Experiencing Ramadan in Afghanistan
By Spc. Kelly Hunt, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service
BAGRAM, Afghanistan, Oct. 28, 2003 To understand a religion other than your own takes an open mind, a curious heart and an opportunity to witness the inner circle of the practice.
For troops here, the Muslim faith has been placed at their doorstep, as Muslims observe the holy month of Ramadan.
Ramadan is a special month in the Muslim faith where more than a billion believers around the world devote their time and energy to inner reflection, self-control and devotion to Allah through prayer and sacrifice.
For many troops stationed here who have not seen the practice of the Muslim faith, Ramadan offers a close encounter with the religion through the many local workers on base.
"It will give me a deeper understanding and appreciation for Muslim armed forces personnel, our Muslim friends, our translators, (contractors) and personnel working at our dining facilities," said Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Kenneth Sampson, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, Combined Joint Task Force 180.
"There are very strict fasting regulations that practicing Muslims abide by," said Sampson. Fasting and prayer are the two most distinct characteristics of Ramadan, and are of highest concentration during daylight hours.
"Fasting is a tradition in many religions," said Sampson. "It accentuates your thinking powers on the spiritual aspect of who we are, but with Ramadan, it's more than just a spiritual discipline."
The fast of Ramadan is mandatory. "The whole Muslim nation agrees that the fast of Ramadan is obligatory, and if one disputes this, he cannot be Muslim," said Shahid Azizi, an interpreter from Parwan Province, Bagram District.
"It's an identification with those who are poor, who don't have enough food, who are handicapped, who are in prison, who are orphans -- those who are dispossessed in the world," he said. "Ramadan causes everyone who follows the Muslim faith to be able to identify with those people in our world."
Muslims believe that by sacrificing and practicing self- control, they become closer to Allah, and because they gave up comfort for him, they will be rewarded.
"Whoever trusts the month of Ramadan, obeying all of its limitations and guarding against what is forbidden, has in fact atoned for any sins he committed before it, (and) whoever fasts the month of Ramadan with faith and seeks Allah's pleasure and reward will have his previous sins forgiven," said Shahid.
Toward the end of the month there is an emphasis on giving money, gifts, food and clothing to those in need so participants not only understand the hardships of the less fortunate through fasting, but also cleanse themselves by actively making a difference through donation and charity.
"Many Muslim practitioners are looking forward to Ramadan because they anticipate the spiritual benefits," said Sampson.
It's a month with an emphasis on prayer as well as fasting. The call to prayer signifies the designated times in which Muslims are required to pray. "It is a time for greater prayer and the five times for prayer will often be intense," said Sampson.
Ramadan also has an equalizing affect on the Muslim community.
"Those who are wealthy to the very lowest person in the society, everybody engages in Ramadan," he said. "Equality of everyone before God -- that's what Ramadan helps people experience."
The end of the month is signified with a feast celebrating the spiritual enlightenment practicing Muslims have experienced during Ramadan, and is an opportunity for troops to participate in the religion.
"The breaking of the fast is a time when non-Muslims may be invited to various activities," said Sampson.
During the month of Ramadan, officials said, troops here should remain aware of the rules of the holy time, and courtesy may require some changes from everyday activities.
Troops should not offer food or drink to practicing Muslims during the daylight hours of Ramadan, and should refrain from eating or drinking in front of Muslims so as to not distract them from their religious practices, said Sampson.
Muslim coalition troops and Muslims working on base may have an intense and rigorous prayer ritual during this time, and exceptions to everyday schedules should be allowed to give Muslim followers a chance to partake in the calls to prayer, he added.
(Army Spc. Kelly Hunt is assigned to the 4th Public Affairs Detachment.)