RAMADAN AND LEBARAN (EID) IN INDONESIA

RAMADAN

Ramadan is the month-long Muslim fast. It is observed during the ninth month of the Muslim year. According to Islamic custom, every able bodied Muslim is required to fast during the daylight hours or "as long as a white thread can be distinguished from a black one."

Ramadan commemorates the night when Allah revealed the first portion of the Koran to the Prophet Mohammed in A.D. 610. It is a time a sacrifice that leads to renewal and strength and is intended to teach Muslims discipline, subdue their passions, cleanses their spirit and humble them by letting them experience what it is like to be poor.

Fasting represents both a submission to God and a willingness to sacrifice oneself for God. By going through the experience together, Muslims are expected to develop a stronger bond with one another and a sense of community. Some religious scholars have suggested that Mohammed had Christian relatives and that the notion of fasting as a form of penitence was picked up from Christian ascetics who lived in the desert.

Ramadan Duties

In the Koran, Mohammed commands: “O believers, fasting is prescribed for you, as it was prescribed for those before you, that you may be conscious of God.” Ramadan’s name is taken from the Arabic word for “great heat.” It is not meant to be a time of penitence but rather a time of religion awakening, Esham A Hassaball wrote in the Chicago Tribune: “I take the opportunity of Ramadan to try to correct my character flaws, increase my acts of spiritual devotions, and improve myself through other spiritual projects.”

In addition to fasting the faithful are encouraged to perform special congregational prayers at their local mosque, where Muslims often gather to break the fast together and recite passages from the Koran.

It is also important to recognize the poor, either by giving charity to the poor or providing food for them. Muslims often give their obligatory zakat payments during Ramadan and an additional “fasting charity” of at least $10 perf family member before the end of the month. Many Muslim believe that whatever charity , prayer or good deed you give you will be rewarded with one that is 70 times greater. By experiencing suffering through fasting one is expected to have more empathy for the poor and feel more willing to provide charity.

Ramadan is supposed to be a time of peace and compassion but some jihadists advocate that it is an ideal time to launch attacks, saying that the end of the of Ramadan fast is a particularly auspicious time for a martyr to enter paradise because the gates of hell are shut. Throughout their history, Muslims have scored important victories during Ramadan and launched offensives against non-Muslims and Muslims. Iran and Iraq fought, Egypt and Syria launched their offensive against Israel in 1973 and Palestinians kept up their intifada during Ramadan. Mohammed himself began preparations for the Battle of Badr on the 10th day of Ramadan.

Ramadan and Fasting

The Ramadan fast is required of all Muslims who have reached the age of puberty. Children generally start fasting for half days when they are around six to develop disciple and fast full days for the first time around the age of 9 to 11, when the first fast is treated as a sort of coming of age ritual.

Devout Muslims fast everyday for the entire lunar month. Less devout may fast only on important days. Muslims that do fast the entire month say the first couple of days are the hardest, but once you get past that its not so bad. "I was almost blinded by a headache," one woman of her first fast sayd, "I had a splitting headache most of the day, a terrible headache, and I didn't understand why this would be anything that God could possibly want." Fasting is something than one does within oneself. It is easy to cheat and sneak a snack or a drink without anyone finding out.

The daily fasts helps the faithful understand the suffering of the hungry and cleans their body. Houston Rocket basketball Hakeen Olajuwan observed the month-long fast when it fell in the middle of the basketball season. When he played during Ramadan he said he felt, "lighter, faster, much more mentally focused."

Javeed Akhter wrote in the Chicago Tribune, “Hunger is not a problem, nor is thirst, but the lack of sleep is. I rise at 4:30 to eat and pray before dawn, then lie down to try to sleep for an hour or so, often without much luck...I make an effort to overcome the faults in my character---my impatience, my tendency to be sarcastic, my egocentric behavior to name a few...I will further dedicate myself to the protection of human rights.”

Akhter wrote, “My first memory of Ramadan...is the expression of pure bliss on my father’s face as he drank a tall glass of ice-cold lemonade after he had broken the daily fast...At that time, my father was a government physician in a small town called Bhainsa in central India, where temperatures in the summer routinely exceed 100 degrees. After seeing patients in the hospital, he and an assistant would get on their bikes and trundle down narrow, unpaved streets to make house calls...My father made no concessions to his schedule during Ramadan. When he would return home just before sunset , he was exhausted and dehydrated.”

Other religions incorporate fasting---Christians sometimes fast during Lent and Jews do it on Yom Kippur---but they are generally not undertaken with the same rigor and determination and for as long a period of time as Ramadan is embraced by Muslims. Devout Orthodox Russians are among most serious Christian fasters.

Ramadan Restrictions and High Moral Conduct

During Ramadan Muslim are expected to refrain from drinking (even a sip of water), eating (even potato chip crumbs), smoking and having sex. They can't even swallow their own saliva. Gum is out as are aspirin and injections or any other medicine unless they are needed for a life-threatening condition. Muslims are also advised not brush their teeth while fasting, lest any toothpaste accidently dribble down their throat. The use of eye drops and eardrops are okay because they don't end up in the stomach. During Ramadan, many men say they have a more difficult time trying to go through the day without any cigarettes than without food.

On Internet sites such as IslamOnline, a Cairo-based website created by Yusef Qaradawi, a popular Islamist preacher on the satellite channel al-Jazeera, users ask question about what is allowed and what isn’t. Abu Malih, an expert on Sharia who answer questions with the help of 10 assistants and advise from a network of 100 sheiks and muftis, told AFP, “It is sometimes difficult to answer, but never impossible.” His group has issued fatwas that using nasal sprays and receiving non-nutritive injections was in keeping with the Ramadan fast but smoking was not. His group also said dreams with a sexual content are okay as long as you don’t carry out the acts.

The Koran itself does not have a lot to say on the matter: It simply tells the faithful: “Fasting is decreed for you as it was decreed for those before you.” One imam told the Washington Post, “It’s that simple. Allah is the only one who has the right to tell us how to worship and it is not for us to choose how and when.”

Ramadan fasting is more than simply not eating and honoring all the restrictions. The faithful most also act with high moral character , not harm anyone or perform ant evil deeds. They fast is expected to cleans one both physically and morally and help one feel reborn and reconnected after it is finished.

A saying attributed to Mohammed goes: “God does not need your fasting if you do not leave off talking badly or abusing people or making quarrels...You must control yourself, be patient and change yourself. And also, if someone comes and fights or quarrels with you, say: I am fasting, Don’t do this.” Or you will lose your reward.” Mohammed is also said to have stressed the importance of purity of word and deed: “Whoever does not give up forged speech and evil actions, [let him know] God is not in need of his giving up his food and drink.”

Eating During Ramadan

Food can be eaten before the first signs of dawn and after sunset. There are no limits on what one can eat during the hours of darkness. Often big meals with special foods and breads are prepared in the evening and sometimes social gatherings go on all night.

One Egyptian man told the New Yorker, “Everyone gains weight. You sit in a café until midnight and then you go to friends houses and eat till two in the morning or later. Then you sleep some and wake up before sunrise to have some cheese or yoghurt to get you through the day.” A Moroccan added, “Unemployment is so high that a lot of people, especially young guys, sit around all day, playing cards and thinking about food.”

Iftar and saum are names of meal eaten after the sunset prayer to break the fast. suhur (also spelled sahur or sohoor ) is the meal before the fast. It usually begins about an before dawn. If a man can not make it home for the iftar he can stop at a mosque to eat. The meal often being with a single date and a drink of water---this is believed to be how Mohammed ended his fasts---or a simple meal of fruit, dates, water, yoghurt, milk and juice.

If you are a non-Muslim and are with a Muslim person during Ramadan, it is considered inconsiderate to eat, drink or smoke in front of them. During Ramadan tea shops and restaurants are often closed during the day, but reopen at night. You can often find a shop that is open though. Even so it is good idea to buy food the evening before the day you need it. If you buy food during day at a shop don’t eat where people can see you. Eat in the privacy of your room.

Ramadhan in Indonesia

Ramadan is spelled Ramadhan in Indonesia. During this time the overall pace of life overall slows down. Things take longer to get accomplished both at home and at the office. Many Muslim arise very early in the morning to prepare their pre-dawn meal and try to complete their heavy chores early in the morning just after they've eaten. Some take a nap mid-morning or in the afternoon to keep pace with their altered sleeping and eating schedules. Muslims that may not normally be diligent in observing the obligatory five prayers a day, may begin to pray regularly during this time, necessitating their absence from work for about 10-15 minutes.[Source: expat.or.id/~/]

Street food vendors and some restaurants close during the day and some restaurants stop serving alcohol. The government orders the closing of night entertainment centers during the first day and the last day of Ramadhan. Some establishments that are in 5 star hotels or better known clubs will be allowed to operate; however will have shortened hours throughout the month. You won't have any trouble finding seating at restaurants throughout Jakarta for lunch, but dinner may be more difficult. Buffets catering to those breaking their fast at sunset offer a delicious array of Indonesian specialties./~/

During Ramadan, people toss firecrackers to celebrate the end of the fast. In some places enthusiastic young people paraded through the neighborhood in wee hours of the morning. It is extremely offensive to tell them to be quiet. Food prices often rise dramatically as Lebaran nears. Supermarkets become extremely busy as people are looking for special treats to break the fast each evening, and especially the 2 or 3 days prior to Lebaran as they prepare for the feasts at the end of the fasting month. /~/

Many people take off one to two weeks from work to visit their family in the village. It is a government regulation that a one-month bonus is paid to all household staff and salaried employees in offices and factories near the end of the fasting month. This is referred to as THR (tay-ha-err) Tunjangan Hari Raya, or bulan ketigabelas - the 13th month. Traffic jams from the afternoon rush hour start earlier as many office workers are allowed to leave earlier than usual to get home in time to break the fast with family and friends. /~/

It often difficult to schedule travel in Indonesia near the end of Ramadhan due to the annual exodus of city dwellers to their hometowns. Neighborhood associations sometimes organize a charitable drive for the local poor. There is often a big increase in beggars at traffic lights as the poor flock into the city from the villages at this traditional time of heightened charity giving. There is growing excitement and the noise level at local mosques increases as Lebaran (Eid) approaches. /~/

Different Start and End Times for Ramadan in Indonesia

Nahdlatul Ulama and Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), Indonesia’s two largest Muslim organizations, use different methods to determine the start of Ramadan and sometimes come up with different dates for the beginning and end of the Muslim feast. In 2013 the Jakarta reported: “ Despite having estimated the beginning of this year’s month of Ramadan to fall on July 10, Indonesia’s largest Islamic organization confirmed that the official determination was pending final observations of the current position of the moon, which it would carry out today. The Nahdlatul Ulama would continue to use the rukyatulhilal (or rukyat ) visibility observation method to determine when the fasting month would begin for its members, A. Ghazalie Masroeri, head of the NU’s astronomy board, said in a press conference in Jakarta on Saturday. Thus, the organization’s estimate of July 10 has to be understood as only a prediction. “Criteria for the rukyat method [which centers on the position of the crescent moon] project that, for Islamic year 1434, the beginning of Ramadan will fall on Wednesday,” Ghazalie said. [Source: Jakarta Globe, July 8, 2013 ^=^]

“To make a final decision, the organization will be conducting final observations of the hilal from 90 strategic points across the archipelago, supported by 110 nationally- certified individuals, along with other Islamic scholars and experts. Results from the observations will then be compiled by the astronomy board and submitted to the official government calendaring mechanism (known as the “ Isbat meeting”) which is scheduled for this afternoon. “After the Isbat meeting and [coordination with] the Ministry of Religious Affairs, the NU will conduct an official announcement regarding the start of Ramadan for Islamic year 1434,” Ghazalie said. ^=^

“Meanwhile, the nation’s second-largest Islamic organization, the Muhammadiyah, had already fixed their Ramadan start date a day earlier. “According to the approach that has long been used by the Muhammadiyah, we will start fasting on July 9,” the organization’s chairman Din Syamsuddin said. He said the Muhammadiyah’s preferred hisab method of calculating the beginning of Ramadan was unlike the rukyat method because it adopted a mathematical and astronomical approach to calculating the position of the moon. “According to the hisab method, Ramadan begins at a few minutes past 2:00 p.m on July 8, [as determined by the positioning of] the sun, earth and moon,” he said. “Therefore, there is no need to [wait to] see it or link it to the tropical climate, a change of weather or even global warming. Even the beginning of the fasting month in the next 100 years can be predicted [today] as it is an exact [mathematical] approach.” Following Muhammadiyah’s calculations, the month of Ramadan will last 30 days and end on Aug. 8. ^=^

“Islamic organizations as well as astronomers from the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) will particupate in the meeting at the ministry on Monday prior to announcing the official start of Ramadan. The government has over the years based its decisions on visibility observations or, in other words, the rukyat method that is relied on by the NU. ^=^

Debate Over the Start of Ramadhan and Indonesian Plurality

The start and end dates of Ramadan are matter of debate in Indonesia. The Jakarta Post reported: “We seem to have this debate every year: either about the start of Ramadhan or about when it ends. In many instances, Muhammadiyah and Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), the country’s two largest Muslim organizations, are at opposite ends of the spectrum. The government is inevitably caught between them. Although the Religious Affairs Ministry hosts annual meetings to determine when Ramadhan begins and ends by consensus, it has to respect the differences that often emerge, including between NU and Muhammadiyah.[Source: Jakarta Post, Editorial, July 20 2012 |::|]

“Many Muslims are bewildered if not confused by the debate that we seem to have year in and year out. Some ask why can’t these two Muslim organizations agree on matters as “inconsequential” as the start or end of Ramadhan. Many understandably decide to follow the government. Others trust their respective organizations, be they NU, Muhammadiyah or other smaller groups and sects. Once Ramadhan begins, however, the debate stops and everyone goes about his or her own affairs. Everyone respects other groups’ decisions, until the next disagreement. |::|

“No other country in the world with a predominantly Muslim population goes through heated debates about the beginning and end of Ramadhan. Most of these countries, such as those in the Middle East and North Africa and also including Bangladesh, Malaysia, Brunei and Pakistan, are Islamic states by definition or by constitution. In these countries, the state defines religion. It makes religious rulings, which everyone is expected to follow. No one, or very few, would argue with the government about when Ramadhan starts |::|.

“Indonesia may be the country with the world’s largest Muslim population, but it is not an Islamic state. The debate about the start and end of Ramadhan is a reflection of the plurality of Islam in Indonesia, while the respect that people extend to the choices of others underpins the freedom that religious adherents in this country enjoy, as they rightly should.” |::|

Ramadan Traditions in Indonesia

During Ramadan Muslims participate in sholat tarawih, nonobligatory evening prayers, and semaan or tadarus, reading and listening to Koran recitations. Buka Puasa refers to the breaking of the fast, the meal at sunset. Traditional bedug drums are beat at maghrib to notify the faithful that it is time to break the fast. Sembayang or Shalat refers to the ritual prayers that must be made five times each day by Muslims. Korma — dates from Iraq, Tunisia, the US and Saudi Arabia— make their annual appearance in markets and supermarkets for the breaking of the fast. On the first day of Ramadan, many mosques fill with white-robed worshipers.

On semaan, Ganug Nugroho Adi wrote in the Jakarta Post, “Unsurprisingly, mosques and Islamic boarding schools are crowded with people reciting verses of the holy book during the holy month. Usually practiced after obligatory prayers for one to two hours or in the evening for a longer time, Koran readings to khatam (the end part) mark Ramadhan activities in several old mosques in Surakarta, Central Java, such as the Grand Mosque of Surakarta Palace, the Al Wustho Mosque of Mangkunegaran Palace and Laweyan Mosque. [Source: Ganug Nugroho Adi, Jakarta Post, July 15 2014 *=*]

“In the evenings, usually after breaking the fast and tarawih prayers, the three heritage buildings of worship are packed with Muslims for the semaan ritual. They come not only from Surakarta, but from nearby towns such as Klaten, Boyolali, Karanganyar, Sragen, Sukoharjo and Wonogiri. The number of participants increases from the 17th to 29th day of Ramadhan. “The odd dates of the month are believed to be those of Lailatul Qadar [descent of Koran verses], with multiple rewards if we perform such worship on the odd evenings in succession,” said Al Wustho Mosque manager Muhammad Toha Mustafa. *=*

“During Ramadhan, according to Toha, Al Wustho holds a semaan daily, so Muslims can be found reciting the Koran in the mosque throughout the month. “We begin semaan after dzuhur [noon prayers], which continue until azhar [afternoon prayers]. For about three hours, ritual participants read the Koran as well as listen to interpretations of the verses recited,” Toha said. At Al Wustho, the tradition has been practiced since the early 1940s. For the first 25 days of Ramadhan, santri, or students, read 30 sections, comprising 114 chapters and 6,666 verses of the Koran. Students who are beginners normally complete their recitation on the 25th evening. Fluent readers of the holy book can complete khatam recitations two or three times over the course of Ramadhan. “On the 26th day, they will repeat the recitation of all sections,” added Toha. *=*

“At Laweyan Mosque, the oldest in the city and a relic of the Pajang Kingdom, semaan is conducted in groups, each composed of four to five students. The complete their recitations under the guidance of an official of the mosque. Laweyan Mosque holds fewer people. Its seaman prioritizes novices. “During Ramadhan, we can provide direction for 20 to 30 students of khatam recitation of the Koran. The number isn’t as large as those at big mosques, but we’ve carried out this tradition for 20 years,” said Muhammad Iqbal from Laweyan Mosque. *=*

“At the Grand Mosque of the Surakarta Sultanate, things get busy after the 10th day of fasting. On the odd dates of Ramadhan, Muslims crowd the mosque, with many even sitting on the terrace of the building. Among the Islamic boarding schools (ponpes) practicing semaan is Baitul Mustofa in Mojosongo in Surakarta, where students carry out the ritual in a unique way. On certain evenings, students recite the Koran outdoors, using torches and oil lamps for illumination. “We want to bring our santri closer to nature. This method is also meant to make them always remember their religious obligations, in spite of the availability of adequate lighting,” said ponpes manager Singgih. *=*

“Outdoor semaan are scheduled for Thursday evenings. On the first such evening this month, around a hundred students, mostly children, walked to a vacant plot not far from their boarding school. With a chill in the air and a wind that caused torches and oil lamps to flicker, the students sat on mats and prepared to follow the ritual with enthusiasm. It began with shalawatan, chants of praises for Muhammad. Dozens of ponpes workers and the santri group sat face-to-face. The religious verses were sung with tambourine accompaniment. The dim light added to the holiness of the atmosphere. After an hour, the students started reading about 20 chapters of the Koran, continuing what they had recited in the morning, noon, afternoon and early evening in the hall of their school. “We also gather for semaan every night until the khatam recitation day before Ramadhan is over. The only aim of this tradition is to seek the blessing of Allah,” Singgih said. “After the 17th, we keep reciting Al Quran together every night, at the same time commemorating Nuzulul Quran [revelation]. We will always maintain this sacred ritual,” added Singgih.” *=*

One Day of Ramadhan in Jakarta

During Ramadhan in 2014, the Jakarta Post reported: “As the country with the world's largest Muslim population, roughly 209 million Indonesians are observing the holy month of Ramadhan, which this year started on June 29. Due to many people not consuming food or drinking liquids, most food establishments are either closed during the day or keep their front doors and windows covered so as not to tempt Muslims who are fasting. Instead, they open in the early morning for sahur (pre-dawn meal), and after people break their fast in the evening. [Source: Jakarta Post, July 11 2014 |^|]

“Novi, 16, who works at the 24-hour Warteg Ibu Sopi (Ibu Sopi's food stall) in Sabang, Central Jakarta, told The Jakarta Post that during the Ramadhan month, the food stall was always packed from 2:30 a.m. to 3:30 a.m., during sahur. "We make fried foods and omelets at around midnight, and start cooking [other food] at 1:30 a.m.," she said on Friday. After sahur, Muslims often flock to mosques to conduct their morning prayers with their families and friends to start the day. |^|

“During the day, special markets pop up selling a wide variety of foods that people can bring home and enjoy as iftar, the meal to break the fast. These markets, such as the one at Bendungan Hilir, Central Jakarta, open at around 10 a.m. and close at around 6:30 p.m., just a little after sunset. "The daily income is never fixed […] sometimes its crowded and sometimes there are hardly any people. On average, however, I make around Rp 2 million [US$173] to 3 million every day," Eko, one of the sellers at the market, said on Thursday. |^|

“Meanwhile, malls are a hotbed for people passing the time before breaking the fast at the wide range of stores and entertainment centers. It is also common to see people sitting around in restaurants or food courts one or two hours before sunset to make sure that they have a place to sit in the already crowded malls. Students Rivka and Fia told the Post that they had been sitting at the food court since 4 p.m. and often went to the mall to buy iftar. "Usually we just sit and talk here [while waiting]," Fia said at Senayan City, Central Jakarta, while Rivka added that they would sometimes work on their assignments. For breaking the fast, the mall often provides free tajil (sugary snacks and beverages to break the fast), before customers enjoy their meals and conduct their evening prayers.” |^|

Lebaran (Eid al-Fitr)

Idul Fitri (Eid al-Fitr) — the celebration that comes at the end of Ramadhan — is commonly referred to as Lebaran in Indonesia. Mass prayers are held in mosques and large open Praying in the Mosqueareas around the country. Celebrated with the traditional dish ketupat and visiting with family and friends. Charity donations (amal) are traditionally given at this time. Just prior to Lebaran a mass exodus (mudik) from Jakarta of over 3 million people occurs as residents return to their villages to celebrate with family and friends. Begging of forgiveness for any transgressions or slights in the past year is expressed during visits, Mohon Maaf Lahir dan Batin. A Lebaran bonus, THR, is traditionally given to all Muslim staff or employees prior to the holidays. In urban areas halal-bihalal (mutual begging of pardon) gatherings are held. This is the time of year when Muslims traditionally buy new clothes.

Lebaran is the time when Muslims visit their family and friends to ask for forgiveness for any wrongs they have committed in the previous year. They express this wish in the phrase “Mohon Maaf Lahir Batin” which means "forgive me from the bottom of my heart/soul for my wrongdoings in the past year". [Source: expat.or.id /~/]

A traditional Arabic (Muslim) greeting for the Eid celebrations is also commonly used in Indonesia "Minal Aidin Wal Fa Idzin", which is expressed upon meeting friends and family during the festive days. Traditional foods are consumed, family and friends gather to ask forgiveness and exchange greetings, new clothing is worn, children receive gifts of money and visits are made to recreational parks -- all to celebrate the successful completion of the fasting month. On Java, prior to the start of the fasting month (but not during it), visits are made to the graves of family ancestors (nyekar) to pay respects, clean the grave and leave flowers, causing major traffic jams near all major cemeteries. /~/

The Arabic meaning of Idul Fitri is “becoming holy again”. The celebration Fitri begins with mass prayer gatherings early in the morning at mosques, open fields, parks and on major streets. It is an amazing sight to see rows of hundreds of Muslim women all dressed in their mukena (white, head-to-toe prayer gowns) performing the synchronized prayer ritual. Muslim men tend to wear sarong, traditional shirts and peci hats to Idul Fitri morning prayers. On the walk home from the mass prayers, quick visits are made to friends in the neighborhood to ask for forgiveness. /~/

Families and Socializing During Lebaran

Following the morning prayers and neighborhood visits, visits are made to close family members around town. Family members go to their parents first and then to the most senior relative's house (oldest person in the family) to “Mohon Maaf ...” with family members. Then depending on your age/status in the family, you visit aunts and uncles homes to do the same. At each house drinks and cookies or snacks are served, and since it is very impolite to refuse the food, by the end of the day you are so full you can hardly move. These customs may entail several days of visiting relatives and often there will be a gathering of family members at the senior-most relative's house. [Source: expat.or.id /~/]

Employees may also visit the homes of their senior bosses in the company or critical business colleagues and government officials to "Mohon Maaf ... " after their family visits are completed. In Jakarta, these customs entail days and days of visiting relatives and colleagues resulting in a great time of family reunions and upset to normal working/living schedules. Many people also take the opportunity of the Lebaran holiday to visit recreational parks. /~/

While gathering with family, it is customary for the adults to give the young children some money; they may meet even greet you at the door shaking their wallets! It is also customary to distribute money to children in the poor neighborhoods around your home; small bills given to children will bring huge smiles to their faces! Pick up a supply from your bank well in advance of the holiday. /~/

During the weeks after Lebaran many groups hold halal bilhalal gatherings where employees from a company, friends, colleagues or members of an organization gather to share a meal and ask each other's forgiveness. Non-Muslims are often invited to participate in these festive gatherings also. /~/

Traveling During Lebaran

The term mudik describes the exodus of millions of people from the urban centers to the villages in order to celebrate the Idul Fitri holiday with family and friends in the village. This is a strongly held tradition and travelers happily endure a lot of hardships and inconveniences in overcrowded cars, buses and trains with seasonally inflated prices. [Source: expat.or.id /~/]

Strongly held traditions to visit family at this time necessitate the exodus of and estimated 7.13 million (2011 estimated figures) people from Jakarta alone, as well as additional millions from other urban centers, to rural villages and hometowns for the Lebaran holiday. The logistics of this exodus causes enormous headaches for the government each year. During this period the streets in Jakarta are nearly empty as the population decreases dramatically. The hardships and inconveniences endured by the travelers in overcrowded buses, trains and cars is unbelievable, yet they feel that this is a small price to pay to spend the holidays with their family and friends. Traditionally these urban dwellers return to the village with gifts or money for their family, purchased with their earnings from the previous year, or their holiday THR bonus. /~/

There are two peaks to this exodus which cause major logistical nightmares: 1) the departure from the urban areas back to the home village/town a few days before Idul Fitri and 2) the return to the town of residence normally 1-2 weeks later. They often return from the exodus accompanied by relatives and friends looking for work in the cities, furthering the pressures of urbanization. The government attempts to prevent the “socially undesirable” such as beggars, vagrants and others from migrating to the cites, but the task is overwhelming. /~/

Lebaran Traditions in Indonesia

During Lebaran bazaars known as pasar amal are organized by various civic, charitable and neighborhood organizations. Goods are sold at discounted prices to help the poor celebrate the holidays with new clothing and special foods. Elaborately wrapped Bingkisan Lebaran parcels are given by business colleagues or associates to Muslims in the week prior to Lebaran. They are usually arranged in a rattan or wood basket and contain food, small household appliances or dishes. Busana Muslim — fashionable Muslim apparel— is worn for festive occasions such as Lebaran. [Source: expat.or.id /~/]

Takbiran is the The prayer celebration on the evening of the last day of Ramadhan, to herald in the Idul Fitri holiday. Chants are praised to Allah, drums are beat endlessly, dances, songs, religious prayers and sermons are given in public displays of excitement and praise. Starting on the evening of the last day of Ramadhan and continuing throughout the night and into the following day, the bedug are also beaten in the Takbiran celebrations either in stationary locations, or in parades through the streets. Takbiran is the prayer and celebration heralding the Idul Fitri holiday. Loud and boisterous parades and celebrations are held throughout the entire nation, which includes drum beating accompanied by amplified prayer and lively Islamic music. /~/

Many people send Kartu Lebaran greeting cards to their Muslim friends (whether they themselves are Muslim or not). For sale in shops throughout the city, Lebaran card designs should not depict people or animals. Geometric designs, mosques, traditional textiles or ketupat are common. Most cards have the date of 1 Syawal 141_ H written on the card. You need to fill in the appropriate year in the space. In 2014, the Hijrah year will be 1435, in 2015 it will be 1436, etc. Calligraphy artists design specialized cards for customers on sidewalks near post offices and major market areas. /~/

Sungkem is the name of the Javanese custom of asking for forgiveness at Idul Fitri which demonstrates the respect given by young people to the family elders. The young person kneels and bows their head to the elders' knees and asks for forgiveness. Santunan Ramadhan refers to the donations to a charitable organization for distribution to the poor and needy at Lebaran. Zakat is the obligatory poor tax that is paid by Muslims during the Lebaran period. Zakat should total 2.5 percent of one's income, depending on the nature of the gift. Zakat is paid to charitable organizations, neighborhood groups or through direct distribution to the poor and needy in the neighborhood. Zakat tax is deductible in Indonesia; the funds can be deducted from your gross income before figuring taxes. /~/

Ramadhan and Lebaran Snacks and Foods

Ketupat is the special compressed rice cooked in rhomboid shaped coconut leaf containers that is served at Lebaran to celebrate the end of the Islamic fasting month. Ketupat is usually served with opor ayam (chicken in mild white curry sauce) and sambal goreng (vegetables, meat or liver cooked in santan with chili and spices). The Sumatran equivalent of lontong or ketupat is lemang, which is glutinous or sticky rice cooked in bamboo and traditionally accompanied by rendang (beef cooked in santan with chili and spices until liquid is absorbed).

Traditionally eaten at Lebaran, the ketupat casing is made of young coconut frond leaves that are still light green in color. Intricately woven by nimble fingered experts who can complete the weaving in 10 seconds, they are sold to the public at pasar (traditional markets) in bunches. The ketupat are filled with uncooked rice then steamed and left to cool before serving. The coconut leaf casing gives a unique flavor to the rice, one always associated with Lebaran. The ketupat is cut open, removed from the casing and cut into small chunks, then served with various accompanying vegetable and meat dishes (opor and sambal goreng), often cooked in spicy coconut milk. Ketupat is served with opor, chicken cooked in coconut milk, lemongrass and aromatic ginger and sambal goreng ati, chicken liver, gizzard and fried potato cooked in coconut milk and chili.[Source: expat.or.id /~/]]

On the snacks sold by by food vendors in the city of Gorontalo, on the island of Sulawesi, Syamsul Huda M. Suhari wrote in the Jakarta Post, “People swarmed Ramadhan markets on Jl. HB Jassin, Jl. Sudirman, Jl. Panjaitan and Jl. Raja Eyato. Traditional snacks that are usually only available at select locations are widely available during the fasting month and eagerly sought after by residents, especially as sunset and the time for the breaking of the fast nears. Seasonal favorites like cara isi (bread sprinkled with fish flakes) are sold by vendors along the city streets. Lalampa (grilled sticky rice filled with fish filling and wrapped in banana leaf), can also be found. [Source: Syamsul Huda M. Suhari, The Jakarta Post, Mon, July 14 2014]

For four pieces of the cake, the going-rate is about Rp 5,000 (43 US cents). “That’s the standard price. Customers can choose various types of cakes. Some vendors set higher prices, but for me the most important thing is that customers can afford to buy them,” said Karsum, 54, a snack vendor in Ki Modjo, Kota Tengah, Gorontalo City. Karsum, a seasonal vendor who sells snacks from 2 pm to 6 pm local time, claims she can sell more than 300 pieces of cake per day during Ramadhan. Customer Nur Hikmah said she prefers buying traditional snacks due to their variety and comparative affordability. “Besides [during] Ramadhan, the snacks can only be found in traditional markets or cake shops, but lesser in variety,” said Nur.

Doni Hasan, 35, who sells ilabulo in Diponegoro, Gorontalo City, said demand for traditional cakes during Ramadhan was high. Ilabulo consists of either steamed or grilled sago filled with entrails and egg and wrapped in banana leaf. On average, he added, he can sell 700 packs of Ilabulo cakes a day, but during Ramadhan he is able to sell 1,500 packs a day at Rp 4,000 a pack. “Based on previous experience, sales rise sharply from the middle until the end of Ramadhan, when migrant Gorontalo residents buy them for gifts,” said Doni. Ilabulo stays edible for two days without refrigeration.

A traditional cake that is popular in Java is lupis, which is a steamed glutinous rice covered in palm sugar that easily be found along the city streets. The snack is only available during Ramadhan. “I don’t know why lupis is only sold during Ramadhan,” said vendor Erni, 38, who has sold lupis every Ramadhan since 1996. When it initially appeared, she added, many Gorontalo residents were unfamiliar with the taste, as they were more familiar with savory, salty and hot spicy flavors. In the long run, she said, the public came around and lupis became popular.

With an initial investment of Rp 3 million, Erni, a mother of three, claims she can turn a profit of at least Rp 1.5 million daily. She begins selling some 3,000 pieces of lupis at Rp 1,000 each starting at 2 p.m., all of which sell out moments before the fast-breaking. “I save the profits for my children’s education,” said Erni. Besides lupis, Erni also sells other Gorontalo snacks, such as dadara and dadar gulung (pancakes), which are filled with sweet grated coconut filling. Stalls selling snacks also serve beverages to break the fast, such as mung beans porridge and coconut water, both of which sell for between Rp 4,000 and Rp 5,000 per glass.

Ramadan Fashion in Indonesia

Women often buy special clothes for the holidays that mark the ending of Ramadan. They spend up to $500 for silk-chiffon caftans with matching head scarfs decorated with beads and hand-stitched embroidery.

Arlina Arshad of AFP wrote: “This Eid al-Fitr Muslim holiday, Malaysian Sharifa Ahmad is determined to make heads turn in her "Made in Indonesia" outfit - a black flowing chiffon robe with embroidered neckline and matching headscarf hand stitched with Swarovski crystals. "The dress is perfect for the holy day - modest yet elegant. I'm definitely going to rock my little black Islamic dress," the 35-year-old civil servant told AFP. Ahmad is among a growing number of Muslim fashionistas across the region who visit Indonesia to splurge on new festive clothes to celebrate the end of the Ramadan fasting month. [Source: Arlina Arshad, AFP, September 7, 2010 ^/^]

“The country's booming Islamic fashion industry reported a spike in sales of about 20 to 30 percent as early as June, thanks mainly to buyers like Ahmad from neighbouring Malaysia and Singapore, retailers said. Busloads of women flock to textile markets in cities like Jakarta and Yogyakarta to buy fabric, ready-to-wear dresses and headscarves, textile seller Azizah said. "They will come in tour buses, choose what they like and buy 10 to 20 pieces of fabric. When they return to their countries, some telephone us to place more orders," she said. ^/^

“Ahmad flew on a budget airline from Kuala Lumpur in July, bought the fabric at a textile market in Jakarta and sent it to an Indonesian seamstress "to work her magic" before getting an friend to post it to her in Malaysia. "I paid 600,000 rupiah (66 dollars) for it, half of what I would pay if I had it made in Malaysia. It's a bargain for designer quality," she said. Chiffon, silk and crepe fabrics draping the silhouette in softer pastel colours, highlighted by delicate embellishments on the neck lines, are top fashion picks this year. Plainer headscarves strewn with Swarovski crystals replaced last year's heavily-embroidered beehive and turban craze. "Some people shop for themselves. Others buy to resell. They would buy 10 yards of fabric of the same design in three colours, tailor the dresses here and sell them at a higher price in their boutiques back home," textile merchant Vishal Kumar said. ^/^

“Hoping to cash in on one of the most important dates on the Islamic calendar, Islamic fashion designer Dian Pelangi flew to Cairo, Abu Dhabi, London, Australia and Malaysia several months ago to hawk her wares. She said she sold "thousands" of pieces from her Eid collection at fashion exhibitions in those countries for around 2.5 million rupiah (277 dollars) each. "Arab women are glamorous. They love their bling. My Islamic brown robes with hand-drawn batik detail at the bottom were sold out. Those with beadwork and rhinestones were also popular," she added. "Middle-eastern customers don't bargain much and when they like something, they buy a lot. Some buy 20 to 30 pieces at one go. It's a very lucrative market," Pelangi said. ^/^

“Sales of her Islamic dresses, priced from 20 to 300 dollars, tripled in July and jumped 10 times in August as local buyers joined in, she said. Indonesia offers lower prices, quality workmanship, creativity in design and a variety of fabrics, from batik and ikat weaving to gold-threaded songket. Hassan Marican, director of Singaporean clothing company Second Chance Properties Limited, said it imported 20 percent of its ready-made festive dresses from Indonesia and sold them at double the cost price. "We buy from Indonesia because it's cheap. For us businessmen, it all boils down to the price. Also we want some embroidery and beadwork. Our suppliers in China and Malaysia can't provide that," he told AFP. "For Islamic fashion, Malaysia and Singapore always look to Indonesia for pointers. They're very creative. Their headscarf designs are unmatchable." ^/^

“Industry Minister MS Hidayat said export of textiles and textile products this year was projected to reach 10 billion dollars, up from 9.26 billion dollars last year, or about eight percent of total exports. While fashion creations represented only a small fraction of those exports, there is great room for expansion, he said. "Fashion products have great potential to be developed. We're rich in natural resources and cultural heritage which can be inspiring and spur creativity," the minister said. ^/^

“Indonesian Fashion Designers Association chairman Taruna Kusmaryuda Kusmayadi agreed. He hopes Indonesian designers can help change the world's perception that Islamic attire is dull, stuffy and unfashionable. "Sometimes when you mention Muslim or Islam, people develop an allergy. They think it's a very scary religion," he said. "But Islamic attire can be both modest and stylish. And also fun. They aren't worn only during special Islamic days by country folks who read the Koran day and night. Modern city women wear them too while filling up gas for their BMWs," he added with a laugh. "Islamic fashion is borderless." ^/^

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

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