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                   No quiet days for kafir

This year the holy weeks of the people of the book, Jews, Christians and Muslims coincide, creating moments for reconciliation.  This time is supposed to be about discipline and introspection, revelation and renewal, sharing and caring.

Maybe that’s how Indonesia’s prayerful experience the ritual of Ramadhan in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country.  But for many kafirs (unbelievers), the days start badly and get worse. 

Our street’s satpam (community security guy) carries a steel bar. Not for protection as crime is rare.   He uses it to bash hollow power poles three times.  At 3 am.

That’s to waken the pious so they can fill up before dawn and then fast till sunset. There are non-Muslim households nearby but the culture doesn’t extend to respecting neighbours’ rest.  

Indonesia is constitutionally secular but in reality it’s an ethnocracy. Christianity is accepted but Judaism is not government approved.

Just five of the Republic’s 34 provinces aren’t dominated by Islam. In East Java where 98 per cent know the direction of Mecca, the solar system star peeps over the eastern horizon about 5 am. 

Then the well-fed adults head back to bed and let the kids loose to roam, which they’d normally never allow. Parents reason no harm can come to the littlies when Satan is constrained and hell’s gates chained.

In Australia gangs of pre-teens chucking fireworks would trigger calls to the cops, but in Java they’re also asleep. 

The hoons shoulder hollow bamboo poles stuffed with homemade explosives. Firearms are scarce in Indonesia, but these bazookas would outgun AK-47s for noise.

This is considered more fun than threatening, supposedly to expel evil.  Thankfully that doesn’t included bule (foreigners).

Ramadhan is good business for beggars whose handlers rightly judge the devout will have their fear of perdition aggravated if they’re mean.

Questioning these practices risks charges of blasphemy or cancel culture, as PM Scott Morrison calls the hesitancy to offend.

In the past Easter has been church bombing season.  Since the government banned the fundamentalist Front Pembela Islam (FPI - Islamic Defenders’ Front) in 2020 attacks have declined.  None were reported this year. 

FPI thugs used to run extortion rackets by ‘sweeping’ clubs looking for alcohol, but these crimes have also lessened.

Nonetheless authorities stayed cautious; churchgoers parked alongside police and army armoured cars manned by dozers. Liberal Islamic organisations ran patrols to keep other faiths safe.  Seven alleged terrorists were arrested in West Java on Easter Sunday but their intentions were unclear.

Bangers aren’t the only racket.  Regulations passed this year supposedly crimp mosque loudspeakers and cut broadcast times to ten minutes, bur recitations of the Koran run for hours. Mandatory is a synonym for optional.

Even in Hindu Bali some mosques are louder than the screams of jets as tourists trickle back.  The non-Muslim rich retreat to Singapore hotels to sit out the month as their maids and drivers take leave.

Ramadhan is supposed to last for 29 days bracketing the sighting of crescent moons. Like the Easter break merging with Anzac Day, in Indonesia the show over-runs as feasts get extended and families visiting distant relatives for the Mudik ritual are slow to return.  The traffic thickens to cold lava.

Ramadhan commemorates Gabriel’s first visit to Muhammad in AD 610 making this year 1443 in the Islamic calendar.  No doubt the winged one stressed calm and quiet to help contemplation and this was lost in translation. 

Nor did the celestial visitor warn fasters about the downsides of abstaining, not just from food and drink but also sex and smoking.

As anyone who’s lived with a quitter knows, they’re best left alone to cough in their stress-saturated withdrawal, difficult when the addict has to work. 

In normal times – whatever they are - getting around to buy, do business and meet-up is all good as the locals are generally genial.

Though not during Ramadhan when mates turn to miseries and friends become fractious. Dealing with shop staff, government workers and parking officials with rumbling tummies doesn’t make for a good day.

Occasionally people collapse from dehydration as drinking anything is prohibited.  This runs counter to medical advice to take at least two litres of water a day in the tropics.

Those who get a grip on their moods aren’t worth a conversation unless the topic is what they plan to eat come nightfall.

Around 4 pm the takjil food markets open, knock-up kiosks selling every kind of fare imaginable, a delight for foodies.  Thousands buy but take away.  Sutiaji, the mayor of the East Java city of Malang urged citizens not to chew in public lest it disturb fasters.

This was a shot at the Christians and it’s not his first. He drapes the Town Hall’s outer walls with banners proclaiming his city is a centre of tolerance.  Yet in 2018 he ordered officials to ‘monitor Christmas festivities by Protestants and Catholics to prevent them from annoying others.’ 

There’d been no reports of youth yahooing on their way to midnight mass. Catholics are supposed to fast on several religious days, particularly Easter, so know about self-control.

His worship’s targets hit back saying that if Muslims abandoned principles because spotting a kafir munching a banana showed their faith is fragile.

The few restaurants that stay open during the day, like fast food chains, fear to tease.  They draw blinds lest passers-by see chilli sauce soaked hamburgers and chips, deciding that in the contest between spirit and stomach the gut wins.

These eateries draw women wearing jilbab (headscarves).  Consuming is allowed if they’re pregnant or menstruating, though many appear to be long past childbearing age.

The famished tuck in as the sun sets, hard to tell when the sky is black with rain, so the times are set by clerics who study the heavens.  Gun-jumping is said to earn the wrath of the referee watching from above.

The more progressive invite kafir to their feasts and gift-sharing can be enjoyable. Misunderstandings are resolved and friendships develop.  The greetings mohon ma’af, lahir dan batin (please forgive my transgressions, body and soul) help reset relationships

But the four weeks of puasa set a barrier to full resolution however generous the hosts and grateful the guests.

The 3 am clangs are indeed a wake-up, time to get away for a while. Not for fear, but a rest. Which is why this commentary is being keyboarded in Australia.  DG






This post first appeared on INDONESIA NOW With Duncan Graham, please read the originial post: here

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