Ramadan observance provides time for reflection, prayer;;For terrorists, an excuse for more violence;

21 Oct 2004 | Cpl. Joel A. Chaverri

The ninth month of the Islamic year, Ramadan is a religious tradition among Muslims all over the world.

For local nationals living and working aboard the air base here, observing the sacred holiday is in the forefront of everything they do. Having a mosque on base makes their ability to worship easier.

"Even while we work we take time out for Ramadan," said 42-year-old Babylon, Iraq, native Safaa I. Ismaiel, base engineer. "We're glad that we're able to practice our religion while on the base."

During the entire holy month of Ramadan, all Muslims are required to take part in a ritual fasting called Saum during daylight hours.

One of the five pillars of Islam, Saum involves more than simply not eating food. Gambling, smoking, drinking and intercourse are also prohibited.

"We fast out of obedience to God," said Ismaiel. "Staying away from earthly pleasures cleanses us of our sins and transgressions."

"Fasting helps us remember the poor people in the world and what it's like to be starving," he added. "It compels us to give to the poor and appreciate more of what we have."

More than merely abstaining from earthly delights, Ramadan is also a time for Muslims to avoid bad influences completely.

"Fasting is symbolic of keeping the entire body clean and soul pure," said Ismaiel.  "A Muslim must also do his best to refrain from seeing, hearing or saying evil."

Essentially, every part of the body must practice restraint, despite the difficulties circumstances may present.

"Because I'm out here serving in the war I can't participate in Ramadan," said Muslim Lance Cpl. Madyia A. Abakar, warehouse clerk, Marine Wing Headquarters Squadron 3, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing. "The Qur'an (the Islamic holy book) states that if you're in a position to break any of the rules then don't even participate."

A native of Chad, Africa, Abakar was born into a Muslim family and has practiced the religion all of her life.

"Because I'm a Marine serving in Iraq, I might have to break some of the requirements," said the 28-year-old. "When I get back home I'll have to go to a Mosque and receive a blessing for missing Ramadan."

Being a Muslim in the military doesn't totally prevent a Muslim from being able to practice Ramadan.

"When I'm back home, my unit is very understanding of my customs," said Abakar. "I can fulfill all the requirements with no problem."

During Ramadan, Muslims pray five times a day asking Allah, or God, for forgiveness and read the Qur'an.

"The praying is considered a way to heaven and a way to pave the road to paradise," said Ismaiel. "The more we pray the more we are forgiven."

While deployed to the Middle East, U.S. troops are encouraged to be sensitive to the religious practices of Muslims in their area.

Due to fasting, there can be an increase in fatigue and frustration among Muslims. Troops are also asked to refrain from eating or drinking in front of a Muslim during Ramadan.

"It's considered extremely rude to (eat or drink) do that in front of someone practicing Ramadan," said Ismaiel. "It can make them desire it and they might have bitterness toward you."

Troops are also told to be aware of Muslim extremist trying to make religious statements during the month.

The Qur'an states that if a Muslim kills a non-believer, they are forgiven of all their sins.

"Muslim fanatics will try to kill someone during Ramadan trying to force themselves into heaven," said a 33-year-old local Iraqi Muslim working aboard the airbase here. "Those people only read the Qur'an and don't take time to understand it."

"Even my home was mortared by the terrorists," he added. "These people are committing many sins."