FOR Asnorah Omar and Evan Lee Biaco, internally displaced persons (IDPs) from Marawi, fasting is still obligatory -- even if they have been chased away from their hometown and have lost their houses because of the siege on May 23 last year.
Asnorah and Evan Lee were able to graduate this year with the degree Bachelor of Secondary Education major in English in RC - Al Khwarizmi International College Foundation, a private college in downtown Marawi that has setup a satellite campus in Iligan during the siege.
Despite losing her home and her family’s livelihood, Even Lee — a mother, a wife, and a student – was able to graduate Magna Cum Laude with several awards. Currently, she and her family are staying in Balo-i, Lanao del Norte. Asnorah is staying in Iligan City while her parents are in Marantao, Lanao del Sur.
Ramadhan is part of the five pillars of Islam. It is also the 9th month of the Islamic calendar where Muslims fast from dawn to sunset for 29 to 30 days. The practice teaches them tolerance and perseverance.
People exempted from fasting are children, the aged, pregnant, diabetic, chronically ill, menstruating, breast feeding, or travelling individuals. It may possibly exempt those who were forced to flee from their land and are homeless, but even if Asnorah and Evan Lee still cannot return to return to Marawi, they continue to fulfill their obligation to fast and pray.
“Our responsibilities as Muslims ay hindi namin pinabayaan (were not neglected), nag fasting parin kami at nag pray five times a day (we still fasted and prayed five times a day) and also we realized that Almighty Allah is the only source of peace. We believed that everything happens for a reason, and we know he has a better plan for us,” Asnorah shared.
“Ramadhan is very important for our soul and also for our health,” she added, adding the health benefits of fasting like how it prevents cancer.
“Ang Muslim kinahanglan ma celebrate niya ang Ramadhan bisag unsay mahitabo. Ang importante, kumpleto ang family dayon sabay-sabay mag-pray (A Muslim should still celebrate Ramadhan whatever happens. What’s important is the family is complete and that we are able to pray together as a family,” Evan Lee shared.
How their Ramadhan used to be
To most Muslims, Ramadhan is best celebrated when the family is together; in the place most familiar to the believer. Evan Lee shared how comfortable their lives used to be in Marawi where they lived near their relatives.
“Ang Ramadhan namo sa una kay nindot kaayo kay naa me sa among balay jud dayon komportable kaau mi. During sa buka (breaking of fast) sa Maghrib (call to prayer) daghan meg ma prepare para sa pagkaon kay wala pa mi nawalae ug negosyo ug kwarta (Our Ramadhan in our days in Marawi used to be really great because we were in our house where it is very comfortable. We used to be able to prepare a lot of food for the buka (breaking of the fast) after the Maghrib (call of prayer) because we still haven’t lost our business and much money,” Evan Lee said.
Her family used to own a beverage retail store located at the Ground Zero.
She also shared that preparing for the fast was also a small form of festivity for them, like the Christians’ Christmas. Her family used to have fun buying new Muknas (clothes for prayer), kitchen utensils that would be used to cook food and desserts for Suhor (food eaten before sunrise) and Iftar (food eaten after sunset), and other needed items. They would also clean and decorate the house together.
“Inig alas tressa buntag, magluto nami para sa fasting. Wala me laing buhaton kundili mag pray, [dayun] matulog [pag human] (By 3am, we would rise and start cooking for the fast. After that, we need only to pray, then go to sleep afterwards,” she added. Muslims need plenty of rest since they have work during the day with no food nor water to sustain them, that is why they sleep after dawn prayer until it is time to leave the house for work or school.
Difficulties in performing their duties
This year’s Ramadhan had started on May 17. Like last year, even if they still have not returned to their land, Asnorah and Evan Lee continue their piety.
Last year, Asnorah said Ramadhan for her last year was very difficult because of the loss of their home and family business and that the war had brought them a lot of problems, causing them emotional instability.
"Actually, one of the effects of the siege sa akin ay na extend yung graduation naming supposedly mag graduate sana kami on October (Actually, the siege caused my graduation, which was supposed to be on October 2017, to get delayed)," she said.
Still, the difficulties did not hinder her family from performing her duties. She said that they found peace amidst the confusion from Allah through prayers.
“Dati sagana kami sa pagkain at may financial stability. Alhamdullilah (thank God), sa awa ni Allah ay unti-unti narin kami tumatayo mula sa aming pag bagsak noon. Basta manalig at mag tiwala ka lang sa kanya, sigurado ako na tutulungan ka niya (We used to have abundant rood and stable finances before the siege. But Alhamdullilah (thank God), because Allah had mercy on us, we are gradually recovering from the fall of our state because of the siege. Just keep your faith and trust in God, He will surely help you,” she continued.
Evan Lee said that it is much uncomfortable to live in a house that is not their own, much harder if you need to perform some religious duties, but she believes that she has to perfect her fasting and complete the days required of doing so.
“Kung akoy pangutan-on, mas maayu jud ang pagfasting kung komportable ka para ma-perform jud ug tarong ang Ramadhan (If I had to say something about fasting, it is still better if you do it in the place and condition where you are most comfortable in for you to perform your duties well,” she said.
Prayers this Ramadhan: Peace, strength, and restoration
This Ramadhan, many Muslims who have lost their homes, properties, and livelihoods are praying for their lives to get back on track and for them to get new homes.
Evan Lee said she also prays for the whole Muslim community to not lose faith despite what had happened, but instead, allow the trials to make them stronger.
“Dili unta nila himuong rason nga dili na praktison ang pagka-Muslim tungod sa siege, kondili mas muhugot pa ilang faith. (I pray that the siege won’t become an excuse for Muslims give up their duties as Muslims, but for their faith to become firmer.”
As for the home they have lost, “Unta, tanang nawala sa amoa, naay ilis nga kaayuhan, ug unta magmalinawon ang among lugar (I hope that everything we have lost in the war would be replaced with goodness. I also hope that our city would become peaceful.”
Asnorah prays for Allah’s protection and blessing to the country. “Even though the war in Marawi has ended, the city is now left like a ghost town. Homes and buildings are destroyed. So our wish for this coming Ramadan ay ang muling pag bangon ng Marawi City.
“[Sana’y] maibalik ang dating kasiyahan at kapayapaan sa aming lugar, at umaasa kami sa tulong ng ating goberno lalo na sa mahal natin President (I hope that the former happiness and peace in our city would return. We also hope for help from our government, especially from our dear president),” Asnorah said.