Millions of Muslims began fasting Friday at the start of the holy month of Ramadhan in Indonesia and Thailand, where the somber occasion was marred by two bomb blasts that killed one person and injured seven, officials said.
The Muhammadiyah group, Indonesia's second-largest Muslim organization, told its 30 million followers that Ramadhan starts Friday. The government, however, declared the official start as Saturday when most of the remaining 190 million Indonesians will begin the annual dawn-to-dusk fasting for a month.
Muslims in the Buddhist dominated Thailand also began Ramadhan on Friday, while Malaysia, Bangladesh and India will start Saturday or Sunday.
Ramadhan is celebrated by Muslims around the world. It is a period devoted to dawn-to-dusk fasting, prayers and good deeds. The holy month culminates with the three-day holiday of Eid al-Fitr.
Muslims believe God revealed the first verses of their holy book, the Quran, to the Prophet Muhammad during Ramadhan, the start of which is determined by the sighting of the new moon. The Muslim lunar calendar moves back through the seasons, so Ramadhan starts 11 days earlier each year under the Western calendar.
The holy month, however, got off to an ominous start in southern Thailand, where most of Thai Muslims live amid an ongoing insurgency for autonomy. A car-bomb detonated in the morning, sending a huge plume of black smoke from a row of four-story buildings in a commercial area of Sungai Kolok in Narathiwat province.
Several shops and residences caught fire, said police Col. Maitree Chimcherd. He said seven people were injured, including four who were briefly trapped on the roof of a burning building.
Maitree blamed a group of Muslim insurgents for the homemade bomb hidden in a pickup truck parked in front of a computer store.
On Thursday night, a roadside bomb killed a villager and wounded his companion while they were hunting for squirrels in the woods in Yala province, said police Col. Wichai Jaengsakul.
Still, residents of Narathiwat, Yala and Pattani provinces flocked to local markets Friday to shop for fresh and dried fruit including date palm to be consumed at dusk after the first day of fasting ends.
Usually, countries have differing dates for the start of Ramadhan because of the different ways of calculating when the new moon crescent is sighted. Sometimes there are differences between various Muslim groups even within the same country.
Muhammadiyah, which uses calendar-based astronomical calculations, believed that the crescent should have appeared after sunset on Thursday. But the government argued it could not be seen by eyes or telescopes, hence Ramadhan has to start Saturday.
In Bangladesh too, Ramadhan is likely to start Saturday. However, a national moon sighting committee headed by state minister for religious affairs will sit Friday evening to make an official declaration.
The committee has asked the weather office and also members of the public to report to it any sighting of the moon. The weather office has already forecast that the new moon is likely to be sighted Friday evening.
In India, where about 13 percent of the 1.2 billion people are Muslim, most major Islamic organizations and mosques form committees of religious scholars who determine the start of Ramadhan based on the actual sighting of the new moon.
According to Amanullah, the spokesman of New Delhi's Jama Masjid mosque, one of the country's leading Sunni Muslim places of worship, Ramadhan is most likely to start Saturday.
The moon sighting committee will meet late Friday evening to view the moon and officially announce the start of the holy month of fasting, Amanullah, who uses just one name, said.