The ultimate best place on Earth to spend the holy month of Ramadan is — without a doubt — the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. First and foremost, it is home to the two Holy Mosques and secondly there is a mosque in every neighborhood for all Muslims to attend the night prayer and listen to the heartwarming verses of the Qur’an that ease the mind, heart and soul.
As for the availability and variety of Ramadan foods in the Kingdom, our only problem lies in deciding which delicious soup to make, or which refreshing juice to prepare, or where to dine out, or which sweet desserts to buy.
Not far from the Kingdom is Syria, a war-torn land, where our brethren are scavenging for food to prepare a meager meal to break their fast with.
To gain an insight of what an average Syrian goes through every day, Saudi Gazette conducted an exclusive interview with the Syrian Community in Jeddah, a non-profit charity organization.
To begin to grasp the scope of the crisis in a city like Homs, for example, we need to understand that the homes of 800,000 civilians in that city were destroyed during the previous military shelling by the Syrian government.
This inconceivable number of people fled for their lives carrying only their young and the clothes on their bodies. They are now either refugees in the camps on the borders or are hiding out in farms and rural villages or are staying with relatives who still have homes standing.
“The schools in Homs have been converted into homeless shelters for families and each school contains 200 to 300 inhabitants. And Al-Assad has made sure that this tragedy takes place in almost every Syrian city. In Homs, approximately 60 percent of its infrastructure and buildings have been shattered into rubble,” said Muhammad Al-Masri, public relations director of the organization.
The Syrian Community here in Jeddah communicates on a daily basis with their trusted contacts in Syria to determine the needs of the people and figure out possible logistics to deliver humanitarian aid to them, such as, medicines, food baskets containing dates, lentils, pasta, rice, oil, and infant formula, along with clothes and abayas for women.
“Due to the scarcity of fresh fruits and vegetables and the inflation of prices of whatever is available, the only viable nutritional option for the average person in Syria is bread and biscuits. The wealthy women whose homes have been unscathed are volunteering to cook large pots of nutritious meals to be distributed during Iftar time to schools that have now become home to hundreds of Syrians.
“Even for these affluent, generous, and brave women, their task is challenging because they too suffer electricity outages and water shortages for an average of sixteen hours a day and it is not easy to procure luxuries such as meat or vegetables, or even lemons. They risk their own lives and safety by roaming the streets to carry food to the hungry, but they are doing it without fail every day in Ramadan,” said Omar Numan, board member of the Syrian Community in Saudi Arabia.
There are only a few Mosques left intact in Homs to offer the night prayer and the worshipers pray in fear.
As for the lives of the heroic men in the Free Syrian Army — the story is completely different. The soldiers in Homs must remain on the look-out 24 hours a day to protect their women and children from Al-Assad’s looters, murderers, and rapists.
Mahmoud Taghlebi, president of the Syrian Community in Saudi Arabia told Saudi Gazette, “I have a dear friend who joined the honorable Free Syrian Army a couple of months ago.
“The last time I spoke to him on the phone he asked me to guess what he was desperately craving for during Ramadan. I assumed that it was the baklava pastries that we Syrians are so famous for or the mouth-watering kunafa stuffed with rich cream. My friend astonishingly replied that he was wishing for a fresh juicy cucumber or tomato.”
Hearing such heartbreaking stories, seeing the horrific scenes on the news, and listening to the cries of the innocent children could devastate, shock, and immobilize most men, but not these active and optimistic young men living here who have managed to keep their spirits high in order to serve their people back.
The twenty board members work closely together and share a strong bond. The organization’s activities are sponsored entirely by volunteers and charitable donations.
The charitable Syrian community recently launched a campaign to send volunteers to busy traffic intersections in major cities of the Kingdom and offer hurried motorists a simple Iftar meal. They also have volunteers at the two Holy Mosques who smile while giving Iftar meals, and request for prayers.
“With each bag of dates, water, and yogurt, we give passers-by a small booklet of a short supplication for our suffering brothers and sisters in Syria. The main goal behind this campaign is to gain the rewards in the Hereafter by providing dates and a drink for a fasting Muslim, who for some reason are caught in the traffic.
“Second, we aim to spread awareness about what is going on in Syria. We are also confident that a Muslim is granted a wish the moment he/she breaks the fast and we hope that Allah will answer our prayers for victory for the Syrian people at this sacred hour. The feedback from the Saudi community has been amazing. When I was volunteering, one elderly Saudi man, judging from my accent realized I was a Syrian, immediately raised his hands and started supplicating for our people even before I could ask something from him,” said Taghlebi.
Most of the activities organized by the Syrian community in the Kingdom are humanitarian in nature, but at the same time they serve a recreational and social purpose — bring Syrians together and alleviate the consuming sadness over their losses. They have planned community Iftars with lectures, folklore songs, communal prayers, and festivities and drawing contests for young children.