Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Downbeat Feel to Ramadan

While violence muted this year’s celebrations in Iraq, the Eid al-Fitr festival managed to unite Shia and Sunni communities for the first time in decades.
By Hussein Ali

Ramadan this year was a muted affair throughout the Iraqi capital, with many people choosing to skip or curtail the normally sociable “iftar” meal that marks the end of the day’s fast, because of the threat of bombings and kidnappings.


The violent attacks across the country that dampened people’s holiday spirit finally led the interim government to impose a state of emergency in the last week of the holy month.


A state-imposed curfew which then came into effect kept people in their homes after dusk, effectively halting the traditional round of shared “iftar” meals and outings that normally mark the end of a day’s fasting.


For many in Baghdad, there was little to celebrate this year anyway.


"How are we supposed to enjoy Ramadan when there are so many mourning tents everywhere? This year has been marked by bitterness and loss,” commented Omar Naji, a Baghdad taxi driver.


Ali Mohammed, a college tutor agreed, “Ramadan is supposed to be all about sharing each other’s problems and suffering. But we have gone beyond that this year; we are all living through the same terrible times.”


The decline in festivities was paralleled by a rise in religious observance in the capital. Fasting and mosque attendance increased, most markedly among young men, while an unusually high number of women veiled themselves for the period, with many choosing to fully cover their faces.


Since Eid al-Fitr, the three day long celebration that marks the end of the fasting period, coincided with the height of the Coalition-led assault on Fallujah, people in the Iraqi capital were in no mood to party.


“There was no Eid. How could we celebrate while our houses were being destroyed and our sons were being killed?” said Um Naji, a refugee from the besieged city. “They killed any happiness we might have had.”


As well as the fighting in the troubled Sunni city, the increasingly desperate economic situation in the capital also hit home over the holiday, with many families unable to buy the usual presents for their children.


“Everyone is supposed to be feel happy over Eid, regardless of whether they are rich or poor,” commented Talib Hashim, the imam at Baghdad’s Zahraa mosque. “But everything is becoming more expensive and a lot of families couldn’t buy their kids anything this year.”


Even who could afford to shop for gifts found there was no escape from the deteriorating security situation in the capital.


Mustafa Abbas Basim, from Baghdad’s al-Jihad district, lost his father and two brothers when a car bomb exploded close as they were out shopping for Eid presents. “Instead of receiving their Eid gifts, we got their corpses. I still can’t believe they are dead,” he said.


But amidst the gloom, there was one positive omen for Baghdadis to hold on to. For the first time in decades, Iraq’s Sunni and Shia communities celebrated the start of Eid on the same day, rather than a day apart as usual.


While the Shia and Sunni calculations of when the fasting period should end coincided by accident rather than design, clerics on both sides said they were taking it as a positive sign for the future of national and religious unity.


“It is crucial that Sunnis and Shias can show a united front through these difficult times,” said Sheikh Ahmed al-Kubaisi, a professor of Sunni doctrine.


Shia worshipper Ali Saif, 32, who works in the Ministry of Health, said, "Last year, we had three Eids: one for the Shia of Baghdad, one for the Sunni of Baghdad and another for the Shia of Najaf. This year it’s great that we are all able to celebrate at the same time.”


“Now all we need is unity between Sunni and Shia clerics so that we can stand against the people trying to destroy our country.”


Hussein Ali and Ali Marzook are IWPR trainees.


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