Sunday 26th June 2016
Celebrating The Ramadhan and Lebaran in Indonesia

Idul Fitri, more commonly referred to in Indonesia as Lebaran, is the celebration that comes at the end of the Muslim month of fasting, Ramadhan. The Arabic meaning of Idul Fitri is “becoming holy again”.

The dates of the ninth month of the Muslim calendar, Ramadan, vary from year to year, as the Muslim calendar (Hijrah) is based on a lunar cycle of 29 or 30 days. The exact date is determined by the sighting of the new moon. These lunar calculations lead to an official announcement by the government on the eve of Ramadan and Idul Fitri so that the faithful know when to begin and end the fasting month. In 2016, Ramadan is expected to start around June 5th and Lebaran will fall on 6-7 July, with most offices and businesses taking "collective leave" From July 4 to July 7th.

To understand the significance of Lebaran, an understanding about the fasting month of Ramadhan is important. During the month of Ramadhan, Muslims must refrain from eating, drinking, smoking, marital relations or getting angry during the daylight hours. In addition, those fasting are supposed to refrain from bad habits - lying, getting angry, using bad language as well as to be more diligent in prayer and give to charities. It is believed that fasting heightens spirituality and develops self-control.

The fast begins in the morning just before sunrise, at Imsak, and is broken at maghrib which falls at sunset. Fasting during the month of Ramadhan is one of the five pillars of Islam and an obligation for devout Muslims.

Those who are expected to fast include: adults (defined as those who have reached the age of puberty) and those who are sane. Those who are not expected to fast include: children, women having their period, travelers, the sick, those with long-term illnesses, pregnant or breastfeeding women and the mentally ill.

The faithful who fast awaken early in the morning to have a meal before subuh. In order to awaken the faithful, the call to prayer is sounded from neighborhood mosques. In addition, groups of young boys or devoted individuals walk around neighborhoods beating on drums and other noise makers to awaken the faithful (and their neighbors) yelling out "sahur, sahur".

The breaking of the fast at sunset is a normally very social occasion for which special foods are prepared for gatherings with family or friends. Upon hearing the sound of the bedug drum on the television or radio as well as the call to prayer from the local neighborhood mosque at sunset, the faithful know it's time to break their fast, or buka puasa. This is usually done with a very sweet drink and sweet snacks. Maghrib prayers are made before a full meal is served. Taraweh congregational prayers are held in neighborhood mosques and at gatherings every evening at about 7:30 p.m. These prayers are not compulsory, but they are attended and enjoyed by many.

The schedule for Imsak and Maghrib is posted in major newspapers and on the television throughout Indonesia, as well as published in handouts by major religious organizations.

While it is expected that people will keep to their normal activities during the fast, needless to say the lack of liquid and food during the day and the unusual sleep and meal schedule soon take their toll. During the fasting month you may see that sleep and food deprivation cause those fasting to have reduced energy levels as well as finding it more difficult to concentrate on tasks.

At the end of the month of Ramadhan and its special religious observance is the Eid holiday, called Idul Fitri or Lebaran in Indonesia. In Indonesia, this 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". 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.

Idul 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.

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.

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.

Strongly held traditions to visit family at this time necessitate the exodus of and estimated 6.7 million (2015) 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.

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.


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