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Region | Syrians Start Ramadan, But Not Together

by RASHA ELASS

22 Jul 2012 01:34Comments
6a00d8341c630a53ef0176169b456b970c-600wi.jpg The Syrian government follows Iran's lead and declares Saturday the first day of Ramadan.

[ dispatch ] For Syrians, Ramadan is the latest battlefield. Some of the country's Muslims started fasting on Friday, others on Saturday. It all depended on whether they supported the Syrian regime or opposed it.

The referees seem to be Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Saudi Arabia, which officially adheres to the Sunni tradition, declared the start of the Holy Month on Friday. Iran, which is a Shia state, said Ramadan begins on Saturday.

"We don't follow Saudi. We don't like them. We don't want them," said Bahia, a Damascene woman who supports the Syrian regime. She did not want her full name used for fear of reprisals.

Bahia is also a Sunni Muslim, which is Syria's majority and the broad base for the opposition, though some Sunnis still support the Assad regime.

Her statement is in stark contrast to a young man, who is also a Sunni from Damascus. He said his name is Abdo.

"Everyone I know, and myself of course, started fasting on Friday," he said. "Only supporters of the regime started their fast on Saturday."

He comes from Miedan, one of Damascus' most embattled neighborhoods. Violent clashes there between government forces and armed rebels have been ongoing for a week.

Usually, most Arab countries follow Saudi's lead in declaring the start of Ramadan. Traditional Muslim clerics say once Ramadan's new moon is visible by the naked eye, all Muslims should begin their fast. Islamic months follow a lunar calendar, which means the start of Ramadan is determined by the new moon. But Sunni and Shia clerics disagree on what constitutes a visible new moon, which often leads to declaring Ramadan one day apart.

This year, the Syrian government officially followed Iran's lead, declaring the first day of Ramadan to be Saturday. Regardless of when Syrians started fasting, this month might be one of the most difficult the country will endure.

Leading up to Iftar time, when Muslims break their fast, the streets of Damascus were eerily empty. This is extremely unusual as the city's hustle and bustle explodes at this time of day, creating what has come to be called over the years as the hour of "majaneen," Arabic for insane.

Fasting workers rush home to make it in time for the family feast. Men and women run outside for last minute grocery shopping. Invited guests ring door bells to brake their fast with friends and loved ones.

But not this Ramadan. A shortage of basic food staples is starting to take hold throughout the country, including in the capital. Bread ovens, vegetable stands and supermarkets are either closed or have very little to sell. This has left many Iftar tables without traditional items, such as licorice juice and apricot paste. Even simpler pleasures have disappeared.

"No watermelon today, and we only have two cucumbers left and half a tomato for salad at Iftar," said one homemaker preparing the meal for a family of three.

Electricity and water, scarce to begin with in Syria, have been completely absent in some parts of the country. And because Ramadan this year begins in mid-summer, it boasts the longest and hottest fasting days in over two decades. Also, in recent days, Damascus has been enduring the worst violence since the conflict in Syria began over 16 months ago.

Earlier this week, an explosion rocked a highly fortified government building in the heart of the capital, killing at least four of President Bashar al Assad's top aids.

On Saturday, Damascus seemed a bit calmer than earlier this week, prompting some people to wonder if the government might use the traditional sound of canon fire to mark Iftar time at sunset.

Normally, friends and family gather round their feast table and wait patiently for the familiar sound of the Iftar canon. It is their cue to begin eating. But as the day progressed, the sound of mortar shelling and helicopter gunfire could be heard everywhere in Damascus. This created an irony that was not lost on some people.

"Which canon sound should we break our fast to?" said Abdo.

Photo above: EPA/STR. Homepage: Fars News Agency.

Copyright © 2012 Tehran Bureau

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