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Ramadan Begins in Indonesia - 2004-10-15

In Indonesia, which has the world's largest Islamic population, citizens prepare for Ramadan, the month of fasting, while the country's booming night life becomes a little quieter.

The call to prayer rings out from Jakarta's Istiqlal Mosque, the largest mosque in Asia. For more than a billion Muslims, Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, is a month of fasting and reflection, and of renewing ties of family and friendship.

Fasting during Ramadan is one of the five central tenets of Islam, and for the next four weeks, Muslims will not eat or drink from dawn to sundown.

Ramadan is a festive time for Indonesians, when families gather for meals before dawn and meet friends in the evening to break the fast. Many restaurants will be busy at night, but during the day, they will be quiet. The lively nightlife in the capital, Jakarta, including its bars and discos, will be quieter than normal for the month.

The month ends with Lebaran, a day when everyone goes back to their home village.

Indonesia is the world's most populous Muslim nation, where more than 80 percent of the population of 230 million practices a moderate form of Islam.

Ramadan is the month of peace. Scholars say the call for peace during Ramadan is broader, and is directed at all people.

However, it is not certain that all will be peaceful in Indonesia, where several separatist movements exist. The country also is the home of the regional Islamic militant group, Jemaah Islamiyah.

Many militants believe that peace does not have to be observed by those involved in religious war, known as jihad.

However, for the vast majority of Indonesians, like Muslims elsewhere, the Ramadan month of fasting, which is rooted in the idea that abstaining from worldly pleasures to help the mind concentrate on spiritual matters, will be a time of peace and family.