Tunisian actor Mohamed al-Siyari has sparked fierce debate this week after suggesting that the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan should take place on fixed dates in December every year, in comments made live on Tunisian state radio station Shams FM.
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, which follows the lunar months. It is observed by Muslims worldwide as a month of fasting, prayer and reflection.
The well-known TV personality said he found fasting in the summer "stressful" on account of high temperatures, and asked: "Why do we fast in such punishing heat?"
Al-Siyari said if Ramadan was held in December every year, all Muslims would fast together without exception or excuse.
"Religion is supposed to be easy, not a punishment of fasting in the hot sun," he said.
In the interview, al-Siyari said that religious clerics should come together and change religious doctrine so that Ramadan becomes a regular event, like Christmas, - taking place at the end of the year, and finishing as the new year begins.
The comments sparked a heated debate on social media in Tunisia, drawing criticism and satire over the suggestion.
Tunisian journalist Zeina al-Zaydi responded on the Shams FM's Facebook page saying: "Why not make Ramadan in February then? After all, it's the shortest and coolest month."
"I have another suggestion," activist Ahmed Beldiaf mockingly added, "Why don’t we just have Ramadan every four years, just like the World Cup?"
Facebook user Nidal ben Ramadan went one step further, suggesting "Let'ss organise the Ramadan championships once every two years, and limit qualifying rounds to non-Muslims, playing against the first and second-ranked Ramadan candidates… and how about the winner of each Ramadan edition is exempt from participating in next year’s fast?"
Al-Siyari is an actor and theatre director who has appeared in numerous Arabic language films, TV series, and stage plays - most notably "The Challenger" TV series.
After the backlash against his comments, al-Siyari then appeared on Mosaique FM, standing firm to his position.
"I'm not backing down here… people would be so happy if Ramadan was always in the cold months!" he said, adding that: "Everyone who's up in arms about this is just set in their ways."