The Eid al-Fitr festival at the end of the holy Muslim month of Ramadan has begun. German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle has lamented that violence would marr the event in many conflict regions.
Muslims in much of the world could break their month of fasting on Thursday after the arrival of the new, crescent moon. Eid al-Fitr begins the day after this sighting.
Not every country registered the moon's arrival on the night of August 7, because the Islamic lunar, or Hijri, calendar is still based on personal sightings of the moon by trusted religious scholars. These are not always possible owing to problems like cloud cover or a bright evening sky. In Pakistan and parts of North Africa, for example, the Eid start date was expected to start one day later.
Depending on custom, the festival can last up to three days.
The festival has a number of other names around the world including the Sweet, or Sugar, Festival, Bayram or the Feast of the Breaking of the Fast.
Eid al-Fitr is the second most important festival of the year for Muslims. Collective prayer, mandatory charitable donations and visiting relatives are some of the customs, as well as eating and drinking heartily after almost one month of daytime abstinence during Ramadan.
Westerwelle: sad for some
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said his thoughts were particularly with those believers who fasted and who will observe Eid while fearing for their safety in conflict zones.
"Sadly, many Muslims will not be able to celebrate the festival in peace this year either," Westerwelle said in a ministry statement. "Violent confrontations in recent months have claimed the lives of many people, and driven others from their homes."
The holy month of Ramadan coincided this year with continued violence in war-torn Syria, an increase in attacks in Iraq, and clashes in Egypt after the military removed President Mohammed Morsi from power, along with other unrest in countries including Yemen and Lebanon.
"Nobody's in the mood for a religious holiday," a Syrian revolutionary activist told the Al-Arabiya broadcaster. "Not even in Damascus where the regime remains in control."
The Islamic lunar calendar is either 354 or 355 days long each year, meaning that the dates of Ramadan and Eid appear to slide forwards slightly each year on the Gregorian calendar. Next year's Eid is expected for July 28, 2014.
msh/ipj (AFP, dpa)