Ramadan: the Muslim holy month of fasting. Here, the Afghans call it Ramazan. The month follows a lunar calendar, and varies from year to year. This year, it falls between mid-September and mid-October.
During Ramadan, Muslims do not eat or drink anything between sunrise and sundown. They eat breakfast very early, and wait until just past sunset to eat dinner. Usually, they have a large evening meal.
As you might imagine, in the middle of the day, Afghans (those who practice Islam strictly – not all do, but most of our Border Police observe the fast) have less energy. Fasting makes you tired. I know, because I have decided to skip lunch during Ramadan. I still drink water (or caffeinated beverages, to keep my energy up), but as a token of solidarity with the ABP, and as a bit of a personal experiment, I wait until dinner to eat, too. I can tell you from this that the middle of the afternoon becomes a good time to take a nap.
Most Afghans (and most Middle Easterners in general, I am told) take a nap in the middle of the day during Ramadan. They do most of the day’s work before noon, early in the day. At night, they stay up late, eating and talking. Ramadan is not a period when a lot of work gets done.
Ramadan, unfortunately, is also a time when some enemy forces escalate their efforts against US, coalition and Afghan government forces, because Ramadan, according to Muslim tradition, is when the gates of Heaven are opened up. So those who are martyred during the holy month of Ramadan supposedly get a better opportunity at earning Paradise (at least, as I understand the tradition). So there have been some more skirmishes within Afghanistan by Taliban forces against us, particularly in other parts of the country. We haven’t seen a significant escalation here, at least not yet.
That’s not to say the enemy has been inactive. North of our FOB, someone fired rockets somewhere in the vicinity of us. Nothing was hit (except some desert bushes), but it shows the enemy has not retreated from our AO yet.
It’s certainly ironic to think of having a holy month and escalating fighting. But then again, George Washington fought a famous battle near Trenton at Christmastime. But Ramadan itself, as I understand the Muslim tradition, was started as a period for reflection and focusing on God. Fasting, in almost any religion (including Christianity) is a means of taking one’s focus off the affairs of our “mortal flesh” (i.e., our bodily needs) and forcing ourselves to look towards spiritual matters, forgetting our physical wants for a time to concentrate on our spiritual needs. To me, this is certainly a noble goal.
It has been interesting to see some of the rituals Afghans observe during Ramadan. They almost all arise at 3:00 AM during Ramadan to have tea and some small breakfast, then they return to bed until about 8:00. They do whatever tasks need to be done for the day, trying to finish before noon. Around noon or shortly after their midday prayer, they take a nap until evening. Right before sundown, as usual, they pray. Right after sunset, they eat some fruit (tradition holds that Mohammed ate fruit to break his fast during Ramadan, so Muslims do this as well – dates are popular, as supposedly Mohammed ate dates, but pomegranates are popular as well). After breaking their daily fast, they pray again, then sit down for a large dinner. This is the pattern through Ramadan for most of them.
Of course, not all Afghans are devout Muslims, just like not all Americans are devout Christians (even those who claim to be Christian – not all are devout). Within the ranks of the ABP, there are those who sneak food or drinks during the daytime. In the ANA, there are some who openly eat during the day, refusing to adhere to tradition. But around Do China, almost all observe the fast.
I can tell you from my limited experience, even simply skipping lunch can make you feel hungry by the end of the day!
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The Rev. Charles P. Henderson is a Presbyterian minister and
Executive Director of CrossCurrents.
He is the author of God and Science (John Knox Press, 1986).
A revised and expanded version of the book is appearing here. God and Science (Hypertext Edition,
He is also editor of a new book, featuring articles by world class scientists and theologians, and illustrating the leading views on the relationship between science and religion: Faith, Science and the Future (CrossCurrents Press, 2007).
Charles also tracks the boundry between the virtual and the real at his blog: Next World Design, focusing on the mediation of art, science and spirituality in the metaverse.