NAVAL SUPPORT ACTIVITY, Bahrain – A series of briefs designed to educate service members about the upcoming Islamic holy month of Ramadan began at U.S. Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT)/Fifth Fleet headquarters Aug. 12.
Ali Hassan, an intercultural relations specialist with Navy’s Fleet and Family Support Center, spoke to NAVCENT service members to increase awareness of Islam’s approaching holy month and to help those unfamiliar with the observance know what behaviors are expected and appropriate.
Ramadan is a month in the Islamic lunar calendar, or Hijra, and is celebrated as the time when the Quran was revealed to the prophet Mohammed. This year, Ramadan is expected to begin at sunrise Sept. 13 and last through sunset Oct. 12. Because Hijra is a lunar calendar, which is shorter than the 365-day Gregorian calendar by 10 to 11 days, the holy month occurs 10 to 11 days earlier every year.
During Ramadan, Muslims fast for 29 or 30 consecutive days. Fasting is the fourth of five pillars of Islam, and is central to the observance of the holiday.
Muslims abstain from eating, drinking, smoking and other designated activities while fasting. It is believed that suspending these behaviors will help them to purify themselves of their sins.
Hassan said he and other Muslims see the beginning of Ramadan as a chance to embark on a new beginning. “It’s just like the new year,” he said. “I’m going to work to improve on certain points to become a better person.”
Starting from puberty, fasting is required of Muslims during Ramadan. However, some children are encouraged to start even earlier. “My wife and I were fasting, and my son asked me, ‘Hey, Dad, what are you doing?’” Hassan recalled. “He asked a lot of questions. I told him we were abstaining from bad deeds first and from food second. He asked, ‘Can I fast, too?’”
Hassan allowed his son to fast for one hour at first to practice what would be expected of him once he reached puberty. “Then he fasted for two hours, then three hours,” Hassan said. “So, by the time he reaches puberty, he’s fully prepared.”
Hassan asserted the key to fasting was not the abstention from eating, drinking and other indulgences, but that it was the overall improvement in one’s attitude. “Otherwise, you’re just starving yourself,” he said.
“Fasting does not mean to stop eating or drinking or smoking cigarettes—the best degree of fasting involves, along with your stomach, improving thoughts and attitudes and deeds. That’s a fast.”
Deliberately breaking the fast between sunrise and sunset requires Muslims to atone by fasting for 60 consecutive days.
A day during Ramadan begins with the Muslim making a renewed dedication to that day’s fast, followed by a pre-dawn meal, and ends by breaking the fast following the call for prayer and the firing of the Ramadan cannons after the last daylight. The hours after sundown are filled with prayer and festivity.
The 27th night of Ramadan is regarded as especially holy. It is believed that on this night, any prayer or good that is accomplished is greater than the spiritual efforts of a thousand months. Most Muslims will spend the entire night in prayer. The speakers in Mosque minarets throughout Bahrain and all of Islam will be continuously loud with prayer on this “Night of the Power.”
Non-Muslim service members are asked to avoid Shiite neighborhoods during Ramadan to show respect for the worshippers. It is also asked that no photos be taken of any religious activities during the holy month.
The last night of Ramadan, or Eid, marks the end of the period of fasting. Restaurants will reopen, and businesses in Bahrain will return to normal working hours.
Also, to show respect for the customs and practices of Ramadan, service members are asked not to smoke, eat, drink or chew gum while in the community during fasting hours – either while driving our walking about.
This is the second year Hassan has given Ramadan briefs to service members at the Navy base. He says the briefs have been greatly received. “Last year, people were thinking twice, especially when it came to invitations [to attend Ramadan feasts]. They had a lot of questions,” Hassan said. “They realized the sensitivity.”
NAVCENT’s Command Master Chief Christopher R. Angstead said it is important to understand cultural and religious differences while stationed in another country. “The brief gave me and the other Sailors I talked to a greater insight into Ramadan,” he said. “The more we all know about the culture, the better prepared we are to show the utmost respect for the people and traditions of Bahrain.”
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