celebrate Ramadan with my family this year is to have a chat with them on an audio or video call and pray for each other's safety and health. My wife, my daughters and I always pray for our family's safe evacuation so we can celebrate Ramadan all together in the UK.

Making our souls happy 

Having Iftar (breaking of the fast) with my parents and sharing special moments with my family are the happiest memories I have of Ramadan. The meal that breaks the fast is called ‘Iftar’. My favorite way to break the fast is by eating dates. 

An Iftar meal set on a table

My Iftar meal. From left to right in English and Pashto: A cultural drink called 'refresher of the soul' in English and in Pashto ‘Rooh Afza Sharbat’; Fritters/Pakora; Fruit salad/‘Fruit Chaat; Spinach /Saag, Dates/Kajoor; Lamb/Gad Ghwakha; Rice cooked with Lamb meat/Chawal+Ghwakha; Sauce made of herbs, spices, sour and sweet ingredients with hot green chillies-/Chakni and Bread/Dodai- roti.

Photo: Courtesy of Sahir

Our last Messenger of Allah, Prophet Mohammad (Peace Be Upon Him), broke his fast with ripe dates before prayer. My wife and I observe in a similar way to follow in the Messenger's footsteps. Cooking along with my wife, looking after my children, and breaking fast with my daughters are also moments of joy and satisfaction for me.

My message to those families who are celebrating Ramadan in their new homes is to observe fast with enthusiasm, pray attentively five times a day, give the maximum time to recite the Holy Quran and keep the spirit of helping your family members and spreading happiness. This is how we can make our souls happy while living in new homes.

Despite my trials, 2021 has been the luckiest year for me.

Despite my trials, 2021 has been the luckiest year for me. Finally, I can breathe a sigh of relief. I’ve got a new life and now I am in a safe country. I have always dreamed of living in the UK and I am happy to be here. The people are friendly and they respect us. I am looking forward to having a bright life ahead.

*Pseudonym used for security.

The IRC in the United Kingdom 

The IRC provides refugees in the UK with the knowledge they need to navigate their new communities and become self-sufficient. We also work with local communities to help them become better equipped to support the integration of their new refugee neighbors. This work is funded in part by the European Union and Khalsa Aid International.

This article was first published by IRC-UK.