Religious holidays of Syrian refugees attached to new milieu; abandoned by necessity

Syrians in Turkish Istanbul city exchange congratulations in Eid al-Fitr at al-Fatih Mosque, April 21, 2023 (Enab Baladi/Yousef Humms)

Syrians in Turkish Istanbul city exchange congratulations in Eid al-Fitr at al-Fatih Mosque, April 21, 2023 (Enab Baladi/Yousef Humms)


Enab Baladi – Hussam al-Mahmoud

When the Syrians left their country to countries of asylum, they carried with them the customs and lifestyles in which they grew up. The similarity of the environment and social life between Syria and Turkey allowed the refugees there to practice some of their social rituals, especially those related to special occasions that are a common denominator between the two cultures.

During the last month of Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr, the Syrians were able to live in an atmosphere close to their own, as Turkey pays clear attention to religious occasions and their accompanying rituals.

However, this did not prevent the impossibility of practicing some social customs and traditions due to the different circumstances imposed by life and the new demographic composition of which they became a part.

The Syrians engaged in specific preparations for Eid al-Fitr, in line with their customs, each according to his ability.

Ayham has been living with his family of three in Istanbul, away from relatives and the big family, for years, but this distance does not prevent him from recalling the old Eid rituals, such as preparing some sweets at home, whatever the quantity, to restore the previous feelings of the activities that were taking place in the presence of the whole family.

“We miss the gathering of family and loved ones. We are here without family at all,” Ayham added, pointing at the same time to the family’s preference for preparing sweets on the night before Eid al-Fitr, although guests’ visits are very limited, but the idea is summed up for people to sense the atmosphere.

Ali, head of a family of four, agrees with Ayham’s point of view, as he indicated in an interview with Enab Baladi that he lacks family visits, kinship ties, and the social atmosphere in his village.

“In Istanbul, the holiday may pass without me or anyone visiting me, and due to work conditions, I may not be able to enjoy the occasion,” Ali said.

He pointed out the absence of the state of joy that used to push people to prepare weeks ago, in contrast to the current time in which families intensify their preparations a few days before Eid al-Fitr.

Regarding the importance of these rituals and their meaning for the family, Ali explained that his focus on these habits is increasing so that his young children realize the value of these occasions and atmospheres and that they also become part of their habits when they grow up.

The family also does not prepare a lot of sweets and what can be offered to the guests due to the scarcity or absence of guests, which is a situation that is different from what was the case in Syria.

The family prepares some types of sweets at home and buys different types of chocolate, candy, and oriental sweets from the market.

Among the customs that Ali also misses is visiting cemeteries after the Eid prayer to read Surat al-Fatihah to the departed loved ones, then returning to the house of the head of the family, where everyone meets and eats breakfast together.

Living conditions govern celebrations

In addition to emigration, distance from the family, and the absence of a social milieu for some, material circumstances may prevent the ability to keep up with the celebration habits.

Noha, a working mother, explained that, in addition to being preoccupied with her work, she will not buy ready-made sweets for Eid because of the high prices, especially Syrian sweets.

At least 3,356,000 Syrian refugees reside in Turkey, according to the statistics of the Turkish Immigration Department on April 13, who are affected by the living and economic conditions of the host country.

The Turkish Statistical Institute announced, on April 3, an increase in the inflation rate during March by 2.29% on a monthly basis. In contrast, the annual rate decreased to 50.51%, while it recorded a peak rate of 55.18% in February.

The consumer price index measures the changes that occur in the general level of prices based on tracking a basket that includes all goods and services consumed within a specific country.

According to the Federation of Trade Unions in Turkey, food expenditures during last March (hunger threshold) for a family consisting of four members amounted to about 9,591 Turkish liras.

A research conducted by the union determined the poverty limit for a family of four at about 31,000 Turkish liras, including food, rent, education, and health care, according to the union.

As for the total monthly cost of living for one person, it exceeds 12,000 Turkish liras.

Amidst the increase in inflation rates and the depreciation of the lira, Turkish markets are witnessing a rise in the general level of prices, in addition to the high cost of fuel, transportation, and house fares.

The sociologist Dr. Talal Mustafa told Enab Baladi that any society may undergo a change in its value or cultural system, which is expressed in “customs, traditions, and norms,” which are part of the cultural identity, but these traditions are part of the value and normative culture. And changes happen for obvious reasons or without it.

Value changes occur as a result of economic and technological changes, as a result of wars and military conflicts, and others.

It may occur as a result of natural accidents such as earthquakes, and here change occurs without touching it, through generations, so we find the value discrepancy between the generation of parents and the generation of children, and this change appears more clearly between the generations of grandparents and grandchildren, Dr. Mustafa added.

Integration, change of habits

As for the Syrian case, the sociologist confirmed that change occurred inside and outside Syria at the same time.

At the level of regime-controlled areas and what they suffer from, including a scarcity of various resources, a real change has emerged in customs, traditions, values, and living and social patterns, such as the customs of mourning and celebrations that were absent as a result of coercive circumstances, and people have adapted to them, which means creating new habits.

Customs have also changed, and there has been a shift in them for those residing outside Syria, according to the host country, as Syrians in Turkey, Egypt, and other countries to which they have sought refuge can preserve many of their traditions and customs.

While it seems clear that customs have changed in Europe because the Syrians have moved to a completely different society at the level of social and religious identity. Changes occur in this case as a result of contact with the host society.

These changes are usually harsh due to the value and behavioral conflicts that could arise in the event of effective communication towards the adoption of new cultural, value, and social standards, Dr. Mutafa confirms.

Syrians seeking to adapt and integrate fall victim to exhausting conflicts, especially the older generation, because they feel forced to integrate, but children may adapt more quickly in this case.

Sociologist Dr. Talal Mustafa

Although various countries deal with integration as an optional case and focus on the refugee’s right to preserve his culture and values, there is a necessity that imposes itself.

If the refugee does not integrate and learn the language of the host country, he will not work, and therefore he is forced to change the language he communicates with or change the nature of the clothes he wears.

“If preserving traditions is a matter of pride for some, it is not considered a practical solution in accordance with the requirements of life, as it is necessary to absorb the new culture and understand the surrounding environment instead of being closed,” says Dr. Mustafa.

Thus, adhering to the same habits of the Syrians residing in the EU countries may require living in closed neighborhoods, which is an unwise choice, stresses the sociologist.

Dr. Mustafa also called for preserving the spirit of culture and identity, not sticking to details, which foreshadows more intellectual and religious fanaticism and causes major problems in the future.

The sociologist concludes that the refugee will not be able to preserve his customs and traditions or the value system in the long run.



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