Ramadan to End on Quiet Note in Middle East amid Palestinian Uprising
Muslims across the Middle East will mark the end of the holy month of Ramadan this week with Eid al-Fitr, but celebrations will be reduced to a minimum as the Intifada continues to claim lives in the Palestinian territories.
Muslims will likely celebrate Fitr on Tuesday or Wednesday, with Muslim countries' religious authorities meeting Monday night to decide when the holy month of Ramadan has ended according to the Islamic lunar calendar.
No celebrations have been scheduled for Fitr in the Palestinian territories, where an Intifada, or uprising, has claimed more than 350 lives since it erupted in late September.
In the West Bank and Gaza Strip, 13 Palestinian organizations, including the Islamist movement Hamas and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fateh, recently called for Fitr to be made a day of mutual aid and solidarity with the families of Intifada victims.
And in Jordan, where more than half of the five million population is of Palestinian origin, King Abdullah II announced he will not meet and greet his subjects for the annual Muslim feast of Fitr. The Muslim Brotherhood also asked the celebrations be kept to a minimum "out of respect for the victims of the Intifada."
The somber celebrations are old news in Syria, where officials stopped receiving Fitr congratulations in 1967, the year when Jerusalem and other Arab territories, including the Syrian Golan Heights, were seized by Israel.
Fitr will fall this year at roughly the same time as Christmas, and Arafat marked the occasion with a trip to Jesus Christ's traditional birthplace of Bethlehem, in the Palestinian leader's first trip to the West Bank since the Intifada broke out.
In the heart of Beirut, a big Christmas tree stands within a few yards only of an artificial fountain decorated with a moon crescent, the symbol of Islam.
Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri said Friday that "the fact that Muslim and Christian religious celebrations coincided reaffirmed the Lebanese people's desire to consolidate coexistence between the various communities in the country."
Some Muslims have even adopted symbols of Christian folklore. The Lebanese Shiite movement Hizbollah organized an event on Friday with Christmas presents distributed to children by Santa Claus.
Christmas trees decorate many Muslim homes in Lebanon in spite of warnings from the Sunni movement Jamaa Islamiyya against "unholy customs" sneaking into Muslim families.
In Iran, the world's largest Shiite Muslim country, the population is expected to celebrate the end of Ramadan on Wednesday. The supreme guide, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, will lead a collective prayer for the occasion.
In Egypt, preparations have been under way for two weeks. The shops are packed with a full array of goods and the public gardens, which are traditionally invaded by thousands of visitors for Fitr, have been cleaned up.
The transport infrastructures are on alert to face the expected flow of Egyptian expatriates coming back for the celebrations.
In Iraq, the population is preparing for another Fitr under UN embargo. But Baghdad shops are better stocked this year, and Iraqis can find more traditional products for their celebrations, although prices remain too high for most of them.
In the Gulf's oil kingdoms, rulers usually mark Fitr by issuing amnesties for many prisoners -- NICOSIA (AFP)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)