The Dhaka Tribune recently visited a number of Rohingya camps during the holy month of Ramadan to learn firsthand about the iftar culture of around 1.2 million sheltered displaced citizens of Myanmar living in Cox’s Bazar
“Iftar-or wakto oiye, ono ra Iftar gori felon,” which can be roughly translated as “It is time for iftar, start having iftar,” is the phrase that is heard in Rohingya camps at sunset, at the moment of breaking the day-long fast in the holy month of Ramadan.
This phrase is commonly used among the Rohingyas for alerting fasting Muslims to take Iftar when it is time.
Male members of the Rohingya community, some waiting in mosques around refugee camps, would begin Iftar after hearing the announcement delivered by Majhis, leaders who represent Rohingyas in each block of a refugee camp.
Meanwhile, Rohingya females and girls have iftar at their shelters after hearing the announcement from Majhis, with food collected from aid providers. But there are many who cannot collect iftar from aid workers, as they live in remote hilly areas in the camps.
Speaking to the Dhaka Tribune, Mohammad Hussein, a resident of Kutupalong refugee camp (camp number 1) said: “At times we are unable to collect iftar packets. So we cook hodgepodge and purchase fruits and dry food such as puffed rice.
“We always have iftar with our family members at our shelters.”
Iftar with a Rohingya family
The Dhaka Tribune recently visited a number of Rohingya camps during the holy month of Ramadan to learn firsthand about the iftar culture of around 1.2 million sheltered displaced citizens of Myanmar living in Cox’s Bazar.
After a military crackdown at Myanmar’s Rakhine in August 25 last year, more than 700,000 Rohingyas, mostly women and children, crossed into Bangladesh with almost nothing but their lives.
The fleeing refugees joined more than 400,000 others, who were already living in squalid and cramped camps in Cox’s Bazar.
A lion’s portion of the Rohingyas is experiencing their Ramadan at the refugee camps of Bangladesh for the first time.
They cannot help but reminisce about the good old times during Ramadan back in their homeland Rakhine.
The correspondent joined a Rohingya family of six members during iftar, at Modhurchara area of Kutupalong camp on Monday.
The head of the family, Abul Bashar (not real name), was suffering from fever. His wife Amena (not real name) and four little children could not go out to collect Iftar from aid agencies or purchase any snacks due to heavy downpour.
“Our tent is quite far from the distribution point. Rain and no electricity for last couple of days have made our lives more difficult,” said Bashar.
Amena added: “We get Iftar packets most of the time, but when we miss it, we prepare iftar with whatever we have in our shelter.”
Amena cooked hodgepodge, a local dish made with boiled of rice and pulse for iftar. They also had a few bananas and dates in stock. The meagre food items must suffice for the family, as they are out of options.
‘We miss our homeland’
A Rohingya housewife named Ayesha, 35, staying at camp number 12 (Moynarghona), told the correspondent: “Alhamdulillah, me and my family can have Iftar together.”
“We collect Iftar packets from distribution points in the camp. We, the women, break our fast by having iftar at our shelter. The men usually have iftar at mosques or distribution centres.”
She continued with grief in her voice: “In Rakhine, we prepared simple dishes for iftar, but we broke fast in the comfort of our own homes. The aid workers provide us with nice iftar items most of the time, but our minds remain full of sadness, because we miss our homeland.
Commenting on the matter, Majhi Lalu Miah from Kutupalong camp said: “We did not face any shortage of food during the month of Ramadan. However, we feel uncomfortable having to spend Ramadan in such displaced conditions.
Snapping back to reality, Lalu Miah pointed out: “Spending the Ramadan here (in Bangladesh) is much better than having to spend it in Myanmar.”
Most Rohingyas prefer to break their fast with their family sitting around them, but most men gather around outdoors for iftar in their respective blocks inside the camp almost every day.
The women however find little opportunity to attend gatherings, as they remain quite busy during the evening with household chores.
Rafiq, a 20-year-old Rohingya youth sheltered in camp number 11 (Balukhali), told the Dhaka Tribune, gatherings for iftar helps them forget the horrors and brutality they faced back in their homelands last year.
Echoing Rafiq’s view, his friend Kala said: “Having iftar together with our people in the camp has helped eased some tension from my mind.”
By observing religious customs before the iftar, such as offering prayers, seeking salvation and blessings from the almighty for loved ones and the ones who died or injured during the carnage, helps the Rohingya Muslim community share their thoughts and problems.
Sermons given by elder members of the community sometimes drive the nostalgic men and women at the camps to tears.
Most of the Iftar items are provided by local and international NGOs in packets. The Rohingyas keep themselves busy with prayers as they seldom have anything to do in the camps.
The Refugee Rehabilitation and Relief Commissioner Abul Kalam told the Dhaka Tribune that the aid agencies are providing adequate food items in boxes for both Iftar and Sehri for more than one million Muslim Rohingyas in this Ramadan.