Hundreds of thousands of Muslims were left hungry and disappointed yesterday after Indonesia's government declared that the Moon was not in the right position to herald the end of Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting. As worshippers in other Muslim nations celebrated the festival day of Eid al-Fitr by tucking into elaborate feasts, attending special prayers and wearing new clothes, astronomers and religious leaders in Indonesia – the world's most populous Islamic country – sparked confusion by declaring that the Moon was too low in the sky for festivities to commence there.
Having prepared to mark one of the most joyous days in the Islamic calendar, many crestfallen Indonesians – 90 per cent of the country's 245 million people are Muslim – returned to another day of fasting between sunrise and sunset, as is customary during Ramadan. Thousands of workers, who had made their annual journey into the countryside on crammed trains to visit relatives, were torn over whether to try to return to work, because some businesses shifted their holiday from Tuesday to today in response to the government's declaration.
"My nephews and nieces have all gathered in my father's house to celebrate with new clothes, yet it is the wrong day," Nur Arifah, a housewife, told Reuters news agency. She said the announcement came as a surprise late on Monday night after she had spent the day preparing a dish of stewed beef to enjoy with her family in Jakarta – their first daytime meal in a month.
"The market has already shut, so for me to be able to cook a new dish... we might as well eat instant noodles for Eid al-Fitr," she added.
However, some Indonesians refused to abandon their plans. Members of the nation's second-largest Islamic group, Muhammadiyah, celebrated Eid as planned yesterday, along with fellow Muslims in Saudi Arabia.
Although the date for Eid al-Fitr is the same each year in the Islamic calendar, it is difficult to predict accurately when it will fall in the Gregorian calendar. The festival begins after the first confirmed sighting of the new Moon, but this can often be witnessed later in different locations. As a result, it is common for Muslims on the east and west coasts of the US and Canada to end their fasts on different dates.
The festival was dubbed a "double celebration" by Muslim supporters of rebel forces in Libya yesterday, who declared it to be an "Eid of victory". Rebel leaders offered a 48-hour ceasefire to pro-Gaddafi forces in the spirit of the festival.