ZENICA, Bosnia and Herzegovina (AP) – Groups of men prepare for long hours of hard work deep in a troubled coal mine in the central Bosnian town of Zenica.
During the holy month of Ramadan in Islam, practicing Muslims among them are easy to spot. Arriving for their shift and meeting for a call before taking an elevator into the mine tunnels, they carry with them clear plastic bags of simple meals brought from home with which they will break their daily fast at 500. meters (1,640 feet) below the surface.
During Ramadan, observant Muslims refrain from eating, drinking, and smoking from dawn until sunset, and Zenica’s charcoal miners are no exception. For the duration of the Muslim holy month, they continue with their normal work routine, insisting that they do not experience any exceptional hunger, thirst or exhaustion.
âFor someone who doesn’t want to fast, it’s always easy to find an excuse. We are working hard, it is hot here, but we want to observe the fast and Allah gives us the strength to endure, âsaid Salih Doglod, a miner.
Inside the mine shafts, you can’t see the sunset, but the miners check their watches and smartphones for the right time to sit, unpack their food, and break their daily fast together.
After a quick meal, one of the miners calls for prayer and the men divide into groups of two or three before resuming their difficult and dangerous work.
Bosnia’s coal mines, including the one in Zenica, were poorly maintained and experienced almost no investment or modernization as the region was embroiled in ethnic conflict in the 1990s.
In 2014, Fuad Hadzic survived a deadly collapse in the Zenica mine and insists it only strengthened his faith. At the time, several mining tunnels collapsed, leaving him and 33 other miners, five of whom were killed by rubble, trapped underground for hours.
âMay this never be repeated or never happen to anyone else, but the believers among us trusted that God would save us, and we were saved by God,â Hadzic said.
âWe said all the prayers we knew out loud and told each other to keep praying because we knew only God can save us,â he recalls.
Hadzic insists that God protected him in the most dangerous hours of his life and always gave him the strength to observe his religion.
âI have worked in this same mine for 30 years and with God’s help I still fast during Ramadan. I don’t find it difficult at all, âhe said.