Though I’ve been a fasting wimp during Ramadhan—unlike many of my fellow PCVs—that does not exempt me from learning about Islam during this important month in my community.
Last Sunday, August 5th, was the 17th day of the month of Ramadhan, which is the day known as Nozulul Qur’an. This is the day the Islamic prophet, Muhammad, was given the word of God or the Qur’an. It is a special day and it is tradition, or sunnah, to wear white in memory of Muhammed. Tradition is very important in Islam, for it is believed that God will reward you for following it.
Before coming to Indonesia, I thought the Ramadhan was more of season—much like Lent or Christmas season—but it turns out, Islam has a calendar of its own with names for each month starting with Muharram. Ramadhan is the 9th month, and because it is lunar-based, the Islamic months fall on different days that our standard January-to-December year.
The Months of Islam (with special notes!)
The Islamic New Year is celebrated on this month and there is a holy day called Idul Adha, or “Return to Sacrifice,” which is observed by fasting for two days.
3. Rabiul Awal
4. Rabiul Akhir
5. Jumadil Ula
6. Jumadil Tsaniyah
- On this month before Ramadhan, it is believed that angels—who have been noting your sins and good deeds—will deliver a message to God on your behavior and you will be rewarded if you have been good.
This makes sense. Now, why did Christians come up with Santa?
- During Ramadhan all able and faithful Muslims are required to fast from sunrise to sunset. This means no eating and no drinking absolutely anything while the sun is out. The only people who are exempt are small children, women who are menstruating, older people, sick people and wimpy non-Muslims like me.
I especially felt like a wimp when a pregnant teacher told me she was fasting. She told me the baby was ikut puasa—joining the fast. Seriously? If even an unborn child can fast, me not participating is truly a disgrace.
- At around 3:30am, there is a special call for sahoor, or the breakfast before dawn and the start of fasting.
I’ll admit it. I have never woken up for the sahoor, even though I’ve heard the siren and the people who roam the streets banging drums and other instruments waking people. I’m not bitter or anything. No really, I sleep through it most of the time.
- Though there are still activities during the day, most people spend much of the day sleeping or laying low at home.
- Between 5:00 -5:30pm, all people are anxiously waiting for the bukka puasa, or opening/breaking of the fast. There’s a special call that blares from mosque speakers announcing this time. Like most, my family gulps down huge glasses of water and tea and immediately proceeds to eat.
As a non-faster, I have a very important role in the kitchen while my ibu cooks. I am the official taste tester. It is upon me to decide if the food is sufficiently salty, sweet, spicy and any other required taste. It’s an important job. How they ever managed without me is beyond me. Imagine breaking the fast to flavorless food? I’m practically a Ramadhan superhero.
- After everyone has eaten their fill, children and adolescents go out into the streets and set off fireworks. Also, most people go to the mosque for their evening sholat—prayer—every night of Ramadhan.
- The end of Ramadhan and the start of the next month, Syawal, is marked by Idul Fitri, or “Return to Holiness,” due to the spiritual renewal gained after a month of fasting.
- During Idul Fitri, Muslims practice silaturrahmi, an Arabic term for forgiving one another for any wrongdoings and starting anew.
If I were my host family, I’d resent me for not fasting. Good thing they will probably forgive me. They have to, right? (Note my desperation.)
- This month is also known as the Month of Pilgrimage, or hajj, which is when Muslims who are able—financially and otherwise—make the required pilgrimage to the cities of Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia. My counterpart, Pak Warai, has already completed the hajj and he shared his experience with me.
- Another teacher in my school, Bu Mut, says she will complete the hajj in 2016. She has already planned and paid for her trip, but because there are so many people attempting to complete the pilgrimage, she has a long wait. She also said that if you sign up for the hajj today, you may be able to go by the year 2023. That blows my mind.
- During the pilgrimage one visits Mecca and Medina for forty days. Bu Mut informed me that you can go on another version of the trip that last two weeks, but it’s much more expensive, since it’s designed for people who are busy an unable to leave their life for over a month.
In my school if a teacher goes on the hajj, then another teacher will take over their classes and get the absent teacher’s salary.
- During the stay, one prays 5 times a day—like usual—in a mosque in Medina or better yet, in the Mosque al-Haram. The prayers said in Medina are 1,000 times stronger than those said anywhere else, and those said in the Mosque al-Haram are 100,000 times stronger.
- Another sunnah, or tradition, to complete while in Mecca is the tawaf, the act of walking around the ka’bah, the holy shrine, seven times. The ka’bah is Islam’s holiest site and Muslims from all over the world face it as they pray throughout the day.
And that concludes the Islamic year. As for the note-less months—apparently there’s not much going on those months outside of the usual, which is a relief for me. I can’t make it through another shame like not participating in Ramadhan. At least not until next year—when it’s likely I’ll wimp out again and resume my tasting duties. (Believe me, it’s important.)