The exacting process of selecting a jury to sit in judgment of 12 Hanafi Muslims accused of one of the most highly publicized crimes in the city's history began yesterday in D.C. Superior Court.

The prospective jurors heard calls for self sacrifice and reminders of their patriotic duty to serve. A latter-day touch was added when their answers to a questionnaire were run quickly through a computer, where the 431 original prospects were reduced by this analysis to 182 men and women.

The appeal were voiced by Judge Nicholas S. Nunzio to the potential jurors assembled in the massive main hall of the Old Pension Building, a relic of the post-Civil War period that now houses part of the D.C. court system.

Trial by a "citizen jury," Nunzio told the group, "is one of the most precious rights in our system of the justice. It cannot operate without dedicated self-sacrifice on the part of all of us. I'm asking you to examine your consciences, mindful of your duties as citizens of the United States."

When Nunzio had completed his remarks, the potential jurors filled out the questionnaire. The answers were fed into the computer, and the group of veniremen had been reduced to 182 by day's end.

The 12 Hanafis sat quetly with their attorneys and surrounded by U.S. marshals as the names of the 182 were called out by Ernest L. Bailey Jr., chief of the Superior Court jury commission.

The defendants are accused of murder, armed kidnaping, assault with intent to kill and related offenses arising from the taking of 149 hostages at three Washington buildings last March 9. The sieges did not end until the early hours of March 11.

The 431 who appeared at the Pension Building were among a special array of 650 potential jurors who had been summoned for the trial, which is expected to last at least two months. The 12 jurors and 12 alternates who finally are selected will be sequestered throughout the trial.

Bailey, the jury commissioner, said the absentee rate was normal. The names were chosen at random from lists of the city's registered voters and from those who have D.C. driver's permits. He attributed the "no-shows" to such causes as unreported changes of address, illness, and service on another jury within the past four years.

Judge Nunzio directed the 182 who remained after the initial computer screening to return today for the normal "voir dire" questioning process by which all juries are selected. The ohters were put on call until next Tuesday. All 431 were ordered not to discuss the case with anyone.

Most of yesterday was taken up with hearings in the heavily guarded courtroom on what questions would be asked prospective jurors. Nunzio ordered the actual questions placed under seal until they are asked in open court.

While the questions themselves were under seal, it was understood that many of them dealt with race and religion.

Court sources expressed hope that the jurors and alternates could be chosen in less than a week. If the 24 places cannot be filled from those already called, others will be chosen from a group of 500 jurors scheduled to report to Superior Court Friday for a regular month of jury duty.

The time consumed in deciding what questions to ask during the "voir dire" was more than expected, so the trial has run into its first delay. The "voir dire" questioning originally was scheduled to start yesterday, but Nunzio postponed it until this afternoon to give attorneys more time to propose questions to him.

The Hanafis are accused in a 32-count indictment of taking 149 hostages at the international headquarters of B'nai B'rith, the Jewish service organization, at 1640 Rhode Island Ave. NW; at the District Building at 14th and E Streets, NW, and at the Islamic Center at 2551 Massachusetts Ave. NW.

Maurice Williams, 24, a reporter for radio station WHUR, was shot to death during the takeover at the District Building. Several other persons were injured there and at the other locations.

The alleged leader of the takeovers is Hamaas Abdul Khaalis, 54, formerly known as Ernest Timothy McGhee. He and his 11 codefendants are charged in the indictment with carrying out the sieges in an effort to compel the government to turn over to them persons convicted of murdering seven Hanafi Muslims in 1973. All seven victims were relatives of Khaalis.

All 12 defendants are being held in D.C. Jail, 11 of them in lieu of $50,000 or $70,000 bonds. Khaalis originally was released without money bond. But he was jailed in a pretrial detentions status March 31 after allegedly committing another offense.

Persons being held in pretrial detention are entitled to a trial within 60 days of the time they are locked up. For this reason, the trial began Tuesday.