Ramadan is upon us once again. Here is what happens during the holy month.
Kabo, Central African Republic – Tidjiana Abotor is wearing a long white thobe and sitting in the shade of a wooden shed close to the Chadian border with the Central African Republic (CAR). The 54-year-old, like many of the 2,600 Muslims living at this camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs), hasn’t had anything to eat or drink since dawn. He is observing the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Fasting here is very different to when I was living in Bangui. Here, there is a shortage of food, and I am just anxious all the time.
Since May 27, hundreds of millions of Muslims around the world have been fasting from sunrise to sunset.
“We are fasting, but when it is time to eat, we just don’t have enough food for everyone,” Abotor says.
Many of the residents of this IDP camp, about 3km outside the small town of Kabo, have been displaced since 2014.
Abotor fled the PK5 district of CAR’s capital, Bangui, during the height of the blockade of the largely Muslim district by mainly Christian Anti-balaka fighters. He went to Chad as a refugee in January 2014 and returned to CAR in June 2016, ending up at the Kabo camp.
Another resident of the camp, Kaltoum Oumar, 45, left a district close to PK5 in 2014 after her husband was killed by Anti-balaka forces. She first sought refuge in the PK12 district of the city, before taking up an offer from the International Organisation of Migration (IOM) to move to the camp in Kabo. She is observing a third Ramadan in a camp and is struggling to get used to it.
“Fasting here is very different to when I was living in Bangui. Here, there is a shortage of food, and I am just anxious all the time,” Oumar says, adjusting her purple scarf as she speaks.
“I do it because it is an order from God,” she adds. “And I use this time to pray that the situation will change.”
The winter’s sun scalds the open fields cleared by the displaced. Men, looking to escape the dry heat, congregate under the shade of a few remaining trees in what was once a forest. Women emerge from their huts made of branches and leaves to start the evening stove. Children kick, dance and chase each other in the sand; their playful cries contrast the otherwise sullen mood.
“We have nothing to do. We just sit, and wait for the day to pass,” Abotor says.
Over the past eight months, residents of the camp say they have received just two rations of food that typically last a month each.
A representative from World Food Programme (WFP) told Al Jazeera that the UN agency has had problems over the past year delivering aid to those most in need in the area. “It has been dangerous to get our trucks here following attacks on humanitarians, and the roads are so poor that many of [the] trucks have broken down,” Cyridion Usengumuremyi, the head of the sub-regional office of the WFP, said.
“And then there has been a shortage of supplies … we are hoping to mend it,” he added.
The shortage of food at the camp is emblematic of the food and humanitarian crisis facing the country. Sporadic flare-ups in towns and villages, often between different armed groups, has pushed 25 percent of the population out of their homes, either as refugees or IDPs. According to the United Nations, at least 50 percent of CAR’s population is in need of humanitarian assistance and food aid. And while civilians of all religious persuasions have suffered, it has been the Muslim minority that has endured incessant persecution.
Following the removal of President Francois Bozize in a 2013 coup by Muslim-led Seleka rebels, for many, the Muslim community became synonymous with the armed group. They subsequently became targets for a vigilante group called the Anti-balaka, made up mostly of Christians. The Anti-balaka embarked on a series of revenge attacks on Muslims for the crimes committed by the Seleka.
While Bangui has been made relatively secure by the presence of UN troops, the countryside remains fully under the control of armed groups.
Thousands of Muslims remain in camps across the country. They refuse to return to their homes, claiming insecurity as their main concern.
In Bangassou, more than 150 people were killed and thousands displaced after Anti-balaka fighters attacked the community in mid-May. At least 1,500 Muslims remain trapped in a Catholic church in the town.
Imam Daoud Abdoulaye is a resident of the camp and says that despite the fact that the conflict has taken on a religious dimension, that isn’t reflected in the camp.
But fasting is a requirement of all Muslims, whether you have or food not, means or no means. It's the intention that counts.
“We don’t have problems between Muslims and Christian. We also have Christians here … we know religion was used for political reasons,” he says.
Oumar says the ongoing difficulties at the camp have left an indelible mark on the children here.
“The lack of food had also made life very hard. They are not going to school. There is nothing normal for them here,” Oumar says, her forehead creasing as she emphasises her point.
Residents depend on the kindness of the surrounding villages, made up of both Christians and Muslims, for food.
In the evening, they gather to break their fast, often with rice or cassava and a cup of tea. If some of the women are able to find vegetables in the fields, they might have sweet potatoes.
But Abdoulaye says that fasting has little to do with being rich or poor.
“If you are old, or sick, yes, you don’t need to fast. But fasting is a requirement of all Muslims, whether you have or food not, means or no means.
“It’s the intention that counts,” the Imam, dressed in a dark brown thobe and draped in a black and white keffiyeh, says softly.