The beginning of the holy month of Ramadan last week hopes to provide a turning point for Raqqa in its long-term rehabilitation from more than three years of oppressive rule under ISIS and war.
Between 2014 and 2017, the Muslim residents of Raqqa City, in northeastern Syria, were forced to observe the holy month of Ramadan under the oppressive rule of ISIS. During this period, militants had priority access to fresh food and clean water supplies, leaving many of the city’s residents to rely on bread and often contaminated water.
The deliberate diversion of food and water supplies away from the city’s population meant that Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr, the celebration at the end of the month, were not a cause for commemoration during the period of ISIS rule.
In addition, the militants continued to carry out their violent and archaic punishments on the city’s residents throughout Ramadan and often arrested and punished anybody caught breaking their fast early or not participating in the five daily prayers.
“They forced us to perform group prayers,” said a bakery owner in the city. “They came and searched my shop and found a small child not praying. They asked who is the owner? I said me, so they took me to jail, they locked me up for three days and closed my shop for 15 days. They also gave me 40 lashes.”
Despite the difficulties the city and its population have experienced over the last four years, there is hope amongst people that Ramadan 2018, as well as Eid al-Fitr, will provide a positive turning point in the redevelopment and rehabilitation of the city.
Ramadan has already provided Raqqa with an economic revival, even as much of the city still lies in ruins as a result of the fleeing militant’s scorched earth tactics. Shops and restaurants have reopened in partially destroyed buildings and market stalls line the city’s high streets, providing Raqqa’s residents, whether they are participating in Ramadan or not, with a reliable source of fresh produce.
For many, this year’s Ramadan provides a sense of normality and resilience in a city that has experience more than three years of brutal oppression and war.