In about two weeks, the Muslim world will begin observing Ramadan, a month-long period of prayer and fasting. The question has been raised, in the United States and other Western countries as well as in Muslim countries, about whether the U.S.-led military campaign in Afghanistan should be halted because of Ramadan.
There is much discussion in Egypt about whether the bombings of the Taleban will continue during Ramadan.
Ahmed Dedki el DaJani is an Islamic scholar who lives in Cairo and writes frequently about religious issues. He has expressed concern that if the bombings raids continue during the holy month of fasting and prayer, it may be difficult to contain the emotions of Muslim youths. "I believe there will be very much reactions and reactions always comes from the youth generation who believes that he has the right to do anything he can defending what we believe in our civilization is unjust. Unjust, this is a very important word in our civilization," he said.
Even so, it is not unprecedented for Muslims to wage war during Ramadan. Maged Faraq is an Egyptian historian and publisher who is also based in Cairo. "It has happened so many times. It has happened during the dawn of Islam. It has happened in the medieval times. It has happened in our recent history, 1973. Egypt launched a war during Ramadan," he said.
Fahmy Howeidi is an Islamic columnist with al-Ahram, perhaps Egypt's most highly respected newspaper. He says even the founder of Islam waged war during Ramadan. But he adds that the most important factor is the kind of war that is being fought. "Prophet Mohammed had many fights in Ramadan. His first fight was in Ramadan, but we think, the Muslims think, it was a fair and justified war. So the problem is not in Ramadan itself, but the problem of the legality of war," he said.
While leaders throughout the Middle East have indicated a willingness to fight terrorism, when it comes to the issue of bombing Afghanistan, few are publicly expressing any support.
There is hope among many Muslims that the Bush administration will reconsider its position, at least during the holy month.
Faarid Governier is a publisher of Islamic writings intended to help preserve Islamic culture. He has expressed the hope that the war will end quickly. "I have a feeling that people who are in positions of power realize the delicacy of carrying on the present action, and I'm sure they're going to try to limit it to the best of their ability, end it as quickly as possible," he said.
At a news conference earlier this week in Washington, the British defense secretary, Geoffrey Hoon, and U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, both acknowledged that Muslim sensitivities about Ramadan must be addressed.
But they also emphasized that other factors must be considered.
Mr. Hoon told reporters that it would not make military sense to declare in advance if the attacks against the Taleban would continue during Ramadan. But the British defense secretary went on to suggest it is highly not likely that there will be a bombing halt. Mr. Hoon says that giving Taleban leaders a predictable period of time to organize and regroup its forces is not, in his words, "a sensible way to run a military operation."
On Thursday, the U.S. national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, was more blunt. She said the United States was fighting an enemy that has to be taken on aggressively, and added: "We can't afford to have a pause."