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As Ramadan Begins, Muslim Migrants Welcomed At Belgrade Mosque


We're also following this story. Thousands of Muslims in Europe are in the middle of a difficult journey. They've left their homes in the Middle East to escape war, and they're on this journey as Ramadan begins today. It's the holy month when Muslims fast from dawn until dusk. NPR's Ari Shapiro has been in the Balkans reporting on the mass migration to Europe. And in Serbia's capital, he discovered how some are observing Ramadan in a difficult year.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: In the basement of the only mosque in Belgrade, Anisa Salikovic is getting for a big meal. Tonight is the first Iftar of the year, the feast breaking the Ramadan fast after the sun goes down late at night.

ANISA SALIKOVIC: (Through interpreter) We're having bean and lamb stew. There will be some soup, sweets and a few other things we still haven't decided yet.

SHAPIRO: She's expecting 50 or 60 people from the community and maybe lots more. Every day, busloads of new migrants show up here in Belgrade - tired and hungry people from Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. Many of them are Muslim. And on this first night of Ramadan, indeed every night for the next month, they will be welcome here.

SALIKOVIC: (Through interpreter) My principle is that I should always make more food than we need just to be on the safe side.

SHAPIRO: We walk from the kitchen into the cavernous basement room where the meal will be served. Moedib Sahinovic is a member of this community. He says refugees should come here for the food...

MOEDIB SAHINOVIC: But not only service for food. We must be human being. I must listen to the guy. Who are you? Where is your family? What is happening in, I don't know, Syria, Afghanistan? People have a need to speak with me about everything. And that is most important, I think.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Praying in foreign language).

SHAPIRO: As afternoon prayers begin at the mosque, a bus pulls up to a park a few blocks away.

OMID BAYAT: Just a few minutes ago, I arrived here. Maybe 10 minutes, I came here.

SHAPIRO: Omid Bayat is 21 years old. He's from the city of Herat in Afghanistan. He's been traveling for the last month with eight other Afghan men. Someone stole their bags, so they are now traveling with literally nothing.

BAYAT: It was a long journey.

SHAPIRO: He's been through Iran, Turkey, Greece, Macedonia and now Serbia, and the journey is not over yet. I ask what the start of Ramadan means to him.

BAYAT: When I think fast, it means I can aware that the poor people. How are they living in the bad situations?

SHAPIRO: He seems not to include himself as one of the poor people in those bad situations. The only time his sunny disposition breaks is when I ask about his family. They are still in Afghanistan. Across the park, Abdel Hamid has a similar reaction. He's a 23-year-old medical student from Syria.

Tomorrow, Ramadan begins.

ABDEL HAMID: Yes, (laughter), yes.

SHAPIRO: Why do you laugh when you say that?

HAMID: Because every year with our family in Ramadan.

SHAPIRO: But not this year?

HAMID: But now I'm here.

SHAPIRO: That must be very difficult.

HAMID: It's very difficult.

SHAPIRO: Is your family in Syria?


SHAPIRO: Have you been able to talk to them?

HAMID: My family between ISIS, between the government, bombs.

SHAPIRO: They must be happy to know that you are safe, that you are here, that you are in Europe.

HAMID: But I - every time, I thinking about them. Sorry.

SHAPIRO: No, I'm sorry.

At the mosque, a local named Zaki Saltaf knows that he cannot provide everything these migrants need. Their families are thousands of miles away. Their homes are destroyed. But at least he can give them food, no matter how many of them show up here to eat.

ZAKI SALTAF: Sometimes, we who prepare this meal, we don't eat from it because we give our meal to the other people.

SHAPIRO: He says Ramadan is the one time of the year he feels the physical pain of hunger that others feel all year long. Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Belgrade, Serbia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.
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