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Experiencing Ramadhan in Indonesia for the first time

Sophia: In Australia, I worked with some people of Muslim faith. During Ramadan, they would usually take time off work and life would continue as normal for us non-Muslims. This year, I am living in Indonesia, a country where around 90% of the population is Muslim. All of my colleagues are Muslim and are fasting. I must admit I was nervous about Ramadan. I was worried it would be rude or inconsiderate of me to eat and drink at work. There are three mosques within earshot of my house, so I was worried I wouldn’t get any sleep over the noise. I’d also heard that many shops close during the day, so I was worried it would be difficult to get food.

I have to say so far, a few days into Ramadan, it has been a lovely time. There is a sense of peacefulness in the air. The mosques near my house have been more crowded, but I haven’t been disturbed at all. One morning I heard children in the street making noise, but I went straight back to sleep. I later learned they do this to wake people up for makan sahur, the pre-dawn meal which is eaten before imshak, when the alert sounds that it is almost time for subuh, the dawn prayer and the fast begins. In the afternoon, a siren sounds when it’s time to berbuka puasa, break the fast. My colleagues have been very empathetic and taken the time to explain all these things to me. Yesterday afternoon (Thursday 9 June 2016) I had a chat with my colleague Noto about the meaning and impact of Ramadan.

Wahyu Tanoto: There are two keys to fasting: no food or drink until Maghreb (sunset). Secondly, we have to control our desires for everything. If we break these rules, the fast doesn’t count. We are commanded by Allah to fast, but those who chose not to are free to do so. Fasting is about our personal relationship and responsibility to Allah. Those of us who fast believe we can increase our faith in Allah. Fasting gives us a sense of empathy towards those people who are not able to eat or have difficulty eating.

Ramadan also impacts the community socially and economically. There is an increase in trade. You will meet people on the street selling foods like dates, bananas, young coconuts and the Javanese specialty dessert called kolak, which can be made with banana, cassava and coconut. Supermarkets will also offer discounts. We are critical of this however because fasting is used by entrepreneurs to take advantage of our so-called “Capitalization of Ramadan”. Mitra Wacana will be talking on our talk show segments this month about how, in addition to our relationship with Allah, fasting affects relationships between people.

Sophia: As a foreign, non-Muslim person, how I can respect and enjoy Ramadan with my Muslim friends?

Wahyu Tanoto: All we ask of people who are not fasting is that they don’t eat in the open. Have your meal inside your home or if you eat at a warung (traditional food stall), stay inside.

[So far, to my relief, I’ve discovered several warung near my office that are open during the day and have plenty of tables and chairs to eat inside.]

Sophia: Can you tell me a little bit about the celebrations at the end of Ramadan (called Lebaran in Indonesia or Eid al fitr).

Wahyu Tanoto: The night before lebaran usually we will worship at the mosque or in an open space (because there’s not enough room for everyone in the mosque) until subuh. Then we will visit our parents, family and neighbors to offer greetings and ask forgiveness for any harm we may have caused over the past year. This tradition is called nyuwun ngapuro in Javanese. Then we will eat a big meal together. The most popular menu is opor ayam, a spicy chicken stew made with coconut milk and kupat, rice wrapped in woven palm leaves and cooked in coconut milk.

Sophia: So far, Ramadan has been a very pleasant and interesting time for me. I have tried to get into the spirit of it by joining my friends to berbuka puasa. I’ve also discovered that people don’t judge me for not knowing much about their faith and they are more than happy to explain things to me.

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