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Lantern that have 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 Kareem.
Refugees welcome

Celebrating Ramadan in the UK for the first time

Photo: Getty/Baramyou0708

28 years old Sahib* arrived in the UK with his family last year after fleeing Afghanistan in August. Since settling in the South East of the UK, Sahib* has been supported by  IRC’s integration programming. This month, Sahib*, his wife and their two daughters are celebrating Ramadan in the UK for the first time. He writes about his experience for the IRC. 

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 10 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.

Sahib's daughter playing with her toys in our new home in South East England.

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

Photo: Sahib* home photo

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 favourite way to break the fast is by eating dates. 

Sahib's Iftar meal

My Iftar meal. From left to right in English and Pashto: A cultural drink anf it is called refresher of the soul in English and in Pashto it is called ‘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: Sahib* home photo

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. 

Refugee Integration in the South East 

Refugee Integration in Southeast England (RISE) skills refugees in the UK with the knowledge they need to navigate their community and become self-sufficient. The IRC works with local communities to help them be better equipped to support the integration of local refugees, and we support all refugees — including women — to actively access opportunities in their local areas.

Our Donor

This project is part-funded by the EU Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF), making management of migration flows more efficient across the European Union and Khalsa Aid International.

AMIF in the UK is administered by the UK Responsible Authority (UKRA). The funding was allocated under the EU’s 2014 to 2020 multiannual financial framework (MFF), which will conclude at the end of 2022.

Khalsa Aid International is a U.K.-based humanitarian relief organisation providing support worldwide to victims of natural and man-made disasters. Founded in 1999 on the Sikh principle of recognising the whole human race as one, Khalsa Aid has provided crucial humanitarian aid to millions of people around the world through its Emergency Relief Projects and Global Development Programmes.