CAIRO - As millions of Muslims worldwide prepare to welcome the holy month of Ramadan, Indonesian Muslims remain stuck in the middle between the government and religious groups who are at loggerhead over the day to begin the fasting month.
The government should only decide national holidays for all, Muhammadiyah chairman Din Syamsuddin said, The Jakarta Post reported on Monday, July 16.
Every year, the government holds a meeting between the country's two largest organizations, Muhammadiyah and Nahdlatul Ulama, to decide on the first day of Ramadan.
This year, Nahdlatul Ulama, the country's largest Muslim organization, set the date for Ramadan start at July 21.
Muhammadiyah, the second largest Islamic organization in the Asian Muslim country, declared July 20 as first day of Ramadan.
It has also set August 19 as the first day for `Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan.
With this year's government meeting decided on July 18, Muhammadiyah said it will not send a representative to the meeting.
Being the first time to miss the meeting, the Muslim group announced that its move was taken to ease tensions.
Ramadan is the holiest month in Islamic calendar.
According to astronomical calculations, the holy fasting month of Ramadan will start on Friday, July 20.
In Ramadan, adult Muslims, save the sick and those traveling, abstain from food, drink, smoking and sex between dawn and sunset.
Muslims dedicate their time during the holy month to be closer to Allah through prayers, self-restraint and good deeds.
The majority of Muslims prefer to pay Zakah for the poor and needy during the month.
Muhammadiyah, the second largest Muslim organization in Indonesia, said there should be no problems if Muslims decided to start fasting on different days.
We don't need to exaggerate this, Syamsuddin, Muhammadiyah chairman, said.
"Fasting should be conducted based on personal faith.
He said such differences had occurred for years and would not cause a split in the country's Muslim community.
Yet, Deputy Religious Affairs Minister Nasaruddin Umar called on Muhammadiyah to rethink its decision to sit out the Ramadan meeting.
We call on Muhammadiyah to join the meeting, Nasaruddin told reporters in Malang, East Java.
The first day of Ramadan and moon sighting have always been a controversial issue among Muslim countries, and even scholars seem at odds over the issue.
While one group of scholars sees that Muslims in other regions and countries are to follow the same moon sighting as long as these countries share one part of the night, another states that Muslims everywhere should abide by the lunar calendar of Saudi Arabia.
A third, however, disputes both views, arguing that the authority in charge of ascertaining the sighting of the moon in a given country announces the sighting of the new moon, then Muslims in the country should all abide by this.This usually causes confusion among Muslims, particularly in the West, on observing the dawn-to-dusk fasting and celebrating the `Eid Al-Fitr, which marks the end of fasting.