'Traveling' basic cadets observe modified Ramadan

  • Published
  • By Don Branum
  • Air Force Academy Public Affairs
Sunset prayers for a dozen Muslim basic cadets on July 20 began just as they might any other evening: the basics took off their boots and rinsed their faces, hands and feet with water from their canteens. They settled into place in the tent that serves as the Muslim chapel in Jacks Valley: lined up behind Imam Mohamed Jodeh, facing Mecca.

"Allahu ackbar," Jodeh began, reciting the words "God is great" in Arabic. The group continues through the prayer much as they normally would, but this is no normal Ramadan. While most Muslims around the world observe the holiday by fasting between sunrise and sunset, the basic cadets ate before their sunset prayer.

"Ever since my high school started, I've made sure never to miss a single day of Ramadan," said Basic Cadet Mohammed Gallala, a native of Tunisia.

But basic cadets need food during training like an F-16 Fighting Falcon needs JP-8. No good can come from running a basic cadet through the Academy's demanding obstacle courses on an empty stomach.

Jodeh, the liaison between the Academy's Muslim community and the chaplains here, provided the solution: a fatwa, or legal pronouncement, identifying the basic cadets as musafir -- "travelers" -- during the extent of their stay in Jacks Valley.

"A traveler is deferred from fasting, but he has to do those days after Ramadan," Jodeh said. "The basic cadets are traveling because the Academy is not their permanent home, so they have the right to shorter prayers and not fasting."

After a similar sunset prayer on Sunday, Jodeh talked to the basic cadets about the importance of form in prayer.

"In Islam, there is meaning and reason to everything," he explained, illustrating the proper position for one's hands during prayers. "When you salute, how do you do it? It is uniform. We praise Allah the greatest, and we salute al-Qiblah (the direction Muslims face while praying) by raising our hands to the level of our shoulders.

After the service and education, Jodeh spoke with the basic cadets and offered to relay messages to their families, many of whom are overseas. Cadre have also worked with the basic cadets to accommodate prayers during the day, said Basic Cadet Omar Obeidat.

"You have to arrange it with the cadre, and you only get five minutes each time," said Obeidat, a native of Irbid, Jordan, about 50 miles from the Jordanian capital of Amman. "The cadre looked up where Mecca is, and ... they said if you need to pray, just tell us and we'll give you time. It means so much with all this going on that they give us time to practice."

Chaplain (Maj.) Darren Duncan, chief of the Cadet Chapel's cadet faith communities branch, said accommodating cadets' religious and spiritual needs helps them develop their character.

"Our byline is developing leaders of character through spiritual formation," Duncan said. "It's religious accommodation for anybody for any holiday: Ramadan, Kwanzaa, Hanukah, any of those. It's about meeting the free exercise of religion."

Upperclass cadets also receive access to normally scheduled religious services, and those in field training can speak with chaplains to schedule services as well, Duncan said.

Ramadan continues through Aug. 18.