KHOBAR, Saudi Arabia Sheik Mohammed Tawwash did not mention the United States or Osama bin Laden by name, but the meaning of his words in the first hours of the holy month of Ramadan were clear.
At a mosque in Khobar, he asked God to “protect the innocent Muslims and give them victory over the infidels and enemies of Islam.”
Throughout the Middle East, the spiritual mingled with the political yesterday. Ramadan which commemorates God’s revelation of the Koran, the Muslim holy book, to the Prophet Muhammad about 1,400 years ago began with introspection, services and prayers by many for victory over the U.S.-led forces fighting in Afghanistan.
In Saudi Arabia, where the regime is closely tied to the United States, Crown Prince Abdullah earlier had urged clerics to be cautious, saying they had a responsibility to their faith and government.
And sermons like Sheik Tawwash’s seemed temperate, at least in comparison to Abdul-Wahab Kassasbeh’s, the preacher at the Amman University mosque in Jordan. He called on God to wreak vengeance on “Americans, Jews, their allies and whoever stands behind them.”
“God, disperse them and grant victory to the [holy warriors] in Palestine, Afghanistan and Chechnya,” he prayed before his congregants.
In Lebanon, Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, a senior Shi’ite Muslim cleric, told worshippers at a south Beirut mosque that the United States was trying to crush the Taliban regime in order to establish a “strategic base” in Central Asia.
“Muslims, Arabs and the entire world should know that America does not care for the interests of the entire world, but it is working in the context of the international coalition against the so-called terrorism to serve its interests,” he said.
And away from the pulpit there was no shortage of sentiment in favor of bin Laden and his al Qaeda terrorist network.
“The Americans are digging their own grave and, God willing, our holy warriors in Afghanistan will bury them soon,” said Ahmed, 25, in Khobar, on the condition that he be identified only by his first name.
The reaction at the onset of Ramadan was more muted in Pakistan. In Afghanistan, however, there was enthusiasm as thousands crowded into the main mosque in the northern town of Taloqan to hear a new prayer leader, Sadiq, promise that the opposition Northern Alliance would bring good government.
“We will grant the rights of women and the rights of educated people, and bring a real Islam,” said Mr. Sadiq, appointed by the Northern Alliance this week.
He urged an unrelenting battle against terrorism. “If you are killed in this fighting, you will reap the rewards in heaven,” he said.
During Ramadan, observant Muslims abstain from eating, drinking, smoking and sex between sunrise and sunset to renew themselves spiritually.
Happy crowds of men filled Taloqan’s markets to shop for their first fast-breaking meal in the evening. The few women on the streets in Taloqan, a provincial capital, still wore burkas, the head-to-foot robes required by the Taliban.
Not all Muslim ministers spoke about politics. In Saudi Arabia’s holy city of Mecca, at the Grand Mosque, Sheik Saud Sharim ignored Afghanistan in his sermon. Instead, he concentrated on what Muslims should do during the next four weeks.
“A human being without the Koran is like life without water or air. His feelings and soul are certainly bankrupt and the Koran is the remedy,” he said.