There are currently 5 recognized religious categories in Indonesia. Muslim, Catholic, Christian, Buddhist, and Hindu. I have had people between the ages of 5 and 65 years old ask me, “What is your religion?” or “What is your faith?” For an American that can be seen as an odd question to ask someone you just met 5 minutes before that. The most interesting question structure was, “Hi miss, what is your name and religion?” Like what? Who asks that? Well, here in Indonesia religion is huge, having faith is huge, not believing in a higher power is frowned upon. As you come into a country you must declare a religion, even when you go to the dentist you have to write down your religion, odd right? I am 4 months in now, and have learned that although I am in a primarily Muslim country, as long as I believe in something, its cool. That being said, some people answer that question as, “That is private.” I on the other hand simply answer,, “I am Catholic.”
I mean I try to put myself in their curious little shoes, obviously I am the foreign looking girl who is not wearing a hijab at school, so of course they want to know why. Now I guess you could say that I am lucky to be one of the recognized religions, but what about the unrecognized ones? America is so diverse, you probably can not walk into a public school classroom in the U.S. and have every student be the same religion. Some may not even have a religion. With roughly 90% of the population claiming to be Muslim, Indonesia is considered to be the largest Muslim country in the world.
If you want to learn about the culture in Indonesia, you need to learn about the religion. Religion is so integrated into everything here that it is almost impossible to separate one from another. But this is how I see religion now. Your religion helps define your culture. I can say that my religion is a part of my culture. The customs that we have, the morals, and life values that we possess are derived from our religions, for those of us that can identify with a religion.
What is your religion? Where do you do to church? How often do you go to church? Do you drink wine? Do you eat pork?
I am not here to convert anyone to my religion and I am not here to be converted into another religion, but I am here to learn and to teach. I will be honest with my host country even if they do not like my response. I am Catholic. Growing up I went to church every Sunday and sometimes throughout the week, although as I started getting older I began to go less and less and now probably only go about once a month which is not a good practice that I know I must work on. Yes, I drink wine, and yes we do drink “wine” in church, but to us it is not wine, it is the blood of Christ in our faith and perception. Yes, I am allowed to drink alcohol in my religion, but I am not allowed to drink in excess or to the point that I get drunk. I do eat pork and I love bacon, but I am okay not eating it and can respect your beliefs in not eating pork due to religious factors and I thank you for respecting my religion that allows me to eat pork and drink wine.
I am the minority religion here. But it’s okay, I have always been a minority, perhaps not always in my religion, but always in the color of my skin. And although I am a minority here I have never felt so accepted. Of course there will be people who are not comfortable with my beliefs, but how often does someone open their home to an American that is Catholic that can barely speak their language. I currently live in a home of Muslim faith. I pray before I eat, and so do they. We pray together, even if our prayers are different taking these few seconds to pray unites us in that moment. An open mind is needed when you want to indulge yourself into a culture. With that being said, the holy month of Ramadan was an experience that gave me new perspectives.
3:26 am I hear a faint voice calling my name, no knock on the door just the voice. My body was already awake, just as it should be since it was 2 weeks into the month of Rahmadan and it had begun to adjust. The voice started getting louder, all I can hear is, “Makan Viiiiiiii” it was time to eat before the sun came up. I had of course heard of Ramadan and remember my Muslim friends in Los Angeles saying they would not smoke or drink during Ramadan. I wish I would have known more about this holy month before I arrived in Indonesia. I did a quick study and in a quick summary this is what I found:
Ramadan is one of the 5 pillars of Islam. It is the holy month of prayer and fasting from sun up to sun down. During this time Muslims view their lives from the perspective of people who are less fortunate than them and slow down to be thankful for all that they have as they are brought closer to God. This makes sense right? There are people in this world that are starving, that go longer than sun up to sun down without a full meal. Our mothers use to say, “there are people starving in other parts of the world so do not waste your food!” Okay, so now imagine that, but now for a month you put yourself in those people’s shoes. You feel their hunger, you feel their struggle to get through the day. During this holy month Muslims also donate time and money to charities and people who are less fortunate, and of course help feed the hungry. For the entire month everyone slightly detaches themselves from life’s “simple pleasures” that we take for granted. Even holding your boyfriend or girlfriend’s hand is not something that you do during Ramadan, crazy to think that something as simple as embracing your loved ones hand is such a gift that we take for granted. The final and most important thing of Ramadan is the intense time of prayer. Muslims spend more time praying during Ramdan than they do the entire year.
During this holy month I learned about, “Murik” which a direct translation would be, to go upstream, but this phrase is used to describe the act of people returning to their hometowns for Idul Fitri. This is so much culture. The art of returning home to where your roots began. In the United States my holidays do not feel complete unless I return to my hometown, and that is part of my culture. It is my belief that the holidays are a time for family to be united. That is also a belief of the Islamic culture. We aren’t so different are we?
Early morning of Idul Fitri after breakfast our first act of the day was taking a stroll as a family to the cemetery to pray for the loved ones that have been lost. Within the 40 minutes spent at the cemetery families flowed in and out, some laughed and smiled while others cried, but they all embraced one another with a supportive and loving hug.
My family would have their first meal before 4am, and broke fast at about 5pm together, then had dinner together at 8pm. When they would go in to pray I would write in my journal to reflect, do yoga or meditation, or I would also pray. This holy month of Ramadan was a month that allowed me to slow down and see things in a new way. Living in California in your 20’s you get used to the fast life and the long city nights. You get sucked into the hustle of work to live, explore and party. How many times do we take a break from the fast city life to just breathe, to simply be and realize our existence? This is what Ramadan brought me. The time to set goals, to look at my failures and my successes and to be thankful for it all.
Now of course the fasting part of Ramadan was a challenge especially when your favorite thing to do is eat all the food. But fasting and breaking fast along my family and my teachers helped me integrate into my community. It helped me communicate that I was here to learn and would be respectful to their customs. Since my language skills are not that great, I was hoping that my actions could speak for me. I think it worked.
“Are you fasting?” “Please eat!” “We will leave the food here in case you get hungry or thirsty”
These are all things that I heard on the daily. And as usual my response was always, “Saya akan coba,” I will try “Saya mau coba puasa dengan semua anda” I want to try fasting with you all. This is the mentality that I went into Ramadan with. Of course the trips to the city had me drinking water lowkey and having a small meal. But upon arrival in my village my mentality was back to, “I can do this” and I am so thankful that I did. Ramadan was a beautiful month for me, although I did get a little sick, I felt a fresh start and learned about the Muslim culture as well as allowed myself to understand their perspectives.
In the media we see these terrorist attacks and people blame it on Islamic religion. I live in a country where 90% of the people practice Islam. I have spent every moment of my service thus far surrounded by people who believe in Islam. Those terrorists, are not a representation of Islam. From my time here I have come to believe that Islam is Respect, Acceptance, Humility, Love for thy neighbor, Family and Faith. I have asked my students and co-teachers what they think about the things that are being said in the media. Some go into depth explaining their religion to me, and some simply laugh and say, well they do not know because they do not try to understand. And this is so true. I am here to try to understand.
Every day, 5 times a day the people around me slow down, stop what they are doing, and pray. I’ve been on a bus full of people when the bus driver stops at a gas station where there is a Musholla so that everyone that needs to can pray. Transportation stops for a few minutes while everyone finished their prayers. If only every person in this world were to slow down at least once a day and take a moment to say “Thank you” to whatever or whoever it is you believe in, and remember what it is that you believe in, or even simply reflect on his or her actions, this world could possibly become a better place. Islam is not terrorism. To the 5 year old that asked me what my religion was, thank you for the new perspective, and thank you for accepting me.