The Eid al Fitr holiday includes three days of festivities after a month of prayer and dawn-to-dusk fasting for Ramadan, when observant Muslims abstain from eating, drinking, smoking and s e x as a way to test their faith. But despite Eid’s peaceful message, some countries remained on heightened alert amid fears over violence.
In Syria, mortars pounded an upscale district of Damascus in the same area where President Bashar Assad was attending holiday prayers at a mosque. President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan took a moment after Eid prayers in a speech to thank security forces fighting the insurgency and called for the Taliban to lay down their arms, stop killing and join the political process.
In Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, throngs of believers donning brand new clothes made their way to mosques. The holiday is also a time of reflection, forgiveness and charity — cars were seen driving around the capital, Jakarta, carrying people handing out envelopes to the poor.
Still, Indonesian authorities were on high alert after a small bomb exploded in Jakarta earlier this week outside a Buddhist temple packed with devotees praying. 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 Myanmar.
In Vietnam‘s 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, which comprised mainly expatriates. Vietnam is also home to some 60,000 indigenous Muslims, most of them in the south.
Meanwhile, in the Philippines on Thursday, the military clashed with fighters from the militant Muslim group Abu Sayyaf, killing one soldier and an estimated seven militants, said local army commander Col. Carlito Galvez. The operation was based on information that the group was building bombs to be used in attacks in southern cities at the end of Ramadan. The latest violence follows two weeks of bomb attacks across the volatile southern Philippines that has killed 16 people and wounded about 100.
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 its ongoing peace talks with Muslim separatists facilitated by its southern neighbor.
“The end of Ramadan is the period the insurgents will attempt to show off their strategies and attacks,” said Col. Jaroon Ampha, an adviser to the National Security Council.
Not all countries begin celebrations on the same day. India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, for instance, are expected to officially begin Eid on Friday after the moon is sighted there. However, the holiday was celebrated Thursday with dancing in the streets and firing guns in the air in Pakistan’s North Waziristan tribal area, the main sanctuary for Taliban and al-Qaida militants in the country, after officials there urged residents to begin the festivities after the moon had been sighted in Saudi Arabia.