Observing Ramadan without fear of reprisal is a relatively new concept for the millions of Rohingya refugees living in the sprawling makeshift settlements that have sprung up in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. Before they were chased out of Myanmar's Rakhine State by ethnic violence in 2017, the Muslim minority Rohingya prayed in secret. In Cox's Bazar, mosques have sprung up in the crowded encampments, and no military forces threaten to disrupt their fasting, prayer and study of the Quran.
"It feels good to do that," Jafor Alam told a reporter during Ramadan last year. "Here we can pray."
But observing the holy month of fasting and prayer in a crowded refugee settlement is no simple matter. Refugees complain that there is not enough food available for the evening and early morning meals, at 6:30 PM and 3 AM.
Temperatures climb into the 90s in the daytime, making it difficult to abstain from drinking or eating. There's no electricity to power a fan, and few trees to rest beneath during the hot, humid afternoons. Almost all of the trees have been cut down to build shelters, leaving a sea of plastic tarp-covered structures and little shade.
And yet, despite the hardships, Rohingya refugees in Cox's Bazar are making plans to spend their holy month engaged in prayer, daylight fasting and reading the Quran. "In Myanmar, we were harassed a lot. Mosques were shut down. We weren't allowed to recite the Quran or pray," said Rashed, a Rohingya boy living in Kutupalong Refugee Camp. "To be a good Muslim, you have to learn the Quran and all our Islamic rules like giving alms to the poor so that everyone's equal, all the things Islam tells us to do so that we go to heaven."