bg image

WTSS 01 Opening

When the sun sets

Ramadan in Yogyakarta

 

WTSS 02

When the sun sets in Jogja
  Muslims all over the world, see Ramadan as the most important month of the Islamic calendar. During 30 days they refrain from eating, drinking, smoking, having sex and other forms of consumption, between sunrise and sunset.

Some people in the West find the Islamic rituals and customs hard to understand and put them away easily as outdated and conservative. I'm in Indonesia right now, on the island Java in the city Yogyakarta (or Jogja in short) and would like to know what the yearly fasting month means to the people living here and how they experience this month. With an estimated 230 million Muslims, Indonesia is by far the biggest muslim country in the world. So it's not surprising Ramadan is very present everywhere you look. If you’re Muslim or not, you won't escape the yearly Ramadan rituals.

When the sun sets
When the sun sets

I'm staying with my uncle, aunt and nephew in Jogja. Their house in the kampung (neighbourhood) is small. In the early days, when Indonesia was still a Dutch colony, my grandmother used to live here. Now, more than 65 years after she left, my uncle still lives in that same house. In Jogja the Kauman street is known as a good, but rather strict Muslim street. The streets owes this status to the Islamic movement Muhammadiyah, which once arose here.

Muhammadiyah? Read about the 2 big Islamic movements in Indonesia here.
NU-logo

Logo Nahdlatul Ulama

Muhammadiyah-logo

Logo Muhammadiyah

With 29 million followers, Muhammadiyah is the second largest Muslim organization in Indonesia. The largest is Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), which has an estimated 30 million members. While NU is also politically active, Muhammadiyah only focuses on education and social issues.

One of the differences between the two organizations is determining the start date of Ramadan. NU, which is followed by the government, look at the moon with telescopes to determine the start date. If the moon creates a straight line with the earth and sun, Ramadan starts. In the meantime Muhammadiyah calculates the beginning of Ramadan, not using telescopes.

Quite often people make jokes about the NU method. "What if there are clouds covering the telescope image? How can you possibly know when to start the holy month?"

Every now and then people on the street ask me if I'm also Muslim. Reaction to my negative answer are varying. Some would like to know what religion I do have (and lose track by the idea of not having a religion), others would like to know how the West is dealing with religion and another tries to end the conversation quickly, but as polite as possible.

It's no news there are some Islamic hardliners walking around in Indonesia. They are not subtle and will not start a conversation with you, but the average Indonesian is everything but a hardliner and surely no terrorist.

bg image

WTSS 03

WTSS 04

In Indonesia a mosque is never far away. Masjid Gede (the Big Mosque) for example is a roughly 30 seconds walk from home. This old mosque forms the center of the Kauman kampung and functions, besides being a mosque, as a community center. It’s 2 days before Ramadan starts and it’s pretty crowded inside the mosque. "Time for the annual cleaning", explains one of the men in the mosque. "When Ramadan starts, everything has to be bright and shiny, so we can start the holy month in a clean mosque".

When the sun sets
When the sun sets

bg image

WTSS 05

WTSS 06

"From tomorrow we give ourselves to the fasting month"
  It's crowded today at the Parangtritis beach. Tomorrow it's the official start of Ramadan. So this is the last opportunity to have some fun at the beach. A lot of people take this chance to clean themselves in the warm seawater. This ritual is called Padusan and is very popular in Jogja. Although I couldn't recognize any ‘real’ rituals on the beach, this day seems important. Tomorrow is going to be tough: the first day of Ramadan.

When the sun sets

bg image

WTSS 07

WTSS 08

"If you sleep long, fasting is over very quick"
 

It's only 4:45 in the morning when an earsplitting sound is waking me up: ‘Allahu akbar. Ash-hadu an-la ilaha illa llah’ ('Allah is the greatest. I bear witness that there's no God but Allah'). It feels like the speaker, which produces this sound, is aimed exactly at my ears. Enjoying this Azan, which calls for prayer, is pretty difficult for me, and I try to go back to sleep.

Downstairs I hear noises. My uncle is awake already. Normally spoken, the Azan wakes him up just as it does wake me up, but now he got up before the morning Azan. To eat. Because after the first Azan of the day Muslims are not allowed to consume anymore. After this early breakfast, my uncle prepares to leave for the mosque, for prayer. Around 5:15am I hear him coming back home and shuffling up the stairs. He's going back to sleep, just like me.

Listen to a version of the Azan here and read its translation

4x

أكبر

Allahu Akbar

Allah is the greatest

2x

أشهد أن لا اله إلا الل

Ash-hadu an-la ilaha illa llah

I bear witness that there is no God but Allah

2x

أشهد أن محمدا رسول الله

Ash-hadu anna Muhammadan-Rasulullah

I bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah

2x

حي على الصلاة

Hayya ‘ala s-salah

Hasten to worship

2x

حي على الفلاح

Hayya ‘ala ‘l-falah

Hasten to success

2x

أكبر

Allahu Akbar

Allah is the greatest

1x

لا إله إلا الله

La ilaha illa-Allah

There is no God but Allah

bg image

WTSS 09

WTSS 10

When the sun sets
When the sun sets

The sun is about to set again, when I'm on my way to the Gajah Mada University. During Ramadan students gather at the university campus to break the fast all together. The university organized an extensive program, I read on a flyer. Topics range from how to educate your children according to Islamic traditions to health effects of Ramadan (very healthy!). It's crowded around the mosque. But dispite the crowd, no screaming or loud students. Everybody waits silently to break the fast.

The table, where food and tea are distributed, is the most popular place on the campus right now. A young man uses a kayung (which you normally use to bathe yourself) to poor cold tea in the glasses of the thirsty students. The drinks and food packages lay unopened on the ground, waiting to be consumed. Waiting to be eaten by the students. When the sun finally sets behind the horizon, the Azan sounds. It’s loudness is almost a contradiction to the serenity from before. But the students remain quiet and fill up their stomachs. 10 minutes after the first Azan, the second one sounds. The students prepare for Maghrib, the evening prayer. After this prayer there's an evening program with lectures and discussions, for whoever has the energy to attend.

bg image

WTSS 11

WTSS 12 Geen idee wat het doel van dit alles is. Daar kom ik wel achter als ik in de hemel ben.

"I have no idea what the purpose of all this is.
I'll find out when I'm in heaven."
bg image

WTSS 13

WTSS 14

During normal days it's extremely crowded in the corridors of the Kauman kampung. The narrow streets are build in colonial times and aren’t meant to be used by a lot of people in the same time. But now it's calm and quiet in the corridors. No people on the street. The only sound noticeable comes from the mosque and other houses for prayer. The Ramadan evenings are different than other nights. After the, normally spoken, last prayer, Isya, there's a special prayer: Taraweh. Men, women and children all pray in separates rooms or buildings. The smallest children I find in small side buildings. They get prayer lessons. I once tried to memorize the sentences that are recited during prayer, but failed utterly. No, these children perform a much better job. Although still a little uncertain, they perform the prayer movements and recite the Koran sections. They pray. I once asked my uncle why there are so many rules and traditions in Islam. Like the annual holy month and praying five times a day. He looks at me with a big smile: "I have no idea what the purpose is of this all. I'll find out when I'm in heaven."
When the sun sets
When the sun sets
bg image

WTSS 15

WTSS 16

Every time I speak about the Koran, as in the holy book, people give me a somewhat agitated look. Don’t I know that the word koran means newspaper in Indonesian language. If I want to talk about the holy book I should say Al Quran. Fine by me... The month Ramadan consists of 30 days and the Al Quran has 30 sections. I would say chapters, but that's wrong as well, people at the mosque told me. The Al Quran has 30 juz. Ok… Every day a small group of people reads one juz from the Al Quran. When Ramadan is finished the Al Quran is read. Just like the other Ramadan evenings, this evening a group of people read from the Al Quran in the Muhammadiyah mosque. The holy books are piled up on low tables. One by one everybody reads a couple of sentences out loud. Sometimes through the microphone. Every now and then people correct the other’s pronunciation of the Arabic words. At the end of the reading session the group's chairman translate the juz, that they just read, to Indonesian. Later my uncle explains that most people can pronounce the Arabic words, but don't know it's meaning. By translating the texts afterwards, meaning is given to the sentences.
bg image

WTSS 17

WTSS 18 De meeste mensen kunnen Arabische teksten lezen, maar kennen de betekenis niet.

"Most people can read Arabic texts, but
don't know it's meaning."

WTSS 19 Schoolkinderen

WTSS 20 Schoolmeiden

Fida is 16 years old. She goes to a Muhammadiyah high school. Since she was 5, she joins the fasting routines of Ramadan, she tells me. At that age it’s not obligated to join the fasting during Ramadan, but she wanted to start with it herself. Young children only fast until midday, because otherwise I would be too hard. But Fida is old enough to join the fasting full monty. That she feels hungry from time to time, Fida takes for granted. Luckily it doesn't effect her learning performances, she adds. I notice that it's pretty crowded in the canteen of the girls schools during lunch break. In this place there's no place for fasting, it seems. One of the girls explains that during the women's monthly period they don't have to fast. Just like people who are ill, do heavy labor or are pregnant, women having their period are allowed to eat and drink. After Ramadan these non-fasting days have to be caught up though.

When the sun sets

bg image

WTSS 21 Suikerfabriek bg

WTSS 22 Suikerfabriek

Next to a boiler with hot water, there's a sign saying: "Do not sleep here". The sign is almost perished and the letters are not easily readable. One meter away from the sign an employer is sleeping. And he is right, I would say. The sign says 'here', not 'there'. It’s bloody hot in this factory where sugar is made from cane. At the bottom of the plant I meet a guy who cleans the heating ovens. He does this by swiping the burned cane out of the oven onto the ground. The heating ovens are meant to boil the sugar syrup. At the end the syrup turns into sugar grains (gula pasir - sand sugar, they call it here). On the working floor it must be at least 50 degrees. I would like to know if he joins the fasting as well. In his expression I can tell he thinks this is a strange question. "Off course I fast this month. I'm used to this heat." Actually this answer makes him feel like a tough guy, I also notice in his expression.

When the sun sets

When the sun sets

bg image

WTSS 23 pasar siang

WTSS 24 Ramadan is voor moslims, jij bent geen moslim, dus waarom zou je vasten?

"Ramadan is for Muslims, you're not a Muslim, so why fast?"
  During the month Ramadan there are many pasar siang - afternoon markets - everywhere in town. At these markets all kinds of delights are sold to break the fast with. The market has a strange sight to it, food everywhere, but nobody who eats. Apart from a couple of hardliners in town, the Muslim fasting month is not a big problem for those not fasting. Here at home, for instance, there's always something to eat. My aunt, who is a fanatic faster herself (if there's no Ramadan, she also fasts 2 days a week) calls me when lunch is ready. When I ask if it bothers her that I do not join the fasting she replies, a little agitated, that off course she doesn't mind me not fasting. "Fasting during Ramadan is for Muslims, you're not a Muslim, so why fast?". She herself eats when the fasting is broken after sunset.

When the sun sets

When the sun sets

The ketua takmir - the mosque's chairman - from Jogokariyan is exited. Today the Jogja department of the Indonesian army (TNI) is going to visit his mosque. With great pomp the army trucks enter the street and many soldiers jump out of the cargo space. In a long line they march towards the mosque, with a lot of people watching them off course. For this special occasion the prayer room is cleared of other people so the army can perform their prayer in silence. Volunteers of the mosque, who prepare dinner for the ones who want to break the fast in the mosque, now make sure all the soldiers get their plate to break the fasting with.

bg image

WTSS 25 Jogja by night

WTSS 26 Bidden doe je tijdens de sholat en niet ‘s nachts in een rivier!

"You pray during the sholat, not in a river at night!"
bg image

WTSS 27 Kungkum

WTSS 28 Geloof in Indonesië

The first principle of the Indonesian foundation as stated in the Pancasila is ‘the believe in the one and only God’. Denial is not allowed by law. So an Indonesian person officially always has a religion he follows. There are six options at your disposal: Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism. A so called number 7 is the option 'other'. But with this last option you still acknowledge that there's a God. With this last option in mind there are people who meditate in a river in the middle of the night, during a ritual called Kungkum. I tell my uncle I'm going to see what Kungkum is about and am going to photograph it. He looks at me a bit frightened. "Kungkum is not allowed for Muslims!", he says. Kungkum is a ritual where people meditate in a river in the middle of the night. Naked. To get to themselves or to a higher power. "Some even pray during this ritual", tells my uncle. "You pray during sholat and not in a river at night!" The ritual Kungkum is part of Kejawen - Javanese spirituality. There are Muslims who perform this ritual, but traditional Islam prohibits it. Some even look down upon Kungkum, because it's said not to be a real religion. My uncle is afraid I will make a link between Muhammadiyah Islam and Kungkum. He clearly doesn't want to be associated with people who made their own Islam.
bg image

WTSS 29 I’tikaf bg

WTSS 30 I’tikaf

"The night that's better than 1000 months is coming.
Or maybe it already happened.
Nobody knows."
  It's almost the end of Ramadan when I'm in the Jogokariyan mosque again. I take a seat next to a young guy and we start to chat. "The last 10 nights of Ramadan are special", he tells me. "One of these nights is the night, that's better than a thousand months. To wait for this night we stay at the mosque until the end of Ramadan. We call this I'tikaf. During the day we attend seminars about Islam related topics and in the evening we break the fast together. The Jogokariyan mosque is known for it's good facilities and that's why people from as far as Makasar - Sulawesi come to this mosque for these special nights." "For the 10 night stay in the mosque during I'tikaf the participants pay Rp. 200.000 ($18). What happens exactly during the nights that’s better than 1000 months, I don’t know. Nor if it already took place, nor if it still has to happen.”, the young guy adds.
bg image

WTSS 31 Buschauffeur

WTSS 32 Pulang kampung

A few days left and Ramadan is over. Indonesia is heading home to family. On normal days during the year it’s already crowded on the Javanese streets, but towards the end Ramadan it’s extreme. All the main roads are jammed and all the busses are packed, just like trains and airplanes. If you didn’t buy a ticket in advance, you’re almost assured not making it (on time) to your family for Eid-al Fitr, the end feast of Ramadan.

When the sun sets

When the sun sets

bg image

WTSS 33 Pulang kampung bg

WTSS 34 Yes! Dit is mijn ticket naar de hemel!

"Yes! This is my ticket to heaven!"

bg image

WTSS 35 Ticket to heaven

WTSS 36 Zakat fitrah

Ramadan is over. When breaking the fast for the last time is over, I see my uncle standing in the doorway with two bags of rice. “These are for the people who need it the most”, he explains. “It’s called Zakat Fitrah. It’s a obligation for every Muslim to give away 2,5 kilos of rice, after Ramadan”, he adds. We walk to a table along the side of the road, which functions as administration office. The rice is weighted and put in a temporary stockroom. Later that night small trucks bring the rice to distribution centers. Who’s not able to donate rice, can pay his duty with the equivalent in Rupiahs. “22.500 Rp ($2) is the current rate”, one of the administrators tells me. My uncle brings in 5 kilo rice (for him and my aunt). When he receives his receipt for the rice, he jokes: “Yes! This is my ticket to heaven!”. At the end of the night an estimated 6 tons of rice is collected and many tickets to heaven are handed out.

When the sun sets

bg image

WTSS 37 Takbiran

WTSS 38 We laten aan Allah zien, dat we blij zijn dat de vastenmaand voorbij is.

"We show Allah that we’re happy
the fasting month is over."

During the last week the sound of drumrolls kept me awake at night. At the square in front of the Big Mosque a small orchestra tried to make as much noise as possible. “We practise for the big procession during Takbiran”, tells one of the drummers. “During Takbiran we show to Allah that we’re happy Ramadan is over. In a long line we walk through the city. Every mosque and muslim organisation is attending. The one even more dressed up than the other.”, adds the drummer before he continues practicing again.

bg image

WTSS 39 Sholat Idul Fitri bg01

WTSS 40 Sholat Idul Fitri

The next morning it’s an early day. It’s 5:00am when everybody in the house wakes up. Today it’s Eid al-Fitr. For Muslims this is one of the most important days of the year. Everybody is free from work, people are not allowed to fast (also a rule from Islam) and it’s a feast. Everywhere on the streets you see signs saying “Selamat Idul Fitri. Mohon maaf lahir dan batin”, which means something like “Happy Eid al-Fitr. Forgif with your body and soul”.
Idul Fitri, Lebaran, Eid al-Fitr, Sugar Feast? What about all these terms?
In Holland people use the word ‘sugar feast’ to address the feast at the end of Ramadan. It implies the feast is about sweets, which is not correct. A lot of Muslims use the term Eid al-Fitr (ied-oel-fitr), which translates to Idul Fitri in Indonesian, and refers to the feast at the end of Ramadan. In addition Indonesia has Lebaran which takes places on the same day and is a national holiday. Not only Muslims, but everybody. Pretty practical, if you ask me, to give non-Muslims also a day off when 95% of the population is already free from work.
Although it’s still early in the morning, the streets are already very crowded. People dressed up at their best walk towards Alun-Alun Utara, a huge square in the center of Jogja. At 7:00am a special prayer starts where thousands of Muslims attend. People bring old newspaper to lay on the sandy ground of the Alun-Alun Utara to sit on. Not only the square is filled with people, also the surrounding streets. The imam has the noble task to perform this special prayer for thousands of people. Like a true choreography the prayer is performed. Not that I’m an expert on this, but I thought the prayer was over very quick. Later somebody tells me the imam made a mistake. At the end of prayer he should say “Allahu Akbar” 7 times. This imam said it only 2 times.
bg image

WTSS 41 Sholat Idul Fitri 41

WTSS 42 Verdorie, de imam maakte een fout

"Damn, the imam made a mistake!"

bg image

WTSS 43 Sholat Idul Fitri na afloop

WTSS 44 Ramadan is voorbij

Ramadan is over and normal life in Jogja continues. I was lucky to experience this holy month from so close. In the beginning people were a bit reserved towards the Dutch guy who wanted to make a photo documentary, but after a while people opened up and approaching the Muslim community seemed simpler than I thought. The fact that everyday people invited me to become a Muslim as well, I should take as a friendly suggestion, I suppose. Indonesians think different about life than Westerners do. Religion for example is a key element in society. And this comes with a whole set of rules, like in Western society capitalism comes with rules as well. Is that a bad thing? Indonesians themselves don’t seem to be bothered.

*

Many thanks to all the people who helped me producing this photo essay. I couldn’t have done this without them. Thank you so much.

Sukardi . Brian BG . Mudjinah . Eddo Bayu Witarsa . Rudi Driessen . Jimmy Driessen . Ali Akbar .  Zulfan . Yasir . Eddy Ryianto . Jan Kampherbeek . Yvonne Kampherbeek . Karine Versluis

*

© Copyright 2013 - 2014 Eric Kampherbeek

Social

Follow me