Some people in the West find the Islamic rituals and customs hard to understand and put them away easily as outdated and conservative.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.
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.
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.
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".
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
Allah is the greatest
أشهد أن لا اله إلا الل
Ash-hadu an-la ilaha illa llah
I bear witness that there is no God but Allah
أشهد أن محمدا رسول الله
Ash-hadu anna Muhammadan-Rasulullah
I bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah
حي على الصلاة
Hayya ‘ala s-salah
Hasten to worship
حي على الفلاح
Hayya ‘ala ‘l-falah
Hasten to success
Allah is the greatest
لا إله إلا الله
La ilaha illa-Allah
There is no God but Allah
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.
WTSS 12 Geen idee wat het doel van dit alles is. Daar kom ik wel achter als ik in de hemel ben.
WTSS 18 De meeste mensen kunnen Arabische teksten lezen, maar kennen de betekenis niet.
WTSS 19 Schoolkinderen
WTSS 20 Schoolmeiden
WTSS 21 Suikerfabriek bg
WTSS 22 Suikerfabriek
WTSS 23 pasar siang
WTSS 24 Ramadan is voor moslims, jij bent geen moslim, dus waarom zou je vasten?
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.
WTSS 25 Jogja by night
WTSS 26 Bidden doe je tijdens de sholat en niet ‘s nachts in een rivier!
WTSS 27 Kungkum
WTSS 28 Geloof in Indonesië
WTSS 29 I’tikaf bg
WTSS 30 I’tikaf
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.
WTSS 33 Pulang kampung bg
WTSS 34 Yes! Dit is mijn ticket naar de hemel!
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.
WTSS 37 Takbiran
WTSS 38 We laten aan Allah zien, dat we blij zijn dat de vastenmaand voorbij is.
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.
WTSS 39 Sholat Idul Fitri bg01
WTSS 40 Sholat Idul Fitri
- 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.
WTSS 41 Sholat Idul Fitri 41
WTSS 42 Verdorie, de imam maakte een fout
WTSS 43 Sholat Idul Fitri na afloop
WTSS 44 Ramadan is voorbij
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
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