Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Let's Visit the Captain in Afghanistan!

Ladies and gentlemen would you please stand a salute our guest poster for today! A ton of thank you's to Chris of MomDot fame for agreeing to host our visit to Afghanistan today. Chris spent a tour in Afghanistan and has expeienced the culture and faith there first hand. Welcome him and share the comment love please!

Eid and Ramadan

Every religion has major holidays to celebrate a major event in its history. Christianity has Christmas, Judaism has Chanukah, and Islam has Eid ul-Fitr (Eid) which concludes Ramadan, etc. This blog will cover Eid and Ramadan. I am not a Muslim so I do not claim to be an expert by any means on the subject. However I was asked to write about it as I was deployed to Afghanistan in 2005 at that time that Eid took place.

First, be it known that Muslims observe five formal prayers each day. The timings of these prayers are spaced fairly evenly throughout the day, so that one is constantly reminded of God and given opportunities to seek His (‘Allah’) guidance and forgiveness. Like many Christians not everyone follows this rule to a “T”. Some Muslims are very devout while others are like your every day Sunday church goers but don’t practice much during the week, while others fall more to the not much involved side of the house. Now, a little on what Eid and Ramadan are.

From Wikipedia ( –because it is a good explanation and I liked the Arabic writing that was included (which by the way is read right to left).

Ramaḍān (Arabic: رمضان‎) is a Muslim religious observance that takes place during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar; the month in which the Qur'an was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. It is the Islamic month of fasting (lunar calendar), in which participating Muslims do not eat or drink anything from true dawn until sunset. Fasting is meant to teach the person patience, sacrifice and humility. Ramaḍān is a time to fast for the sake of God, and to offer more prayer than usual. During Ramaḍān, Muslims ask forgiveness for past sins, pray for guidance and help in refraining from everyday evils, and try to purify themselves through self-restraint and good deeds.

Eid ul-Fitr or Id-ul-Fitr (Arabic: عيد الفطر ‘Īdu l-Fiṭr‎), often abbreviated to Eid, is a Muslim holiday that marks the end of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting. Eid is an Arabic word meaning "festivity", while Fiṭr means "to break the fast" (and can also mean "nature", from the word "fitrah"); and so the holiday symbolizes the breaking of the fasting period. It is celebrated starting on the first day of the Islamic month of Shawwal.

Eid ul-Fitr is a three day celebration and is sometimes also known as the "Smaller Eid" (Arabic: العيد الصغير al-‘īdu ṣ-ṣaghīr‎) as compared to the Eid ul-Adha that lasts four days and is called the "Greater Eid" (Arabic: العيد الكبير al-‘īdu l-kabīr‎).

Muslims are commanded by the Qur'an to complete their fast on the last day of Ramadan and then recite the Takbir all throughout the period of Eid[Qur'an 2:185 (Translated by Shakir)].

From (

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar. Every day during this month, Muslims around the world spend the daylight hours in a complete fast. During the blessed month of Ramadan, Muslims all over the world abstain from food, drink, and other physical needs during the daylight hours. As a time to purify the soul, refocus attention on God, and practice self-sacrifice, Ramadan is much more than just not eating and drinking.

Muslims are called upon to use this month to re-evaluate their lives in light of Islamic guidance. We are to make peace with those who have wronged us, strengthen ties with family and friends, do away with bad habits -- essentially to clean up our lives, our thoughts, and our feelings. The Arabic word for "fasting" (sawm) literally means "to refrain" - and it means not only refraining from food and drink, but from evil actions, thoughts, and words.

During Ramadan, every part of the body must be restrained. The tongue must be restrained from backbiting and gossip. The eyes must restrain themselves from looking at unlawful things. The hand must not touch or take anything that does not belong to it. The ears must refrain from listening to idle talk or obscene words. The feet must refrain from going to sinful places. In such a way, every part of the body observes the fast.

Therefore, fasting is not merely physical, but is rather the total commitment of the person's body and soul to the spirit of the fast. Ramadan is a time to practice self-restraint; a time to cleanse the body and soul from impurities and re-focus one's self on the worship of God.

Now that you have a basic understanding let me explain my experience in Afghanistan. The annual fast of Ramadan is considered one of the five "pillars" of Islam. Muslims who are physically able are required to fast each day of the entire month, from sunrise to sunset. The evenings are spent enjoying family and community meals, engaging in prayer and spiritual reflection, and reading from the Qur’an. I can’t think of anything in Christianity to that compares to this month long dedication except for maybe when you ask for forgiveness and turn you heart over to Jesus for the first time. The difference is that Muslims do this every year. I guess this could be compared to confession for Catholics as well, only there is an intense amount of focus and discipline in not repeating one’s sins.

I would compare the celebration portion of Ramadan, Eid to Christmas in a sense that the majority of the country celebrates it and it truly is much like the holiday season in the states. Decorations are hung, people tend to be in a good mood and it is pretty much all anyone talks about at that time (probably because they are hungry). They are so dedicated to the holiday that they built and entire temple/palace to celebrate in. When I say temple I mean 200,000+ square feet of banquet space. This place is so big that three pictures taken 200 yards back glued together still won’t get the whole thing in the picture. It must have been 300- 400 yards across and I have no idea how deep. It was amazing in every detail of tile, ornamentation and color all the way down to the pavers in the “square” ( I use that term lightly—more like football fields) in front of the building. To top it off they only use the temple during Eid. For the record the famous stadium in Kabul known for the public executions by the Taliban is directly across the street (yes I have seen it). They play soccer there now.

I had the pleasure of working with some Afghans who fasted during this time. I will admit I did not understand the rules of fasting during Ramadan. I thought that they didn’t eat for the entire month which made me wonder how they survived. I am lucky if I can make it from breakfast to lunch without a snack. After a small lesson from our Afghan warehouse manager we learned that they can indeed eat when it is dark.

Don’t be fooled though, going all day with no food is not easy, especially when you are working manual labor. The Afghans were some of the toughest SOB’s I have ever met. I thought basic training was tough. These folks walk around in the snow wearing a robe and some sandals (if they are lucky). We had these guys climbing up lockers stacked three high on top of each other while pulling up another row to go on top of those. I am not talking five or ten. I am talking 100-150 at time all while it is 30 degrees outside and no heat in the warehouse. This is tough enough to do when you have had something to eat, let alone when you haven’t eaten all day and you will probably only eat one meal before tomorrow.

For us as American’s the hardest thing was trying not to eat in front of them. At first we had no idea that they weren’t allowed to eat, so we offered them snacks and drinks. Eventually we caught on (after a huge hint from the warehouse manager). My point to this is that the dedication involved in eating only one meal per day for a month as well as the efforts that they put into celebrate for 3 days straight at the end is up there in my book. For Christians, we complain about the bills that we have to pay after opening presents (which really isn’t the point of Christmas). Instead maybe we should turn our focus back on what the holiday is about and think about the sacrifices we should make for our family.


Thank you to Trisha for letting me borrow Chris today. Make sure you pop over to MomDot and check out all the really awesome posts and contributors. If your blog roll is running low you're sure to find some fabulous folks to follow and read while you're there!

I hope you all took notes because we are touring down through the Middle East into Africa for the rest of this week. I have a feeling we will be coming across Ramadan and Eid again in our travels.



AJ said...

That was great! I don't think I could make it that long. I would be really cranky.