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Monday, 5 November, 2001, 14:59 GMT
Ramadan: Tensions raised in holy month
Muslims pray during the Ramadan at the al-Asqa mosque in Jerusalem
Ramadan consolidates a Muslim sense of identity
The Pentagon's decision to continue strikes on Afghanistan during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan may stoke more hostility from the Islamic world.

But down the centuries even Muslims have continued hostilities during this period.

We do not believe that al-Qaeda or the Taleban are likely to be ones who are going to be observant of any kind of rules of civilisation

Condoleezza Rice
US National Security Adviser
Ramadan, one of the most significant events on the Muslim calendar, marks the month when the Islamic faithful believe God revealed the holy book - the Koran - to the Prophet Mohammed.

Ramadan starts when a witness testifies to the authorities that the new moon has been sighted, expected this year on or around 17 November.

Muslims must then abstain from food, drink and sexual intercourse from dawn to dusk for a month.

Islamic leaders around the world have voiced fears that the potential for serious domestic unrest would grow significantly if the campaign against Afghanistan continued during this period.

But in the past, Afghanistan's Taleban rulers, as well as the opposition Northern Alliance, have continued to fight during the holy month when the need arose.

Indeed, some Muslims believe that if they die during Ramadan, they will attain a higher place in paradise.

No respite

According to Muslim belief, Prophet Mohammed himself fought fiercely during Ramadan.

Taleban fighters
In the past, the Taleban have not halted fighting for Ramadan
There are more contemporary examples.

In 1973, Syria and Egypt attacked Israel in the "Ramadan War", saying they were acting on behalf of persecuted Muslims in the Palestinian territories.

Iran and Iraq waged war on each other for eight years during the 1980s, with no respite for Ramadan.

The BBC's Middle East analyst Roger Hardy says other conflicts in the world - for example in Algeria - have sometimes witnessed an escalation of fighting during Ramadan rather than a lull.

US 'sensitivity'

The difference this time is that a Muslim country is being attacked by a non-Muslim superpower in a war that has already stirred up deep feelings in Islamic states.

In some cases in the past, non-Muslim states at war with Muslims have exercised restraint during Ramadan for fear of a provoking a violent response from the Muslim world.

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld
The US says it cannot afford to stop the bombardment
In recent years for example, Indian forces have declared a ceasefire in their campaign against militants in the Kashmir conflict during Ramadan, in the hope of avoiding widespread hostility.

President George Bush, the British Prime Minister Tony Blair and their allies are anxious to show the utmost sensitivity to Muslim feelings in a conflict they have repeatedly characterised as a war against terrorism, rather than a war against Islam.

But they argue that at this stage they simply cannot afford a lull in bombing, despite calls for even a temporary respite to allow in much-needed food aid.

US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld turned down Pakistan's call for a halt in the campaign.

"Our task is certainly to be sensitive to the views of the region but also to see that we aggressively deal with the terrorist networks that exist," he said.

The Pakistani President Pervez Musharaf has already warned that continuing the bombing during Ramadan would have a "huge negative fallout".

Ramadan is more than a month of fasting and piety.

Like the Haj pilgrimage to Mecca, Ramadan consolidates the sense of identity among the world's millions of Muslims.

See also:

04 Nov 01 | South Asia
US rejects Pakistan Ramadan plea
01 Nov 01 | South Asia
Bombing to go on during Ramadan
22 Oct 01 | South Asia
Asian warnings over Ramadan
27 Nov 00 | South Asia
Ramadan ceasefire in Kashmir
27 Nov 00 | South Asia
Kashmir alert ahead of truce
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