'Ramadan effect' may be aiding Libyan rebels' cause
Libyan rebels manage a checkpoint at the entrance of the residential area of al-Brega on August 15.
August 22nd, 2011
11:29 PM ET

'Ramadan effect' may be aiding Libyan rebels' cause

By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor

(CNN) - Ramadan might not seem like the ideal time to attempt a government overthrow.

The Islamic holy month, which began earlier this month and is now entering its final week, is best known for its all-day fasts, which would sap the energy of the most ardent rebels.

In Libya, where rebel fighters entered the capital over the weekend, appearing to usher in what some say are the last days of Moammar Gadhafi's regime, Ramadan is coinciding with some of the summer’s hottest days: hardly ideal weather for staging street fights against a deeply entrenched regime.

And Ramadan, with its calls for Muslims to show compassion and to step back from worldly affairs for a month of purification, might not seem conducive to calls for regime toppling.

But experts say Ramadan probably helped intensify the Libyan civil war and probably played a contributing role in taking the 6-month-old conflict to a dramatic level.

And they say a similar Ramadan effect is at work in Syria, where protests against the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have grown over recent weeks, and possibly in other countries where the Arab Spring is raging.

“During the month of fasting, people are praying at night at mosque and are allowed to connect with other Muslims, praying about God promising justice and rulers who are compassionate,” said Akbar Ahmed, an Islamic studies professor at American University in Washington. “And they think of the reality of these brutal, completely mad regimes, and there’s a sense of ‘we have to do something. It’s now or never.’ ”

In a country like Libya, Ahmed said, where most universities and religious schools have been shut down by the government or are tightly controlled by it, mosques are among the only places where the country’s overwhelmingly Muslim population can gather and speak freely.

That means houses of worship are among the only places where people can organize politically.

Juan Cole, a Middle East expert at the University of Michigan, said that in the Libyan capital of Tripoli, the public call to prayer broadcast by many mosques on Saturday night doubled as a signal for underground rebels to join the fighting.

“The message, which was ‘God is most great,’ is what you say when you’re fighting a struggle,” Cole said. “No Muslim would have had any trouble deciphering that.”

Cole said that each day’s final Muslim prayer, for which many men head to mosque after breaking the Ramadan fast, provides a unique opportunity for social mobilization efforts.

“These prayers happen about 9:30, and when you have a big gathering of men in a mosque, you can mobilize them for social action,” he said. “You can talk them up and send them out into the streets to protest, which is what’s happening in Syria.”

In Syria, which has been roiled by months of protests demanding the end to the al-Assad regime, nighttime protests have swelled during Ramadan, provoking a brutal government crackdown.

In Libya, experts said that months of NATO airstrikes against Gadhafi's installations, the organization’s increased coordination with Libyan rebels and recent rebels victories in key towns were the major factors behind opposition forces finally making it to Tripoli.

But Ramadan created a surprisingly ideal atmosphere for a stepped-up rebel campaign, they said.

Nic Robertson, CNN’s senior international correspondent, said that some Western governments worried Ramadan would mark a lull in the Libyan rebels’ campaign.

“There was a feeling that the war needed to be over by Ramadan,” Robertson said. “That didn't happen, but it focused a lot of Western minds … that and the high financial and political cost of having a protracted NATO involvement.

“The fear was that Ramadan would mean an end to serious fighting, pushing the end of the war phase into September, which would be politically more dangerous for Cameron, Obama, Sarkozy,” Robertson said, referring to the leaders of Britain, the U.S. and France, which all contributed to the NATO campaign.

Instead, Libyan rebels have latched onto Ramadan as a public relations opportunity.

Frederic Wehrey, a senior policy analyst at the RAND Corp. who studies Libya, says that rebels there have attempted to co-opt the Ramadan message to win popular support.

“The rebels have gotten a lot smarter and are being magnanimous,” Wehrey said. “They’re playing a smart game where they don’t have to pummel people into submission, they’re inducing people’s defections (from Gadhafi), and Ramadan is an opening for that.”

Wehrey said that although Libya is less religious than some other majority Muslim countries, Islam could play an outsized role in a post-Gadhafi government because Gadhafi has gutted other civil society institutions.

“If there’s no way to organize people, if people don’t feel like they have a voice, and the only organizations for meeting people's basic needs are religious, that translates into greater political power,” he said. “It all depends on how quickly a government can be established that meets people’s needs.”

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Islam • Libya • Ramadan

soundoff (328 Responses)
  1. Muslim girl names

    Muslim matrimony can be a sacred event that will binds a woman to the woman's hubby. This is not simply a sacred event nevertheless a conference that may be communal and observed with a great number of folks. A new ...ramadan

    January 14, 2012 at 11:28 am |
  2. Muneef

    It is true now that the war nearly over in Libya but weapons still scattered around in piles....some other expect a spilt among rebels to fighting against each other now nearly their obstacle is over...!

    August 24, 2011 at 10:03 pm |
    • Naomi

      Muneef, can't you guys pick up a Bible and start reading it like a good Muslim and get educated? You need the Biblical principles for proper democracy.

      August 25, 2011 at 2:00 am |
  3. Marvin

    I saw a picture on the news the rebels stole Gadafy's hat and wig.
    Thats cold blooded, you can keep the hat but Give the poor man his wig back lol!

    August 24, 2011 at 7:37 pm |
  4. Muneef

    Just wonder why the Barbar of Libya who want to their language...remain using it with Arabic Letters rather than western letters ? Turkey already regreting having droped the Arabic letters in their language adopting western letters!

    August 24, 2011 at 3:03 pm |
  5. Frogist

    I find it wonderfully ironic that the rebels used the same thing (Islam) Ghaddafi used to shore up power, to overthrow him. Live by the sword, die by the sword?

    August 24, 2011 at 9:37 am |
  6. Naomi

    Democracy is a junk if people are not educated with the Judeo-Christian values. It only works well with the educated Christian population.

    August 24, 2011 at 1:53 am |
    • Michael daily

      Then why did modern democracy only come about 1700 years after the beginning of Christianity? Before that was the inquisition, the middle ages, the crusades ...

      August 24, 2011 at 1:26 pm |
    • Naomi

      @Michael: Education. Bible literacy. Democracy polluted the planet; be thankful it came late.

      August 24, 2011 at 5:02 pm |
  7. Gary Muhammad

    I don't care what this article says: fighting during the Holy month of Ramadan is forbidden, and those who say they are Muslims while conducting violent aggression toward other Muslims during the month of Ramadan are of Satan and will be consumed in the hellfire promised to the hypocrites. May the members of NATO and those who support them burn in hell, and may the hypocrites being armed by NATO burn in hell with them.

    August 23, 2011 at 6:33 pm |
    • J.W

      How could you want someone to burn in hell? that is mean

      August 23, 2011 at 9:50 pm |
    • Reality

      Saving Muslims like Gary Muhammad is quite easy as long as they have open minds!!!

      The Five Steps To Deprogram 1400 Years of Islamic Myths:

      ( –The Steps take less than two minutes to finish- simply amazing, two minutes to bring peace and rationality to over one billion lost souls- Priceless!!!)

      Are you ready?

      Using "The 77 Branches of Islamic "faith" a collection compiled by Imam Bayhaqi as a starting point. In it, he explains the essential virtues that reflect true "faith" (iman) through related Qur’anic verses and Prophetic sayings." i.e. a nice summary of the Koran and Islamic beliefs.

      The First Five of the 77 Branches:

      "1. Belief in Allah"

      aka as God, Yahweh, Zeus, Jehovah, Mother Nature, etc. should be added to your cleansing neurons.

      "2. To believe that everything other than Allah was non-existent. Thereafter, Allah Most High created these things and subsequently they came into existence."

      Evolution and the Big Bang or the "Gi-b G-nab" (when the universe starts to recycle) are more plausible and the "akas" for Allah should be included if you continue to be a "crea-tionist".

      "3. To believe in the existence of angels."

      A major item for neuron cleansing. Angels/de-vils are the mythical creations of ancient civilizations, e.g. Hitt-ites, to explain/define natural events, contacts with their gods, big birds, sudden winds, protectors during the dark nights, etc. No "pretty/ug-ly wingy thingies" ever visited or talked to Mohammed, Jesus, Mary or Joseph or Joe Smith. Today we would classify angels as f–airies and "tin–ker be-lls". Modern de-vils are classified as the de-mons of the de-mented.

      "4. To believe that all the heavenly books that were sent to the different prophets are true. However, apart from the Quran, all other books are not valid anymore."

      Another major item to delete. There are no books written in the spirit state of Heaven (if there is one) just as there are no angels to write/publish/distribute them. The Koran, OT, NT etc. are simply books written by humans for humans.

      Prophets were invented by ancient scribes typically to keep the un-educated masses in line. Today we call them for-tune tellers.

      Prophecies are also invali-dated by the natural/God/Allah gifts of Free Will and Future.

      "5. To believe that all the prophets are true. However, we are commanded to follow the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) alone."

      Mohammed spent thirty days "fasting" (the Ramadan legend) in a hot cave before his first contact with Allah aka God etc. via a "pretty wingy thingy". Common sense demands a neuron deletion of #5. #5 is also the major source of Islamic vi-olence i.e. turning Mohammed's "fast, hunger-driven" hallu-cinations into horrible reality for unbelievers.

      Walk these Five Steps and we guarantee a complete recovery from your Islamic ways!!!!

      Unfortunately, there are not many Muslim commentators/readers on this blog so the "two-minute" cure is not getting to those who need it. If you have a Muslim friend, send him a copy and help save the world.

      Analogous steps are available at your request for deprogramming the myths of Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Paganism..

      August 23, 2011 at 11:32 pm |
    • EvolvedDNA

      Gary..luckily for humanity, what you have said is a myth.. when you die it will be just like the the first 15 billion years before you existed.. remember that ??? no.. neither do I. You have been dead before you see.. as we all have....thats not to say an atom or two of us will not form part of a flame at some point in its many existences

      August 23, 2011 at 11:34 pm |
    • Anynmous

      I understand the anger in Gary and the beliefs in his religion strongly, but the way u just approached ur post was out of line... I wouldn't say to people who are working on Sunday or say my God's name in vain to "burn in hell" what u did was wrong. Also i believe they believe strongly the corruptness... granted they are just adding to it with the fighting during Ramadan, but thats their decision.

      August 24, 2011 at 11:42 am |
    • Imane

      @Gary: Fighting is not forbidden during the month of Ramadan. The battle of Badr was fought during Ramadan. In fact, Ramadan is a great month to fight: all Muslims have strong faith during this month.

      August 24, 2011 at 11:03 pm |
  8. Keith

    Remember that wonderful story cnn posted about the muslim comedians "lecturing" the bigotted folks in the South? Perhaps when they are done, they can go to Cairo and lecture the muslim brotherhood. Dr. Salah Sultan, a lecturer on Islamic law in Cairo University and head of the Al Quds Committee in the World Federation of Islamic Scholars, declared Friday that an Egyptian citizen who encounters a "Zionist" should kill him.(Israel national news). How "tolerant" of the good cleric. But, I'm sure cnn in the interest of not being biased will do a story this. Are you retarded comedians reading this? Hypocrites!

    August 23, 2011 at 5:47 pm |
    • Keith

      Take your multi-culturalism lecture trash and take it to your brethren. They seem to be in dire need of it. P.S. You may want to ask them about the "to Jerusalem we are marching, martyrs in the millions" comments, too. Now hop a plane and get lost.

      August 23, 2011 at 7:53 pm |
    • bazzoola

      Of course he would say that!

      A zionist is nothing but a murdered, illegal immigrant, and a thief.

      When someone steals your home, land, culture, and then kick you out to starve and die what do you give him back in return? Kisses and loving?

      August 23, 2011 at 9:19 pm |
    • BG

      @ bazzoola

      " A zionist is nothing but a murdered..."

      Good example of a Freudian slip.

      August 23, 2011 at 10:15 pm |
    • Keith

      God gave Israel ti-tle deed to the land, so who's tresspassing?

      August 24, 2011 at 8:46 am |
    • Keith

      Maybe these idiotic comedians go to Gaza and teach their "tolerance" to the Fakestinians who are raining rockets on Israel's civilian population-oh, you didn't hear about that? Because cnn and other american media have a media blackout on the story-you'll have to go to other media outlets to get the truth on what's happening over there. But the rockets continue, whether cnn reports on them or not. You are not journalists-you contrive the news.

      August 25, 2011 at 8:49 am |
  9. I'm The Best!

    Sorry, that last post by Atheist was me, I changed my tag earlier because Atheist was too generic but then I switched computers and forgot to change it on here. But that was me.

    August 23, 2011 at 5:10 pm |
    • I'm The Best!

      oops, meant to go on an earlier thread.

      August 23, 2011 at 5:17 pm |
    • BG

      ... maybe you should just sit back and read for a while.

      Just use your mouse. There. That's better.

      August 23, 2011 at 9:07 pm |
  10. Keith

    Oh joy! The muslim brotherhood to the rescue.

    August 23, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
  11. Reality

    Way too much rain on the East Coast this month. Ground got heavy and caused a plate shift resulting in a lot of shaking this afternoon. Sure beats any vengeful god theories!!!

    August 23, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Vengfull God's never entered my mind, but a buddy did suggest a vengful Gadaffi had hit the UN.

      August 23, 2011 at 4:05 pm |
  12. William Demuth


    Did the quake convert any of my fellow Athiests?

    I actually did see an elderly Jewish man yell " Jesus Christ" which both he and I thought was amusing after the fact!

    August 23, 2011 at 3:51 pm |
    • John Richardson

      Nope, and the likely hurricane strike won't either. I respect the forces of nature for what they are: forces of nature.

      August 23, 2011 at 4:21 pm |
    • William Demuth

      John Richardson

      Just my luck, I got a beach front condo for the next five days in Wildwwod NJ.

      The only thing I am not expecting at this point is a volcano

      August 23, 2011 at 4:23 pm |
    • John Richardson

      Oh yeah, you picked a great 5 days! 😀

      August 23, 2011 at 4:26 pm |
    • BG

      ... in Jersey no less. Now all he has to worry about is stepping on a needle on the beach.

      Gotta love timeshares.

      August 23, 2011 at 8:47 pm |
    • Frogist

      @William Demuth: Didn't know you were in NJ too. Haven't actually been to Wildwood all summer. I hope your vacay isn't ruined.

      August 24, 2011 at 11:38 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.