Asian Muslims swarm home to mark end of Ramadan

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KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 12 (Reuters) Millions of Muslims in Indonesia and Malaysia headed for their home towns today to mark the end of Islam's holiest month in Southeast Asia's biggest human migration.

Escaping their adopted cities, they took buses, trains, boats and planes to maintain the age-old tradition of spending Eid al-Fitr holiday with family at home.

''Eid is about rekindling relationships and asking for forgiveness,'' said Malaysian writer Rustam Sani, a Malay Muslim. ''For many, it's a once-a-year trip home.'' Muslims also spend time on the day praying and visiting graves.

This year, some 14.8 million Indonesians were expected to travel, some six percent more than last year. Air travel could experience the biggest spike, media said.

In car-mad Malaysia, some 1.2 million cars are expected to use the nation's biggest highway, which runs the entire length of the peninsula.

Thousands of Indonesians working in Malaysia thronged ports and airports to return home for Eid, or Lebaran in Indonesian.

About 180 people have already died in road accidents in Indonesia and Malaysia during the exodus, newspapers said.

The timing of Eid, the feasting that marks the climax of the holy month of Ramadan, differs across regions according to the sighting of the new moon.

Saudi Arabia, the cradle of Islam, celebrated today along with several other Gulf countries, while many Asian nations, where the majority of the world's 1.2 billion Muslims live, will wait until Saturday to mark the end of a month of dawn-to-dusk fasting and restraint from other worldly pleasures.

EARLY START IN MANILA The Philippines marked the Eid today, with police appealing to Muslims in the southern island of Mindanao not to use guns during the celebration.

Gathering before dawn at the Golden Mosque in the Manila's Quiapo district, Muslims performed prayers and then lit fireworks.

''In Mindanao, our worry is that people may get hit by stray bullets,'' chief of police Avelino Razon said.

''We have set up checkpoints to guard against firearms. We appeal to our Muslim brethren not to use their firearms,'' he said in an interview on local radio.

The Philippines is largely a Catholic country but around 10 per cent of the population is Muslims, who live predominantly in the south of the archipelago, where armed groups have been fighting for autonomy for decades.

The Indonesian capital of Jakarta, a city of some 10 millions, emptied out as over half the population headed home to celebrate the Eid with their families.

Gridlocks hit a number of inter-state highways around the capital while trains and buses were filled to their brims.

Illegal roof-top rides on Indonesian trains are common.

Jakarta residents were also filling up the airport even before sunrise yesterday to catch a flight home or go on a holiday to nearby Singapore, Thailand or Australia.

Unlike in the last Eid, where choking smog disrupted air travel in parts of Indonesia, weather was generally fine.

REUTERS NY HS1350

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