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Ramadan a time of fasting, prayer
A mosque is silhouetted against the evening twilight near Balad, Iraq, May 29. Muslims will begin their Ramadan observance the evening of Sept. 1. The holiday marks the month that the Prophet Muhammed received the Qur'an from the archangel Gabriel and is observed through fasting throughout the day. (U.S. Army photo/Staff Sgt. Timothy Sander)
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Ramadan a time of fasting, prayer

Posted 9/2/2008   Updated 9/2/2008 Email story   Print story


by Staff Sgt. Don Branum
332nd Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

9/2/2008 - JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq  -- Muslims around the world will observe the holy month of Ramadan beginning at sunset Sept. 1.

Ramadan, the ninth month of the Muslim calendar, is significant because it is the month when the archangel Gabriel revealed the first verses of the Qur'an to the prophet Mohammed, said Faraj Washyer, a native of Sulaymaniyah, Iraq, who works with the Iraqi-Based Industrial Zone office here.

"God orders Muslims to fast throughout the day from sunrise to sundown," Washyer said. "Only adults are asked to fast, and only if they can handle it. If someone is sick, he is not allowed to fast."

Those who perform hard labor during the day are not required to fast, nor are travelers, Washyer said. Muslim children younger than 12 also do not fast.

Fasting, or Sawm, is one of five pillars of Islam. The other four are Shahadah, the profession of faith; Salat, the requirement to pray five times per day; Zakat, the giving of alms to the poor; and Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca. The purpose of Sawm is to help Muslims cleanse their spirits and be grateful for what God has given them, Washyer said. It also helps Muslims remember Zakat.

"If you have food in your house but cannot touch it; if you have water in your refrigerator but cannot drink it, that's a good moment to think about poor people and how they live," Washyer said.

In addition to fasting, Muslims must also refrain from smoking and sexual activity during the day. Muslims may break their fast after their sunset prayer.

"After the sun is completely down, we break fast, eat and thank God for providing food and water," Washyer said. The custom of fasting is similar to the Jewish Yom Kippur holiday and Christianity's Lent.

But while most Muslims will use Ramadan to reflect and grow spiritually, anti-Iraqi forces may step up their attacks. Insurgents launched offensives during Ramadan both in 2003 and 2006, killing more than 350 Iraqi Security Forces personnel and nearly 200 coalition servicemembers.

"The enemy is going to go where the people are," said Army Maj. Pat Work, aide de camp to Secretary of the Army Pete Green. "People are where the fight is won or lost, and insurgents are very aware of that."

But knowing and respecting Muslim traditions can help military personnel win and keep the peace, said Army Maj. Brett Sylvia, a joint-staff officer for the Political Military Affairs Division at the Pentagon who has spent the past two Ramadans deployed to Iraq with the 82nd Airborne Division's 3rd Brigade Combat Team.

"Having good cultural awareness is as essential as marksmanship, because it's about the populace, and it's about intelligence," he said. "You can build trust so much more rapidly if you have demonstrated cultural awareness and cultural sensitivity."

(Information compiled from American Forces Press Service and staff reports.)

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