Thursday, September 13, 2007
Yesterday was the first day in the month of Ramadan. Over the past couple of weeks I have been giving Soldiers and leaders Ramadan Awareness training, mandated by both our battalion and brigade commands. I enjoy opportunities to draw on my background in world religions, and when such an opportunity includes engaging Soldiers, it is especially satisfying. The briefs are about a half-hour long, pending questions which the guys always have. I try to make the PowerPoint slides interesting and enjoyable to view. The issues I cover include the change in threat, an overview of the religious observance and how they can expect to encounter it, how the local population's observance will effect them, how Iraqi Police and Army's observance will effect them, and finally the importance of respect for the beliefs of others--both here and back at home.
I briefed several groups of Soldiers and Marines here at the Camp Blue Diamond chapel and several more groups out at the JSSs and COPs. The biggest challenge--from my vantage point--is that at least 99% percent of the issue is being respectful of the local population and helping them to observe Ramadan in safety and security. Of course, the other 1% of the issue is extremely important; those insurgents who are religiously motivated (we know many are not) will view Ramadan as an ideal time to kill themselves for what they believe. Of course this is a concern at all times, but it is especially the case during this month. Soldiers have to keep this balance in mind--heightened respect on the one hand, and heightened safety on the other. I have great confidence in my Commander's Soldiers.
My interaction with people of other traditions has always challenged me. By no means do I advocate tolerance--at least as it is often explained. I do encourage understanding, however. My understanding of Islam, especially as I have come to know it through dialogue with my Muslim friends here and in the Sates, has helped me become a better Christian. This is true of my prolonged interaction with people of all faiths. There's plenty of things I reject, but even then, rejecting something helps me more clearly define what it is I believe. I experience no need to witness to my Muslim friends here in Iraq. It is expressly forbidden by both the military and my denomination. However, we all give witness to our beliefs by the way we choose to treat others. Jesus taught, "by this shall men know you are my disciples, if you love one another" (John 13:35). (This Arabic caligraphy reads, "Ramadan Mubarak" or "Happy Ramadan")