When the 116 Muslim inmates at Guantanamo Bay broke their fast and ended the 30 days of Ramadan on Friday night, they brought to a close a month of nighttime prayer and force-feedings postponed until sunset.
But this year, on the other side of the razor wire, there was someone else celebrating Ramadan: a 47-year-old female Sergeant 1st Class, the only Muslim she knows on the base who doesn't live in a cell.
This Army sergeant, who was profiled in the Miami Herald and whose name has not been revealed, leads 30 guards in the restrictive Cuba prison. “I'm a soldier. My mission comes first,” she told the Herald.
The sergeant, who is a mother and grandmother, usually spends nighttime iftar feasts at home with her family in northern California. This year, she skipped meals during the day and prayed alone in her trailer, wearing her uniform instead of her headscarf.
Her faith doesn't interfere with her work, she says. “My soldiers, my peers, they show me the same love, the same understanding, the same respect as if I was standing in the middle of a masjid," she told the Herald.
The sergeant converted to Islam from Pentecostalism 19 years ago, about the same time she joined the army. She's currently on a nine-month deployment to Gitmo, and doesn't seem to hold much sympathy for her charges: "The Qur'an teaches us that you follow the laws, and if you break the laws, then, it is what it is," she said. "I don't believe in using the religion to break the laws, because the Qur'an is clear on that."
The Gitmo task force doesn't track its soldiers by religion, but she's probably not the first Muslim to ever serve at the base, Captain Christopher Scholl, a task force spokesperson, told Fusion.
It's not clear whether the inmates know that one of the leaders of the people locking them up shares their faith. She works in an office, out of view of the cell blocks; inmates have previously objected to being shackled by female guards.
Life during Ramadan this year was a little softer and more forgiving than usual for inmates—but barely. The prison's schedule turned upside-down, as most inmates slept during the hot days and watched TV or played soccer at nights. Inmates' disciplinary records were wiped clean for the "Ramadan pardon." Meals of traditional dates and baklava were served at dusk and dawn, while the inmates on hunger strike were force fed through a tube at the same times.
Each night, the cell block's imam led prayers. When a Herald reporter visited, inmates started to shout: “We don’t have any rights,” one said. “And we haven’t done any crime. Where is the American freedom?”
But military censors erased that audio from the Herald's recording, leaving behind the lilting, haunting call to prayer:
Casey Tolan is a National News Reporter for Fusion based in New York City.