In Bangladesh, Rohingya Refugees Celebrate Ramadan

April 16, 2019

Despite the difficulties, ethnic Muslim Rohingya refugees are spending their holy month fasting and praying.

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Observing Ramadan without fear of reprisal is a relatively new concept for more than a million Rohingya refugees living in the sprawling makeshift settlements that have sprung up in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. Before they were chased out of Myanmar's Rakhine State by ethnic violence in 2017, the Muslim minority Rohingya prayed in secret. In Cox's Bazar, mosques have sprung up in the crowded encampments, and no military forces threaten to disrupt their fasting, prayer and study of the Quran. 

"It feels good to do that," Jafor Alam told a reporter during Ramadan last year. "Here we can pray." 

A family breaks sunset fast during Ramadan in Modurchara Camp 5, part of the sprawling Rohingya refugee settlement in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh on June 4, 2018. © UNICEF/UN0219105/Modola

But observing the holy month of fasting and prayer in a crowded refugee settlement is no simple matter. Refugees complain that there is not enough food available for the evening and early morning meals, at 6:30 PM and 3 AM. 

Almost nothing is left of the vegetation that once covered the hills, where Rohingya refugees live in the overcrowded camps of Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. © UNICEF/UN0286424/Chakma

Temperatures climb into the 90s in the daytime, making it difficult to abstain from drinking or eating. There's no electricity to power a fan, and few trees to rest beneath during the hot, humid afternoons. Almost all of the trees have been cut down to build shelters, leaving a sea of plastic tarp-covered structures and little shade. 

In Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh in 2017, 10-year-old Rohingya refugee Mohammed clutched two copies of the Holy Quran, the only belongings he had left after he fled mass ethnic violence in Myanmar. © UNICEF/UN0147324/Brown

And yet, despite the hardships, Rohingya refugees in Cox's Bazar are grateful to spend the holy month in peace, engaged in prayer, daylight fasting and reading the Quran.

"In Myanmar, we were harassed a lot. Mosques were shut down. We weren't allowed to recite the Quran or pray," said Rashed, a Rohingya boy living in Kutupalong Refugee Camp. "To be a good Muslim, you have to learn the Quran and all our Islamic rules like giving alms to the poor so that everyone's equal, all the things Islam tells us to do so that we go to heaven." 

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Top photo: Rohingya refugee children wade through flood water surrounding their families' shelters following an intense pre-monsoon wind and rain storm during Ramadan 2018 in Shamlapur Makeshift Settlement, Cox's Bazar district, Bangladesh. © UNICEF/UN0213974/Sokol