A Pakistani vendor sells dates at a weekly bazaar ahead of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan in Islamabad on Sunday. AFP PHOTO

    A Pakistani vendor sells dates at a weekly bazaar ahead of the Islamic holy
    month of Ramadan in Islamabad on Sunday. AFP PHOTO

    JAKARTA: Muslims in much of Asia began celebrating the holy month of Ramadan Sunday, but in Indonesia even threats by hardliners to raid “sinful” bars could not stop football fans heading to nightspots to watch the World Cup.

    Ramadan got under way in Asian countries including Indonesia, which has the world’s biggest Muslim population at around 225 million people, war-torn Afghanistan, Ma-laysia, Sri Lanka and the Philippines.

    Hardliners in Indonesia have pledged to raid bars that continue to sell alcohol, which Muslims are banned from drinking under Islamic law, or stay open too late. Authorities order bars and other nightspots to close earlier during the holy month.

    Radical group the Islamic Defenders’ Front would “monitor any sinful activities in entertainment places, cafes and bars during Ramadan”, said Salim Alatas, the group’s chief in the capital Jakarta.

    “If law enforcement officials do nothing about immoral activities, we will do anything we can to stop them, using our own methods.”

    For many other Indonesians, the start of Ramadan was a time to be with their families or take part in special prayers, with thousands heading to Jakarta’s Istiqlal Mosque, the biggest in Southeast Asia, on Saturday evening.

    Sri Lanka’s Muslims, who account for about 10 percent of the country’s 20 million population of mainly Buddhists, are set observe a low-key Ramadan after a spate of recent religious attacks.

    The Muslim Council of Sri Lanka, which groups nearly 50 Muslim organisations, said authorities had promised tighter security but many were still afraid of Buddhist extremist attacks after four people were killed in religious riots this month.

    In the predominantly-Catholic Philippines, the country’s Muslim minority was observing its first Ramadan since the signing of a peace deal between the government and the largest Islamic rebel group after decades of conflict.

    Von Al-Haq, military spokesman of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, said the former rebels would seek to use the holy month to try to persuade breakaway groups still fighting the government to lay down their arms.

    In Malaysia, Muslims—who account for 60 percent of the country’s 28 million people—will spend the late afternoon buying food at markets or meeting at restaurants to break the first fast together in the evening. There will also be special prayers at mosques every night during the holy month.

    Ramadan begins when the first crescent of a new moon is sighted. The holy month was also starting across the Middle East, as bloody conflicts rage in Iraq and Syria.



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