Many of us take this month for granted – the fact that we can fast (as we’ve been commanded to do), perform taraweeh, and do all the other, communal things that come packaged with this ‘month of the ummah’.
But while we have it easy – while we have this freedom – our brothers and sisters in some places are being subjected to tremendous oppression – in that they are actively discouraged, or even banned, from fulfilling these great Ramadan activities.
For example, take the Muslim majority country of Tajikstan – whose secular government has banned Muslim youth from the masajid. This legacy of the country’s former Soviet rulers – who banned and punished the practicing of religion – also includes the government imposing sermons on imams to deliver at mosques – publishing a collection of 52 sermons that must be preached during the weekly Friday prayers. Additionally, a government campaign includs the arrest of men with beards, and ordering them to shave. All this in the name of countering “religious extremism”. For more info on the Tajikstan situation, see this article.
Another example is the plight of the Uighur Muslims in the Chinese region of Xinjiang. Chinese Muslims already face severe restrictions, but Muslim members of the government throughout Xinjiang must sign “letters of responsibility” promising to avoid fasting, taraweeh, and other religious activities. The Communist government says “Party members are not allowed to fast for Ramadan, and neither are civil servants.” Other individuals are allowed – as it’s a “traditional ethnic custom” – according to the government – but they aren’t allowed to hold any religious activities during Ramadan.
With regard to Muslims working for private companies, while there isn’t an outright ban, there are still consequences. Uighur Muslim employees are offered lunches during fasting hours; and anyone who refuses to eat could lose their annual bonus, or even their job – according to one account.
And schoolkids and the youth are also not free. Officials target Muslim schoolchildren, providing them with free lunches during the fasting period. Another report, from an Uighur resident ofBeijing, said that students under 18 are forbidden from fasting during Ramadan.
For more info on the Uighur situation, see this article.
These are just two examples of political oppression – but there may be others. And in addition, there are Muslims in other places that are being deprived of a ‘normal’ (in our sense) Ramadan by other issues – poverty, famine, war, and more.
So while we enjoy our Ramadan and attempt to draw closer to Allah through fasting, taraweeh, and everything good that the month brings, let’s stop to feel the pain, try to help, and at least make dua for our suffering brothers and sisters in other parts of the world.
And let’s appreciate the religious freedom we have, while we have it. Because if we don’t, we may lose it, and then we’ll look back to these times of freedom with fondness and longing – but without the ability to practice and enjoy our religion the way we are able to right now.