Saturday 22 August 2009

Start of Ramadan

Today (22 August 2009) is the start of the Ramadan in Indonesia. As I am currently working with a team of which many have not been "exposed" to this, we received an interesting piece of reading which I have copied below. (yes....with source).

As it is the first day only, I haven't experienced a lot but only a few things I have noticed. Around 3:00 AM the minarets started with announcements. And as both my arabic and bahasa are poor....I can't tell you what they are. In front of my appartment there are normally some small stalls......not today though. Lots of dates etc available in supermarkets (used to break the fast).

This coming week will be able to share more on the impact, as I have a run a few workshops with mixed audience. As the workshops will be followed by dinners, we have arranged some "fast breaking kits" for the people that might want to use it. Just so they don't go for dinner on a completely empty stomach.

And here for your reading:

Ramadhan, for Muslims throughout the world, is a month of spiritual purification but possessing a social dimension. It is a holy month for adult Muslims to practice self restraint and to perform three of the five pillars of Islam: fasting (saum or puasa); praying (shalat) and paying alms to the neediest Muslims (zakat) to express their devotion to Allah. The Qur’an was first revealed to Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, during this month, and thus Muslims celebrate the glory of Allah and thank Him for revealing the Qur’an, a guide for humanity.

Ramadhan is the ninth month of the lunar Islamic Calendar and lasts for approximately 29 days. The appearance of the new moon signals the beginning of Ramadhan, and the new moon must be reported by at least two trustworthy witnesses. Due to this requirement, neither the beginning nor the end of Ramadhan can be accurately determined in advance. Depending on the visibility of the new moon, Ramadhan can begin on a different date in different parts of the world. As this advisory is being completed, it is anticipated that Ramadhan will begin on 22 August but we are awaiting official confirmation, which may vary the date by a day or so.

All Muslims who have reached puberty and who are mentally and physically able to sustain fasting are obliged to fast during Ramadhan. People, who are sick, or traveling, and pregnant or nursing women, are exempt from fasting, but they must later make up for any missed days. Women who are menstruating after childbirth are not allowed to fast, but they too must make up missed days. The elderly and incurably sick need not fast, but they are expected to feed one poor person for every day of fasting they miss.

Islamic fasting requires total abstinence from food, drinks of any kind, cigarettes and sexual relations between dawn and sunset. It is believed that fasting is aimed at abstaining from all worldly desires and withdrawing the heart from everything except Allah. Before fasting, Prophet Muhammad recommended that Muslims have a meal, called sahur,shortly before dawn, from 03:00 to around 04:30 hrs. The call to prayer (sahur) from the mosque will be heard early in the morning: as early as 03:00 hrs. Morning Prayer occurs at about 04:30 hrs.

Those who live near a mosque should be prepared to hear this call everyday before dawn during the month of Ramadhan. Even if there is no mosque in the area, the adherents who live in the area will make noise by beating drums, hitting cans with wooden sticks or lighting fireworks to wake up the neighborhood to prepare for their early breakfast. For the uninitiated, this situation can be quite unnerving. Understand that in no way does it represent a threat but is merely part of a daily cycle.

After sunset Muslims celebrate the breaking of the fast with a meal known as iftar or buka puasa at about 1800hrs. People normally break the fast with sweet food, biscuits, dates and fruits. These sweet foods are designed to quickly bring back energy after more than 12 hours fasting. It is an honor to be invited to a family gathering for Buka Puasa,which is sometimes used for family or company gatherings to enrich the bonds of friendship between attendees.

Ramadhan is a month marked by worship and Muslims pay greater attention to prayers (shalat). Prayer timings vary slightly each day with the change in sunrise but in general the first prayer of the day is Subuh between 04:00 and 05:00 hrs; then Dzuhur from around 11:45 to 12:30 hrs; Ashar between 14:00 and 15:00 hrs; Maghrib just after 18:00 hrs and finally Isya at 19:00 hrs. Muslims also perform congregational (jama`ah) or special (taraweeh) prayers in a mosque after the evening prayers. During the taraweeh prayers, you can hear the loud voices of adherents praising the name of Allah. It is considered bad manners to attempt to disturb an adherent during these prayer times.

Many Muslims retreat to the mosque to pray in seclusion. The practice of seclusion in a mosque is known as i‘tikaf.Over the course of the month, Muslims also recite the Qur'an. Since Ramadhan is also the month when the Qur’an was first revealed to Prophet Mohammad, Muslims believe that the Laylat al-Qadr (Night of Power or Decree) on the 27th night of Ramadhan is the night on which “angels and the Spirit descend, by the leave of their Lord, and all is peace till the rising of dawn.” Pious Muslims spend the better part of this night praying and reciting the Qur'an.

Despite the ardors of fasting, a festive, social atmosphere often prevails during Ramadhan. Many Muslims say they feel personal accomplishment and happiness during this time. Young people often reflect the sense of excitement by gathering to let off fireworks at night, although fireworks are officially banned in Indonesia.

As Ramadhan is also a month of philanthropy and benevolence, there is an obligation for Muslims to give alms (zakat) to the poor in the form rice or money. The alms and tithe are usually distributed through the local mosques or other Muslim organizations. On the street, there may be an increase in beggars seeking money by attempting to take advantage of this moral obligation to give alms to the poor.

A festival called Eid ul-Fitr or Idul Fitri (Feast of Fast-Breaking) or Lebaran in local language marks the end of Ramadhan. It begins with the sighting of the new moon on the first day of Shawwal, the tenth month in the Islamic calendar, and generally lasts for two days. The celebration begins just after the last Buka Puasa and is characterized by public assemblies, holding long marches, cavalcades of cars and trucks with people playing drums to praise Allah and also letting off fireworks. These events last well into the night. Traffic is chaotic and vehicles, motorbikes and pedestrians mix freely. If you are caught up in this, smile and be patient as you make your way home. Although these events are usually good natured, they can be boisterous. For the uninitiated, it is probably best to remain at home that evening.

The next morning, adherents will continue celebrations by gathering in mosques and other public halls to conduct anEid ul-Fitr prayer. After the prayer they will congratulate each other for their success during the holy month. The real meaning of this celebration is to ask for forgiveness from each other for past mistakes. The celebration is accompanied by the phrase “Mohon Maaf Lahir dan Bathin” (please forgive my soul and body) while shaking or touching hands. Senior members of the community will conduct ‘open houses’ to allow others to come and celebrate the end of Ramadhan with them. To be invited to this event is an honor. You should dress appropriately and, on arrival, seek out and shake the hand of the hosts.

Usually, one or two weeks before Eid ul-Fitr, there is an exodus - a flood of humanity - from major urban centers such as Jakarta to towns and villages. This is referred to as Mudik or Pulang Kampung - the return of people to their family or ancestral homes to celebrate Eid ul-Fitr with their parents, family and relatives. The Government attempts to manage this mass exodus by putting on more ferries, scheduling more trains and buses and controlling ticket pricing and sales. Transportation services and infrastructure often become completely overloaded as people depart Jakarta, but on return trips most seats will be empty. The reverse occurs a week after Eid ul-Fitr as people return to their places of work and residence.

These events make for the busiest days in Ramadhan, with long traffic jams on major arterial and inter-city road networks. Expatriates are advised not to conduct any unnecessary travel during the days before, during and after Eid ul-Fitr to avoid these traffic jams. You may also choose to financially assist your staff in meeting the higher than normal transportation fees charged during Eid ul-Fitr.

As the fast from dawn until dusk lasts for more than 12 hours, energy levels will progressively be drained. Wherever possible, manual labor should be planned to be completed in the mornings. Many restaurants and other food and drink outlets or vendors are closed during daylight hours. Some eateries remain open for those not participating in the fast, by segregating areas for the consumption of food and drink with curtains or sheets of fabrics. Most major hotels keep their full range of facilities available to guests.

During the fasting month, many entertainment venues are closed completely as a sign of respect to the holy month and to reduce temptations. Provincial Governors normally issue an instruction beforehand indicating which venues may stay open and until what time they may do so. Conditions can vary greatly between provinces. Generally, as minimum nightclubs, discotheques, bars, saunas, massage parlors, amusement centers and fitness centers close, while restaurants remain open. Some restaurants may be closed on the day before Eid ul-Fitr, the last night of the fasting month, Malam Takbiran, and the first and the second days of Eid ul-Fitr, to allow their workers to celebrate the festival.

Non-Muslims should be cognizant of the fast and should not eat, drink or chew in public. When visiting someone’s home or on an office call you may still be offered tea, coffee and small cakes as a matter of courtesy. You should politely ask whether your host is fasting and act accordingly, but you can accept the offering if your host insists.

Employers usually pay a Lebaran Bonus of one month’s salary to their workers at some time in the month before Eid ul-Fitr. And historically, the rate of extortion attempts and criminal activity during Ramadhan increases, especially home burglaries. Robbers often target the empty houses of those that are gone for Mudik. You should consider making additional arrangements for security around your home, especially if domestic staff and security officers go onMudik themselves.

What to expect and how to prepare:
· In the days prior to the fasting month, (but not during it), visits are made to the graves of family (nyekar) to pay respects, clean the grave and leave flowers. Expect some traffic disruption, especially near major cemeteries.
· During Ramadhan itself, traffic within the city will be lighter, not only because of the Mudik but also because many prefer to stay at home and limit their travel. However, there is generally a rush home by office workers who are attempting to arrive before Buka Puasa and afternoon traffic jams start earlier. Traffic can be very heavy between 1500 and 1800 hrs. And at the end of a long day of fasting, some drivers are not their usual courteous and patient selves.
· Overall pace of life slows down. Things take longer to get accomplished both at home and at the office.
· Your cook might not be able to taste the foods she is cooking for you
· Your driver will appreciate it if you can let him break the fast in the car with a drink of water and a sweet snack, if he is driving you home at sunset.
· You might be awakened more frequently early in the morning by enthusiastic young people parading through the neighborhood. Telling them to be quiet could be considered extremely offensive.
· Food prices rise dramatically as Lebaran nears. Shop early and stock up.
· Household staff will want to take time off to visit their family and the village, and you may be left without a cook, driver, watchman or maid. Make provision for substitutes or rotational time off. Consider eating at restaurants or having the cook prepare meals beforehand. There are several drivers clubs in Jakarta which may be able to provide a relief driver for you. Company motor pools should look at staggered holidays and car pooling where possible.
· An increased level of patience and tolerance is required when dealing with workers who are fasting. Try not to speak harshly with those fasting. It will achieve little and, if they get angry or have negative feelings towards others, it invalidates their fasting for that day: possibly leading to further issues.
· It will be extremely difficult to schedule travel in Indonesia near the end of Ramadhan, due to the annual exodus of millions of city dwellers to their hometowns. Book early or consider delaying travel till after Lebaran.
· Non-Muslims will enter the spirit of Ramadhan by abstaining from eating, at least in public, during the day. It would be considerate to refrain from eating or drinking in front of others who are fasting (to an acceptable and tolerable level that does not border on false pretenses).
· Your neighborhood association may organize a charitable drive for the poor in your neighborhood. If you are satisfied the request is genuine, contribute to this drive as a gesture of both good faith and your membership in the local community.
· Take extra precautions around your residence to deter would-be burglars or tricksters. Keep gates or doors locked and brief staff to turn away anyone who seems suspicious.
· Ensure your driver is more careful than usual on the road. He may be fit to drive, but others may not. Police often raise the level of “on the spot fines” for previously ignored indiscretions at this time of year.

To our Muslim staff and clients, Selamat Berpuasa.

If you have any questions regarding this advisory please contact AGI Office at (021) 572 4077

Assessments Group Indonesia
Wisma Kyoei Prince 12th Floor
Jl Jend Sudirman Kav 3, Jakarta
Ph. +62-21-572 4077
Fax: +62-21-572 4083