PALANG KHALI — As a 12-year-old Rohingya refugee, MD Hashim dreamed of Ramadan back in his own village, with fish to break the day’s fast, gifts from his family, and relaxing beneath the trees before evening prayers at the mosque.
But for Hashim and thousands of Rohingya refugees now living in squalor in Bangladesh and other countries, the start of the Islamic holy month bitterly reminds them of everything they have lost since being driven from Burma after ethnic cleansing.
“Here, we can’t afford gifts and don’t have good food… because this isn’t our country,” Hashim told AFP on May 16 at a barren hillside in Cox’s Bazar district, Chittagong in Bangladesh.
The United Nations has described the Burmese army purge against the persecuted Muslim minority as ethnic cleansing, and 17 thousand of Rohingya Muslims were believed to have been slaughtered in the pogrom that began last August.
Thousands of Rohingya Muslims were forced to flee the violence for Bangladesh squat in bamboo and tarpaulin shacks on dirt slopes. While they acknowledge that they were lucky to escape, now, with food and money scarce and temperatures soaring, the Muslim minority isn’t able to welcome Ramadan happily.
Sitting inside a plastic tent on a blazing day, Hashim fondly recalled the simple pleasures that made Ramadan the most exciting time of year in his village.
Each night, friends and family would break the fast together with meat dishes cooked just once a year for the 9th Hijri holy month.
“New clothes would be offered and sprinkled with traditional perfumes called ‘attar’ to mark the celebration,” he said.
Rohingya are barred from working because entering the Bangladeshi market which is already saturated with 163-million population will increase unemployment in this 2nd most overcrowded Muslim nation in the world.
What worsens the case for Rohingya are the dozens of military checkpoints that restrict them from leaving what has grown into the world’s largest refugee camp.
The Muslim refugees rely on charities for everything from food and medicine to clothing and housing materials. Hashim must walk over an hour in the searing heat to reach the nearest market.
Despite all these challenges, Hashim considers himself lucky, being able to celebrate the holy month with his family. Other Rohingya children will spend Ramadan not just away from home, but alone.
Thousands crossed into Bangladesh without parents or family, either separated in the chaos or orphaned by Burmese and Buddhist terrorism and disease that defined the mass exodus from their country Burma.
“Despite the hardship, the Rohingya wouldn’t abandon their faith, no matter how challenging their circumstances,” said a Rohingya imam Muhammad Yusuf in the refugee camp.
“It will be difficult while the sun is so hot, but we’ll still fast,” he continued.
Worship in Islam is not meant to impose hardship on people or to overburden them beyond their control.
This is clearly manifested in the Qur’an in many verses, including the ones discussing the rules of fasting itself which exempt several kinds of Muslims from fasting.