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Ramadan becomes the newest front in Syria’s civil war

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 ...

JOSEPH EID/AFP/Getty Images
JOSEPH EID/AFP/Getty Images

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.

David Kenner is the Middle East editor at Foreign Policy. He is based in Beirut, Lebanon, and has been with FP since 2009 (a long time, he knows). He worked for FP previously in Cairo, where he covered the early days of the Arab Spring, and before that in Washington. He has attended Georgetown University and the American University of Beirut and has reported from Libya, Egypt, Gaza, Turkey, Lebanon, and Iraq. @davidkenner

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