Giving aid to the poor is an important element of the Ramadan season and those in need are out in force, appealing to the goodwill of strangers for some momentary help.
Abdul and his three sisters lost their father as a result of sectarian violence in 2007 and since that date the young boy has had to fend for his mother and sisters by himself.
“Some people give me food and money, some others just close the door in my face, but there are some families who used to know my father and some relatives who invite me to eat with them or give me food items that I can carry back with me and share with my mother,” he told Niqash.
Abdul who appears to have mastered the art of flattery when appealing for money – offering up numerous good wishes to those he approaches – also says that mosques have provided food during the Ramadan period.
Official reports suggest that Diyala province is home to more orphans and widows than any other province in the country.
“Statistics prepared by the organization indicate that there are some 35,000 children who have lost their fathers, mothers or both since the eruption of civil strife,” said Samir Abdallah from Orphan Support.
Other figures suggest there are also 15,000 widows in the province.
Governmental and non-governmental organizations – including many religiously affiliated groups - are working to provide care for these orphans and widows. The organizations receive funding from the government, political parties as well as private individuals.
But Yusra Khader, from the Orphans and Widows Organization in Diyala, told Niqash that more needs to be done. “Orphans who lost their parents are in urgent need of help… the young people are gaining bad habits such as smoking, theft and beggary,” she said.
At the moment there are no shelters for street children in the province leaving many of them without support and guidance.
Even so, during Ramadan support for the neediest increases significantly as people provide meals and money for the less well off.
“We provide aid throughout the year and not only in Ramadan, but the amount of aid is higher this month,” explained Khalil Jiyad from the National Accord party.
Thirty-six-year old Umm Imad who lost her husband one year ago said that her family and dozens of other families living in al-Karama neighbourhood receive blankets and food supplies from political parties.
Yet those seeking help say political parties are not doing enough for them and attribute recent aid to the need to gain popular support in light of approaching parliamentary elections.
“Political parties do not feel the suffering of the people,” said one widow. “Political parties do not respond when we ask for assistance to support our families but they remember us when elections draw near.”
Sheikh Assaf al-Dulaimi, a preacher at the Nour mosque and an activist on issues related to orphans, agreed that “political blocs take advantage of the conditions of orphans and widows… they buy their votes while they ignoring their suffering.”
While Ramadan can be a good month for the needy, it also brings other difficulties making them even more dependent on the kindness of strangers. Most significantly, food prices increase by about 15 percent during the fasting month.
Some mosques have issued fatwas against merchants who raise their prices, but this has had little effect on the steep inflation. Al-Dulaimi said that he warns merchants and importers against raising the prices during Ramadan in solidarity with the poor.
(Photo By Ali Yussef /AFP/Getty Images)