Originally created 11/26/03

Muslims celebrate end of Ramadan with prayers, food, political messages



CAIRO, Egypt -- Muslims in the Middle East and throughout the world Tuesday celebrated Eid al-Fitr, a time for people to pray and gobble snack food on the streets after a month of daylight fasting, and for politicians and mosque preachers to deliver political messages - some this year touching on the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq.

The three-day holiday that ends the holy month of Ramadan - Eid al-Fitr (pronounced EED al-FIT-ur) means the festival of breaking the fast - began Monday in some Muslim countries. But in Egypt and most others it started Tuesday with early morning prayers in mosques and visits to cemeteries where the Quran, Islam's holy book, is read at the graves of relatives.

The start of Islamic holidays depends on sighting the new moon, and there is always confusion about when Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr begin. In Iran, only one of the four supreme Shiite Muslim clerics reported seeing the new moon, so the holiday began Tuesday in his city of Qum but was not expected until Wednesday in much of the rest of the country.

In Cairo, thousands stood in the streets around the central Mustafa Mahmoud mosque after early morning prayers. As the day is traditionally marked by greeting friends, many people - prayer rugs under their arms or thrown over their shoulders - shook hands and exchanged embraces.

Along the area of the Nile where flat-topped river boats embark for picnic spots upriver, thousands filed onto the vessels after a month when they mostly made evening cruises. Security was unusually heavy, with five police launches were seen in mid-river.

Vendors sold "sumeet," a pretzel-shaped bread popular with Cairenes, and men puffed on cigarettes - also were forbidden in daylight hours during Ramadan.

President Hosni Mubarak appeared in public for the first time since last Wednesday when he had to interrupt a nationally televised speech because of what was first described as a "health crisis" and later as a cold. The 75-year-old Mubarak performed holiday prayers in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheik, where he has been recuperating.

"Lord bless Mr. President, and grant him health and strength," prayed Mohammed Sayed Tantawi, the head of Sunni Islam's chief religions institution, who traveled from Cairo to deliver the message.

Others had more political messages. Lebanon's top Shiite Muslim cleric, Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, accused the United States of employing "an imperialist mentality" in its occupation of Iraq.

"America has failed in convincing Iraqis of its good intentions ... or in building a relationship with the Iraqi people away from control and hegemony," he said in a sermon at the Hasanein Mosque south of Beirut. "We have to confront the big challenges that face the (Muslim) nation, particularly the American occupation of Iraq and the Israeli occupation of Palestine."

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, confined to the West Bank town of Ramallah for nearly two years, said after Eid prayers that the Palestinians remain committed to the so-called road map to peace backed by the United States, United Nations and the Europeans, but accused Israel of not cooperating. "Unfortunately," he said, "the other side did not agree to the road map."

In Mecca, the birthplace of prophet Mohammed and the holiest place in Islam, Saudi King Fahd said prayers with Lebanese President Rafik Hariri at the Al Haram Grand Mosque.

Sheik Saleh bin Abdullah bin Hamid, imam of the mosque and speaker of the Shura Council that advises the king, said in his sermon that jihad - defined by radical Muslims as holy war - should be a personal quest to dispel the wrongs being said about Islam, to show its true face.

"Islamic writers, clerics, politicians and intellectuals must work hard toward this end," he said.

He also focused on the need for charitable work and good deeds, "especially when accounts have been frozen, savings confiscated and institutions closed down," an apparent reference to the closing of Islamic charities in the West as a way to prevent funds from being shifted into terrorist causes.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan - whose country has seen dozens killed in four suicide bombings in the last two weeks - delivered another type of message on the war on terrorism in a televised national address on the eve of the religious holiday.

"This is a war between justice and cruelty, good and bad, and true and false. It is our right to expect every sensible person to stand by justice, good, and truth in this war," Erdogan said.