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“A FANTASTIC TIME TO LEARN ABOUT LOCAL CULTURE AND CUSTOMS”
by Sharon Rondeau
(Jul. 3, 2014) — The annual Islamic month-long celebration of Ramadan began on June 28, during which the religious faithful fast and refrain from drinking any fluids between sunup and sundown.
Ramadan is reportedly a time of “reflection and worship” and to consider ways to help the poor and needy.
On June 28, after reading an excerpt of an article posted at Pamela Geller’s Atlas Shrugs via Stars and Stripes, The Post & Email contacted the media relations representative for the U.S. Army, Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale, to ask if U.S. soldiers stationed in predominantly Muslim countries were obliged to practice or observe the Ramadan holiday.
When we composed our article on Saturday, the link to the Atlas Shrugs article was not working properly, but as of this writing, it is intact. However, from Geller’s website, the link to the original Stars and Stripes article is broken.
Breasseale had referred us to a colleague, LCDR Nathan J. Christensen who would be taking his place in media relations, as he was transitioning to a new position as of last Monday. We then contacted Christensen via email, including a link to the Stars and Stripes article, which is still available directly.
Christensen then responded:
I’d refer you to the base PAO in Bahrain to talk about specifics in Bahrain – I can’t do that.
However I will tell you that the Department of Defense respects, places a high value on, and supports by policy the rights of members of the Military Services to observe the tenets of their respective religions or to have no religious beliefs at all. The Department does not endorse any religion or religious organization, and provides to the maximum extent possible for the free exercise of religion – whatever one’s faith – by all members of the Military Services who choose to do so.
Christensen did not have contact information for the base in Bahrain but provided a phone number in Virginia, from which we were directed to the media person in Bahrain, CDR Jason Salata, who wrote:
I am CDR Jason Salata, the spokesman for the Navy’s 5th Fleet here in the Middle East. I am happy to share with you our guidance, the text below is from our Facebook page.
We have issued cultural awareness guidance to our Sailors here in the Middle East during Ramadan for decades. The Navy provides similar cultural awareness guidance for Sailors to ensure they understand local customs and laws wherever our forces deploy (Europe, Asia, Latin America, etc.).
Please review below and let me know if you have any questions.
V/R CDR Salata
This Ramadan guidance is found in the U.S. NAVCENT Message: Liberty as a Mission During Ramadan, DTG: 081112Z JUN 14, for U.S. NAVCENT service members, civilian personnel, contractors and family members living in Bahrain or operating in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility.
Our guidance does not seek to address every aspect of proper Ramadan observation by non-Muslims, but does give our forces and families an approach that complements our Muslim hosts’ observance of Ramadan in the most respectful way.
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and lasts 29 to 30 days. It is a time for personal sacrifice and spiritual purification for Muslims. It is also one of the five pillars of Islam, and a time for communing with family and friends. This year, Ramadan is expected to begin on or about June 28 and last through July 27.
During Ramadan, observant Muslims do not eat, drink (including water), or smoke from sunrise to sunset. Muslims will continue to perform normal daily tasks, but you should expect to see shortened work hours by government and local businesses. Government work hours will vary, but will more than likely be from 0800-1400. Commercial work hours will also vary, but will more than likely be from 1000-1300 and 1900-0000. Anticipate heavier traffic patterns before and after government working hours, with traffic at its heaviest just prior to sunset as people travel to different locations to break their fast. Please be especially alert when driving at night as many children will play in the streets. Expect local establishments (coffee shops and restaurants) to be crowded after sunset. Meals are usually eaten twice during the hours of darkness.
As non-Muslim guests in the region, we are not expected to fast during Ramadan, but we are expected to respect the observance by refraining from eating (including chewing gum), drinking (even water), smoking and chewing tobacco in public during daylight hours. In Bahrain during Ramadan, it is illegal to eat, drink, or smoke in public places during daylight hours – this includes while riding in a bus or car, walking, or exercising in public. During Ramadan, drunkenness is particularly offensive and local authorities will be far less tolerant of alcohol-related offenses. A violation of Ramadan observances by a non-Muslim may result in a fine or confinement.
For Ramadan, restaurants and establishments that normally serve alcohol will suspend this practice, even after sunset. Most restaurants are closed during the day, although some coffee shops and hotel restaurants that cater to non-Muslim guests may remain open for dining. Restaurants and hotels are considered private properties and service members and families are allowed to dine in the establishments during daylight hours. Service members and families may eat and drink at all times on U.S. Government controlled installations (NSA Bahrain, NSA Waterfront, Isa Air Base), or in their private residences or hotel rooms. It is understood that children 12 and under may eat and drink at all times in public places as they are not of age to fast, according to Islam.
During Ramadan, we adopt a conservative off base clothing policy that conforms to local customs. Wear loose fitting, concealing, neat, and conservative civilian attire in all public places off U.S. Government controlled installations and while transiting to and from base. Woman (over the age of 12) shall wear pants or skirts that cover their knees (even when seated), and sleeved blouses that cover their elbows. Men (over the age of 12) shall wear long trousers and sleeved shirts that cover their elbows. Commanding Officers may grant specific limited waivers for operational requirements (E.G., work on the flight line at the aviation unit or at Mina Salman Pier).
Physical Training (PT) and swimming during Ramadan requires special attention. While there is no exception to the conservative clothing requirements for exercising in public areas, members may exercise in appropriate PT clothing at exercise facilities in hotels and private residences. Hotels and resorts that cater to non-Muslim guests will maintain daytime pool hours and guests may swim. Most private compound pools allow swimming during the day for men and women. Where permitted, swimming at a hotel pool, Water Park, or resort is authorized. Swimming at a private compound or residence is authorized.
Ramadan is a fantastic time to learn about local culture and customs in this region. U.S. Personnel and their families are encouraged to attend Ramadan events, including evening meals in Ramadan tents as long as we act in a dignified and respectful manner.