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Muslims prepare for a more somber Ramadan due to the Israel-Hamas war

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

Muslims around the world are preparing for the holy month of Ramadan, which is about to begin. It's a time of fasting, feasting and charity meant to bring people closer to God. But as NPR religion correspondent Jason DeRose reports, the Israel-Hamas war is leaving many Muslims in the U.S. feeling unable to truly celebrate.

JASON DEROSE, BYLINE: Intricate red and black embroidered cloth covers walls, the floor, even throw pillows in Hedab Tarifi's living room.

HEDAB TARIFI: All these embroideries are traditional of Palestine.

DEROSE: Tarifi was born in Gaza and raised there and in Kuwait. She moved here to the Los Angeles area more than three decades ago. She walks over to a framed drawing on the sideboard.

TARIFI: This is a very old map. The word Palestine is on it. You probably see the signs and the symbols of Palestine everywhere in my house.

DEROSE: The Israel-Hamas war has affected her deeply since it began. More than 31,000 Gazans have been killed, according to health officials there, following the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel that killed more than 1,200. The suffering is especially changing her usually joyful mood toward Ramadan.

TARIFI: It's not like any other Ramadans that I've lived through, and I've lived through tough Ramadans before.

DEROSE: Like during the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and the Gulf War that followed. She says this year, she's especially mindful of how her hunger during daytime fasting will be different from hunger in Gaza, where food is difficult to come by.

TARIFI: God tells us that fasting is for him. So we usually fast to get closer to God, knowing that God is accepting our fasting and God will reward us. It was heartbreaking for me to see parents were fasting for their children to have food.

DEROSE: In addition to fasting, Muslims also give to charity during Ramadan, says Hussam Ayloush, who heads the Council on American-Islamic Relations in California.

HUSSAM AYLOUSH: One of the exercises meant in Islam by God during the month of Ramadan is to teach us to feel empathy towards those who have less privileges than we have.

DEROSE: Ayloush is pained by how the war is affecting Muslims' ability to live out this pillar of the faith.

AYLOUSH: No matter how much we raise, whether it's millions and hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of food and drinks, it is almost impossible to get it into Gaza.

RANIA SBAITA: So we went to a march in San Francisco to join the West Coast contingency of a national march for Palestine.

DEROSE: Rania Sbaita's black sweatshirt has the phrase Gaza, soul of my soul, printed on it in white. She holds up the placard she made for the rally in Northern California a few weeks ago.

SBAITA: My sign says, from Shuja'iyya - which is the neighborhood that my family is from in central Gaza - to San Francisco, we stand with Palestine.

DEROSE: Rania's cultural pride, she says, comes from her father, Marwan Sbaita. His whole family shares another emotion this Ramadan.

MARWAN SBAITA: We are consumed with sadness. We are overwhelmed with somber moods.

DEROSE: Usually during the holy month, he'd call relatives in central Gaza to talk about what they were eating that night to celebrate. But he hasn't been able to reach his aunts and uncles and cousins in weeks, and he knows their hunger is fundamentally different.

SBAITA: They will not have a meal, so it shatter me. When I eat, when it's time to break my fast, I'll be taking bites with a great deal of pain, sorrow, suffering, agony, and consumed with guilt.

DEROSE: Guilt that he can't do more to help, and sorrow that his loved ones this year won't experience the joy of Ramadan.

Jason DeRose, NPR News, Los Angeles. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Jason DeRose is the Western Bureau Chief for NPR News, based at NPR West in Culver City. He edits news coverage from Member station reporters and freelancers in California, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Alaska and Hawaii. DeRose also edits coverage of religion and LGBTQ issues for the National Desk.
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