Muslims end Ramadan, begin holiday amid war, reconciliation
BEIRUT (AP) — Large parts of the Muslim world marked the end of the fasting month of Ramadan at sundown Thursday and ushered in the holiday of Eid al-Fitr, but the festivities were overshadowed by raging battles for control of Sudan and a deadly stampede in Yemen.
In other parts of the region, the holiday came against the backdrop of reconciliation and rapprochement between former rivals.
The Islamic calendar is lunar and depends on the sighting of the moon — something Muslim religious authorities tend to disagree on. Ramadan sees worshippers fasting daily from dawn to sunset, ending with Eid al-Fitr celebrations.
This year again, the holiday comes amid fighting and devastation, particularly in the Middle East.
In Sudan, the holiday was eclipsed by raging battles between the army and its rival paramilitary force, despite two attempted cease-fires. The fighting since Saturday has killed hundreds of people and wounded thousands.
In Yemen, the Arab world's most impoverished nation, a stampede late Wednesday at a charitable event in the rebel-held capital of Sanaa killed at least 78 people and injured 77.
Religious authorities in both Sudan and Yemen said they will mark the start of Eid al-Fitr on Friday.
In Indonesia, the country with the largest Muslim population worldwide, the second-largest Islamic group, Muhammadiyah — with over 60 million members — said that according to its astronomical calculations, the holiday of Eid al-Fitr starts on Friday. However, the country's religious affairs minister had announced on Thursday that the start of the holiday would fall on Saturday.
In some places, tensions and fighting had calmed. Long-time Mideast rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia agreed last month to restore diplomatic ties after China-brokered negotiations — an ongoing reconciliation that has de-escalated proxy wars in the region.
Saudi officials and Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen recently began talks in Sanaa and during the last days of Ramadan exchanged hundreds of prisoners captured in Yemen's civil war, which erupted in 2014.
Riyadh also sent its top diplomat to Syria to meet with President Bashar Assad on Tuesday, a significant step towards ending his political isolation and potentially returning the war-torn country to the Arab League.
However, Tehran and Riyadh disagreed on the start of the holiday — for Saudis, Eid al-Fitr would begin Friday while officials in Iran said it starts on Saturday.
The start of the holiday is traditionally based on sightings of the new moon, which vary according to geographic location, while some countries rely on astronomical calculations rather than physical sightings to determine the start of Eid al-Fitr.
The United Arab Emirates and Qatar, followed Saudi Arabia and announced the holiday would begin for them on Friday, while their Gulf Arab neighbor, Oman, declared that the moon had not been sighted and the holiday would begin on Saturday.
Iraq's Sunni authorities announced the holiday would begin Friday, while the country's top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, set a Saturday start date. The governments of Lebanon and Syria, both in the throes of crippling economic crises, said Friday would mark the beginning of the dayslong holiday.
Indonesia's Security Minister Mohammad Mahfud called on Muslims to be respectful of each other's celebrations and asked Muhammadiyah members to have their holiday feasts at home — in consideration of the Muslims who would still be fasting on Friday.
The country's roads and highways were gridlocked as millions crammed into trains, ferries, busses and on motorcycles, as they left cities to return to their villages to celebrate with family. The government estimated that more than 123 million travelers were expected to crisscross the vast archipelago that spans 17,000 islands, with about 18 million departing from Jakarta's greater metropolitan area.
Meanwhile, clerics of Pakistan's state-backed moon sighting committee announced at a news conference in Islamabad that Eid al-Fitr would be celebrated on Saturday in Pakistan as there were no sightings of the moon there.
Egypt and Jordan said that for them, Eid al-Fitr would begin on Friday. In divided Libya, the religious authorities based in the capital of Tripoli, said it would start on Saturday. In the country's east, run by a rival administration, authorities marked Friday as the start.
In Afghanistan, the head of the Taliban-appointed judiciary, Abdul Hakim Haqqani, also said the holiday would start on Friday.
Karmini reported from Jakarta, Indonesia. Associated Press writers Abby Sewell in Beirut, Samy Magdy in Cairo, and Munir Ahmad and Rahim Faiez in Islamabad contributed to this report.
This story has been corrected to show that one of Libya's rival administrations in the country's capital said the holiday would start on Saturday, the other said Friday.