Muslims begin Ramadan fast; bombs hit Thai south

AP News
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Posted: Jul 20, 2012 11:21 AM
Muslims begin Ramadan fast; bombs hit Thai south

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Muslims began fasting for the start of the Ramadan holy month Friday in Indonesia and Thailand, where the somber occasion was marred by two bomb blasts that killed one person and injured seven, officials said.

The Muhammadiyah group, Indonesia's second-largest Muslim organization, told its 30 million followers that Ramadan starts Friday. The government, however, declared the official start as Saturday when most of the remaining 190 million Indonesians will begin the dawn-to-dusk fast.

Muslims in Buddhist-dominated Thailand also began Ramadan on Friday, while India, Pakistan, Malaysia and Bangladesh will start Saturday or Sunday.

The Muslim holy month devoted to dawn-to-dusk fasting, prayers and good deeds culminates with the three-day holiday of Eid al-Fitr.

Muslims believe God revealed the first verses of the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad during Ramadan, which starts with the sighting of the new moon. The Muslim lunar calendar moves back through the seasons, so Ramadan starts 11 days earlier each year under the Western calendar.

The holy month started ominously in southern Thailand, the region where most Thai Muslims live and where an insurgency has claimed thousands of lives. The car bombing started fires at shops and residences and sent black smoke wafting from a row of four-story buildings in a commercial area of Sungai Kolok in Narathiwat province.

Seven people were injured, including four who were briefly trapped on the roof of a burning building, said police Col. Maitree Chimcherd. He said Muslim insurgents hid the homemade bomb in a pickup truck parked in front of a computer store.

On Thursday night, a roadside bomb killed a villager and wounded his companion while they were hunting for squirrels in the woods in Yala province, said police Col. Wichai Jaengsakul.

Still, residents of Narathiwat, Yala and Pattani provinces flocked to local markets Friday to shop for fresh and dried fruit including date palm to be consumed at dusk after the first day of fasting ends.

The start of Ramadan varies because Muslim countries and groups use different ways of calculating when the new moon crescent is sighted.

Muhammadiyah, which uses calendar-based astronomical calculations, believed that the crescent should have appeared after sunset on Thursday. But the government argued it could not be seen by eyes or telescopes, hence Ramadan has to start Saturday.

Pakistan's government has promised there will not be any power blackouts during the key hours when people are preparing for their fast or during the evening when they pray and break their fasts.

"If there is electricity or no electricity, people do fast, and they fast with patience," said Shah Mohammed, who sells nuts in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad. "Allah gives you patience."

In Bangladesh too, Ramadan is likely to start Saturday. However, a national moon sighting committee headed by state minister for religious affairs will sit Friday evening to make an official declaration.

The committee has asked the weather office and also members of the public to report to it any sighting of the moon. The weather office has already forecast that the new moon is likely to be sighted Friday evening.

In India, where about 13 percent of the 1.2 billion people are Muslim, most major Islamic organizations and mosques form committees of religious scholars who determine the start of Ramadan based on the actual sighting of the new moon.

According to Amanullah, the spokesman of New Delhi's Jama Masjid mosque, one of the country's leading Sunni Muslim places of worship, Ramadan is most likely to start Saturday.

The moon sighting committee will meet late Friday evening to view the moon and officially announce the start of the holy month of fasting, Amanullah, who uses just one name, said.

The largest Muslim rebel group in the predominantly Catholic Philippines said fasting there would begin Saturday.

A cease-fire has curtailed fighting and fostered peace talks between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in recent years. Rebel spokesman Von Al Haq said the guerrillas would observe Ramadan but still defend themselves if attacked.

The Philippine military traditionally orders troops to refrain from offensives that could disrupt Ramadan in the southern regions where minority Muslims live. Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda released a statement expressing solidarity with and goodwill toward Filipino Muslims in the holy month.

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Associated Press writers Thanyarat Doksone in Bangkok; Muneeza Naqvi in New Delhi; Rebecca Santana in Islamabad, Pakistan; Jim Gomez in Manila, Philippines; and Farid Hossain in Dhaka, Bangladesh, contributed to this report.