Fri, 17 Mar 2000

Muslims observe holy Day of Sacrifice

JAKARTA (JP): Most of the country's Muslims celebrated Idul Adha (the Islamic Day of Sacrifice) on Thursday, as calm returned to the restive territories of Aceh and Maluku.

The government and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) marked the holiday by holding unprecedented peace talks. State television TVRI's Thursday evening news reported that State Secretary Bondan Gunawan had met with Acehnese rebel commander Tengku Abdullah Syafi'ie in Sigli, about 110 kilometers east of the provincial capital of Banda Aceh.

Syafi'ie, who was reported to have been killed by security authorities recently, complained to Bondan about the ongoing campaign by security forces to stamp out the insurgency.

The celebrations were peaceful despite the disagreement over the holiday's date. On Saturday the country's largest Islamic organization Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) announced that the festival would fall on Friday.

But some members and noted figures of the 40 million-strong organization joined the celebration on Thursday, defying NU chairman Hasyim Muzadi's statement.

President Abdurrahman Wahid, grandson of NU's founding father Hasyim Azhari and Muzadi's predecessor, attended Idul Adha prayers at the Istiqlal Grand Mosque. Afterwards, he presented two large sacrificial cows to the crowd in the mosque's courtyard.

Abdurrahman played down on Wednesday the differences between NU, the government and other Islamic organizations over the holiday's date, saying it should be regarded as a blessing.

"I am an NU member, but as a government official I have to follow the government's decision. If I don't respect the decision, then what do you what will happen?" the President said.

"When I am no longer president, I will follow the old ways."

Students and senior clerics at Islamic boarding schools in NU's East Javanese strongholds, including in Langitan in Tuban and in Tebuireng in Jombang, were also seen packing mosques for Idul Adha morning prayers on Thursday.

Syaifudin, a staffer at the Langitan boarding school, told Antara that respected cleric Abdullah Faqih had himself decided that the holiday be celebrated on Thursday.

"Some days ago we asked him (about the date for Idul Adha) ... and he said he was more convinced that the prayers should be held today (Thursday)," Syaifudin said.

Faqih is an influential cleric to whom Abdurrahman sought approval before running for presidency last year.

NU declared that Idul Adha fell on March 17 after its observation team failed to see the moon that marks the start of Dzulhijjah month in the Islamic calendar. Idul Adha is celebrated on the 10th day of the month.

During the holiday, livestock are slaughtered to commemorate the Prophet Ibrahim's offering of his son to God. The animals are then cut into pieces before being distributed to the needy.

Confusion also marked celebrations in Surabaya and other neighboring NU strongholds.

Subur Achiyat, an NU member in the Surabaya subdistrict of Margo Rejo, said he was surprised that President Abdurrahman said Idul Adha prayer fell on Thursday.

He said he acknowledged NU headquarters' letter deciding that the holiday fell on March 17.

"Many NU people said prayers at NU mosques in Surabaya," he said, citing the Sunan Ampel, Kemayoran and Kembang Kuning mosques.

People also thronged many other small mosques in kampongs, including mosques in Wonokromo and Kenjeran.

Subur will celebrate Idul Adha on Friday, but his son Ali Ramadhan, 16, celebrated it on Thursday.

East Java Governor Imam Utomo, accompanied by Surabaya Mayor Sunarto Sumaprawiro, East Java Police chief Maj. Gen. Dai Bahtiar and Brawijaya Military chief Maj. Gen. Sudi Silalahi said prayers on Thursday at the Masjid Agung (Grand Mosque) in Menanggal, South Surabaya. Former finance minister Mar'i Muhammad was the preacher.

Some mosque managements said they were also confused by the split over the Idul Adha date. The Jami' mosque in Sidoarjo announced that Idul Adha prayer would be held on Thursday and Friday.

The Chairman of the Indonesian Ulemas Council (MUI) Sidoarjo chapter, Achmad Salman, told The Jakarta Post that the policy was adopted for the sake of all Muslims. "We welcome those who want to say prayers on Thursday. For those who want to celebrate on Friday, just go ahead. Make it simple," Achmad said.

In the Aceh capital of Banda Aceh, people thronged the mosques and celebrated Idul Adha with prayers and hopes for a brighter future.

"This Idul Adha we pray that peace and harmony will return to our land," said a local resident, adding that all Muslims there celebrated Idul Adha on Thursday.

The situation also remained calm in the restive Pidie regency capital of Sigli, one of GAM's main strongholds. People thronged the mosques at the crack of dawn to pray and prepare for the animal sacrifice.

"Many of us have been in the mosque since the dawn prayer," a local woman said. Security officers also guarded the roads and secured the parking, she said.

Differing from other provinces in the country, the staunch Muslims in Aceh share a tradition of meugang, which suggests that they slaughter animals two days prior to the holiday to allow them the time to bring the meat to their relatives and friends in remote hometowns.

The region was quiet on Thursday as soldiers and rebels put down their weapons and prayed.

In Makassar, some 60,000 people thronged the Al Markas Al Islami mosque for Idul Adha prayer. A local Muslim figure, M. Darwis, said the number had fallen from 100,000 in previous years because the remaining Muslims were NU members who would celebrate the holiday on Friday.

Due to the split on the celebration date, the number of animals slaughtered at the Al Islami mosque also decreased.

"Last year we had 16 cows and hundreds of goats. On Thursday we got 16 cows and only 32 goats." (27/50/51/edt/nur/prb/sur)