Leaders mark Eid al Fitr with calls for peace - and warnings

Afghan President Hamid Karzai used the Muslim holiday signaling the end of Ramadan to reach out to the Taliban, while Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamanei denounced Israel.

By , Correspondent

Muslims the world over continued celebrations of Eid Al-Fitr Monday, marking the end of the Ramadan period of fasting and abstinence. The faithful began the holiday on Saturday, Sunday or Monday, depending on their sect.

During the month of Ramadan, Muslims abstain from food, drink, cigarettes, and sex from sunrise to sunset.

Some national leaders used the holiday to issue political messages, with some calling for peace and others denouncing opponents. In some communities this year's festivities were marred by fears of swine flu or political unrest or violence.

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In Egypt, where 900 cases of swine flu have been reported, two of them fatal, some expressed concern that the disease could spread too easily during mass prayers to mark Eid. According to the Egyptian Gazette, the country's leading Muslim cleric issued a fatwa, or religious edict, saying Eid prayers could be cancelled as as result.

That came after a separate fatwa last week saying the annual Hajj pilgrimage could be cancelled for the same reason.

Muslim scholars and clerics have admonished people against performing the Eid prayers in big, crowded mosques and have asked them, instead, to head to open-air praying places or to pray at home.
If there is talk about cancelling the Hajj, which is an obligatory part of Islam, then we ought to cancel the Eid prayers, as they're not obligatory, if the situation really demands it,” Souad Saleh, the head of Islamic Jurisprudence Department at Al-Azhar University, told The Gazette in a phone interview.

In Iran, the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei used his Eid al-Fitr sermon to blast Israel, Western powers, and the foreign media, the Times of London reported. Mr. Khamanei said Zionism was "gnawing into the lives of the Islamic nations" and "spreading through the invading hands of the occupiers and arrogant powers."

In Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai used his Eid speech to extend an olive branch to Taliban militants, according to Pakistan's Daily Times.

In the Gaza Strip, Israeli forces killed two Palestinians they suspected might be planting explosives, according to the Arab Monitor. The news agency also reported that Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh issued a fatwa against Palestinians who worked for firms building what Palestinians say are "illegal" Israeli settlements.

In Iraq, many streamed north to Kurdistan to celebrate the holiday, and seek respite from the violence that still plagues much of the rest of the country, the Associated Press reported.

For the war-weary traveler, the Kurdish region offers not just a refuge from violence but also reliable electricity, stunning natural beauty, cooler weather and fewer social restrictions.
"We have heard from people who have been there ... that it's like being in a different country," said Haidr Mohammed Ali, a 36-year-old government employee from Baghdad who was taking his wife, two children and his cousin's family to the Kurdish city of Irbil by minibus.

AFP reported that many Saudi Arabians would head to less-restrictive neighboring countries to party and relax, while some would enjoy several planned festivities closer to home.

In Saudi Arabia, fireworks were planned on Sunday night around Riyadh, a skydiving performance was expected and the Prince Faisal sports stadium was hosting a parade and motorcycle races.
However many Saudis were also expected to stream into neighboring Dubai and Bahrain for Eid. Both locations are popular for those seeking a break from the ultra-conservative kingdom's restrictions on movies, music and alcohol.

In the restive southern Philippines, Muslim and Christian leaders exchanged peace messages, the Inquirer reported.

And China's 20 million Muslims "donned festive costume and swarmed mosques to hear preaching given by imams," according to the state-run Xinhua news service.

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