Monday, September 20, 2010

My first Ramadhan and (another) Year

Ramadhan is a holiday that most Americans are barely aware of.  I knew of it when I was still in the States but it had no impact on my life and I didn't know the details.  I knew few Muslims, and the effects of Islam, even after 9/11 seemed far way.
In Spain there are large Muslim communities.  They have migrated north from Morocco and Egypt. Muslim kingdoms had once ruled most of Southern Spain and the palaces and mosques stand as their monument.  Buildings erected in the name of Islam rival those erected for Catholicism or Buddhism or any other reason for beauty and intricacy.  Anyone who has seen the Alhambra has seen evidence of such.  Even small local mosques here are amazingly intricate in their designs and decoration.

This was at Plaza Senayan mall. It's a temporary stage set up for performances during Ramadhan and Idul Fitri.

Spain was really the first place I became aware of the month long fast called Ramadhan or Lebaran.  In Islam followers are supposed to fast because Allah says so.  It's also as a routine, or following of tradition.  It is also to understand and sympathize with those who have less, or not enough. Many people I've talked to also think that their body benefits from the fasting.  It helps flush the body of toxins and the like.  I'm not sure how much I agree with that. A day of fasting maybe, but a whole month seems to deplete people.  By the end of Ramadhan (Idul Fitri) most people were cranky and sick, that includes those fasting and those just fed up it with it all (no pun intended). I know, I deal with some of the cranky ones, and met some of the sick one - hence I'm sick.
Indonesian  has 6 government recognized and protected religions. Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Protestantism, Confucianism and Catholicism.  It's pretty incredible to think about. In a country that is over 80% Muslim, to have 5 other recognized religions goes against most of what the American anti-Muslim propaganda is. Now I'm  not claiming all Americans are anti-Muslim, but there is a big push towards the "all Muslims are terrorists" theory. Then again it may not be all it's cracked up to be.  There was a story in the paper last week about 2 Christian worshipers being stabbed on their way to the "church" (just an empty lot where they have been prohibited from building a church).  I think having accepted religions is a good first step to protecting a minority but only if it really provides protection.
I spent my Idul Fitri in Yogyakarta, the first capital city of Indonesia and it's center when it was a Buddhist kingdom.  The population is quite a bit more mixed there,  not an Islamic majority like in Jakarta. On Friday morning (keep in mind that Friday is the holy day for Muslims, not Sunday)I watched a procession at the Sultan's palace.  It was a series of Sultan's guards in different attire based on their unit.  The procession lead a conical tower of beans and vegetables to the neighboring mosque where it was quickly demolished by 3 teenage boys who threw the veggies into the crowd.  An onlooker told me that most people believe if you take them home, cook and eat them, it will bring you fortune in the coming year.  Which reminds me that it's now 1431 h. on the Muslim calendar.  In the nearly ten months I've been here we've had 3 new years and I arrived on January 7th missing the traditional one from the Gregorian calendar.  We celebrated Chinese/Lunar New Year in February, Buddhist new year (or was it Hindu?) a couple months ago, and Hindu I think.  It's a bit confusing.  At work I get holidays for Indonesia, Christian, Muslim and Korean occasions with the occasional Buddhist or Hindu one thrown in for good measure. I can't always keep track of why we have a day off, but I'm not complaining.
So far I've found people, in general, to be quite agreeable.  Many Muslims I know seemed surprised that I made a point of covering up during Ramadhan, as they said they didn't with a laugh. I have been Baptized since I got here.  When I went to the bank for my first Indonesian account, I had to chose a religion from one of the 6 govt ones.  I knew I couldn't communicate being an Agnostic in English let alone in Indonesian so I was "baptized Christian". After telling her I was Christian after a pause and her prompt,  I'm still not sure what box she checked.  It seems to go back to the basics of respecting others and their ways.
This green is typical for Ramadhan as are the scroll motifs.

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