10/18/2005, 00.00
ASIA - ISLAM
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Eid al-Fitr: more solidarity, fewer trips for Muslims in Asia

From Indonesia to Qatar, the end of Ramadan is eagerly awaited. The increased cost of fuel means many have stayed home. Dhaka is steeling itself for a rickshaw invasion while in Pakistan, families are reaching out quake survivors.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) – From Indonesia to Qatar, Muslims are preparing to celebrate the last day of the sacred month of Ramadan on 4 November, amid natural disasters, sky-high fuel prices and cities inundated by traffic.

During the Eid al-Fitr, people return to their towns of origin to celebrate with relatives. Families visit neighbours and friends and ask mutual pardon for mistakes made. However, this year's scenario appears somewhat different in some countries.

Indonesia

In the most populous Muslim country in the world, the number of people travelling for Eid al-Fitr is four per cent less than last year. The increase in fuel costs – 126% as from 1 October – is the main reason for the drop. According to estimates by the Transport Ministry, across the country, 16.9 million people will travel in the days around 4 November. Ministerial sources said that in the same period last year, 17.6 million people were on the move.

The increase in the price of petrol has led to marked-up prices on other services and means of transport like trains, planes, buses and ships.

Bangladesh

Meanwhile, there is more traffic on the streets of the capital Dhaka, where an invasion of rickshaws is expected; the three-wheelers will be ready to transport all those who decide to up and leave. The police are finding it increasingly difficult to manage the huge traffic jams and to keep a semblance of order. According to unofficial estimates, not easily confirmed, there are around 300,000 illegal rickshaws in circulation, while only 79,616 are licensed.

There is another reason for the crowds of three-wheelers: many residents of poor villages come to Dhaka to earn some money before the Eid by pulling their rickshaw. However, they pose a danger for traffic, and often cause serious accidents because of their inexperience.  The city police have launched a campaign against illegal rickshaws but so far they have only confiscated 3,000.

Pakistan

In Pakistan, solidarity has taken the place of feasting for Eid al-Fitr. In this country, where 96% of the population is Muslim, preparations for the festivities start as early as the second week of Ramadan. This year, however, the earthquake upset tradition. The 8 October earthquake killed more than 50,000 people in the north of the country and four million have been left homeless. Many Pakistani families have decided to spent Eid with quake survivors in

Kashmir, Mansehra, Abbotabad, and Balakot. Some authorities in Kashmir have offered to send victims to spend some months in the homes of families who have volunteered themselves, until the construction of temporary homes is completed.

The proposal made by Asfandyar Wali, president of the Awami National Party (opposition party) to the population was that Eid festivities would not be held as a sign of solidarity towards quake survivors.

Qatar

For Eid, fewer people from Qatar have made travel plans to traditional destinations however many have opted to perform Umrah. Surveys conducted by local tour operators reveal a 25% drop in bookings for package holidays in comparison to 2004. Dubai remains the most popular destination, followed Jordan, Cairo and Sharm-el-Sheik. A travel expert, Einstein Vincent, said one reason for the decline was the increased cost of flights following the regulation of prices by the Civil Aviation Authority. One must also consider the high cost of living in the country, mostly due to spiralling house rent; natural disasters in Asia; increase in the price of fuel and uncertainty about the dates of school holidays.

For the "small pilgrimage", on the other hand, everything is booked up. The Umrah or "visit" to Mecca can be undertaken at any time of year; if made in the month of Ramadan it has the same value as the greatest pilgrimage or Hàjj.

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