Religion being of big importance in Indonesia and influencing everyday life much more than back home, I decided to come back to the month of Ramadan and write about its highlight – Idul Fitri (or Lebaran, as it is also called in Indonesia). This celebration marks the end of the fasting month Ramadan and is the time when Muslims normally visit their family and friends to ask for forgiveness for any wrongs they have committed in the previous year: «Mohon Maaf - Please Forgive Me».
For obvious reasons, this year is going to be different. Many of our Papuan employees, who are mainly Christians, went home to stay with their families before the lockdown started. This is why there are currently more Muslim employees still on the island. They have known for a few weeks already that they will not be able to go home to their families. You may think this is not such a big deal, the whole world is unable to travel and see their friends and families at the moment. But going home for Idul Fitri is a very deeply rooted tradition and the fact that they are not allowed to see their loved ones on this important day is very hard for our Muslim employees. They don’t show it and accept the decision the Indonesian government took in April when it banned travelling anywhere in the country until the end of May. But I know, many of them are very sad.
The exact date of Idul Fitri is unknown until announced one or two days in advance by the highest Imam of the country. It depends on the rising of the new moon and is very carefully observed by religious leaders all over the Muslim world. I’m not sure I fully understand why the date could not be fixed in advance as the moon phases are pretty well known for years to come, but it all seems to depend on when the new moon is actually sighted by the religious authorities. Like so many times before, I’m amazed that this is so easily accepted by everyone. I would imagine that organizing big festivities for one of the two most important holidays of the year does require some time and certainty. Back home, we would want to know the date well in advance in order to allow enough time for all the preparations and also to know, which day we’ll be off from work. Over here, people seem to be more relaxed and flexible. They knew it was going to be the 24th or the 25th of May, and it will most probably be this Sunday. But we will only know for sure tonight.
Nevertheless, our entire staff - whatever the religion - has been preparing and organizing the big day for some time now. Especially the food that will be served, which will not be as elaborate and abundant as back home, but still as special as our current situation allows. If I understood correctly, we will be eating a little here and there almost all day, and I’m already debating whether I should try to get some work out done before it all starts or between meals to make room for more food…
In the morning of Idul Fitri, we will all gather, and our Muslim colleagues will ask everyone for forgiveness as the tradition requires. At home, they would normally start by visiting the eldest family members, like grandparents and elderly members of their friend’s families. But since these people are not here, they asked Maya if they were allowed to ask «Oma» for forgiveness instead, Maya’s 86-year-old mother who is staying with us on the island and who is simply called «Oma» by everyone. I understood that it is very important to respect this tradition with an elderly and respected person.
As I didn’t grow up with religious traditions, I look forward to witnessing Idul Fitri here. Even though the Islamic religion and its rituals are still very foreign to me, I respect the meaning they have to my colleagues and am happy to be part of some of them.
This is what I was hoping for when I decided to take on a job in a country as far away as Indonesia – to get to know different cultures and learn about different traditions. The Islamic tradition is just one of the many cultures we have here on the island. I’m sure I will find out a lot more about the other ones the longer I stay and work here.
How inspiring, I can’t wait!
I never even dreamt of working on a remote island in Indonesia, but life has a way of taking care of itself…