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Quran controversy casts pall over Eid celebrations

By Saeed Ahmed, CNN
  • Eid al-Fitr marks the end of Ramadan -- dawn-to-dusk abstinence from food and drinks
  • The Quran burning controversy has upset a lot of Muslims this year
  • Many, however, say it will not affect the festivities
  • Islam
  • Ramadan

(CNN) -- This Friday, Muslims around the world will bid goodbye to a long month of fasting with three days of feasting and festivities.

The faithful usher in the holiday, Eid al-Fitr, with joyous community prayers, acts of charity, visits from far-flung relatives, gift-giving and hearty greetings of "Eid Mubarak," or happy Eid.

This year, however, one controversy has cast a pall over the celebrations for many Muslims: a Florida pastor's threats to burn copies of the Muslim holy book, the Quran, on the anniversary of the September 11, 2001, attacks.

"Although the joy of Eid is still there, the sense that we Muslims belong in this society as equals seems to be under threat and there is a somber note in everybody's preparations," said Wasima Reza of Raleigh, North Carolina.

She said she will take her children to Eid prayer services so they can feel a sense of community.

"I want them to be proud of the fact that they are Muslims and feel that they can practice their religion in their own country, without fear," she said.

Ayaz Hyder of Piscataway, New Jersey, is one of many who feel the holiday -- one of the most important in the Islamic calendar -- has been hijacked by whether or not the Rev. Terry Jones, the head of a small church in Gainesville, Florida, will go ahead with his Quran burning plans.

"He got what he wanted out of this. His 15 minutes of fame," he said. "I will have more people at my place for Eid this year than this guy has congregants but yet he's still dominating the headlines."

Indeed, from Indiana to Indonesia, the planned burning was on many Muslim minds.

In Indonesia, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono urged the United States and United Nations to act as he read a statement from the palace grounds on Eid day Friday.

"I am of course aware of the reported cancellation of the deplorable act by Rev. Terry Jones. However, none of us can be complacent until such despicable idea can totally be extinguished," he said.

In Afghanistan, sporadic demonstrations broke out Friday, with the largest demonstration in the northern province of Badakhshan where hundreds of Afghans protested outside a NATO base. NATO officials said two people were hurt, but provincial authorities said one person was killed.

The holiday bids goodbye to Ramadan -- a month of dawn-to-dusk abstinence from food, drinks and other sensual pleasures. Muslims believe the Quran, the religion's holy book, was revealed to Prophet Muhammad during Ramadan more than 1,400 years ago.

Eid is one of two major holidays in Islam, alongside another called Eid al-Adha. The latter commemorates the prophet Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son for God.

The night before Eid, entire communities gather on rooftops, scanning the sky with giddy anticipation to see if they can see the crescent of a new moon.

Preparations for the feast begin as soon as it is sighted.

In Tawab Qurayshi's home in Lashkar Gah, Afghanistan, the menu includes rice, stew, kabobs and freshly baked Afghan cookies.

Like Muslims elsewhere, Qurayshi and his family members don new clothes -- to symbolize a fresh start, he said.

The fun continues on the second day with a uniquely Afghan tradition: egg fights.

Men, armed with hard-boiled eggs, try to break each others'. The one whose egg cracks receives light-hearted ribbing.

It is a joyous time when even the Taliban cease fighting -- a rare respite in a war-ridden country, he said.

"The day itself is, and has always been, about yummy foods, new outfits," said Sumi Mehtab of New York. "This whole Quran burning issue casts a negativeness on what should be a totally joyous occasion and I'm annoyed at how dumb people can get."

But Ottawa, Canada, native Siffan Rahman wasn't going to let the controversy ruin her holiday.

"I turned off the TV because I don't want to hear about it anymore," she said. "Eid should be about celebrating, house-hopping, stuffing our tummies and staying up late with friends.

And that's what I'm going to do."

CNN's Atia Abawi in Kabul, Afghanistan, and Kathy Quiano in Jakarta, Indonesia, contributed to this report.