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MANAMA, Bahrain — With the start of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, when Muslims fast during the day, U.S. personnel stationed in the Middle East will be expected to observe certain restrictions when off base and their daily routines may be affected in other ways as well.

Businesses and government offices will reduce hours and most restaurants will be closed during daylight hours. In Bahrain, Americans can be fined for eating, drinking or smoking in public when off base.

For Muslims around the world, Ramadan is a month of fasting and devotion to God. Most Muslims fast from dawn to sunset, when families gather for Iftar – the meal that breaks the fast.

Alaa Afifi, an intercultural relations specialist at Naval Support Activity Bahrain, has spent the past several weeks educating U.S. personnel on what to expect.

"Ramadan is different than any other day in our life," he said, adding that if foreigners know and respect the culture of a country, local people will respect them as well.

Chief Petty Officer Rashad Boyd who attended one of Afifi's briefings on Sunday, said it was beneficial to learn the do's and don'ts during the holy month. "I don't want to offend anyone in this county," he said.

Afifi said the purpose of his briefings is to provide advice and "avoid misunderstandings."

Navy officials have implemented guidelines for all U.S. personnel to follow throughout the U.S. Navy 5th Fleet area of responsibility, which includes the Middle East and Afghanistan.

The approved dress code requires men to wear long sleeves and pants, and women to wear sleeves that extend below the elbow, and pants or skirts long enough to cover the knees.

The Navy Exchange on NSA Bahrain has even set up clothing racks advertising "Ramadan Approved Apparel."

Petty Officer 2nd Class Joshua Daniels said he looks forward to the cross-cultural experience.

"No matter what country you're in, you have to respect your surroundings," said Daniels, who arrived in Bahrain a week ago.

Ramadan will also offer some unique experiences for Americans stationed in the area, such as the highly popular Ramadan tents where Americans can experience Iftar — the traditional evening meal — and go midnight shopping, since most malls and shops will be open at night during the month.

Things to Know During Ramadan:

Eating, drinking, chewing and smoking in public are civil offenses in some Arab countries. Men should wear long sleeves and pants. Women’s sleeves should extend below the elbow and pants or skirts should cover the knees. Avoid critical remarks about fasting or any religious practice. Most restaurants will be closed except those in 4- and 5-star hotels. Shops are usually closed during the day and open at night until early morning hours. Arabs are good hosts and may offer you food or refreshments during daylight hours. Such offers should be declined. All consumption of alcohol by U.S. Personnel is prohibited at any off base public venue in the U.S. Navy 5th Fleet AOR during Ramadan. It's polite to say 'Ramadan Kareem' during Ramadan.Source: Alaa Afifi, intercultural specialist on NSA Bahrain and U.S. Navy 5th Fleet.

simoes.hendrick@stripes.com Twitter: @hendricksimoes

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