Muslims across the world celebrated Eid-ul-Fitr on Sunday marking the end of Ramadan, but authorities urged caution as large social gatherings and returning Mecca pilgrims fuelled fears of swine flu spreading.
In Cairo, where two people have died from the A(H1N1) flu virus and nearly 900 cases of infection have been reported, preachers suggested worshippers perform the traditional Eid dawn prayer at home rather than at crowded mosques.
“We ought to cancel Eid prayers... there should be a national campaign to keep crowded places clean and ensure they are safe for people,” Suad Saleh, head of Islamic Jurisprudence at Al-Azhar University told the English-language daily Egyptian Gazette.
Cairo airport authorities have reinforced swine-flu-testing measures as the end of Ramadan means the return of thousands of pilgrims from Saudi Arabia.
Fear of the virus spreading in the crowded conditions during the pilgrimage is shared by many other countries who are considering cancelling the annual Haj pilgrimage this year.
In Jakarta, thousands of people lined up for hours outside the presidential palace to pay their respects to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, state news agency Antara reported.
Indonesian officials set up thermal scanners at the open-house event which is part of a custom that sees people throughout the country ask for forgiveness from others for slights and offences. In the world’s largest Muslim-majority country, nearly 30 million people were estimated to have emptied out of cities and towns in a yearly exodus to celebrate the holiday. Traffic chaos has already claimed 184 lives, Transport Ministry spokesman Bambang Ervan said.
The start of Eid is traditionally determined by the sighting of the new moon, often dividing rival Islamic countries and sects over the exact date.
In Iraq, Shiites loyal to the Grand Ayatollah Ali Husseini al-Sistani, the nation’s top Shiite cleric, continued to fast on Sunday, observing nationally-televised and locally-delivered messages that the new moon had not yet been observed.
However, those who follow the Shiite anti-U.S. cleric Moqtada al-Sadr ended the holy month of Ramadan early Sunday. Iraq’s minority Sunnis ended Ramadan on Saturday.
In Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai extended an olive branch to Taliban militants trying to overthrow his Western-backed government.