News: Ramadan: An overview of the yearly Islamic tradition
Story by Spc. Timothy Koster
BAGHDAD – Around the year 610 A.D., a man from the Arabian city of Mecca began receiving visitations from the angel Gabriel. During these visitations, Gabriel spoke of revelations from God, or Allah. This man would write down these holy words and compile them into what would eventually turn into a 114-chapter book and become the centerpiece of the second largest religion in the world: Islam. This book is called the Quran, and the man’s name was Muhammad.
According to the Islamic religion, Muhammad was the last in a long line of prophets – including Adam, Abraham, Moses and Jesus – who were chosen by God to serve as his messengers and to be teachers for mankind. As followers of a monotheistic religion, Muslims believe in a single, all-knowing god and that people can achieve salvation by following his commandments in the Quran along with actively following the Five Pillars of Islam.
The Five Pillars of Islam include Shahada, prayer, zakat, fasting, and pilgrimage. Shahada is the declaration of faith: “There is no deity but God, and Muhammad is the messenger of God." For prayer, Muslims are required to pray five times a day. Zakat means charitable giving. Fasting is the practice of not eating. For their pilgrimage, or hajj, Muslims are supposed to travel to Mecca at least once in their lifetimes, if they are physically and financially able to.
This year, the holy Islamic month lasted from Aug. 1 - 31. Ramadan is a month-long celebration which symbolizes the month in which Muhammad began receiving his initial holy visitations from Gabriel. It is also the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, which is 12 months long and based on the various phases of the moon. Lunar calendars, such as the Islamic calendar, vary from solar calendars by 11 days. This means Ramadan doesn’t start on the same day each year.
To celebrate this very special religious month, various U.S. general officers have been hosting a post-dusk meal called an iftar. This meal is generally celebrated with close friends and family, and is traditionally an elaborate feast that is initiated by eating a date, which signifies the breaking of the fast. Iftar dinners are being hosted around the country as a way of showing support and appreciation to their Iraqi counterparts.
"Hosting an iftar dinner during the holy month of Ramadan is a great way for us to bond with our Iraqi partners,” said Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, commanding general, United States Force – Iraq. “We work hard together, so it's all the more enjoyable when we can break bread together - especially while celebrating such an important aspect of Iraqi culture."
These iftars are also about showing respect to the people of the host nation, U.S. service members who are of the Muslim faith and a way of building a lasting friendship between the people of Iraq and the United States.
"This is about respect for beliefs,” said Lt. Gen. Frank G. Helmick, deputy commanding general for operations, USF – I. “This allows us to gain an understanding of, and to gain an appreciation for, the Muslim religion. When we share an iftar meal, we share in the customs of the people with whom we live and work on a daily basis. Sharing in those customs illustrates to our Iraqi friends that in addition to helping build and train their military, we are also building lasting friendships. One of the ways to build lasting friendships is to recognize and participate with friends in the culture of their country. There are no relationships between nations ... there are only relationships between people. It is out of respect for the people of Iraq that we celebrate Ramadan with them."
During Ramadan, Muslims practice the pillar of fasting from sunrise to sunset. This means during sunlight hours, they refrain from eating, drinking, and partaking in sexual activity as a means of learning about patience, spirituality, humility and submissiveness to God.
Every Muslim, who has reached puberty and is healthy, is supposed to fast during this month. Only the young, elderly, sick, pregnant or nursing are exempt. However, it is proper practice to make this up at a later or to help feed the poor.
“Ramadan is a time of great internal reflection for our Muslim Iraqi brothers. We share the same core values of: loyalty, duty, respect, selfless-service, honor, integrity and personal courage as our brothers and sisters in the Iraqi Security Forces and the government of Iraq,” said Lt. Gen. Michael Ferriter, deputy commanding general for USF-I Advise and Train. “We are honored to take part in an iftar meal and to share, as guests and hosts, one of our Iraqi partners’ important customs. This is a way for us to celebrate our friendship during the season of Ramadan. This is another way we demonstrate our understanding of, and commitment to, the pursuit of a peaceful way of life for the citizens of Iraq.”
At the beginning of Ramadan it is a tradition to stock up on the ingredients required for the household’s favorite Ramadan meals and to openly welcome visitors during the evening hours.
Similar to an iftar, Ramadan is concluded by a three-day celebratory feast, called an Eid al-Fitr or Feast of Fast-breaking. This feast is often accompanied by special prayers and meals with friends and family. Often gifts are exchanged.
As the month of August – and the month of Ramadan – comes to a close, there was a lot to celebrate. There has been everything from the numerous amounts of graduations, adding to the number of Iraqis capable of making a self-sustaining government, to the rapidly approaching scheduled withdrawal of U.S. forces, which would result in the end of one of the longest U.S. military campaigns in the country’s history.