This weekend marks the beginning of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan – a time of fasting, prayer, and self-reflection throughout the Muslim world. But every year, it starts with a controversy: Ramadan begins with the sighting of the first sliver of the new moon, and religious authorities often differ by a day on when that occurs.
In Syria, the predominantly Sunni opposition is embroiled in a guerilla war with the Alawite-led government. The two sides disagree over the future of their country, the nature of the conflict — and, you guessed it, the start of Ramadan.
"The Syrian National Council announces … Friday is the first day of Ramadan, unlike what was declared by the regime," read a statement released by the umbrella opposition group. President Bashar al-Assad’s government, meanwhile, declared the holy month would begin on Saturday.
There’s a regional political dimension at play here: Most of the Arab world’s Sunni states — such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Egypt, and Jordan — have announced that Ramadan begins on Friday. These countries have been largely supportive of Syria’s rebels. Meanwhile, Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon’s Shiite community — whose political leaders have supported to the Assad regime — are starting Ramadan on Saturday.
Just another example of how what seems to be a purely theological dispute quickly becomes politicized amidst Syria’s bloody sectarian conflict.