A very different Ramadan
Muslim sailors observe a month of fasting while on deployment with HMCS Halifax
By Joanie Veitch,
If he’s not already on duty, Sailor Second Class Yunus Kurt gets up every day, an hour before sunrise, to have something to eat before beginning his daily fast — it will be about 16 hours before he will eat or drink anything again.
During the month of Ramadan — the most sacred time in the Islamic calendar — Muslims around the world fast during daylight hours. For S2 Kurt, along with S3 Ahmad Bitar, both Naval Communicators on deployment with HMCS Halifax, this is a most unusual Ramadan. Their ship left HMC Dockyard in Halifax on January 1, headed for Europe and a six-month deployment to Operation REASSURANCE alongside NATO allies.
“This is my first deployment and also the first time where I fasted during Ramadan while in the middle of the ocean,” said S2 Kurt, who is from London, Ont and joined the Navy in 2018 “to see the world.”
When Ramadan began on April 12, both S2 Kurt and S3 Bitar called their families to wish them well, and have continued to stay in touch using FaceTime and other messaging apps. While Ramadan usually sees families and friends gather to share the Iftar meal and break the fast together as the sun sets, that practice has ‘gone online’ for many Muslims around the world this year due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Using available technology to talk with family and friends from home and read their messages of support has been a huge help, said S2 Kurt.
“Fasting on Ramadan while at sea has been harder than I thought, when you don’t have a home to come back to. That is one of the biggest challenges while sailing,” he said. “It is very difficult being away from my community, however I’ve become used to it since joining the military, due to the amount of moving I’ve had to do.”
Although evenings after sundown during Ramadan are usually social, for Muslims it is also a time to slow down and take extra time for spiritual reflection beyond their daily prayers — not easy to do while on a warship.
“It is hard to slow down in a high-tempo program, but it adds an extra sense of accomplishment when you finish that day,” said S3 Bitar, who is from Halifax, NS and joined the RCN straight out of high school in 2018. “It is difficult, but that is the whole purpose: fighting temptations. Just focusing and reminding myself helps me out through the day.”
During Ramadan, S3 Bitar also likes to take time to reflect on how he can be of service to others. “Doing good deeds, they could be little things or big things, but I try my best to help people,” he said. “It makes you feel better…and it makes their day easier.”
For S2 Kurt, Ramadan is a time to deepen his faith, noting that he has enjoyed talking with colleagues and supervisors who’ve shown interest in learning about his faith and the importance of Ramadan to Muslims.
Both sailors said that despite the hardships of fasting while at sea, they have felt supported by their shipmates – especially the kitchen staff – for saving them dinner to eat when the sun sets and they can break their fast.
“I give big thanks to the cooks,” S3 Bitar added.
The end of Ramadan, which falls on May 12 this year, is celebrated worldwide with the festival of Eid al-Fitr. Although the two sailors don’t know for certain how they’ll mark the event, they plan to spend the time together, along with another Muslim sailor observing Ramadan onboard HMCS Halifax.
“I don’t know where we will be, but probably somewhere in the middle of the ocean,” said S2 Kurt.
“We’ll celebrate by hugging each other and hopefully breaking our fast together.”