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Many sources claim that the Muslim holiday of Ramadan might be a point of escalation of the war in the Middle East. For example, this WSJ article) says

The risk of the conflict spreading during Ramadan has spurred U.S. and Arab negotiators to push Israel and Hamas to agree by next week to a deal.

This is only a single example from the present year, but I remember similar statements made in previous years before Ramadan.

Why exactly is a religious holiday considered as such a military threat?

In holidays of other religions, people often drink alcohol during holidays, which might cause eruptions of violence. But this is not the case here, since Muslims do not drink alcohol.

Is it simply because, during holidays, many people gather at a single place, and it is easier to incite them to violence? Or is there another reason?

A related question: is it true that, historically, Muslims have been involved in more conflicts during Ramadan than during other months?


EDIT: this Jerusalem Post article, posted after the Ramadan, says: "The peaceful Ramadan Fridays show the Palestinians of the West Bank and east Jerusalem and the Israeli-Arab population are largely law-abiding and not seeking altercations with Israeli authorities... Both sides won during Ramadan. The big loser? Hamas."

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    The null hypothesis is that this is false and it’s just journalists repeating hallucinations generated by their GPT-like colleagues. 99% of theories like this are false. Commented Mar 10 at 0:11
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    I imagine the idea is that during Ramadan, Muslims don't want to wage war, but if the violence is ongoing then they'd have no choice, which is bad. Put alternatively, if you are a Muslim and must fight a war, you'd rather not do it during Ramadan.
    – Allure
    Commented Mar 10 at 1:22
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    Have you done any research? In particular "Ramadan" isn't a "holiday". It is a month long fast.
    – James K
    Commented Mar 10 at 6:01
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    @JamesK I know what Ramadan is. I meant "holiday" in a more general sense (a religiously-meaningful time). Commented Mar 10 at 7:25

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If you believe this WSJ article, the idea is not that Ramadan increases the risk of all military conflict, but rather this one only (Hamas vs. Israel, 2023-2024):

The race to forge a deal that halts the fighting in the Gaza Strip comes at a critical time as Israel has said that it would begin an offensive in Rafah - where over a million Palestinians are sheltering and where Israel says Hamas leaders are hiding - during Ramadan. Ramadan, a month of fasting, prayer and reflection for observant Muslims, can also be a time of heightened tensions in Jerusalem as tens of thousands of Palestinians, facing movement restrictions, seek access to holy sites that are under tight Israeli security control.

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    Yeah, this might be the best answer in this context. FWTW, another article says "In a video statement released on March 8th, a spokesperson for the group’s armed wing, Abu Obaida, referred to Ramadan as “the month of victory, the month of jihad”." economist.com/middle-east-and-africa/2024/03/10/… Commented Mar 11 at 14:17
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    See also english.alarabiya.net/News/middle-east/2024/03/11/… which among other thing says: During Ramadan, Muslims in their tens and even hundreds of thousands pray at the compound. On Friday a spokesman for the armed wing of the Hamas militant group called on “our people” to mobilize and head towards Al-Aqsa. Commented Mar 12 at 16:23
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    I can't find a source right now but aparently the tensions already happened and a few hundred Muslims where denied access to the Al-Asqa and Israel used thousands of police men and water cannons to control the crowds.
    – quarague
    Commented Mar 13 at 7:17
  • @Dolphin613Motorboat this quote is very relevant, as it shows specifically that Hamas leaders want to take advantage of Ramadan to incite violence. But the question remains: why do they consider Ramadan a good time for inciting violence? Commented Mar 14 at 13:46
  • @quarague Not saying that did or didn't happen, but in conflicts like this there is a lot of misinformation being spread on both sides. Ideally try to source everything before sending it on. Commented Apr 24 at 9:31
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The Ramadan is celebrated according to the Islamic (lunar) calendar. These days it falls in the spring, but in the 1970s it fell in the autumn. The Yom Kippur war (1973) was also launched during the Ramadan of then--some Arab sources even call it the 'Ramadan war'. (Saturday 6 October 1973 == 10 Ramadan 1393.) Whether one can expect something similar now, YMMV.

Some of the Muslims hagiography seems to (implicitly) consider the Ramadan benefic for Muslims in warfare, pointing e.g. to the Battle of Ain Jalut when the Mongol advance was checked and to the Battle of Hattin leading to the recapture of Jerusalem from the Crusaders.

Ironically, the Battle of Ascalon, which sealed the capture of Jerusalem by the Crusaders for quite some time (Muslim relief attempt failing then), was also fought during the Ramadan, it seems, but the more hagiographic sources omit that (one).

Anyhow, during the Iran-Iraq war, there was also a large scale Iranian offensive launched during the Ramadan of 1982.

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  • The historic examples are interesting, but somewhat anecdotal. It would be more interesting to have statistics of how many conflicts related to Muslims were initiated during Ramadan vs. during other months. Commented Mar 11 at 14:12
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    @ErelSegal-Halevi: indeed, but I rather doubt someone compiled something like that. Commented Mar 11 at 14:14
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In the case of the news articles in question, I think they are specifically referring to flare-ups in Jerusalem, where there are always tensions concerning holy sites and where religious holidays correspond to ritual activities at those sites.

But speaking more abstractly, the reason religious holidays are likely to be associated with violence, is because they tend to be associated with large gatherings, collective activities, and a release from usual daily demands such as work.

This might lead to violence because there may be more travel and suddenly more opportunity for communication amongst a community of people, and therefore opportunity to learn about grievances or outrages of common concern which then sparks a violent remedy.

Or it may be because proximity between adherents causes a resonance of emotion and emboldens them to do something about their grievances, and proximity makes organising and scheduling a forceful remedy more practicable.

Or, a large gathering can provide a pretext and cover for the presence of those who have planned a violent attack in advance.

Another possibility is that religious opponents use the occasion of peaceful gatherings to plan provocations or inflict violence of their own, so that violence then correlates with religious holidays even though it is not those who are observing the holiday who trigger the violence.

Anyone familiar with the history of the Troubles in Northern Ireland will recall the case when loyalist Michael Stone attacked a funeral for IRA members with guns and grenades.

Then, at a funeral three days later for an IRA man killed in Michael Stone's attack, and under circumstances that were never fully rationalised or explained, two British Army corporals in plain clothes drove a car erratically and recklessly into the funeral crowd. When the car was mobbed with people and funeral vehicles to bring it to a halt, the corporals then discharged their service pistols out of the car windows and into the air, seemingly in fear and in a gambit to clear the crowd. In doing so, they alarmed the crowd further, many of whom were IRA militants, which led to the corporals' own demise.

So even though the ceremonies themselves were not intended to be violent by their organisers, they represented occasions on which their opponents could predict their presence in large numbers and therefore plan a violent attack, or in which heightened tensions could lead to spontaneous violence in response to lesser or accidental disruptions.

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There is already a robust answer as to what Muslim militaries do, or do not do, during Ramadan as well as Ramadan itself.

And, as this answer states, no, not all locations are equally conflict-prone right now.

Speaking of Western countries, for the past few decades of occasional conflicts in Muslim countries, it has generally been the norm for their militaries to be circumspect in military operations around the time of Ramadan. Anyone with even a passing interest in those wars has seen this time and again.

The reasons are rarely re-articulated, and generally are assumed to be self-evident ("because of Ramadan Coalitions forces have..."), but I assume they are a combination of:

  • Not exacerbating the religion aspects of those conflicts. Western countries do not generally see themselves fighting Islam and don't want to give more ammunition to those that characterize them that way.

  • Not being seen as taking advantage of an enemy when they are at a special disadvantage due to cultural/religious reasons (combat operations would be quite hard to carry out while fasting, though I expect special dispensation can be granted to eat if necessary).

  • General goodwill: Ramadan is a long, holy, period for Muslims and it doesn't hurt to respect/propose a temporary lull. Bringing to mind the famous 1914 Christmas Day Truce, if more of that had taken place, the world would have been a better place for it. This is all the more important in the hearts-and-minds context of counterinsurgency wars.

I suppose this is largely what is driving these news articles.

p.s. And, let's not be coy about it, these articles are not being written in a vacuum:

Context matters. The words "hunger", "conflict" and "Muslims" have an especially unfortunate resonance these days and the potential escalation during a fasting-oriented religious holiday could very well be worse than usual.

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In addition to the answers already given (this answer adds another aspect and is no means meant as a complete explanation) there is potential correlation between fasting, which is an important aspect of Ramadan, and irritability as this study found. The medical term behind this effect is adrenergic symptoms of Hypoglycemia.

As a result of an increased level of anxiety, existing tensions are more likely to flare up, especially if decision makers are affected. Hypogelycemia is frequently not noticed by the individuals affected by it.

There are other studies also specifically considering Ramadan fasting that come to different conclusions, and all studies show a considerably variance of effects between individuals.

This simple biological effect is unlikely to be a cause in itself, but may contribute to other causes and increase their impact.

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  • An interesting approach but it's a very sensitive topic, I doubt you'll find research connecting the two. Also as it stands being irritable and starting a war are rather separated, this answer needs more to actually answer the question. Commented Apr 24 at 9:40
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Is it simply because, during holidays, many people gather at a single place, and it is easier to incite them to violence?

Yes.

Or is there another reason?

Another reason is that during Ramadan Muslims are expected to fast and forcing them to fight would force them to violate their religious mandates. Which in turn would be considered offensive by other Muslims and might lead to violent eruptions. Imagine someone forcing Jews to fight on Yom Kippur or Simhat Torah, for example, that would be unthinkable and would lead to world-wide condemnation.

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    According to the second reason you mention I would expect that, on the contrary, Ramadan would make Muslims less likely to initiate conflict, as they should be busy with fasting. Commented Mar 9 at 22:52
  • @ErelSegal-Halevi if they feel they need to fight - they'll fight. Historically violence has erupted during Ramadan quite often.
    – littleadv
    Commented Mar 9 at 22:56
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    This historic fact is not compatible with the second argument in your answer.. Commented Mar 9 at 22:57
  • @ErelSegal-Halevi I'm not saying it's a valid reason:)
    – littleadv
    Commented Mar 10 at 0:46
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    @ErelSegal-Halevi, is fasting something that occupies people? I would have thought that fasting is not only associated with a reduction of activity, but also with hunger potentially causing a nangy mood.
    – Steve
    Commented Mar 10 at 1:43

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