Troops Told to Respect Ramadan

B A G H D A D, Iraq, Oct. 28, 2003 -- — As the most sacred month on the Muslim calendar, Ramadan, is being observed in the presence of 130,000 American troops, there are concerns about a potential culture clash.

"I have advice for the American soldiers," said the Imam or prayer leader at Al Nida ("The Call") mosque in Baghdad. "They should respect our traditions, our fasting and praying."

Depending on the moon's cycle, Ramadan lasts 29 or 30 days; a full month of religious observance and fasting that can sometimes try even the most devout.

Some 5 million people live in Baghdad but its busy sidewalk restaurants are now empty. No smoking, no drinking — not even water. And yes, no sex. At least not during daylight hours.

"When I'm fasting and I see someone who is eating or smoking," said a merchant on Karada Street, "I get very irritated."

It's clear that U.S. soldiers, including those with the Army's 82nd Airborne Division, are getting the message.

"The eating in front of the locals or the drinking or the smoking of cigarettes or things like that have been prohibited," said Sgt. Larry Green.

Just to make sure, all soldiers in the 82nd all received a pamphlet titled "Ramadan: A Guide for Soldiers." It explains the religious significance of Ramadan — to honor Allah — and provides helpful tips. "After sundown when the fast is broken," it reads, "do not be alarmed if you see large groups gathering to share a meal."

Security Concerns

In fact, with crime down, the military has agreed to lift the nighttime curfew here. But, will it be safe?

"I think it will actually improve the security, the security situation all over because you'll have the good people out with the bad," said Capt. Damon Harris of the 82nd Airborne.

And just in case anyone thinks the military is letting its guard down, Col. Eric Nantz issued this warning: "We still have combat operations that are ongoing and although we're concerned about their religion and their faith in the Ramadan period, we will continue to conduct operations as required."

There is concern among some military commanders that Ramadan could provide an excuse for increased attacks. At several mosques the call has gone out for a peaceful holy month. In light of Sunday's attack against the Al Rasheed Hotel and the multiple attacks in Baghdad on Monday, the calls have been gone unheeded.