Karimun sure knows how to celebrate – Ramadan & Eid al-Fitr

If it’s something I am learning over here, in Indonesia, besides of course the language, it’s about Islam. Back home in Holland I knew some facts, but most of my knowledge was based on assumptions or opinions of others. I am now coming to realise that my knowledge was based on biased information, because of the bad reputation that Islam has in Europe. I have to admit before I left Holland, this bad reputation influenced me as well. I wasn’t down talking the religion, but I miss understood many of the values. The religion scared me a bit because of all the horrible things that kept on being reported around Europe. I guess it’s normal for people to be afraid, I at least don’t blame them. However, living in a country with the largest Muslim population (in a country) in the world changed my view and my associations with Islam. Now, for me, Islam is as any other religion a source of great values, traditions, celebrations, knowledge and hope. Of course I don’t agree with everything that is written in the Qu’ran but being Agnostic, I feel the same about the Bible or any other holy book.

In this story I want to tell you guys a bit about my experience living in an Islamic country, because I get questioned about this many times. For example, ‘Aren’t you bothered by the sound of the Mosque?’ or ‘Do you feel pressured to cover yourself?’. 

Read along and find out about the things I’ve learned, the subjects I have changed my opinion on, the points I still strongly dislike and the questions I get because I am not a Muslim. As a young western independent woman living in a small conservative village, without a religion I have been surprised (more than once) by certain things I have seen or heard. Yet by being curious (asking many questions), being respectful (especially if you don’t immediately understand something), being confident and staying close to your own values (it’s okay to show people your boundaries) and by all the time staying friendly I start to enjoy living in an Islamic country. Don’t get me wrong, if you want it’s probably possible to not get involved at all. For example, if you live in the big city. However, I find it very important to respect the values of the country I live in and in order to be respected by the people here, I have to respect them too.

2018 06 17 17.34.16
IMG_2570

It is the beginning of July right now, Ramadan ended a while ago and we are in the middle of the vacation after Eid al-Fitr. Eid al-Fitr is the biggest Muslim celebration that creates this large movement of people in Indonesia. Traditionally people travel back to their hometown in the last week of the Ramadan. Government offices are closed for two weeks and all the big vacation starts as all the children are free from school for at least four weeks. It’s my second time in Indonesia for this celebratory period and let me start with saying: the people in Karimunjawa definitely know how to celebrate. Eid al-Fitr is an amazing celebration but is inextricably linked with Ramadan, so let’s start here.  

As many of you know, during Ramadan, Muslims aren’t allowed to eat, drink, smoke or have sex (or any other physical contact between the different sexes of a sexual nature that can evoke these feelings) during the day. Ramadan takes place during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, which follows the moon, indicating the start of a new month (the Lunar calendar). The ninth month is historically the month in which Allah, or God, gave the first chapters of the holy Qu’ran to the Prophet Muhammad in 610 AD. The period of Ramadan is the time for Muslims to renounce, sacrifice, reflect and is the time for spiritual growth. Besides fasting and abstaining from pleasures, people pray even more than usual to become closer to God. Above all it’s the time to celebrate and spend time with family and friends. It’s a sign of unity!

Officially Ramadan starts the morning after the crescent moon is visible; this is the beginning of a new month. This means that Ramadan can start at different moments, depending on the weather and geography. That is why more and more people start using the astronomical calendar, however, there are still places where Ramadan doesn’t start until the religious leader of the area announces that he has personally seen the crescent moon. The latter is practised in Karimunjawa. Before I experienced Ramadan in a Islamic country, I thought of this period as something the Muslim community were reluctantly obliged to do. Of course I met people who didn’t enjoy fasting, who don’t fast at all or who cheat from time to time. Besides that I mainly met people who were feeling great about what they were doing and definitely felt they were becoming a better human by participating in Ramadan.

Typically people wake up around 3 am to have their breakfast. In Karimun the little boys of the neighbourhood go around with their handmade drums to wake everybody up. This happens in every neighbourhood and they even made some kind of competition out of it. After their breakfast and prayer some people go back to bed and wake up later than normal. On a usual day, life in Karimunjawa gets started around five or six am, people go to the market, clean their garden or do other stuff before the sun really comes through and it gets too hot to do anything productive. During Ramadan, that’s not always the case. Many people get up late and sometimes even sleep through the whole day. Generally people still pray five times a day and more time than normal is spend at home. You could say for some people the day gets flipped around. Less tourists come to visit so many tours are off (or happen less often) and most shops and restaurants are closed during the day. However, the people who do work, especially if it’s heavy physical work like tour guides or carpenters, usually don’t fast. 

During the day in the period of Ramadan, Karimunjawa was super quiet. However, as soon as it came close to sunset, the city woke up again. People started cooking, went around on their bikes or did other things to prepare to break their fast. As soon as the alarm went off at the big mosque, it was time to break the fast. Traditionally this happens with water and a date. Some people ate a date but I also saw people consume all kinds of food to break the fast. I experienced Ramadan as a happy period of time, the evening always had this kind of euphoric vibe of togetherness, and of course with great food. It’s the time to be allowed to do things slightly different. 

Eid al-Firt started on the night of June 14, a three-day spiritual celebration in honour of completing the fast. As I mentioned before, in Karimunjawa they really know how to celebrate so let me begin with telling you that the Eid al-Fitr celebration here was amazing. After breaking the fast and praying, people started to gather in their neighbourhoods. Every little village is connected to a local mosque and each time there is an event, people from different mosques compete against each other. During Eid al-Fitr the competition is similar to the one we know in Holland as the Carnival parade. Every neighbourhood makes a cart, often in the shape of a mosque. The carts get pushed around town with members of that community around it. Around eight pm all the carts gather at the big mosque. After a prayer, the parade begins and marches through the whole town.

My friends and I joined our neighbourhood’s cart and it was great! Our cart was (of course) in the shape of a mosque with all kinds of colours and surrounded by plants. Most of the woman were dressed in white and walked behind the cart with handmade lanterns in different shapes. The men were behind us carrying instruments and flares. Through the whole parade people were making music and chanting ‘Allāhu akbar’ through the microphone attached to each cart. The Arabic phrase ‘Allāhu akbar’ translates as God is the greatest (or other slightly different translations). Muslims use this phrase at the beginning of their daily prayer. The phrase is also written on the flags of Irac, Iran and on the Sjahada flag of Afghanistan. It’s the name of the national anthem of Libya. 

2018 06 14 20.36.15 1
2018 06 15 09.11.01
2018 06 14 20.10.57
2018 06 14 22.09.02

Back to the parade. While we were marching I could see there were carts covered with all kinds of colours and lights. People were following the parade, flares were used as lights, fireworks were set off, motorbikes with people followed the parade and people on the side of the road were watching the spectacle. After covering the whole route we ended up at Alun alun (the town centre square) for the grand finale: a magnificent firework show. The whole field was surrounded by people and the parade gathered around it too. It was awesome to see people coming together to celebtrate. Locals & tourists, families & friends, young & old.

In the three days of celebrations during Eid al-Fitr, Muslims go to visit family, friends, neighbours, the sick and the elderly. It’s the time for members of family and friends to come together and feast. Prayers and small gifts are exchanged. It’s actually quite like Christmas. It’s common for people to donate money during this period of celebration, especially to the poor and disadvantaged.

Islam is generally seen as a focusing on what is and isn’t allowed. This all changes around Eid al-Fitr! During this time it’s all about the quality of forgiving, showing mercy and compassion. Traditionally apologies and forgiveness are exchanged. Everyone asks for forgiveness for anything that they have done against that person in the past year. The phrase exchanged here is ‘Mohon maaf lahir dan batin’. 

Kids Karimun8

One week after Eid al-Fitr families in Karimun fill up their bags and take their families to the beach for a picnic. Another Karimunjawa tradition I like a lot! Last year I also enjoyed this tradition and I was happy to find out that it is an annual party! People go to the beach on their bikes, with their cars or on their boats. Everyone sits together with family, friends and neighbours enjoying all kinds of yummy food. Afterwards, people who came on their boats, take off to go to one of the islands. While other people enjoying the Indonesian pop music called Dangdut. This party is not only known for families sharing food on the beach, another typical thing you will experience visiting this kind of party is seeing young and old men getting very drunk! Many guys get in to fights, fall from their bikes or do other stupid stuff. Some of it is quite entertaining and funny but as soon as the fights start I take off. Let’s just say everybody is entitled to their own kind of party. All together I look back on a very exciting week and I am super happy I got to experience this again.

Kids Karimun6

Living in an Islamic country, I see women and men going to the mosque, children attending Islamic school and of course I hear the prayers (and yes you get used to that, sometimes I don’t even hear it anymore). Now you may wonder, what does this mean for me? First of all it’s important to know that in Indonesia there are six regonised religions. For example, one of my good friends is a Protestant and she goes to church in Karimun every Sunday. It’s not unusual for women here to go around without a headscarf. This is immediately one of the most talked about subjects regarding the Islamic faith: how should woman be dressed? Most woman here wear long sleeves and long trousers or dresses. Although a t-shirt with shorts until the knees are also very common and acceptable. I know that in other parts of Indonesia this is not the case. I always get the impression that the rules here are quite mild as many women don’t wear a headscarf when they are on the island but as soon as they go off the island they wear one.

What does this mean for me? I wear shorts above the knee and tops which show my shoulders. I have to be honest that the way I dress has changed over the past year. I became more aware of the way women dress on the island and I try to respect these rules. However, in my opinion I feel comfortable wearing shorter clothes as long as I take into regards what is acceptable and what isn’t. For example, with official occasions or when I visit someone’s house for celebration I always cover my shoulders and don’t wear my shortest shorts. I never wear my bikini or show my belly in town, this I keep for the beach. Personally, if I see any tourist doing that, I think it makes them look ignorant.  I don’t wear a headscarf, but some the women have told me I would look beautiful in a headscarf. Many women wear a headscarf when they leave their house, for religious occasions and of course when they go to the mosque. Around the house women often don’t wear a headscarf, also in front of the house out in the open. This was new for me because I was used to the idea that Muslims could only take their headscarf off in the presence of women or men that are their close family. Here in Karimun I sometimes see woman in the front garden, only in their towel and bra. I guess that this could just be an island way of doing things.

Something I realised lately by listening to some TedTalks and reading some articles is that many of the values I have difficulty understanding, are not religious values but values that come from cultures, traditions or ethnic codes of some Muslim-majority regions. 

2018 06 15 15.26.39
2018 04 27 11.09.14 1

Another culture difference that is really obvious to me, is how people build their foundation of knowledge. Here I see it often comes from religion and tradition, whereas for I am used education and religion being seperate from each other. I see that people find a lot of answers in their religion, where I mainly look for answers in scientific research. 

Lately I have started to read more and more about Islamic topics that interest me. I try to understand what the Qur’an is saying and especially why it is saying certain things. I ask my friends their view on topics which sometimes changes my opinion. At the moment I still have some questions about verses in the Qur’an, so I will keep on exploring and finding my way within the Islamic community. In the end, at least for me, there is not one right way to live your life or be a good person. This is different for every single person!

I learned one thing about becoming who I want to be. Focus on who you are, grow by become better and not by comparing yourself to other people. My parents used to ask me: ‘how are you becoming better in what you are doing, by talking down on others? Yes it will maybe look like they are less good as you are, because you pointed out their flaws but you are still on the same level yourself. So how exactly are you making progress in your development?’. I always hated it if they said that to me, but of course they were right. They were always right. That is why I like to learn from many cultures as possible, because I think many of them have a lot to teach me. For me it doesn’t make sense to compare one with another, with the purpose to find out which one is better or the best. I believe there are many aspect of the Islam that can teach me things and I try to be open for it. I hope I can return this kind gift by learning the people around me the stuff I know about being a good person and everything I believe is directly connected to that.

Thank you 🙂

Karimun sure knows how to celebrate – Ramadan & Eid al-Fitr

If it’s something I am learning over here, in Indonesia, besides of course the language, it’s about Islam. Back home in Holland I knew some facts, but most of my knowledge was based on assumptions or opinions of others. I am now coming to realise that my knowledge was based on biased information, because of the bad reputation that Islam has in Europe. I have to admit before I left Holland, this bad reputation influenced me as well. I wasn’t down talking the religion, but I miss understood many of the values. The religion scared me a bit because of all the horrible things that kept on being reported around Europe. I guess it’s normal for people to be afraid, I at least don’t blame them. However, living in a country with the largest Muslim population (in a country) in the world changed my view and my associations with Islam. Now, for me, Islam is as any other religion a source of great values, traditions, celebrations, knowledge and hope. Of course I don’t agree with everything that is written in the Qu’ran but being Agnostic, I feel the same about the Bible or any other holy book.

2018 06 17 17.34.16

In this story I want to tell you guys a bit about my experience living in an Islamic country, because I get questioned about this many times. For example, ‘Aren’t you bothered by the sound of the Mosque?’ or ‘Do you feel pressured to cover yourself?’. 

Read along and find out about the things I’ve learned, the subjects I have changed my opinion on, the points I still strongly dislike and the questions I get because I am not a Muslim. As a young western independent woman living in a small conservative village, without a religion I have been surprised (more than once) by certain things I have seen or heard. Yet by being curious (asking many questions), being respectful (especially if you don’t immediately understand something), being confident and staying close to your own values (it’s okay to show people your boundaries) and by all the time staying friendly I start to enjoy living in an Islamic country. Don’t get me wrong, if you want it’s probably possible to not get involved at all. For example, if you live in the big city. However, I find it very important to respect the values of the country I live in and in order to be respected by the people here, I have to respect them too.

It is the beginning of July right now, Ramadan ended a while ago and we are in the middle of the vacation after Eid al-Fitr. Eid al-Fitr is the biggest Muslim celebration that creates this large movement of people in Indonesia. Traditionally people travel back to their hometown in the last week of the Ramadan. Government offices are closed for two weeks and all the big vacation starts as all the children are free from school for at least four weeks. It’s my second time in Indonesia for this celebratory period and let me start with saying: the people in Karimunjawa definitely know how to celebrate. Eid al-Fitr is an amazing celebration but is inextricably linked with Ramadan, so let’s start here.  

As many of you know, during Ramadan, Muslims aren’t allowed to eat, drink, smoke or have sex (or any other physical contact between the different sexes of a sexual nature that can evoke these feelings) during the day. Ramadan takes place during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, which follows the moon, indicating the start of a new month (the Lunar calendar). The ninth month is historically the month in which Allah, or God, gave the first chapters of the holy Qu’ran to the Prophet Muhammad in 610 AD. The period of Ramadan is the time for Muslims to renounce, sacrifice, reflect and is the time for spiritual growth. Besides fasting and abstaining from pleasures, people pray even more than usual to become closer to God. Above all it’s the time to celebrate and spend time with family and friends. It’s a sign of unity!

IMG_2570

Officially Ramadan starts the morning after the crescent moon is visible; this is the beginning of a new month. This means that Ramadan can start at different moments, depending on the weather and geography. That is why more and more people start using the astronomical calendar, however, there are still places where Ramadan doesn’t start until the religious leader of the area announces that he has personally seen the crescent moon. The latter is practised in Karimunjawa. Before I experienced Ramadan in a Islamic country, I thought of this period as something the Muslim community were reluctantly obliged to do. Of course I met people who didn’t enjoy fasting, who don’t fast at all or who cheat from time to time. Besides that I mainly met people who were feeling great about what they were doing and definitely felt they were becoming a better human by participating in Ramadan.

Typically people wake up around 3 am to have their breakfast. In Karimun the little boys of the neighbourhood go around with their handmade drums to wake everybody up. This happens in every neighbourhood and they even made some kind of competition out of it. After their breakfast and prayer some people go back to bed and wake up later than normal. On a usual day, life in Karimunjawa gets started around five or six am, people go to the market, clean their garden or do other stuff before the sun really comes through and it gets too hot to do anything productive. During Ramadan, that’s not always the case. Many people get up late and sometimes even sleep through the whole day. Generally people still pray five times a day and more time than normal is spend at home. You could say for some people the day gets flipped around. Less tourists come to visit so many tours are off (or happen less often) and most shops and restaurants are closed during the day. However, the people who do work, especially if it’s heavy physical work like tour guides or carpenters, usually don’t fast. 

During the day in the period of Ramadan, Karimunjawa was super quiet. However, as soon as it came close to sunset, the city woke up again. People started cooking, went around on their bikes or did other things to prepare to break their fast. As soon as the alarm went off at the big mosque, it was time to break the fast. Traditionally this happens with water and a date. Some people ate a date but I also saw people consume all kinds of food to break the fast. I experienced Ramadan as a happy period of time, the evening always had this kind of euphoric vibe of togetherness, and of course with great food. It’s the time to be allowed to do things slightly different. 

2018 06 14 20.36.15 1

Eid al-Firt started on the night of June 14, a three-day spiritual celebration in honour of completing the fast. As I mentioned before, in Karimunjawa they really know how to celebrate so let me begin with telling you that the Eid al-Fitr celebration here was amazing. After breaking the fast and praying, people started to gather in their neighbourhoods. Every little village is connected to a local mosque and each time there is an event, people from different mosques compete against each other. During Eid al-Fitr the competition is similar to the one we know in Holland as the Carnival parade. Every neighbourhood makes a cart, often in the shape of a mosque. The carts get pushed around town with members of that community around it. Around eight pm all the carts gather at the big mosque. After a prayer, the parade begins and marches through the whole town.

My friends and I joined our neighbourhood’s cart and it was great! Our cart was (of course) in the shape of a mosque with all kinds of colours and surrounded by plants. Most of the woman were dressed in white and walked behind the cart with handmade lanterns in different shapes. The men were behind us carrying instruments and flares. Through the whole parade people were making music and chanting ‘Allāhu akbar’ through the microphone attached to each cart. The Arabic phrase ‘Allāhu akbar’ translates as God is the greatest (or other slightly different translations). Muslims use this phrase at the beginning of their daily prayer. The phrase is also written on the flags of Irac, Iran and on the Sjahada flag of Afghanistan. It’s the name of the national anthem of Libya. 

2018 06 14 20.10.57
2018 06 14 22.09.02

Back to the parade. While we were marching I could see there were carts covered with all kinds of colours and lights. People were following the parade, flares were used as lights, fireworks were set off, motorbikes with people followed the parade and people on the side of the road were watching the spectacle. After covering the whole route we ended up at Alun alun (the town centre square) for the grand finale: a magnificent firework show. The whole field was surrounded by people and the parade gathered around it too. It was awesome to see people coming together to celebtrate. Locals & tourists, families & friends, young & old.

2018 06 15 09.11.01

In the three days of celebrations during Eid al-Fitr, Muslims go to visit family, friends, neighbours, the sick and the elderly. It’s the time for members of family and friends to come together and feast. Prayers and small gifts are exchanged. It’s actually quite like Christmas. It’s common for people to donate money during this period of celebration, especially to the poor and disadvantaged.

Islam is generally seen as a focusing on what is and isn’t allowed. This all changes around Eid al-Fitr! During this time it’s all about the quality of forgiving, showing mercy and compassion. Traditionally apologies and forgiveness are exchanged. Everyone asks for forgiveness for anything that they have done against that person in the past year. The phrase exchanged here is ‘Mohon maaf lahir dan batin’. 

Kids Karimun8

One week after Eid al-Fitr families in Karimun fill up their bags and take their families to the beach for a picnic. Another Karimunjawa tradition I like a lot! Last year I also enjoyed this tradition and I was happy to find out that it is an annual party! People go to the beach on their bikes, with their cars or on their boats. Everyone sits together with family, friends and neighbours enjoying all kinds of yummy food. Afterwards, people who came on their boats, take off to go to one of the islands. While other people enjoying the Indonesian pop music called Dangdut. This party is not only known for families sharing food on the beach, another typical thing you will experience visiting this kind of party is seeing young and old men getting very drunk! Many guys get in to fights, fall from their bikes or do other stupid stuff. Some of it is quite entertaining and funny but as soon as the fights start I take off. Let’s just say everybody is entitled to their own kind of party. All together I look back on a very exciting week and I am super happy I got to experience this again.

Kids Karimun6

Living in an Islamic country, I see women and men going to the mosque, children attending Islamic school and of course I hear the prayers (and yes you get used to that, sometimes I don’t even hear it anymore). Now you may wonder, what does this mean for me? First of all it’s important to know that in Indonesia there are six regonised religions. For example, one of my good friends is a Protestant and she goes to church in Karimun every Sunday. It’s not unusual for women here to go around without a headscarf. This is immediately one of the most talked about subjects regarding the Islamic faith: how should woman be dressed? Most woman here wear long sleeves and long trousers or dresses. Although a t-shirt with shorts until the knees are also very common and acceptable. I know that in other parts of Indonesia this is not the case. I always get the impression that the rules here are quite mild as many women don’t wear a headscarf when they are on the island but as soon as they go off the island they wear one.

What does this mean for me? I wear shorts above the knee and tops which show my shoulders. I have to be honest that the way I dress has changed over the past year. I became more aware of the way women dress on the island and I try to respect these rules. However, in my opinion I feel comfortable wearing shorter clothes as long as I take into regards what is acceptable and what isn’t. For example, with official occasions or when I visit someone’s house for celebration I always cover my shoulders and don’t wear my shortest shorts. I never wear my bikini or show my belly in town, this I keep for the beach. Personally, if I see any tourist doing that, I think it makes them look ignorant.  I don’t wear a headscarf, but some the women have told me I would look beautiful in a headscarf. Many women wear a headscarf when they leave their house, for religious occasions and of course when they go to the mosque. Around the house women often don’t wear a headscarf, also in front of the house out in the open. This was new for me because I was used to the idea that Muslims could only take their headscarf off in the presence of women or men that are their close family. Here in Karimun I sometimes see woman in the front garden, only in their towel and bra. I guess that this could just be an island way of doing things.

Something I realised lately by listening to some TedTalks and reading some articles is that many of the values I have difficulty understanding, are not religious values but values that come from cultures, traditions or ethnic codes of some Muslim-majority regions. 

2018 06 15 15.26.39

Another culture difference that is really obvious to me, is how people build their foundation of knowledge. Here I see it often comes from religion and tradition, whereas for I am used education and religion being seperate from each other. I see that people find a lot of answers in their religion, where I mainly look for answers in scientific research. 

Lately I have started to read more and more about Islamic topics that interest me. I try to understand what the Qur’an is saying and especially why it is saying certain things. I ask my friends their view on topics which sometimes changes my opinion. At the moment I still have some questions about verses in the Qur’an, so I will keep on exploring and finding my way within the Islamic community. In the end, at least for me, there is not one right way to live your life or be a good person. This is different for every single person!

2018 04 27 11.09.14 1

I learned one thing about becoming who I want to be. Focus on who you are, grow by become better and not by comparing yourself to other people. My parents used to ask me: ‘how are you becoming better in what you are doing, by talking down on others? Yes it will maybe look like they are less good as you are, because you pointed out their flaws but you are still on the same level yourself. So how exactly are you making progress in your development?’. I always hated it if they said that to me, but of course they were right. They were always right. That is why I like to learn from many cultures as possible, because I think many of them have a lot to teach me. For me it doesn’t make sense to compare one with another, with the purpose to find out which one is better or the best. I believe there are many aspect of the Islam that can teach me things and I try to be open for it. I hope I can return this kind gift by learning the people around me the stuff I know about being a good person and everything I believe is directly connected to that.

Thank you 🙂

2018 06 14 20.13.04