Story Syria | 31 March 2024

Syrian Christians explain what life is like during Ramadan


Show: false / Country: Syria / Syria
Each Ramadan—this year, from March 11 to April 8—Christians in Syria brace for a difficult month. The 30-day period is holy for Muslims, marked by fasting from sunrise to sunset. It’s intended to be a time for Muslims to grow closer to God by obeying His commandments, studying the Quran, and seeking after Him—it’s so important that it’s one of the five pillars of Islam.

In many Muslim-majority countries, employers often shorten the work day during Ramadan. This way, people who are up late eating (food is only permitted after sundown, so dinner may extend into the night hours) and up before sunrise for a morning meal can recover and come to work late. Most Christians in Syria try their best to respect their neighbors and communities, so most believers try to only eat and drink indoors where there are no Muslims around.

But during the fast, issues like hunger, thirst and lack of nicotine (Muslims are also required to fast from smoking during Ramadan) can lead to situations where Christians feel ostracized, frustrated and even abused.

Ward*, a 35-year-old Christian woman from Aleppo, Syria, works at an office job. “For me, Ramadan is the month of getting into fights and being insulted by my manager,” she says. “When he fasts, he also struggles with his addiction to cigarettes. He often comes to my office and picks a fight with me over nothing. Anything can set off an outburst of anger.”

With no way to predict her manager’s actions, Ward says she tries to anticipate everything so she might have a day without having to listen to his harsh words.

Ward describes last Ramadan as a whole month of disrespect, where she was subjected to different kinds of verbal and physical pressures. She was not able to drink or eat and, at the same time, she was overloaded with work because the employer claimed that “the people who are not fasting can handle the work.”

The harsh treatment doesn’t stop there. Companies often give employees a bonus before the holiday breaking the fast of Ramadan, Eid al-Fitr—it’s like a Christmas bonus in many other countries. But in Ward’s case, she didn’t receive a bonus last year and when she asked why she was denied her bonus, she was bluntly told, “it’s prohibited to give al-Fitr money to infidels!”

But Ward has been at her job for several years now and doesn’t see any point in leaving since the situation would likely be the same elsewhere. “Since the majority of people in Syria are Muslims, it is utopian to think that I would be able to find a workplace without these kinds of incidents,” she says. “If you want to live here, you need to ignore it and let it pass.”

Reem*, a 25-year-old Christian woman from Damascus, shares the same view. “Most of my classmates and neighbors are Muslims, so it is what it is,” she says. “We [Christians] need to pay attention to our behavior during this month."

But that caution is not always easy. Reem remembers one Ramadan when she a forgot and drank water while walking down the street. Immediately, she saw people around her glaring at her. “I bowed my head and hurried away from the witnesses of my forbidden act,” she recalls. “One man couldn’t let it slip. When I passed him, he mumbled the Quran verse: ‘If you are tested and have fallen sinful, then hide and do not show off with your sins!’”

Reem’s mother once had a similar experience when she purchased some food supplies at the beginning of Ramadan. “She was buying spices in the old market in Damascus without realizing that Ramadan had started,” Reem says. “She took a little of the cumin and tasted it, and that made the seller so angry he refused to sell her any.”

Stores where people can buy ingredients for the evening meal tend to open after prayer in the middle of the day. Restaurants open about half an hour before sundown and stay open till after midnight to accommodate those who are fasting.

“What I miss the most during Ramadan is the smell of freshly brewed coffee in the morning and enjoying a cup while responding to emails,” says Reem, who looks forward to her morning cup of coffee at work.

But Sarah*, a 21-year-old Christian university student from Aleppo, has a different experience of Ramadan—though it isn’t an experience that Islamic religious leaders would appreciate! “I love Ramadan a lot,” she says. “During this month, I feel special because some of my Muslim university friends would only hang out with me. They can eat and drink around me without the condemning looks of their fellow Muslim students.”

The experience of the holy month of Ramadan can vary for Syrian Christians from city to city and even from one neighborhood to another. It all depends on how strict the majority of the people are.
But regardless of where they live or how intense the pressure is, Syrian Christians have no choice but to be reminded of how different they are this month. So, we can stand with them in prayer, and remind them they belong to a global Body! Pray for this month of Ramadan. Pray for any Christians who might get into conflict with strict Muslims. Pray for the Muslims who are fasting and searching for God, that they might have an encounter with Jesus, the one who loves them—who lived, died and rose again for them.

*Name changed to protect identity