FORT LEE, Va. (June 23, 2016) -- During Ramadan, it’s common knowledge Muslims will fast from sunrise to sunset, foregoing food, water or smoking.
Sgt. 1st Class Khondokar Rahman, the noncommissioned officer in charge of the S-1 shop for the 832nd Ordnance Battalion, is a devout follower of the religion but won’t let it interfere with his military duties.
“I stay in Ramadan during the day, but I keep my mission first,” said the naturalized citizen who was born in Bangladesh. “If I see I have to break it for the mission, I will break it. In the Ramadan, there is a way you can say out of 30 days, you broke 5 or 10 for your job. So after Ramadan, I can do those as extra make-up days.
“My faith allows me the flexibility to break Ramadan if it’s too hard with mission requirements or because of training we have to do,” he continued. “I’ll break it, but I’ll make it up after the month finishes.”
The holy month started the evening of June 5 and runs until the evening of July 5. The dates vary each year based on the sightings of the crescent moon. This year, it falls on some of the longest days of the year.
“In the month of Ramadan, I wake up early in the morning, do my prayer and light physical training, and then I eat in the morning – almost like a lunchtime meal,” he said. “I’m so used to it my body acclimates quickly.”
While followers of the Islamic faith group make up 23 percent of the world’s population, according to data from Pew Research Center, Muslims only make up about 1 percent of America’s population with 3.3 million people. In the military, nearly 5,900 troops – out of approximately 2.2 million DOD-wide – have self-identified as Muslim, according to a 2015 Defense Department report.
Chaplain (Maj.) Guy McBride, the resource manager for the Fort Lee Religious Support Office, said there are only four Muslim chaplains in his corps, because they are considered a small faith group.
Even though the installation lacks a Muslim chaplain, there are ways the Fort Lee RSO supports this small faith group, said McBride. A Muslim faith leader – Mehboob Munshi, a senior electrical engineer at the Directorate of Public Works – leads prayer services each Friday at Liberty Chapel from 12:15-1:15 p.m. Many religious groups that do not have a chaplain from their religion assigned here – like the Church of the Latter Day Saints – have a faith group leader who can perform weekly services.
“We may not be able to provide the services, but we do our best to support it,” McBride said. “If a Soldier comes to us and asks us to accommodate religious services, we do everything we can. But we always keep mission first. It’s always a command call.
“For example, during Ramadan, Muslims fast – including water – during the day from sunrise to sunset,” he continued. “If there’s a training exercise out in the field, the commander can’t have that Soldier foregoing food and drink.”
McBride said while deployed during Ramadan, many Muslims were not able to meet their faith requirements while supporting the mission.
“There’s an understanding by these Soldiers – and Islam, itself, does allow for this within the tenants – if you have to violate the fasting for medical reasons or military reasons, there are certain exceptions,” he said. “As chaplains, we can’t demand from them, but we do have to monitor them to take care of them.”
Rahman said he and his family – wife Maria and daughter Fahrin, who is in elementary school – have a wonderful life in the Army and it’s easier for him than Muslims in the civilian population.
“I feel comfortable, especially while wearing the uniform,” he said. “The religious accommodation we have in the service is amazing.
“It’s amazing. I traveled to so many places in the world with my profession, and no other country in the world has this kind of system in place for religious accommodation,” Rahman continued. “They may talk like they do; but here you can go to any military office – especially in the Army – and still they have chaplains. There are rooms where you can pray. In the last 17 years, no one questioned me why I was a Muslim or why was I praying. It was never questioned. The things I couldn’t do was because it was my decision … because maybe there was a meeting going on, and I wasn’t going to go to pray because it wouldn’t follow my mission first mentality.”
The Army Family has been a huge support to her family, said Maria.
“I’m very comfortable with other military families,” she said. “They know I’m Muslim, so there is no problem anywhere. We are very comfortable with anyone in the Army Family. They come to our home, and we go to theirs.”
“We get a lot of help from our Army Family,” agreed Rahman. “We see the differences being in the Army. That’s a huge difference, because many civilian Muslims don’t see that kind of understanding like we see from our chain of command and others. Because I wear the Army uniform, people don’t see where I came from, and they don’t see my culture. We are all focused on a mission, and we carry each other. It’s a bond.”