It all depended on the sighting of the moon, but conflicting official declarations in parts of the Islamic world divided Muslims on exactly when to end the holy fasting month of Ramadan and celebrate the holiest holiday of Eid’l Fitr.
Following the holiday declaration by the Dharul Ifta (House of Opinion) in Saudi Arabia, the Maranao Muslims in Marawi City and Lanao del Sur joined millions across Asia in marking Eid’l Fitr on Thursday, starting with early morning prayers and “takbir” (chants of “Allah is Greatest!”).
In Maguindanao, however, most Muslims continued their fasting Thursday after the Dharul Ifta assembly in Cotabato City and Maguindanao concluded on Wednesday night that Eid’l Fitr would be held Friday. India, Pakistan and Bangladesh made similar declarations.
Malacañang has declared Aug. 9 a national holiday in recognition of the Islamic holiday.
The Dharul Ifta has the authority to issue announcements concerning religious and legal issues. There is only one such assembly in a Muslim state like Saudi Arabia, but in the Philippines, every province has one.
Millions of Muslims began celebrating the end of Ramadan with solemn sunrise prayers followed by savory high-calorie feasts despite concerns over violence looming across parts of Asia and elsewhere worldwide.
Muslims believe God revealed the first verses of the Koran to the Prophet Mohammad during Ramadan, which starts with the sighting of the new moon. The Muslim lunar calendar moves back through the seasons, meaning Ramadan starts 11 days earlier each year under the Western calendar.
In Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, throngs of believers made their way to mosques donning brand new clothes to kick off the start of Eid’l Fitr, festivities that culminate after a month of dawn-to-dusk fasting and prayer when Muslims are supposed to abstain from eating, drinking, smoking and sex as a way to test their faith.
The holiday is also a time of reflection, forgiveness and charity—cars were seen being driven around the capital, Jakarta, handing out envelopes to the poor.
Despite the holiday’s peaceful message, some countries remained on heightened alert amid fears over potential violence in the Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia.
Concerns also lingered in parts of the Middle East and Africa after Washington temporarily closed 19 diplomatic posts over terrorism worries while US and British Embassy employees were evacuated from Yemen where the government announced it had foiled an al-Qaida plot.
In Tawi-Tawi, Imam Otohiya Muhammad Sali of Bongao town told the Inquirer that by Wednesday night, the moon was visible.
Jaafar Ali, a member of the moon-sighting committee in Cotabato City, said the new moon was not sighted and that Thursday was the last fasting day. Mufti Abuhuraira Udasan Abdulrahman made the official declaration, attributing it to cloudy skies all over Central Mindanao.
No to firing guns
Policemen in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) were warned against firing their guns to welcome the end of the monthlong Ramadan. Traditionally, people in the region fire their guns at the break of dawn to drive away evil spirits as the fasting month ends.
Chief Supt. Noel delos Reyes, regional police chief, ordered the sealing of all firearms issued to about 7,000 policemen in Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi provinces, and the cities of Lamitan and Marawi. However, he clarified that this did not prohibit policemen from performing their tasks as law enforcers.
The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which is talking peace with the government, also announced that it issued a directive strictly prohibiting its men from firing their guns. Its political affairs chief, Ghadzali Jaafar, said the practice of firing guns during the Eid’l Fitr celebration had slowly been erased in Muslim communities.
In a statement, Vice President Jejomar Binay lauded the country’s Muslim community and called for unity in the wake of bombings in several areas in the Islamic heartland of Mindanao.
“Recent events in Mindanao have cast a shadow on the past holy month for the adherents of Islam. Our Muslim brothers and sisters, however, have shown great resilience and forbearance in the face of tragedy,” Binay said.
“As we all pray for justice for the innocent lives taken during the recent bombings, I also urge all Filipinos to show their support not only to Muslims but to all who were affected by these incidents,” he added.
Government troops and police strengthened security in Maguindanao and outlying regions due to a spate of deadly bombings and other attacks during Ramadan that were blamed on a breakaway Moro group called the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement.
The group, which authorities say has about 200 armed fighters, opposes peace talks between the government and the MILF. It has vowed to continue fighting for a separate homeland for minority Muslims in the volatile south of the predominantly Roman Catholic country.
Earlier this week, a small bomb exploded outside a Buddhist temple packed with devotees praying in Jakarta. Only one person was injured, but two other devices failed to detonate. Officials have said the attack appears to have been carried out by militant Muslims angry over sectarian violence in Buddhist-majority Burma (Myanmar).
“Indonesia has the resilience to cope with terror … but we should not underestimate it,” Mohammad Mahfud, former chief justice of the Constitutional Court, said on Thursday outside a mosque in Jakarta. “It still remains a concern for us.”
The national police chief, Gen. Timur Pradopo, said he mobilized thousands of officers to help safeguard the millions involved in the mass exodus across the country, an archipelago of some 17,000 islands.
Police also stood guard at mosques, churches and temples in many cities. On Thursday night, fireworks exploded all night across the capital, with hundreds gathering in a landmark traffic circle downtown to watch the impromptu displays.
Authorities in central Java also tightened security around Borobudur, an ancient Buddhist temple and a major tourist site.
Sermon in Hanoi
In the Vietnamese capital, Hanoi, about 100 Muslims braved a stormy morning to pray at the city’s sole mosque on the edge of the old quarter. The Vietnamese imam gave a sermon in Arabic and then English to the congregation, most of whom were expatriates. Vietnam is also home to some 60,000 indigenous Muslims, most of them in the south.
Thailand’s security agencies have also warned about more frequent, escalated insurgency attacks at the end of the Ramadan period in the three Muslim-dominated southernmost provinces that border with Malaysia, despite the ongoing peace talks with Muslim separatists facilitated by its southern neighbor.
The separatist negotiators of the militant National Revolution Front vowed at the beginning of the Islamic fasting month that they would attempt to halt the attacks throughout the period, while Thai authorities had cut back their searches for insurgents but the unrest pursued.
In one of the most high-profile attacks this week, a well-respected Muslim cleric who is known to sympathize with Thai authorities in their bid to end the violence was shot dead at a local market on Monday. Six security officers and five civilians were injured in three other attacks on the same day.
“The end of Ramadan is the period the insurgents would attempt to show off their strategies and attacks,” said Col. Jaroon Ampha, an adviser to the National Security Council.—With reports from Tarra Quismundo and AP