In a bid to avoid trouble, Sunnis, who form the larger chunk of some 60,000 Muslims in the twin towns of Ayodhya-Faizabad, have decided to observe Eid-ul-Fitr on Saturday.
Nationwide, the festival is being observed on Friday, December 6, which also happens to be the tenth anniversary of the demolition of the 16th century Babri Masjid.
The decision of the Sunnis came as a respite to the administration, which had summoned additional forces to keep a strict vigil in Ayodhya and Faizabad.
A visibly relieved district magistrate, Alok Kumar, said, "It certainly makes things simpler for the administration."
Denying reports that the administration had anything to do with the Sunni community's decision, he said, "This is nothing unusual. Haven't you heard of so many Hindu festivals being observed in different parts of the country on different dates?"
Local Sunni clerics claimed that the decision was prompted on account of non-visibility of the moon. When told that the moon had been sighted in Lucknow, barely 130 km away, the Imam of Faizabad's Jama Masjid, Maulana Qutubuddin Qadri, said, "We are not guided by Lucknow or any other place. We follow a system whereby the moon must be sighted by at least two bearded persons belonging to the particular sect. Since they did not sight the moon, we cannot observe Eid today."
Haji Mehboob Ahmed, the local chief of Babri Masjid Action Committee, who commands a large following among the local Sunni population, said, "We are observing the Ramzan fast today and our Eid will be celebrated tomorrow."
The Shias, on the other hand, saw no reason to defer the festival.
Dressed in spotless white kurta-pyjamas with light woolens on a sunny winter morning, people converged at the local Shia mosques and offered prayers.
"Once we got word from Lucknow, where our revered Maulana Kalbe Sadiq said that the moon had been sighted on Thursday evening, Eid had to follow today," said Maulana Ibne Hasan Rizvi, the Pesh-e-Imam of Faizabad's historic Imambara, whose word is the law for Shias living in a radius of 100 km.
Even after the namaaz, when the peshe-e-imam rose to address the gathering, he preferred to speak about the riots in Gujarat rather than the demolition of the Babri Masjid.
Asked why the Shias in Ayodhya had decided not to hold demonstrations on December 6, the imam said, Past experiences have shown that protests only arouse tension on account of a more charged counter-reaction. So it was best not to make any public demonstration of one's pain and agony "