As the sun sets each day during Ramadan, the Afana family in Sharjah gathers around their table to end their fast and indulge in an iftar meal. However, amidst the family gatherings, their minds often drift to the plight of their relatives in Palestine.

In a heartfelt interview with Khaleej Times, Sara Afana shared the emotions the family is experiencing during this holy month and how the Israeli attacks in Gaza have altered their lives.

Sara's parents have been in the UAE since 1982, and she herself was born and raised in the Emirates. For this Palestinian family, Ramadan is a special time of togetherness. With nine members in their household, this holy month becomes an opportunity to set aside their routines and focus on bonding and spending quality time together. Even Sara's married sister, who lives separately, eagerly joins them before iftar, helping prepare meals.

Always in their minds

However, this year, the family's Ramadan experience is overshadowed by the constant remembrance of their homeland, Palestine. Since October 7, their lives have undergone a drastic shift. The challenges faced by their fellow Palestinians have deeply affected Sara's parents, who struggle to engage in activities that once brought them joy. The family's thoughts are consumed by the plight of their immediate relatives and the people of Palestine.

"My parents are constantly thinking about it; Palestine is always in their minds. Since October 7, my parents might have left the house once or twice for something other than work,” Sara told Khaleej Times, explaining that her family does everything while keeping their family back home in mind. “We think of them in everything we do. What are we doing? Or how are they feeling? To the point that it doesn't feel right if we go out to enjoy our time,” she continued.

Twenty-year-old Sara shared that her father found solace during Ramadan in giving back, as he wishes that God lift up the sorrows of his brothers and sisters in Palestine. Her father, Fathy Jaber Afana, owns a contracting company, and he took it upon himself to initiate a Ramadan tent where he served iftar for all the workers in his company.

Constant struggles

As the month unfolds, Sara reflects on how this Ramadan isn’t very different from the previous ones, "there's always something happening there – in Gaza". And under such a hostile situation, Sara and her family appreciate even the smallest things, like having their aunt residing in Rafah, well and sound.

When asked how often Sara's father can contact his sister and what the situation is like during Ramadan, Fathy said, “Everyone continues to fast in Palestine every day. You can find 20 families living in one house there. They try to end their fast in any way possible, whether on the streets or in the camps."

Fathy can reach his sister but with difficulty. “We can contact them over there but very minimal, maybe every few days only,” he added.

Finding solace and strength

Despite the sombre scene, the Afana family finds solace and strength in the spirit of Ramadan. Sara deeply appreciates the unique flavours that grace their iftar table, with dishes ranging from traditional Emirati fare to Italian, Indian, and Chinese cuisines. Palestinian delicacies prepared by Sara's mother also play a central role in their iftar spreading.

Beyond food, Sara treasures the experience of attending nightly prayers with her mother, sisters, and friends. They visit different mosques daily, finding a sense of peace as they pray for their land and people.

Even with the upcoming joyous celebration of Eid Al Fitr, the Afana family's thoughts are tempered by their concern for their homeland. Traditionally, they hosted large gatherings, welcoming extended family members and friends. However, this year, they have decided to forgo such festivities, choosing instead to abstain out of sensitivity to those who are suffering.

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