05 April 2024

Christians in Iraq share their struggles during Ramadan

As Ramadan comes to an end (8 April), Christians from Iraq share their struggles during the Islamic month of fasting and prayer. 

A man buys fruit at a market stall in Iraq

Ahmed's friend was threatened by police for drinking water in a market (illustrative image)

Ahmed’s* Muslim family knows that he attends church and reads the Bible, but he hasn’t yet told them he’s a Christian – and that makes life at home difficult for him during Ramadan. “After becoming a believer in Jesus Christ, I don’t fast during Ramadan, and this is where I am pressured not to eat in front of them. When I eat, I am usually accused: ‘Why are you eating? Aren’t you fasting?’” 

Many Christians coming from a Muslim background, like Ahmed, feel forced to take part in all Ramadan rituals, because if their family finds out about them becoming Christians, they might kick them out of the home, disown them, or worse. 

And it’s not just at home, Ahmed explains. “When I am out with friends, I feel as if we are besieged by all the others around us. I’m pressured with not being able to eat, neither in my home nor outside in public places.” 

Food is one challenge; the other is Islamic prayer. “Why don’t you pray? Is there any problem with the prayer?” is a question he often gets. Ahmed usually responds with, “I can’t,” or “I’m busy, I have something to do.”  

Christians more obvious during Ramadan  

For Christians living in Christian-majority communities in Iraq, Ramadan is not so much of a challenge. But those spaces are dwindling; the Christian population has depleted to around 200,000 from one million over the last decade due to war and persecution.  

While Muslims are fasting, Christians in predominantly Muslim neighbourhoods often face a lot of pressure and restrictions at school, work, out shopping and even when spending time out with friends. To avoid this pressure, Ahmed joins his friend from church and they eat together at his house. 

Believers become more recognisable during Ramadan too; with Muslims starting work later and shops opening in the afternoon, Christians who are going about their daily routine are noticed more. The Interior Minister of Iraq has issued a set of restrictions for shop and restaurant opening times. “When you go to pick up your order from a restaurant, you receive this attacking gaze from Muslim people who might be next to or opposite to such restaurants,” explains Ahmed. 

Threatened by the police 

In some neighbourhoods, it’s not just your friends or family who question you, but the police too. Ahmed shares about an incident he witnessed: “Some people went inside a shop, bought water and drank. The police took them to the police station and asked them to sign a pledge that they won’t break their fasting in public anymore – and, if they do, they will go to prison next time.” 

Ahmed’s friend David* once felt sick when out shopping and drank some water. The police approached him calling him an ‘apostate’ and were prepared to take him to prison. It was only when David showed his work badge to the police to prove he worked somewhere important that they left him alone. 

Ahmed has seen so many of these situations that he tries to avoid confrontation at all costs. “You should be very careful; find a place to drink or eat where no one is and no one can see, especially when you’re out. When people are around, even if you’re thirsty to death, don’t try to drink because something else will happen.” 

Students: “We can’t even buy water” 

Even Christians who were raised in a Christian family are prone to pressures coming from their Muslim peers at work, school, university or in public places. Fanar*, a university student, says, “They close all university cafeterias during the month of Ramadan, so we can’t even buy water.”  

Many Christian students are hungry and thirsty as they study, work on projects and do exams. “[Muslims] get upset if we eat or drink in front of them, and they tell us ‘You can’t eat when we are fasting’,” Fanar adds. 

Milad*, another student, explains that some of his Muslim peers perpetuate a more extremist ideology – a legacy of the years when many areas were being controlled by so-called Islamic State (IS). “They still have the thinking of IS,” he says. “Once, someone in the middle of a lecture called me ‘Nazarene.’” IS marked many of the houses of Christians with ن , the Arabic letter ‘N’, which indicated that Christians (‘Nazarenes’) were living in the house, in order to target them. 

Thank you for praying for Christians during Ramadan – please continue to uphold believers in Iraq and across the Middle East in prayer. 

*Names changed for security reasons

Please pray
  • For Ahmed, David, Fanar and Milad, that God will protect them and minister through them to their Muslim friends and family
  • That Christians in Iraq will be able to meet together and find safe places to eat and drink during Ramadan
  • That the Iraqi church’s witness will draw more Muslims to Christ.
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