Visitors to Indonesia this time of year hear a lot about Ramadan and Idul Fitri.
Travelers know Muslims don’t eat from sunup to sundown during Ramadan – translating into difficulty in finding food throughout the day in some locations.
Some communities ask non-Muslims to refrain from eating and drinking in public places.
From the outside looking in, it can seem like quite an inconvenience to some travelers, and they are happy to see the end of it, only to be unexpectedly inconvenienced again by Idul Fitri, or Lebaran as the holiday is also known.
But what does Ramadan, and the holiday that follows it – Idul Fitri – really mean to Muslims, and how can non-Muslim travelers gain a greater appreciation for what’s going on around them while they’re scurrying around looking for a restaurant that’s open?
Ramadan is a yearly period of reflection and self-evaluation. Muslims take a long, hard look at their lives, and try to make corrections in areas they feel they need to improve themselves.
They look at relationships that have gone wrong, offer forgiveness when they have held a grudge, and seek forgiveness for wrongs they have committed against others.
One’s habits are scrutinized, and the unproductive ones disposed of.
Ramadan is also a time to reconnect with friends and family by gathering with them for the daily Iftar, or breaking of the fast, at sunset.
Ramadan is not simply refraining from food and drink during the day – it’s also a cleansing of the thoughts – negative thoughts, actions, and words are avoided. It’s a time Muslims forge their faith, and temper their obedience to Allah (God).
When Muslims go about their day during Ramadan, they try not to fall into the usual human habit of talking about other people. They try not to look at the opposite sex in a lustful way. They try to add an extra measure of honesty in their business dealings. They try to keep away from what they consider sinful behavior, and they try to treat others with more love and respect. In short, they make a serious effort to be perfect people.
Fasting is also a time to experience what it’s like not to have food, and helps them develop a sense of empathy for the less fortunate, as well as gain a greater sense of gratitude for what they have. Ramadan is a time when charitable giving is at its highest, in a way that’s similar to Christmas for Christians.
These are some lofty goals – just thinking about developing ones character into perfection is a bit daunting, let alone setting out to accomplish it. Personally, I applaud the courage it takes to look at one’s self with a critical eye, and the audaciousness it takes to head down the path of change.
How successful are they? Who am I to say? For me, it’s the intention that counts. I don’t mind waiting until evening for my favorite restaurant to open when I know what people are striving for.
Here in Jogjakarta, the ceremony of Grebeg Syawal concludes Ramadan with a parade of traditionally uniformed Kraton guards (Kingdom guards).
After Ramadan, Idul Fitri is a time when families and friends gather from far and wide to celebrate having completed this difficult time. Indonesia is on the move – public transport is packed, traffic is snarled, and hotel rates triple. For the tourist it’s a good time to lay low, somewhere quiet, until it’s over.
This year Ramadan began on August 10th and will conclude on September 9th. Idul Fitri will be September 10th and 11th, but the week following Idul Fitri will also be a busy (and expensive) travel period in Indonesia.