The month ends
The month is a holy time meant for introspection, peace, and piety, but it has been transformed in the hands of the extremists who have thrived during the recent decades of turbulence around war zones like Iraq, Afghanistan, and more recently in Syria. The terror group used Ramadan as a rallying cry for violence causing the wave of attacks across Turkey, Bangladesh, Baghdad, and even Medina.
The Iraq army, backed by Shiite militias, defeated ISIS in battle and drove the militants out of one of their key strongholds. To this, the ISIS militants retaliated by driving a truck bomb into the Shiite community's soft underbelly, destroying a shopping street in Karada — one of Baghdad's more upscale neighborhoods, home to many Shiites and considered relatively safe.
In Istanbul, ISIS commandos rampaged through the airport on June 28, killing 45 and scaring off tourists before the summer rush, something vital to the local economy. The Turkish government had long turned a blind eye to ISIS, treating the militants more or less the same way it treated Syrian opposition groups that seemed to share Turkey's officially stated goal of toppling Syrian President Bashar Assad.
But Turkey has recently been cracking down on ISIS, tightening controls along the Syrian border and allowing the United States to carry out more airstrikes and surveillance missions from Turkish soil. Striking Turkey was designed to send a message to their government that ISIS will burn down the country unless things go back to the way they were.
Both the Baghdad and Istanbul attacks served to tighten the noose around areas ISIS still controls. But why would ISIS, a terrorist group claiming to be Islamic, make Ramadan a season of violence? Why attack primarily in Muslim countries and kill fellow Muslims during a month explicitly dedicated to expressing devotion to the faith? Last year's Ramadan edition of the ISIS propaganda magazine Dabiq spoke at length about the supposed benefits of fighting during the holy month: "This is because Allah opens gates for the Muslims in Ramadan and upon them He sends His mercy. Thus, it is indeed a noble month. The gates of Jannah (heaven) are opened and the gates of Hell are closed.
The devils are chained up. It is a noble month in which good deeds are multiplied and lowly desires are subdued." So for ISIS, Ramadan is an auspicious time to fight because "the devils" are chained up and heaven is open. Ibrahim Bayram, a Beirut-based political analyst, said the attacks aim to dispel the notion that the organisation is going to vanish or shrink.
This, however, is not the first time Ramadan has been a time of holy war. The first significant battle in Islam, the Battle of Badr in 624 AD, waged by Prophet Mohammed himself and his early followers against non-believers in what is now Saudi Arabia was fought during the month of Ramadan. The Yom Kippur War of 1973, when Egypt and Syria launched a surprise attack against Israel, is usually called the Ramadan war in the Muslim world.
Just as it is considered especially pious to pray and to be kind during Ramadan, it is equally considered an honor to die in battle for a Muslim cause. But the ultimate shock came when a suicide bomber attacked Medina in Saudi Arabia close to the Prophet Mohammed's own tomb. Al-Jazeera quoted Saudi Arabia's supreme council of clerics as saying the attacks, "prove that those renegades ... have violated everything that is sacred."
Jordan, Lebanon, the UAE, Turkey, and Pakistan were all quick to condemn the attacks. The silver lining, however, has been the increasingly rare show of sectarian unity as Shiite Iran and Hezbollah denounced the Medina attack.