Fatwa Issued for USAFA Basic Cadets during Ramadan
Ramadan occurred during basic training at the US Air Force Academy this year — a strenuous time of physical exertion during which the religiously-mandated fast would likely be detrimental to both health and performance.
Islamic USAFA basic trainees were able to abstain from their fast due to a fatwa issued by Imam Mohamed Jodeh, a civilian described as “the liaison between the Academy’s Muslim community and the chaplains:”
Jodeh…provided the solution: a fatwa, or legal pronouncement, identifying the basic cadets as musafir — “travelers” — during the extent of their stay in Jacks Valley.
The Koran permits certain groups of people to abstain from the fast, including those in combat and those in ill health, though some (including travelers) are supposed to “make up” the time later.
The Islamic trainees were apparently also given breaks throughout the day to perform prayers. Their upperclassmen reportedly not only supported them, but they also did so proactively, even looking up where Mecca was:
“You have to arrange it with the cadre, and you only get five minutes each time,” said [Omar] Obeidat, a native of Irbid, Jordan…”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.”
The USAFA press release only quoted foreign national Islamic cadets, though American citizens were certainly permitted the same accommodations if they requested them. (A caption puts the number of basic attendees at 10.) Still, this was likely particularly meaningful to the foreign nationals, as some have come only recently from Islamic cultures and they are adjusting to all things America — not just the fact Ramadan is not a veritable state event as it is in some other places. (Some have likely been in the US for some time, potentially attending language training.)
The USAFA chaplains said this accommodation was about supporting free exercise for all cadets:
Chaplain (Maj.) Darren 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.”
That’s a bit of an awkward statement, though, since Kwanzaa isn’t a religious celebration. Several commenters noted the absence of Christmas in the statement, though the chaplain was likely focusing on minority faith celebrations.
The ability of the Islamic cadets to receive some accommodation while still meeting the requirements of the basic training mission — including having a local civilian join them in Jack’s Valley for their prayers — appears to be an admirable balance of religious liberty and military necessity.
As a side note, when was the last time you heard “fatwa” used in a positive sense? It is simply a “legal pronouncement,” not a “call to commit violence…or even kill” as some — including Chris Rodda and “religious freedom” advocate Michael Weinstein, have claimed.
Photo credit: Imam Mohamed Jodeh leads basic cadets in evening prayer during a Muslim service in Jacks Valley July 22, 2012. While Muslims normally fast during Ramadan, which began July 20, Jodeh instructed the basics not to fast while they underwent Basic Cadet Training. (U.S. Air Force photo/Don Branum)