Sharing The Holy Ramadhan in Indonesian Culture

APTOPIX Mideast Jorda_admi

Hi All!

Seven o’clock in the morning here is very quite, after the neighbor children got tired and done with their cheap fireworks. Once a year, muslims all over the world observe the month of fasting, Ramadhan. It is the most special month that everybody always eager to have it. By the end of the month, after 29 – 30 days of fasting, indeed the day of celebration comes. It is called Eid Al – Fitr. In Indonesia, we call it Idul Fitri or later well known as Lebaran. In the muslim majority countries, Ramadhan is huge celebration, probably the biggest of the year. Different countries celebrate the holy month differently because it has been mixed with the country culture and tradition. Just like how Christmas is celebrated differently all over the world.


People prepare to have Eid prayer outside The National Mosque of Istiqlal

Indonesia, however, as the most muslim population country in the world, has very special celebration of Ramadhan. This is the most event of the year that children most love about.

Everyone is kind and calm, no angry parents, long holiday, family reunion, super delicious food, new clothes, fasting rewards, big discount sale items and fun activities together with the others

What else you could ask for? as a child perhaps nothing more. In fact it is the period that I always missed home when I was abroad, even more than my birthday. This year is the first time after six years that I could be home for the whole month! It is very excited for me.

Not only that it was very different celebration  in Europe since the muslim was minority there, but also the fasting hours was terrible. The idea of fasting in Ramadhan is not able to eat, to drink and not to follow greedily your human desires. It means we also cannot be into emotionally angry, cry, lie, etc. With the limit time starting from the time before sunrise until the time after sunset. If you get what I am exciting about, last year Ramadhan I had in Europe was the worst hours ever! Ramadhan was started in the beginning of July all the way until the beginning of August. It was summer time. The sunrise was earlier and the sunset was much later. The worst fasting day of the month started at 3.15 am until 10.20 pm.  So yes, compare to Indonesia that only has two seasons without massive different of day light hours and always be sure that you are fasting in normal 12 – 13 hours is so much assuring! lol Of course your family and friends will be there as well. But yes…

I think Indonesia is the most comfortable place for muslim on earth to have Ramadhan based on weather, geographic, and culture.

Well, this year Ramadhan has been started for majority of Indonesian since yesterday (today is the 2nd day). As it is our one of our big events of the year, I’d like to share how it feels like to have Ramadhan here in Indonesian culture for the ones who are not familiar with it.

 Tradition to Greet Ramadhan

If I could remember my childhood, there is one tradition here before Ramadhan (besides getting busy to prepare the groceries and Lebaran event). It is to visit and to pray for our elders and our loved ones who are unfortunate not to be able with us in this holy month anymore. We called it Ziarah. Of course it is if we could afford the distance to where they are rested.

When I was a child, I wasn’t emotional when we had Ziarah. Because we used to make the appointment with the big family (yes, my big family is…big!) so we can go together. Because the family were gathered, we could spend the whole day of course with having meals, chit chatting and so on. Usually the graveyard is not on the big city centre, instead it is more to the border or even in the suburban area or in their hometown. In case of our grandparents from our mother side, the location is out of town, suburb area of Bogor, West Java.

Daily Fasting

The month of fasting starts on the 1st day of Ramadhan, as the 9th month of Islamic calendar. One full month of fasting, 30 days in a row, it is obligatory for muslim adult except for those who are sick, on the journey, pregnant, or on the woman period. The day-to-day fasting begins before the sunrise time. To be able to survive our physical body consumption throughout the day, it is highly recommended (sunah) that we eat before the fasting start it. We call this dawn meal time as Sahur.


When the sun rises, the fasting is started


Tradition in Sahur time to wake people up

Sahur has time limit until the prayer call (adzan) for the dawn prayer (shalat subuh). After hearing adzan from the nearby mosque or from TV, we are no longer allow to eat until the sunset. It is tradition for the children especially the boys and the young men to walk around the neighborhood at about 3 am, bringing wooden drums while waking up everybody so that we won’t miss our Sahur. Anybody imagine the voice and the crowd? It is unlikely that someone will not be awake with it!

During the day time, people have less activities in order not to spend so much energy. People still do their routine like work and school as usual in the beginning of Ramadhan. But most people finish early so they could break the fasting (buka puasa) on time at right place. While obligatory school (up to high school) both public or islamic private school, usually have days off in the first week of Ramadhan. Children would go back to school for two more weeks, in some schools, those weeks even only half days. And on the last week of the month, they will be on holiday again up to 1 – 3 weeks depend on the school and its yearly calendar. The working people usually have one week off from their offices.

In big cities such Jakarta, main roads and shopping malls are not as crowded during the day. Restaurants, cafes, and other eating places still open on the fasting time. It gives chances for non moslem and people that are not fasting getting their food properly. However, those places would have curtains on their windows so that fasting people couldn’t see their customers eating delicious lunch and make them craving for food or drinks. In the afternoon time, it’s the opposite. Wherever food is sold, it would be packed with people waiting for buka puasa. Popular restaurants would be fully reserved during this time.

Breaking the fasting just after sunset time is a sign that the fasting is finished for the day or we call it as Buka Puasa (literally in Bahasa, Buka means ‘open’ while Puasa means ‘fasting’). Buka puasa time is indicated by adzan for shalat maghrib (evening prayer). This is the busiest time of the day when people can eat and drink again after fasting the whole day. It is also the most delicious time! We are suggested to eat sweet food and drink on buka puasa. So you could find full table of sweet traditional cakes, icy drinks, along with other food. And buka puasa is only like the appetizer. We have the usual dinner meal which excludes from the buka meal. You could imagine how our tummy always full after this time. Sure, I need to watch out every time because those food and drinks are dangerous for my diet! I think instead losing some weight on Ramadhan, we likely could gain some more because the temptation we have for all those yummy food! lol


Crowd in the market for variety of Buka Puasa Meal

Buka puasa often have with family or friends. Later these days, young people have many buka puasa events. Man, your evening calendar will be full in no time in this period! You could have buka puasa with your besties, your work colleagues, community friends, high school friends, junior school, elementary school, you name it! It’s pretty much all the people that you don’t meet throughout the year, they would call you out for buka puasa together. It is always dilemma period since your family will always insist that you also have buka puasa with them. It won’t be any surprise that the traffic will go crazy in buka puasa time.

The fact that Ramadhan encourages people to do good, especially for the ones who need the most. Many buka puasa gathering involve charity events with orphan children and people in poverty.


traffic before buka puasa time

Welcoming Lebaran

When Lebaran is getting closer, Jakarta as capital city gets less people. The truth is, people come back to their hometown to celebrate Lebaran with their family. This coming home ritual we called it mudik. Big cities that in other period of the year would be packed with traffic, they are almost empty. Mudik usually starts about one week before the big day.



2013719lebaran jakarta lengang (istimewa) b

Street view of Semanggi, one of the most crowded area was empty in Lebaran day last year

In our family, we used to experience mudik almost every year until the time I left the country. Our dad comes from Medan, the fourth  largest city in the country. It is located in North Sumatra province. We flew for about two hours and drove for an hour further from the city centre. Our grandparents lived in small village in the northern part of Medan. All dad’s main family lives there. Actually he knows almost all the people in the whole village. The culture is very much different than Jakarta. The food, weather, tradition are different. They have their own dialect too. I loved how our family welcoming us since we only get to see each other once a year. We used to stay there for at least two weeks.

Sadly, after we went abroad and our grandparents passed away, we rarely go there again. The last time we went there together was two years ago. When me and my two brothers returned home from totally different countries. In that year , we decided to go mudik  and to visit our village a couple days after Lebaran. We couldn’t do it exactly in Lebaran day. Because we hosted Lebaran gathering for our big family in Jakarta. In between our Mudik that year, we travelled to Aceh, the most northern province of Sumatra island, in fact the most western part of the country. People may heard of this area as one of the biggest victim of 2004 tsunami. We travelled from Medan to Aceh by rented car. Although some area were under development post the tsunami tragedy, the main infrastructure was reconstructed very well. Moreover, the view was amazing..!

Anyway, the story of mudik is not always a great story. All the passenger transportation, services, facilities and infrastructure outside the main cities use their maximum capacity for this particular period. The mudik people to Java’s other towns or villages have the biggest concern as the island of  Java is the most populated island in the world. And people could be crazy enough to travel from Jakarta to a town in East Java with using only motorcycle! Often with such a travel option they bring along children even baby. No wonder that thousand people have injured every year on mudik period, with small number of death.


People mudik with motorcycle to celebrate Lebaran in their hometown

Besides mudik, another Lebaran tradition is takbiran. At night before Lebaran, people pray together to welcome the celebration day. But it is not a moment of silent kind of thing. We pray together with using loud speaker. Every mosque has its speaker sounding the same thing on and on again. If that is not enough, children and young people go around the city or the town in a big open truck bringing bedug (big drum made from cow skin) and of course the loudspeaker to pray the same thing. Takbiran night celebrates differently in other region. I think they may have fireworks too during the night in Jakarta.


Bedug plays during Takbiran Night

During Ramadhan month, the atmosphere here in Indonesia is very different than any other month of the year. It goes from the very calming time in the beginning to the busiest closer to the end.

For tradition in Lebaran day, I will save until the actual event. Otherwise this will be an endless post! lol

For people who want to travel in the country during Ramadhan, I really suggest to have many research as you can about the part of the country that you are going to go. Ask the local people that you know about their tradition and condition. Some areas have different tradition during Ramadhan. One thing for certain that I’d suggest is to not have a meal in public area especially in the big cities (moreover if your meal looks appealing). I think people, even the children will look at you strangely. Probably people will not speak much even if you do, but this is a matter of respect and politeness 🙂

For my fellow Indonesian people, you are always welcome to share your favorite Ramadhan tradition or experience!

As for the ones who also celebrate it and live in the long summer time right now, good luck my friends! I have big respect for all of you.

And for muslim all over the world, Happy Ramadhan everybody! May He grants our Ramadhan prayers and kindness!


Last thing: since I don’t have that many pictures, some pictures above are from other sources. Just let me credit all of the references here.

Pic 1: Jakarta Post

Pic Istiqlal Mosque: Tribun News

Pic Sahur: Hendra Soleh

Pic Market of Buka Puasa food: Rumah Mimpi 

Pic Traffic in Buka Puasa: Tribun News

Pic Semanggi: Berita2Bahasa

Pic Mudik: Tribun News

Pic Bedug in Takbiran Night: Antara Foto