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Indonesians Face Confusion Over Eid Start

Indonesian Muslims walk to attend Eid al-Fitr prayers that marks the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan at Sunda Kelapa port in Jakarta, Indonesia, August 31, 2011

Indonesia started Eid al-Fitr with a bang on Tuesday evening, as fireworks, drum beats and the sounds of chanting filled the air to mark the end of Ramadan, a month when Muslims fast from dawn to dusk.

Confusion over the official start of the holiday sowed disappointment for some, but it hardly dampened the festivities.

Celebrations erupted in Jakarta Tuesday evening, as people in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country marked the end of the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan, or Eid al-Fitr. The night is one of raucous uproar, as people parade around town banging drums and shooting off fireworks.

The smell of sulfur and the sound of car horns spread through a city that stays awake until the early morning hours talking, eating and merry-making. But for most Jakarta residents the party started one day later than anticipated.

On Monday, to the disappointment of many who were ready to break their dawn to dusk fast, the Ministry of Religious Affairs announced that Eid al-Fitr would fall on Wednesday because the moon was still too low on the horizon.

The position of the moon marks the beginning and end of Ramadan, but religious bodies frequently dispute astrological assessments. Indonesia’s second-largest Islamic organization, Muhammadiyah, started Eid on Tuesday, as did Saudi Arabia.

The postponement forced many Indonesians to push back feasts and family gatherings, and some malls agreed to extend their operating hours to cater to crowds that had little else to do with the day off.

The sudden change also forced many Indonesians to alter their plans and go another day without food or drink. Mari Ulfa Ekaputri, who giggles and sighs when talking about the confusion, says Indonesians were all prepared on Tuesday, so the news came as a disappointment.

She says she usually cooks vegetable curry and chicken soup for Eid and had already prepared it Monday night when she heard of the postponement. She and her friends exchanged phone texts on the humor of the situation.

Ekaputri, 20, gathered with friends at a packed Starbucks in Central Jakarta, long past midnight on Tuesday. Teens had come there after cruising around the city to celebrate overcoming a month of abstention.

In some neighborhoods the call to prayer mingled with its hip-hop remix, a top hit in Indonesia this holiday season.

Tegua Rohwiyono, who sells fireworks to an eager crowd of children, says the extra day was good for business.

He says the call to start Eid clearly has to come from the government. He says the important thing is a unified celebration.

In August, former Vice President Jusuf Kalla called on the country’s highest Islamic clerical council and the Ministry of Religion to make a regulation to limit the noise coming from the country’s mosques during prayer time.

But after a long wait and an extra day of anticipation, Indonesians were no longer willing to stay quiet.