CAIRO, Egypt – Far from the din and controversy roiling interfaith relations in the West, Muslims worldwide thronged mosques, cafes and parks Friday in a solemn and joyful end to the fasting month of Ramadan.
Authorities increased security in some countries due to fears that violence could intrude on the celebrations, but for most Muslims it was a day of peace, family – and most important, food.
Friends and relatives feasted on spicy lamb, kebabs and saffron rice, while smokers happily puffed on cigarettes in broad daylight as the three-day Eid al-Fitr festival got under way across the Muslim world.
During Ramadan, the faithful are supposed to abstain from food, drink, smoking and sex in a dawn-to-dusk period of self-sacrifice to commemorate the revelation of the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad.
“It’s nice to be eating, drinking and smoking during the daytime,” said Jordanian banker Mutaz Kurdi, 37, as he walked with his two children in an Amman park. “Fasting was difficult this year because of the summer heat.”
Business was brisk for ice cream vendors in Baghdad, where children decked out in holiday finery rode Ferris wheels at amusement parks and raced horse-drawn carts on traffic-free streets. Some boys battled each other with plastic guns, ignoring a ban on toy weapons imposed so children would not be mistaken for militants.
In Yemen, authorities warned people to pray inside mosques and deployed heavy security after posters signed by al-Qaida threatened attacks. No outdoor prayers were held in two southern provinces after officials urged people to avoid large gatherings.
War-weary Afghans marked the holiday with prayers for peace in mosques as well as family gatherings in homes. President Hamid Karzai urged the Taliban to lay down their arms and join peace talks – a theme often repeated in presidential speeches but so far unheeded by significant numbers of Taliban.
The normally festive atmosphere for Eid in Afghanistan was tempered not only by the war but by bitterness over a threat – later canceled – by a small Florida church to burn copies of the Islamic holy book Quran today, the ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. At least 11 people were injured in scattered protests across the country, police said.
“Muslims are not going to be humiliated,” cleric Mohammad Ayaz Niazi said during a sermon in Kabul. “From this mosque, I’m asking the world to prevent this crime, which could destroy global peace.”
The controversy also dominated Eid sermons in the Palestinian territories. Ismail Haniyeh, leader of the Islamic militant Hamas, told tens of thousands of Muslim faithful at a stadium in the Gaza Strip that they had “to respond to this criminal, this liar, this crazy priest who reflects a crazy Western attitude toward Islam and the Muslim nation.”
The issue was also on the minds of Muslims in the United States, many of whom urged tolerance.
At a mosque in Anaheim, Calif., Imam Mohammed Ibn Faqih reminded worshippers that the holiness of the Quran could not be sullied by burning it.
“Burning the Quran by itself, you are burning papers. You are not burning the words of Allah. It is in our hearts,” said worshipper Susan Nachawati, an American born in Syria.
In suburban Chicago, where thousands of Muslims gathered for prayers at a stadium in Bridgeview, Ill., Scott Alexander wore a pin on his jacket that read: “I (Heart) Muslims and Their Mosques.”
“A rash of Islamophobia is spreading through the country, making it important to stand with Muslim Americans,” said the 48-year-old Catholic, who was among interfaith leaders who attended the service to show their support for Muslims.