Selasa, 25 Januari 2011




As we repeatedly have seen above, the exact dating of the commencement—
and the conclusion—of Ramadan has been, and still is, a matter of disputes
between various groups of the Muslim community in Java. Discussions about
the various techniques to settle for a specific date, and their alleged superiorities,
are bound to materialize every year. Most often, these debates can refrain
from taking on hideous overtones and dimensions by the simple fact
that the results reached by the different groups are identical, although different
methods and techniques have been employed in the process. Some years,
however, the results do not coincide, whereupon unpleasant tensions polarize
the community into two major groups, which correspond quite well to that of
modernists and traditionalists (as discussed above). The year 2001 (1422 AH)
was such a year.
16 Suyuti 1996: 17. Keberadaan Ramadhan selalu dinikmati oleh kaum muslimin karena telah
menghubungkan orang-orang yang beriman kepada Sang Khalik melalui iman dan takwa. Bulan
yang penuh keagungan, pengampunan, dan kasih saying itu, telah dijadikan sentral kegiatan
oleh orang-orang yang takwa untuk menyembah Allah Swt. secara total, sehingga mereka
semakin dekat kepada-Nya dan semua doa serta permohonan tobatnya dikabulkan oleh-Nya.
The controversy is often referred to as the hisab-rukyat controversy in Indonesia,
and we thus realize that its roots are to be found in different opinions
as to whether the presence of the new moon should be calculated (I. hisab) or
visually spotted (I. rukyat or rukyatul hilal). Indonesian modernists are generally
in preference of the hisab method, whereas the Indonesian government
(via Departemen Agama) and the traditionalists prefer the rukyatul hilal
technique. As we have seen, both groups find scriptural support in the Koran
and in the sunnah of the prophet. As for the year 2001, Indonesian Muslims
began to become aware of the possibility that the umat might begin the annual
fast on different days in the beginning of November. According to Muhammadiyah’s
calculations, ijtima (I., astral conjunction) would occur on the
15th at 13.41 (Western Indonesian Time), whereas the height of the crescent
moon (I. hilal) should vary between 0,2 to 2,1 degrees (depending on geographical
location in the country). Consequently, Muhammadiyah proclaimed
that Ramadan 1422 would commence on Friday, November 16th. Not all
Indonesian modernists were in agreement with this, however. The modernist
organization Persis, for example,—who generally prefer the hisab method
too—came to the conclusion that although the presence of the new moon
could be calculated, its height was too low to deem the 16th to correspond to
the first of Ramadan. Persis modernists thus decided to commence the fast on
Saturday (the 17th). As it happened, this date coincided with that which the
government and the traditionalist Nahdlatul Ulama also settled for, after
having had rukyatul hilal sessions all over the country. Though acknowledging
that the moon would rise over the horizon (I. ufuk) on the 15th,17 traditionalists
were unable of actually spotting the hilal in the evening of this date
and consequently began their fasting first on Saturday.18
Rukyatul hilal sessions are arranged throughout the country from various
official pos pengamatan (I., observation posts) as well as from various
other spots arranged by local organizations and ulama. These posts and all
the governmental Islamic courts (I. pengadilan agama and pengadilan tinggi
agama) report to the Ministry of Religious Affairs during the night in which
these sessions are conducted, as might individuals do. The Ministry then
holds a special convention (I. sidang itsbat), headed by the Minister himself
and including the Badan Hisab-Rukyat (I. Hisab-Rukyat Body; established in
1972), in which discussions on the collected material are held. When agreement
has been reached, a statement is issued (and spread throughout the
country as fast as possible) concerning their understanding of the com-
17 The Ministry of Religious Affairs acknowledges that there is no consensus as to the needed
height for enabling the observation of the new crescent moon; some argue that seven degrees is
the minimum, whereas for others, four degrees is sufficient. The Ministry itself has, however,
received reports from Sukabumi that 2,15 degrees enables visualization (Departemen Agama
1994/1995: 16).
18 2001.
mencement of Ramadan, and this constitutes the official Indonesian standpoint
on the matter. A collection of such statements (covering the years 1962-
1997) was recently published by the Departemen Agama.19 This volume
enables us to better understand the processes behind every taken decision
concerning this delicate question. We learn that the decisions are only taken
by the Minister of Religious Affairs after he has heard (I. mendengar), observed
(I. memperhatikan), also heard (I. mendengar pula), also considered
(I. menimbang pula), and remembered (I. mengingat) several opinions, authorities,
and conditions. The decision taken in 1381/1962—to mention just
one example—was thus preceded by hearing (via telephone) the testimony of
three Muslims from Sukabumi (their names, ages, and occupations are
listed), who on the 5th of February at 18.55 (local time) saw the new crescent
moon for approximately two minutes. It is stated that these three men—all
witnesses mentioned are male, as the Sh¢afiô³ legal school demands—swore
that they really saw the crescent, and that these words of oath then were
strengthened by them pronouncing the syahadat in the presence of the Head
of the Islamic Court in Sukabumi. This in itself did not lead up till the decision,
however; in addition, the Minister observed the calculations of the hisab
specialists, and also heard the opinions of no less than six religious authorities.
He also considered the syahadat of the three Muslims to be acceptable,
and remembered some of the earlier decisions on the matter from the Ministry
of Religious Affairs. All this taken together then led him to decide that the
first of Ramadan 1381 coincided with February 6, 1962. This decision was
issued at 20.05 Western Indonesian Time—a time at which parts of the umat
probably already had anticipated later developments that night and performed
their tarawih prayers.
As for the arrangement of the rukyat sessions themselves, the Ministry
of Religious Affairs has also published a Pedoman Tehnik Rukyat (I., Guide
for Rukyat Techniques).20 This guide provides practical instructions concerning
almost everything that is related to rukyatul hilal, ranging from questions
concerning the designation of a suitable place for the endeavor and the synchronizing
of watches (through Indonesian governmental TV or radio), to
how Jakarta should be informed about one’s findings. I will refrain from
discussing this guide any further here; suffice it to mention its existence.
Different dates for the commencement of Ramadan 1422 AH
Now let us return to mid-November 2001 Yogyakarta. In my kampung, the
preparations for the fast had already went on for several weeks, and a special
Ramadan committee (I. panitia Ramadhan) had been formed. Everybody
knew that the fast would begin—insya Allah, God willingly—on either Friday
or Saturday, but as we drew closer to the end of that week, people began
19 Departemen Agama 1999/2000.
20 Departemen Agama 1994/1995.
to feel ill at ease. Before long, all of us understood that parts of the Muslim
community would fast on Friday, whereas other would wait until Saturday.
Newspapers and TV-stations soon also declared this, and various ulama and
public figures made their appearances in the media and explained how they
hoped that this condition not would cause unease, let alone unrest. They also
made repeated attempts of explaining why the umat not would act in unity in
this matter, but these seeds did not fall in fertile soil. In fact, most of the
(‘ordinary’) people I have talked to in Indonesia on this matter have had
difficulties in explaining how it can be that members of the Indonesian Muslim
community differ in respect to their understanding of the commencement
of the new month. More common is it just to hear that “members of NU are a
bit odd and old-fashioned” or that “Muhammadiyah always has gone its own
way,” depending on the position of the informer. Not few have also confused
rukyat with hisab, and NU’s and Muhammadiyah’s respective relations to
these concepts. When confronted with the question why they followed either
hisab or rukyat, most Javanese have expressed—directly or indirectly—that
this is not what they follow; they follow either NU or Muhammadiyah. They
have, so to say, already put trust in either of these organizations (though not
necessarily being members of them), and need consequently not involve
themselves actively in all of their decisions; suffice it to follow them.
The mosque in my kampung was, like the vast majority of mosques in
Yogyakarta, modernist in its orientation. Not all of the inhabitants in the
block adhered to a modernist way of practicing their religion, however. After
maghrib prayers on Thursday this year, some discussions consequently arose.
There was still no decision from the Badan Hisab-Rukyat or Departemen
Agama, but Muhammadiyah had already issued its decree saying that 1
Ramadan 1422 would correspond to (Friday) November 16. Not few were
thus determined to begin their fast the following dawn. Others, however,
remained indecisive, and awaited the governmental and NU decisions. After
the isya prayers, it was already known that none of all the observation posts
and organizations in the country had been able to physically spot the new
moon, whereas the government suggested that the fast should begin on Saturday.
Some then chose to follow the governmental directives—a few with the
reason they were employed in the state bureaucracy and wanted to show their
loyalty to the sitting government (!)—, whereas other, a majority in my kampung,
still chose to stick to their initial plans, and thus prepared themselves
for beginning the fast a few hours later. This was most manifestly done by
the performance of the supererogatory tarawih prayers in the mosque, which
were well attended.
The following morning some of us were fasting, whereas others were
not. The Minister of Religion and other public figures repeatedly assured that
the existence of multiple opinions and a variety of practices are signs of
God’s grace and an exemplification of God’s way (I. sunnatullah). These
words of wisdom left many Javanese Muslims confused; how could a situation
that so clearly divided the Islamic umat, they asked, be a sign of God’s
grace? And how could it be part of God’s habits to spread schisms among His
believers? And, more importantly perhaps, how could the Minister of Religion
ignore all this?
As this was a Friday, the whole (male) community in the block was
summoned to the mosque at noon. The imam this day was the man that acted
imam most of the time in this mosque, and was thus well-known by the congregation.
He was an employee of the Office for Religious Affairs (I. Kantor
Urusan Agama) in Yogyakarta, and also a member of the local branch of
Muhammadiyah. As a result of this combination, he was familiar both with
the governmental attitudes towards the fixing of the dates of the new moons,
as well as with the more modernist equivalents, and could speak to the congregation
from both sides of the ‘conflict.’ He thus took the opportunity to
dwell on the subject of moon dating this Friday, and explained in detail the
various methods and their theological foundations and arguments. He also
made clear exactly what had happened the night before in connection to the
governmental ‘spotting-sessions’—one of which he himself had attended—
and declared that the new moon indeed had not been seen. He drew no determining
conclusions in his sermon, but rather explained the various standpoints
to the best of his ability and let members of the congregation decide
for themselves what way they wanted to follow. He did not reveal his own
inclination in the matter. (I later found out that he had fasted during that Friday,
and that he thus followed his modernist personal convictions rather than
the ideas of his employer.) During the half hour the sermon lasted, frictions
seemed distant and members of the congregation were often seen nodding in
agreement. Once the two raka’at (I., prayer cycles) of the Friday prayer were
over, however, tensions immediately made their appearances: while some
people pondered on what they should do for another six hours before the time
of breaking the fast made itself present, others made loud lunch plans and
ventilated their difficulties in choosing between fried rice and lamb skewers.
In my kampung (this year, at least) the problems connected to the ‘correct’
commencement of the month of fasting did not result in either open
clashes or heated debates between the two groups. There were numerous
discussions within the various groups, however. Among the modernists, one
asked how anyone could discard the exact mathematical calculations that
showed that this Friday indeed constituted the first of Ramadan. With ‘scientific
proof’ in hand, the motives and sincerity of the traditionalists were questioned,
while their backwardness was confirmed and enlarged. Few of the
modernists passed any sentences, however, on the traditionalists—something
which could have rendered the fast invalid—but a friend of mine expressed
his conviction that they by not fasting on this day committed a sin. Mathematical
and scientific exactness was again referred to. Among the traditionalists,
on the other hand, it was first and foremost the theological validity of the
modernist arguments that was questioned, and one wondered how the modernists
could ‘ignore’ such obvious prophetic statements that the hadits literature
offers. As far as the hisab method concerns, the traditionalists I spoke to
were only in favor of it as a means of predicting and verifying the necessary
physical sighting. Calculation of the position of the moon was thus reduced
to a tool in the service of the rukyat teams.
Though devoid of any serious clashes between proponents of the two
different methods of determining the presence of the new moon, many Javanese
felt that this situation disturbed the holiness (I. kesucian) of the month.
What should have been a manifestation of Muslim unity both on a worldwide
level and on a national equivalent, had to commence in disunity. As a consequence,
the perceived strength of the umat—both the global and the local—
was thus seriously flawed by this dissonance of opinions. Some of my
friends, who actually had no problems with the situation in regard to their
religious convictions, expressed their worries of what this condition would
signal to the non-Muslim world. (I reassured them that the majority of non-
Muslims living in non majority Muslim countries did not even know that
Ramadan was about to commence.)
Most years there need not be any confusion concerning the ‘correct’
instigation of the month of fasting, however. In late 2002, for example, no
problems arose in regard to the dating of Ramadan 1423 A.H. The government
was in full agreement with both modernist and traditionalist organizations
even before the actual rukyat that the fast should begin on November
6th, since it already had been calculated that the new moon’s height should be
more than six degrees on the fifth of November.21 And indeed, of the 331
Islamic courts that carried out rukyatul hilal sessions on this Tuesday, 27
reported to the Department of Religious Affairs in Jakarta, and of them two
had been able to physically spot the new moon.22 With high hopes that this
condition would be the subject of the Friday sermon prior to the fast in my
kampung mosque in Blora, I was rather disappointed when the impending
fast was not mentioned at all. Instead, we had to listen to a sermon depicting
the triple danger of globalism, secularization, and (the lack of) Western morality.
As we saw above, many Javanese Muslims have performed pilgrimage (I.
ziarah) to one of the graves of the Wali Sanga, or to other local respected
figures. The graves of renowned sultans and kings are frequently visited, and
the idea of sacred graves (J. pepundhen) holds a prominent position in the
minds of the Javanese. Not all parts of the umat are overly enthusiastic about
this practice, however: Sufis and traditionalists are generally in favor of the
concept, whereas repeated criticism is heard from the modernist camp. But a
21 Media Indonesia 2002-11-05, Kompas 2002-10-26, Kompas 2002-11-05a, Suara Merdeka
2002-11-04a, Suara Merdeka 2002-11-05a.
22 Kompas 2002-11-06a, Suara Merdeka 2002-11-06a.
modernist is not by definition against the performance of pilgrimages of all
kinds, and neither is a traditionalist bound to be a proponent of it. As discussed
elsewhere, it is the intent of the pilgrim that correctly situates the
practice on a scale ranging from mandub (I., recommended) to haram (I.,
forbidden),23 and we can thus find both Sufi disdain and modernist reverence
for it.
In Java it is relatively common to nyekar (J., visit graves)24 during the
month of Ruwah, i.e., the month proceeding the month of fasting, Pasa. It is
not primarily the graves of ‘saints’ or other ‘holy’ persons that are the objects
of this activity, but rather those of one’s own deceased relatives.25 Nyekar is a
verb derived from the noun sekar, meaning flower, and the practice thus at
times involves the placing of flowers on the graves of the deceased, but this
is not a necessity in contemporary Java. Neither is it a necessity (any more)
to burn incense at this moment. What is bound to be involved, on the other
hand, is the tidying up of the grave26 and the uttering of various supplications
(J. donga). The importance attached to these supplications is confirmed by
the fact that the whole ritual frequently is referred to as ngirim donga (J.,
sending prayers). For this activity, one can ask a religious official, modin (J.,
from A. muéadhdhin) or any other santri present (they usually are present at
the right time and at the right place) for help in exchange of a small amount
of money, should one regard oneself unable or insufficiently capable of reciting
the needed supplications.
To nyekar is generally not disapproved of by modernists if the ultimate
goal of it is to remind oneself of one’s own forthcoming death, or at times
even to pray for the deceased (with reference to QS 59:10). Some modernists
argue that it is superfluous to go the graveyard for this, however, since prayer
for the deceased may be uttered anywhere, and the presence of a graveyard in
no way is a prerequisite for remembering death. Contemplation in a mosque
thus appears to be a sound alternative for many modernists. No support whatsoever
is to be expected from the modernists if the practice of nyekar involves
asking for intercession on behalf of the deceased, or the asking of
pangestu (J., blessings) from the deceased on the Other Side. Instead, they
will probably be quick to denounce it as haram or syirk, should that be the
case. Many traditionalists and mystics, on the other hand, see in these latter
practices a very important aspect of nyekar, and argue that communication in
23 Only the pilgrimage to Mecca is wajib (I., obligatory) for Muslims, should the circumstances
permit it.
24 Other terms, such as ziarah, ziarah kubur, and sowan (J., pay a visit), are also used to
designate this practice. Nyadran (J.) too is occasionally employed, but as it has a double
meaning, I have not made usage of it here.
25 To be fair, pilgrimage to the graves of the Wali Sanga increase before and during Ramadan, as
does pilgrimage to, for example, the grave of the country’s first President, Soekarno, in Blitar,
East Java.
26 At times, the whole graveyard is collectively cleaned up (I. bersih kubur) by the people living
in its vicinity, in order to have it look good before all the pilgrims come in Ruwah. See Suara
Merdeka 2002-10-11.
various forms between the now living and the deceased not only is possible
but also something worth striving for. In essence, the issue at stake in the
debates of the position of nyekar among traditionalists and modernists is that
of the location of the souls of the deceased, and the possibility to communicate
with them. As Woodward has observed, Javanese—like other Muslims—
have a slightly ambiguous attitude towards the former problem, to
which they often cannot give a straightforward answer.27 Some argue that the
souls depart to one of the seven heavens at death; others say that it lingers on
near the grave; and others yet have different opinions. Characteristic for the
traditionalists is the belief that communication with the already departed is
possible, whereas modernists generally are critical of any effort of communicating
with the dead. As such, they may ask rhetorical questions concerning
the ability of the dead to hear the living, and, even if they could hear them,
what use it would be to them.28
The idea of nyekar just prior to Ramadan is rooted in the conception
that one should enter the holy month in a state of purity, and ease the burden
of one’s deceased relatives by means of prayers. In other words, one should
attempt to be forgiven by family and friends—both living and dead—ahead
of the first of Pasa.29 Ramadan and some weeks before it is also a time in
which many people more than usual ponder upon religious issues, and thus
on the fates of departed relatives.
Generally, nyekar is done not alone but together with other—still living—
relatives. Most common is it that a couple (man and wife) visits the
graves of their parents and parents-in-law respectively, and sometimes their
children (i.e. the grandchildren of the deceased) come along. Any time during
the day is fine for nyekar, though there seems to be a concentration of people
in the afternoon.30 The event does not take long; fifteen minutes is often
enough. After the grave has been cleaned and old leafs and other filth has
been thrown away, those wishing to place flowers on the grave do so,
whereas the others proceed directly to the recitation of various supplications
and/or selected portions of the Koran. (For those unable of this, as has been
alluded to above, ‘professionals’ are usually present and ever-ready to provide
their services for a small amount of money.) Recited at this moment are
usually supplications asking for the deceased soul to be forgiven and given
entrance to Paradise, together with Surat Yaa Siin (QS 36)31 and perhaps
some other shorter Koranic chapters, or parts of them. Added to this is often
the pilgrim’s own wish to have his—conscious or unconscious—
27 Woodward 1989174ff. Cf. Bowen 1993: 251ff.
28 Bowen 1993: 251.
29 Note, however, that this is but one reason to nyekar. Cf. Koentjaraningrat 1985b: 365f.
30 Nighlty sessions are possible too. Although I have not witnessed it myself, there are also those
who perform traweh prayers in the graveyards during Ramadan. See Media Indonesia 2002-11-
31 S¢uratu y¢a s³n (A.) is often recited at occasions like these since it deals with, amongst other
things, questions pertaining to the Resurrection and promises of Paradise.
wrongdoings towards the deceased forgiven. This would also be the time to
present more personal wishes—including success in business, safety during
long travels, and a healthy long life—but wishes like these are, as stated
above, appreciated in different ways among members of the Javanese Muslim
“At the center of the whole Javanese religious system lies a simple, formal,
undramatic, almost furtive, little ritual: the slametan.” Ever since Clifford
Geertz wrote that in his The Religion of Java,32 this ritual has been discussed
in numerous studies of Javanese religion and Islam in Java. Nevertheless, it is
also true, as Beatty has observed, that there exists very few detailed descriptions
of the ritual.33 Furthermore, there exists no survey of all the proposed
theories and speculations concerning the slametan, although an Indonesian
scholar recently has made an initial attempt of this.34 What we have then is a
handful of descriptions of the ritual,35 infinite references to it, and a few contrasting
understandings of its nature.
In essence, the slametan is a ritual36 that can be staged at various occasions
in order to restore, secure, or simply enjoy the state of slamet (J.). This
concept has been the subject of various translations and interpretations,37 and
defies simple rendering into English: tranquility, serenity, and peacefulness
are some of the words that come to mind, though neither of them are wholly
accurate. Its linguistic origin is to be found in the Arabic root s-l-m—from
which words such as isl¢am, sal¢am, and muslim are derived—but has come to
encompass specific Javanese values.
As already mentioned, a slametan can be organized at an assortment of
moments, and Geertz has divided these moments into four “main types”:
(1) those centering around the crises of life—birth, circumcision, marriage, and
death; (2) those associated with the Moslem ceremonial calendar—the birth of the
Prophet, the ending of the Fast, the Day of Sacrifice, and the like; (3) that concerned
with the social integration of the village, the bersih desa...; and (4) those intermittent
slametans held at irregular intervals and depending upon unusual occurrences—
departing for a long trip, changing one’s place of residence, taking a new
personal name, illness, sorcery, and so forth.38
32 Geertz 1960: 11.
33 Beatty1999: 27f.
34 Hilmy 1998.
35 See primarily Beatty 1996, Beatty 1999: 25-50, Bowen 1993: 229-250, Geertz 1960: 11-15,
30-85, Hefner 1985: 104-110, Hilmy 1998, Koentjaraningrat 1985b: 346-365, Woodward 1988,
Woodward 1989.
36 Rather frequently, the slametan is referred to as a “ritual meal,” but this is a misleading
designation as the meal itself in no ways is ritualized.
37 See Woodward 1988: 66f.
38 Geertz 1960: 30.
Thus, similar—but not identical—rituals are performed at the time a
woman enters her seventh month of pregnancy (J. mitoni), a boy is circumcised
(J. sunatan), the prophet Muhammad’s birthday is celebrated (J. maulud),
a man recovers from an illness, or a family sets out for a journey to
neighboring Bali. To anticipate a bit, these rituals all involve the gathering of
the male members of a neighborhood shortly after the maghrib prayers at the
front verandah of the home of the sponsor; the statement of the ritual’s intent
(J. ujub); the recitation of various donga (J., supplications) accompanied by
approving amin (J., amen) by the congregation; and, finally, the distribution
of the—by the supplications newly blessed—food among the participants.39
A regular slametan (in Blora, at least) is over within ten or fifteen minutes.40
This “undramatic, almost furtive, little ritual” has caused debate among
scholars of Islam in Java. What these scholars agree on, is that the slametan
is of immediate importance to the religious lives of the Javanese (and of other
Indonesians; Bowen’s work is focused on the Gayo in northern Sumatra), and
that Javanese religiosity cannot be explained or understood without a correct
understanding of it. There is further agreement on the core ingredients of the
ritual, which are the ujub, the donga, and the food itself. (Which of these is
most important is a disputed question, however.) As for the nature or character
of the ritual—and more specifically, its ‘Islamic-ness’—, opinions diverge:
Geertz situated this ritual in an animistic or Hindu-Buddhist context,
Woodward interpreted it in the light of ‘orthodox’ Sufism, whereas it fell on
Hilmy to try to reconcile these two standpoints. A bit more carefully, Beatty
argued for the “mulitvocality of ritual symbols” in his study of the slametan
(and hence the multiple interpretations of the ritual by the Javanese themselves),
something which both Bowen and Hefner had done previously.41
As we saw in a previous chapter above, Geertz’s understanding of
Javanese Islam was prevailing and taken at face value for several decades
before challenging voices were raised by Hefner, Woodward, Roff, Bowen,
and others.42 Consequently, the general opinion concerning the slametan was
for long in line with that of Geertz’s. It was only with the general shift of
perspectives in research on religion in Java (alluded to above) that this understanding
of the slametan began to be questioned and criticized. Mark Woodward
was probably the most vocal critic. By studying the Koran, the a®h¢ad³th,
and other local Muslim traditions, he was able to show that the slametan is a
39 This ‘visible’ part of the slametan is dominated by males, but as will be discussed later,
women play an important role in certain aspects of the ritual.
40 Certain slametan are, however, followed by extensive zikir sessions and may last several
41 Beatty 1999: 26, Bowen 1993: 229ff, Hefner 1985: 108. Note that chapter two (“The slametan:
agreeing to differ”) in Beatty’s Varieties of Javanese Religion: An Anthropological Account is a
(very) slightly revised version of his article published a few years earlier (Beatty 1996).
References here are to Beatty 1999.
42 For complete references, see the chapter two above.
“locally defined Muslim rite”43 that has its equivalents in other parts of the
Muslim world. In doing this he drew attention to, amongst other things, a set
of traditions of the prophet that include ingestion and distribution of blessed
food, the Islamic notion of sedekah (I., charity, A. âadaqah), and the similarity
of the ujub and the widely practiced Islamic n³yah (A., intent) before any
act of ôib¢adah (A., act of devotion, worship). In addition he also emphasized
the Islamic character of the humility the sponsor of a slametan shows to his
guests, and the inescapable Islamic nature of the donga (J., supplication, A.
duô¢aé).44 In line with the arguments in his later monograph,45 Woodward
could thus state that what is at stake in the Javanese religious landscape is not
an antagonism between Muslims and Hindu-Buddhists-cum-animists, but
rather a debate “between groups committed to distinct modes of Muslim
piety.”46 The slametan, then, is an Islamic ritual.
Andrew Beatty has also criticized Geertz’s views of the slametan—
without, however, totally embracing the arguments of Woodward. As already
alluded to, Beatty has drawn attention to the “ordered ambiguity” the
slametan reveals, and argued—by citing Humphrey and Laidlaw—that Javanese
Muslims present at any one slametan may draw their own distinct conclusions
and situate the ritual in their own system of religious inclinations.47
Slametan does thus not ‘belong’ to a certain group of Javanese Muslims.48
Beatty’s critique of Woodward is focused on the fact that he—unlike Woodward—
could not find any Javanese Muslims during his fieldwork in eastern
Java who regarded the slametan to be Islamic. It might be, he argues, that
previous anthropologists have been “misled by a narrowly legalistic definition
of Islam,” as Woodward and others have proposed, “but then so has the
Javanese” themselves.49 (We will return to this topic soon enough.) Beatty
has also criticized Woodward for his recalling of various traditions of the
prophet concerning humility, blessing, almsgiving, and invitations to the
poor, and argued that these features are lacking in Banyuwangi and “weakly
attested elsewhere.”50 (To this topic too will we have reason to return.)
Let us now return to the lives of Javanese Muslims in the month of
Ruwah. As discussed above, the essence of the practice of nyekar is to ngirim
donga (J., send prayers) to the souls of the deceased, and in the month of
Ruwah, one also has the possibility to do this by means of a special slametan
called ruwahan. (As mentioned above, the eighth month of the Javanese
calendar derives its name from the Arabic word for soul, r¢u®h, pl. arw¢a®h.) The
43 Woodward 1988: 54.
44 Woodward 1988.
45 Woodward 1989.
46 Woodward 1988: 86. Woodward also criticized Geertz for associating the slametan with rural
religion (1988: 66).
47 Beatty 1999: 26f., with reference to Humphrey & Laidlaw 1994: 202ff.
48 Cf. Bowen 1993: 229.
49 Beatty 1999: 47.
50 Beatty 1999: 48.
primary goal of holding a ruwahan is thus to pray for the deceased (especially
one’s parents), but there is also the additional goal of settling one’s
relations with one’s neighbors prior to the commencement of Ramadan in
order to be able to perform the fast without (emotional) disturbances. Furthermore,
to hold a ruwahan is to welcome (J. nyambut) the noble guest
Ramadan constitutes.
Ruwahan food boxes to be filled with foodstuff.
In Blora, people do not generally refer to this ritual by the word
slametan (although everyone is familiar with it) but rather use the word bancakan
(J.) or amin-amin (J.). The latter term is derived from the frequent
amin uttered by the whole congregation during the recitation of the donga,
whereas the origin of the former is to be found in the name for the boxes of
plaited bamboo, the bancak, that at times are used as containers for the food.
It is also customary to name the slametan/bancakan just by the specific type
of ritual that is at stake (i.e. “Pak Soesro is staging a ruwahan tonight”). As
Geertz has observed, Javanese Muslims organize slametan at various and
numerous occasions, and the Blorans are no exception in this respect, although
their bancakan seem to differ slightly from the ones described elsewhere.
Noteworthy is it also that this ritual, the bancakan, at times only is
part of a larger complex of activities. During Ruwah in 2002, for example, I
was invited to a bancakan in a neighboring house in Blora, which was held as
a sign of thanksgiving (I. tanda syukur) for the homecoming of a son from a
war torn area of Indonesia as part of his military service. This bancakan,
simply named syukuran, was only the beginning of something larger that was
to culminate later that night (or rather, early next morning) in a performance
of a barongan, a popular Javanese (and Balinese) drama (with possibilities of
multiple interpretations).51
The other way around, it is also possible that the bancakan is the culmination
of something that has been going on the entire day. Such was the
case, for example, when I myself staged a bancakan for my newborn daughter
(at the time four months old). This was a kekahan (J., A. ôaq³qah) which
had ‘begun’ already at 4.30 a.m. with the slaughtering of a goat, and continued
throughout the day with the skinning of the animal, the cooking of its
meat, and the burial of its fur and bones. It was only later that evening,
shortly after maghrib prayers, that the ritual was wrapped up in a bancakan in
which the newly cooked meat was consumed. Before the actual staging of
this kekah someone mentioned that it might be smart to make this ritual a
ruwahan at the same time (as it happened to be the month of Ruwah), but this
met with immediate and negative reactions from most of those present. It
would really be misfortunate, they argued simultaneously, to have a bancakan
to include both rituals for the living and for the dead—all the more so
since a newborn was involved! The idea was discarded.
A bancakan does not begin with the summoning of the neighboring
men to the house of the sponsor, as is commonly believed, but rather a few
days or even weeks before that—and at this time, the ritual is in the hands of
the women. From the decision to have a bancakan to the actual assembling of
the neighboring men at the front verandah, ritual preparations are in the
hands of the women. This includes not only the culturally felt need and subsequent
decision to hold a ritual, but also the decision on exactly who is to be
sent a box of bancakan food, the buying of foodstuff and paper boxes, the
preparation of the food, the buying of cigarettes, the cooking of tea, and so
on. It is thus wrong to assume that a bancakan is solely a male ritual. As the
amount of food to be cooked is quite substantial, the female ritual sponsor is
usually helped by neighboring women in this great task, and sometimes even
‘professional’ help is hired. Cooking generally starts on the morning of the
bancakan, although preparations perhaps already were begun the day before
that. The first time I witnessed these events I was struck by the organization
of the whole event: it was as if everybody knew exactly what to do and when.
Later I learned that this was actually the case: the women indeed knew what
to do and when to do it, since they did it so often. Thus, it was nothing but
natural that Mbah Tresno took care of the cooking of the rice, Bu Suparlan
chopped the onions, and Bu Wiwit managed the cookies. After all, this was
the way in it was done several times a month.
The coming together of the women of a neighborhood like this is an
important social event, and it could even be said that this ‘female part’ of the
ritual ensures a state of slamet too (among the women). Men are never active
in the ritual preparations, and neither is their help sought for. My status as a
Western ‘familiar stranger’ has, however, let me partake in these preparations
51 See Beatty 1999: 59ff. for a discussion of the barong in Banyuwangi.
on a few occasions. I have thus learned that the chopping of chilies is mixed
with discussions of local events; the cooking of chicken mixed with gossips
of this-and-that; and the kneading of the dough mixed with a passive watching
of an Indian musical on TV. It is a great time for social interaction, but it
is exclusively female in character.
The food cooked for a bancakan has been the subject of some discussions.
52 The Bloran bancakan rarely or never contains such elaborate food
symbolism as reported from other areas of Java, and as for the food of the
ruwahan there is only one prerequisite: the apem (J.) cakes. These are rice
flour cakes that are known throughout large parts of South- and Southeast
Asia. Whereas they are a “popular snack” in South India and Malaya, they
have been largely reduced to a ritual foodstuff in Java, and are intimately
connected to death and the dead. As a consequence, some elderly Javanese
refuse to eat them.53 Nevertheless, a few cookie peddlers include them in
their regular repertoire of sweets (which is a good thing, since they are rather
delicious). I am yet to find a bearing explanation for this felt connection between
apem and death.
A typical ruwahan food box to be distributed.
Apart from the apem cakes then, the choice of food for the ruwahan
knows no other limits, more than those of regular Javanese decency and taste,
of course. A regular box—nowadays paper boxes bought in the market are
preferred, at the cost of banana leaves and the plaited bamboo boxes, the
bancak, mentioned above—may thus consist of the following (as it did, during
a ruwahan in 2002): a large portion of rice, a small piece of rendang (I.,
52 See for example Geertz 1960: 39f., Beatty 1999: 31, 40, Woodward 1988: 72ff.
53 Woodward 1988: 74.
meat cooked in spices and coconut milk), some hot potatoes, noodles, fried
tempe (I., fermented soybean cakes), a boiled egg, and some apem cakes.
Any of these except the rice and the apem are replaceable by other foodstuff,
including chicken, fried tahu (I., soybean curd), mixed vegetables, fried fish,
and so forth. There are no ‘hidden meanings’ in this food, according to Muslims
in Blora; an egg is just an egg, and not a symbol of the universe, or
something else.54
Cooking for a ruwahan.
Sometime during the afternoon, all the food has been cooked and
placed in paper boxes, and it is time for the males to start acting. Though the
vast majority of the boxes are distributed (and perhaps consumed) during the
ritual itself, some of them have been marked with letters or names, and it now
falls on the men—usually the younger generation—to deliver these boxes to
the right addresses before maghrib prayers. Receiving afternoon boxes are
relatives and friends that do not live in the immediate neighborhood but that
the sponsors of the ritual feel obliged to include in the ritual.55 And, indeed,
feelings of obligation are involved in this process; women keep a careful
record of who invites them to bancakan or sends them food boxes, and it is
generally felt that an invitation or a food box has to be returned by the same
measure. In addition to this, the practice of sending food boxes is also a way
54 A psychoanalytical analysis would (perhaps) not agree with this, regardless of what the
Javanese themselves say.
55 Those women helping out with the preparation of the bancakan food generally also receive
some food during the afternoon, although their men most probably will be present at the actual
ritual later that night. This food is not wrapped up in a box, but rather just laid on a plate that is
expected to be returned the following day.
of telling more geographically distant friends and relatives about what is
going on in the homes of the ritual sponsors (i.e., a marriage, a circumcision,
a recovering, etc.).
This afternoon time is also the time for the male part of the family
(sometime helped by the women) to clean up the ruang tamu (I., ‘guestroom’;
a room at the front of every Javanese house in which guests are received
and deemed to spend their entire visit, unless they are very close relatives
or friends), and spread out the special bancakan carpets for convenient
sitting. (All guests sit on the floor, so as to emphasize the equality of those
assembled and avoid hierarchical questions. In addition, most houses would
not be able to present the number of chairs required for the occasion.) Cigarettes
are placed in a couple of glasses on the carpet together with some ash
trays—virtually all male Javanese smoke—, and in the middle of the room
the packed and sealed food boxes are placed. Then, shortly before the maghrib
prayers, someone (usually a young male) is given the task of informing
the neighbors that there is going to be a bancakan just after sunset. There is
thus very little time elapsing from the invitations to the actual ritual, but
Javanese people always tend to be close to home during this time (as work is
over for most of them, and the maghrib prayers are to be performed), and
attendance at the rituals is generally high. Of course, most people in the
neighborhood are also aware of the impending event.
Shortly after maghrib prayers, the modin (J.) shows up at the front
porch. A modin in Java—whose title is derived from the Arabic for ‘announcer
of prayers,’ muéadhdhin; in English rendered as ‘muezzin’—is usually
an elderly man known for his piety and/or knowledge of Islam and Arabic,
and acts as a kind of Islamic religious functionary. In my kampung in
Blora, this is an old, skinny and few-toothed traditionalist gentleman, who
never fails to make his entrance in his worn out sarung and peci. He is known
to be a pious man (he occasionally acts as imam in the neighborhood musholla),
and is familiar with a wide range of Arabic donga recited for different
purposes. Consequently, he is frequently summoned by families sponsoring
an amin-amin; indeed, he could be said to have the sole right for this
activity in this specific neighborhood. As he arrives, he is generally reminded
of the type of bancakan that is to be performed, and the names of those involved.
This is information he already has received a couple of days earlier
when he first was contracted for the job, but when it comes to names and
other details, his memory often fails him. With a refreshed memory he then
sits down at the furthest end of the room (that which is closest to the rest of
the house), lights a clove-spiced cigarette and awaits the others to come. He
is accompanied only by the male sponsor at this time, and the two might
exchange some polite phrases—an activity most Javanese master with sophistication.
One by one, then, the male members of the neighboring community
make their appearances at the location, most of them wearing peci, some of
them sarung too. They enter the ruang tamu while uttering the Islamic greet@
ing (I. salam) or just by bowing and nodding politely, before they take their
randomly selected seats at the floor. As they sit down, they greet (by handshake)
those who sit in their vicinities, and start to exchange polite phrases
with them. Some—most, actually—provide themselves with cigarettes, and
the room is soon filled with thick clove smoke and several half-whispering
conversations. (This pre-bancakan small talk at times develops into regular
questionings about Swedish farmers, Western morality, and atheism, but this
is by no means standard procedure.)
When it is felt that everyone has arrived, the modin—after having been
given a hint by the host—addresses the assembly by uttering the salam in
Arabic before he continues in his most polite (high) Javanese. Contrary thus
to reports of slametan in other areas of Java, it is not the sponsor that does
this; instead, he remains quiet during the entire ritual (though he might need
to utter some discreet reminders ot the modin). This initial speech is referred
to as the ujub in Javanese—a term derived from the Arabic ³j¢ab, meaning
‘offer.’56 The ujub I have witnessed in Blora—none of which I have recorded
due to a felt unease of adding a tape recorder to the food to be blessed—have
all been very short, merely welcoming the guests, apologizing for the inadequacy
of the food offered, stating the specific intent of the ritual, and conveying
more general reasons of throwing a bancakan.57 The specific intent of a
ruwahan may thus be to ngirim donga (J., send prayers) to the deceased (who
are mentioned by name), whereas the general reason is to restore, secure, and
enjoy the state of slamet.58 As simple as it may seem, Woodward has argued
that this ujub has at least five theologically motivated purposes:
(1) to link an elaborate feast with the simple ritual meals at which Muhammad officiated;
(2) to define the community to whom blessing will be imparted; (3) to
specify saints and other beings to whom food and prayers are dedicated; (4) to establish
the good intentions of the host; and (5) to establish his humility.59
During the ujub, those present sit motionless with their eyes fixed on
the carpet in front of them, and it is clearly felt that this is a crucial part of the
ritual. When the modin feels that he has said everything that need to be said
in his ujub, he concludes it by reciting half-silently some praises of Muhammad
(I. salawat, A. âalaw¢at) in Arabic, before suddenly announcing with a
clear voice: “Alfatekah!” (J., A. al-f¢ati®hah), meaning that the whole assembly
56 ‘Offer’ here in the meaning that one part ‘offers’ something to a fellow. The term is often used
in this sense together with that of qab¢ul (A.), which bears the meaning of ‘acceptance.’ See
Schacht’s articles on ´Idj¢ab and Bayô in Encyclopeadia of Islam (2nd ed.) (Schacht 1960, and
Schacht 1971b). In Java, ijab kabul is often used to refer to marriage, which is—in essence—an
‘offer’ and an ‘acceptance.’
57 For complete transliterations of ujub, see Geertz 1960: 41 and Beatty 1999: 31f. Note,
however, that the elaborateness that characterizes these ujub is not present in their Bloran
58 See Geertz 1960: 11f., for a discussion of specific and general reasons of throwing a slametan.
59 Woodward 1988: 74f.
is to recite, mumbling for themselves, the first verse of the Koran three times.
This done, the modin raises both his hands palms facing upwards—and the
congregation is quick to follow—and starts to recite an extended Arabic
supplication, carefully chosen to suite the specific occasion. As the supplication
is recited by the modin, members of the convention punctuate it by frequent
uttered amin, and when the modin is done, they all rub their palms to
their faces so as to absorb the berkat (J., A. barakah) the supplication allegedly
has generated.
Before—at times after, actually—the food is divided, members of the
get-together are asked to give their consent to the ritual, which they do by
uttering loud “Kabul!” They thus ‘accept’ (A. qab¢ul) the ‘offer’ (A. ³j¢ab)
stated previously in the ritual, and may be said to be witnesses (J. seksi) to
the event. The food boxes are then divided by one of the guests (neither the
host nor the modin distribute the food), and when all have gotten their share,
the party splits up after occasional handshakes, and the men return to their
houses carrying a box of food. From other parts of Java it has been repeatedly
reported that part (or all) of the food is consumed at the house of the host
before the rest is brought home,60 but this is only very rarely done in Blora. In
fact, the food boxes are generally only opened in the homes of the guests
themselves. The food box of the modin is often marked with a special sign as
it contains a bit more food than the regular boxes as a sign of gratefulness
from the host (at times the modin is lucky enough to receive two boxes), in
addition to the ten or twenty thousand rupiah he receives. And as the modin
wanders off to his home, the bancakan is over.
A ruwahan in Blora.
60 Woodward 1988: 81, Beatty 1999: 32, Geertz 1960: 13. I once attended a death slametan in a
remote village in the mountainous area of Temanggung, Central Java, and there all of the food
was consumed during the ritual.
In the Bloran bancakan I have witnessed, there has been no usage of
incense,61 and neither have I ever heard someone argue that the souls of the
deceased (relatives or saints) partake in the ritual meal by means of ‘eating’
the aroma of the foodstuff.62 This latter fact is supported by the fact that the
food boxes are closed during the entire ritual, and the foodstuff itself not
mentioned by the modin or the host. Instead, my Bloran friends and ‘informants’
have stressed the importance of the donga, so as to ensure a state of
slamet. There is further wide consensus that the food divided among those
present at the ritual has been blessed. In the case of the ruwahan, a local
kyai—Pak Hasan—told me that this ritual has the double boon of both
spreading blessings (J. berkat) among those partaking in the ritual, as well as
to convey prayers for the deceased. To ‘send prayers’ through a ruwahan, he
said, is like sending a letter with complete address—it is bound to arrive (in
time and at the right place). However, to pray for the deceased need not be
limited to the month of Ruwah, Pak Hasan continued, but should be done
throughout the year. Moreover, there is actually no need for such elaborate
rituals as a ruwahan to do this, since it is possible to provide the deceased
with supplications in solitude at home.
It seems to me that the bancakan is heavily influenced by Islam, and
that animist or Hindu-Buddhist features are totally lacking.63 Nevertheless,
contrary to Woodward, I (as Beatty) have never heard any Javanese explicitly
state that the slametan is an Islamic ritual. Once while walking to a slametan
in my kampung I was joined by Pak Soleh, a middle-aged pious haji. Without
me asking for it, he immediately gave his view on the ritual we were to attend:
“There is no such thing as bancakan in Islam. It is not Islam. It is
merely... eh, a Javanese tradition (J. adat Jawa).” When I have asked other
Javanese Muslims for their opinions, I have met with similar statements.
Everyone has stressed that the slametan is a Javanese ritual, but none has
suggested that it should be animist, Hindu-Buddhist, or non-Islamic in any
other way. (That there is no such thing as a bancakan “in Islam” means in the
present context that Middle Eastern and/or prophetic Islam is/was devoid of
it). Javanese and Indonesian Muslims are quite likely to make a (blurred) line
of division between ‘religion’ (I. agama) and ‘culture’ (I. kebudayaan) or
‘tradition’ (I. adat). This division renders it possible even for very strict and
pious Muslims to partake in certain rituals that may seem ‘un-Islamic’ by
referring to them as ‘simply tradition’ or ‘merely culture.’ As long as one
does not regard it to be agama (i.e. Islam), there should be no problems.
61 And this contrasts with reports from other areas of Java. Eg., Beatty 1999: 31, 36, Geertz
1960: 11, Hefner 1985: 108, Bowen 1993: 231.
62 Geertz 1960: 15: Cf. Beatty 1999: 37.
63 It is noteworthy, however, that Javanese Christians may throw bancakan too. Unfortunately, I
have never attended one.
As I understand the Javanese bancakan (in its Bloran form) and as the
Javanese seem to understand it themselves, this ritual consists of an Islamic
essence and a Javanese container. In other words, the form the ritual takes is
specifically Javanese, whereas its quintessence is in line with Islamic religious
values. As such, the slametan may attract most Javanese people (due to
its container), and even the more categorical modernists may find its (Islamic)
essence so appealing that they feel no need to denounce it. (Furthermore,
the container is ‘just culture.’) Of course, Javanese interpretations of
the ritual are multiple. Supporting the Islamic character of the ruwahan are
the ujub which can be regarded as an intent (A. n³yah); the blessings recited
upon Muhammad (A. âalaw¢at); the supplication (A. duô¢aé); and the idea of
blessed food. Furthermore, humility in the host, a shared blessing, almsgiving,
and invitations to the poor, are ideas that, contrasting with the arguments
of Beatty,64 not are “weakly attested” outside of Yogyakarta. On the contrary,
these are essential ingredients in any one bancakan in Blora, and they are
frequently alluded to by the participants in this ritual.
Let us return a short while to the ruwahan in Blora, and more specifically
to Pak Kyai Hasan’s view of it. Kyai Hasan is a man of very modest
measures; he lives in a small and rudimentary house together with his wife
and four children (and at times other relatives), and has no secure income (his
wife makes some money selling foodstuff in the neighborhood). Whatever
surplus he obtains is immediately spent on the musholla that makes up for the
front part of his house, and he is a man known for his piety. While, during
Ruwah in 2002, I had a talk with him, he repeatedly stressed the good and
Islamic values of ruwahan rituals, although he acknowledged that he felt ill
at ease watching the more affluent residents of the neighborhood throwing
these bancakan as were they nothing but means of bragging about one’s
wealth. In the eyes of Pak Hasan, things had gone out of hands, and he reckoned
that some people were more attracted to ideas of worldly prestige (J.
gengsi) than to after worldly blessings (J. berkat). He also believed that several
households in the area ‘competed’ in having this year’s most elaborate
ruwahan, something he saw as very misfortunate.65 Pondering upon this
condition, he concluded that it might be a good idea to organize a pre-
Ramadanic mass ritual (J. ruwahan massal), and had a week or so earlier sent
out a letter to households in his vicinity asking if there was any interest in
partaking in such a ritual. Proudly he showed me the responses that had arrived
at his house: almost all of those asked were eager to partake, and Kyai
Hasan had already determined a date for the upcoming ritual and begun to
make other preparations. Instead of every household having their own costly
ruwahan, he argued, it is better to make a joint ritual at the musholla. In organizing
this ritual, he decided that every family may deliver (anonymously,
if they so wanted) their contributions of food at the musholla some time dur-
64 Beatty 1999: 48.
65 It is noteworthy that I only heard Pak Hasan make this comment or analysis.
ing the day, in order that everything be collectively consumed during the
nightly ritual. The religious value of a ritual like this, Pak Hasan told me, is
even greater than that of privately held ruwahan, and the reason for this is
twofold. Firstly, Islam stresses the unity of the umat and emphasizes the
importance of cooperation. Secondly, feelings of gengsi (J., prestige) will not
be involved in such a mass ritual, since the food is delivered in secrecy—no
one will know who left what food, and hopefully no one will be very interested
in it anyway. I was myself not able to attend this mass ritual due to
other ritual engagement that night, but Pak Hasan and several of those
neighbors of his who were present described it as a success and expressed
their willingness to arrange similar rituals in the future. According to the
kyai, it had functioned just as a regular ruwahan, the only difference being
that they arranged it collectively in the prayer house, instead of individually
in the homes of the sponsors.
Finally, a few words on the time of the ruwahan may fittingly conclude
this section. Naturally, the time of the ruwahan is delineated to the Javanese
month of Ruwah, which corresponds to the Arabic Shaôb¢an. Geertz has argued
that it should be held during the last day of this month just prior to sunset66—
thus marking the last legitimate daylight eating before the fast—, but
this idea is not attested by my experience in either Blora or Yogyakarta. Instead,
ruwahan are thrown some time during the last three weeks of the
month, and then usually just after sunset. There is a concentration of ruwahan
during the last four or five days of the month, when food boxes from
various rituals provide whole families with sufficient amount of food for
several days, but there seems to be no idea that it should be ‘better’ in any
way to throw the ritual closer to the month of Pasa. It is just that many Javanese,
like other people, tend to postpone their activities one more day if possible.
As Ramadan draws close, discussions of public morality are bound to emerge
in Java. Ramadan is a holy month (J. wulan suci)—indeed the holy month
within the Islamic tradition—that needs to be respected (J. diajeni), and the
level of tolerance towards perceived immoralities is consequently tangibly
dropped during the month of fasting. Practices such as gambling, drinking,
and prostitution suddenly become more disturbing than usual for parts of the
Muslim community. Most eager to take action towards these perceived immoralities
are the Muslim radicals, whereas for the liberals such actions may
be even worse than the perceived immoralities were in the first place. Modernists,
traditionalists, and the state bureaucracy are usually inclined to sup-
66 Geertz 1960: 78.
port strong action towards this low level of public moral too, but they prefer
to do so within the limits of the law.
The alleged need to ‘clean up the neighborhood’ is justified by several
interrelated factors. First and foremost is the ®had³thic material that repeatedly
encourages the Muslim community to understand the Ramadanic fast in a
wide sense; that is, not just to refrain from food, drinks, and sexual relations
during daytime. In order to be able to do this, it is necessary that the environment
is supportive. If entertainment spots are closed during the month of
fasting, it is thus argued, confused souls will at least not be able to spend
their time, energy, and money on immoralities—and encourage others to do
that—and some might even find their way to the mosques and the nightly
supererogatory prayers. The second factor is that most people employed in
the entertainment business are Muslims, and Muslims should spend the
month of fasting by performing obligatory and optional rituals, thus drawing
closer to God. They should not be forced to spend their time in morally
doubtful places, at the very least, and they should be able to celebrate Lebaran
with their family. The third factor is constituted by the fact that Ramadan
frequently is seen as a ‘momentum.’ Hence, Javanese Muslims regard the
temporary curbing of the activities of various locations of entertainment during
the month of Pasa as a start for something larger. In the long run, it is
hoped that this short-term elimination of immoral entertainment will make
those involved in it insyaf (I., aware, conscious) of their wrongdoings and
These factors have had their political implications in contemporary
Indonesia, where—with the implementation of regional autonomy—
decisions concerning entertainment spots, prostitutes, and gambling lie in the
hands of local politicians, thus assuring a multitude of different approaches to
this ‘problem.’ In Yogyakarta, for example, Mayor Herry Zudianto issued a
decree (I. surat keputusan) in Ruwah 2002 in which it was prescribed that
various locations of entertainment (including discotheques, bars, karaoke
restaurants, and fitness centers) had to close during the first and last week of
Ramadan, and during the four first days of Syawal. In addition, the opening
hours during the ‘lawful’ days of Ramadan were limited, and the serving of
alcoholic drinks prohibited. Restaurants operating during daylight hours were
requested to set up curtains, so as to minimize the risk of tempting fasting
Muslims, and movie theaters were banned to show any pornographic material.
67 In Surabaya, East Java, the Mayor issued two decrees in 2002 that
prohibited the opening of brothels (I. Lokalisasi Pekerja Seks Komersial) and
other entertainment spots (I. tempat hiburan) during the whole month of
fasting, a decision warmly welcomed by several Islamic organizations.68 The
local government in Semarang, Central Java, had similar plans, but had to
67 Jawa Pos, 2002-10-20. Furthermore, the local Yogyakarta administration made plans for
prohibiting all entertainment throughout Ramadan the following year.
68 Media Indonesia, 2002-10-21a.
back and settle for a total closing of all entertainment spots during only five
days (in the beginning and end of the month), whereas the opening hours
were seriously decreased during the rest of the month.69 In Jakarta, on the
other hand, Muslim organizations were successful in persuading Governor
Sutiyoso to issue a decree forbidding all activities of nightly entertainment
spots during Ramadan, in order to “respect the Islamic community that performs
the fast.”70
In addition to these political decisions, the month of Ruwah also witnesses
an increase in activities of the police. As an “anticipation of the month
of fasting,” the police in Ungaran, for example, detained no less than 55 prostitutes—
and publicly degraded them together with a private TV-station—a
couple of days before the commencement of the fast.71 Similar events occurred
in Tangerang, and, indeed, throughout Indonesia.72 In Kudus, the
police, together with local politicians and ulama, made a great get-together in
the town square the day before the first of Ramadan, when they smashed
thousands of bottles of alcohol (which they had collected during the last ten
months!), and announced their coming operations directed towards prostitutes
and gamblers too.73
These political decisions and actions meant to facilitate the successful
performing of the month of Ramadan seem quite accommodating to the interests
of the Muslim community. Not all parts of the latter were, however,
satisfied with them, and Muslim radicals under the leadership of the Islamic
Defenders’ Front (FPI, Front Pembela Islam)—known to smash entertainment
spots not only during Ramadan—made up their harshest critics. Thus,
although Governor Sutiyoso in Jakarta had signed a decree prohibiting the
operations of entertainment spots prior to Ramadan in 2002, FPI emphasized
that they should not remain quiet during the month of fasting if they found
any signs of open ‘places of immoralities.’ The decree in itself was seen as
mere rhetoric (I. retorika saja), and one of the organization’s leaders acknowledged
in late October that their members were ready to check all Jakarta
locations of entertainment during the initial days of Ramadan.74 They
were prepared to do this since similar governmental decrees had been issued
previous years, but with little actual success. During these years, FPI had
noted that much unlawful and immoral activity was going on behind closed
doors in Jakarta, and that it was merely the front signs on night clubs and
discotheques that were turned off.75 Hence, open conflicts followed.
69 Kompas, 2002-10-29, Suara Merdeka, 2002-11-05b, Suara Merdeka 2002-11-06b.
70 Kompas, 2002-10-24, Jawa Pos, 2002-10-28.
71 Suara Merdeka, 2002-11-04b.
72 Media Indonesia, 2002-10-21b.
73 Suara Merdeka, 2002-11-06c.
74 Jawa Pos, 2002-10-28. The local FPI branch in Surakarta made similar statements, and
‘promised’ they would take action, should the police be unable to uphold the law. See Suara
Merdeka, 2002-11-01.
75 Kurniawan 2001. Cf. Ridyasmara 2001.
It is not only radicals that are ready to take action against this alleged
immorality—traditionalists, modernists, and Sufis are likewise fed up with
their rituals being disturbed by the unrest gambling, prostitution, and drinking
cause. Consequently, they too provide youths willing to extinguish these
disconcerting elements, but they generally try to do this together with the
local police. Nahdlatul Ulama in Pekalongan, for example, stated just prior to
Ramadan in 2002 that they were ready to be involved in raids with the police
“in order to wipe out acts of immorality,”76 and the local branch of Abdurrahman
Wahid’s political party (PKB) in Demak made similar statements.77
In the meantime, the Minister of Religious Affairs, Said Agil Husin Al Munawar,
repeatedly stated that the holiness of the month of Ramadan should be
guarded by the police, and not by small fractions of the Muslim community.78
As it turned out, Ramadan 2002/1423 proved to be reasonably peaceful.
In Blora, the question of wiping out spots of entertainment has never
attracted much attention from the residents due to the simple fact that there
exist no such locations in this town. (The one cinema present in Blora is no
real nest of immorality, and the largest Saturday night entertainment is to
have a meal at one of the numerous tents at the town square while the kids
ride plastic electrified cars.) Prostitution and gambling do occur, but hardly in
any disturbing way. However, most of the Bloran Muslims I spoke to on the
matter agreed with the general Indonesian sentiment that immoralities of
various sorts have to be restricted during Ramadan, and preferably even
wiped out and prohibited throughout the year. Nevertheless, a great majority
of them also expressed reluctance towards the methods of the Muslim radicals
they read about in the newspapers and watched on TV, and rather sided
with the politicians and the police. To fast, perform the sholat, read the Koran,
and pray during daytime, just to spend the nights by smashing night
clubs, did not appeal to the Blorans I spoke with. Not few also expressed
their sympathies with those who have their income from the entertainment
sector, and who thus provide for their families with this money. What will
happen with them and their families, one friend of mine asked, if the loose
their incomes during Ramadan? Will not that mean that they will live during
very hard conditions during the so-called blessed month (I. bulan penuh berkah)?
And will not that mean that they will not be able to celebrate Lebaran
at the end of the month? And indeed, these are the reasons various entertainment
spots cannot be closed down without protests from those working
76 Suara Merdeka, 2002-11-05c.
77 Suara Merdeka, 2002-11-04c.
78 Kompas, 2002-11-04. The local police in Semarang expressed similar hopes; see Kompas,
79 Another reason to the frequent demonstrations is that employers in this business may easily
demand that their employees engage in such demos; are they not willing to do that, they may be
fired with immediate effect. Such was the case in one gambling nest in Yogyakarta prior to
Ramadan in 2003.
As Ramadan is approaching, one could perhaps expect that Javanese Muslims
should not occupy themselves by fasting in the month of Ruwah. Such is
not the case, however, and people have different reasons for fasting during
this month. Among the more popular reasons among women is to make up
for the days they missed due to menstruation during last year’s Ramadan. It
has been reported from Morocco that Muslim women there prefer to make up
for their missed days as soon as possible after Ramadan,80 but Javanese Muslims
are more inclined to follow the example set by the favorite wife of the
Prophet, ô£Aéishah. It is reported in the literature that she used to fast in
Shaôb¢an in order to make up for her missed days,81 and Javanese women
make occasional reference to this condition in explaining their fasting. Others—
a majority, in fact—more bluntly state that their fasting in Syaban is
caused by their laziness to perform it any sooner. Redeeming these days is in
Java referred to by the expression mbayar utang (J.), which literally means
‘repaying a debt,’ and several women have likened the missed days to a temporary
borrowing from God that needs to be returned before the commencement
of the next Ramadan. Having had their entire menstruation cycle during
Ramadan last year, some women may end up fasting for more than a week in
Ruwah, thus being well-prepared when the actual month of fasting makes its
appearance.82 As fasting in non-Ramadanic months may be a little harder
(due to environmental circumstances) than to perform the actual Ramadanic
fast, women tend to find someone who also intends to fast, in order that the
two may fast ‘together’ and thus support each other.
Whereas ‘repaying’ last year’s Ramadanic debts is obligatory, many
Javanese also perform additional fasting (J. pasa sunat) during the month of
Ruwah, and this fasting is not restricted to the women. (It seems, however,
that women are more likely to be regular fasters than are men.)83 Voluntary
fasting in Ruwah or Syaban has support in the hadits literature, where one of
the wives of the prophet is quoted as saying:
I never saw Allah’s Apostle fasting for a whole month except for the month of
Rama®d¢an, and did not see him fasting in any month more than in the month of
Some people thus fast during a couple of days in this month just to get
warmed up for the ‘real’ fast that is just around the corner. Since we are only
80 Buitelaar 1993: 33.
81 Cf. ®HB 3,31,171.
82 Menstruation is not, of course, the only reason one may need to mbayar utang; travels and
sickness during last year’s Ramadan may also call for additional fasting in Ruwah. Note thus that
men too make up for missed days during this month in Java.
83 Similar conditions have been observed in Morocco (Buitellaar 1993: 36) and Jordan (Antoun
1968b: 100, cited in Buitelaar 1993: 36).
84 ®HB 3,31,190. Cf. ®HB 3,31,191.
dealing with supererogatory fasting here, most Javanese argue, it renders no
sin to break it prior to sunset, should there be need to do so. As a friend of
mine had it, one can thus ‘experiment’ (I. coba-coba) with one’s fasting abilities
during this month: if one day one does not last longer than to lunch, no
harm is done. And it is definitely better to engage in such (broken) fasting
during Syaban than during Ramadan.
Most pasa sunat are performed during Mondays and Thursdays (J. pasa
senen kemis), as this was the habit of the prophet. People who are used to fast
during these days just continue their habits in the month of Ruwah, whereas
more inexperienced fasters try to hang on. In addition to the senen-kemis
fasting, the three days in the middle of the (lunar) month are also believed to
be superior when it comes to fasting. This is valid for all months, but in the
month of Syaban there is also the additional idea of nisfu Syaban (I., A. niâf
Shaôb¢an), simply meaning ‘the middle of Syaban,’ or lailatul bara’a (I., A.
laylatu l-bar¢aéa, the night of innocence) which renders fasting even more
promising during this specific month. The status of nisfu Syaban within Islamic
law is disputed and some ulama regard it to be a non-authentic fabrication,
whereas other put quite some weight on it. There is ®had³thic support for
the idea that God descends to the lowest heaven during this month in order to
provide His servants with forgiveness:
ôAli reported God’s messenger as saying, “When the middle of [the eighth lunar
month of] Shaôban comes, spend the night in prayer and fast during the day, for in
it God most high comes down at sunset to the lowest heaven and says, ‘Is there no
one who asks forgiveness so that I may forgive him? Is there no one who asks provision
so that I may provide him? Is there no one afflicted so that I may relieve
The prophet is moreover quoted as having said the following:
Verily Allah the Glorious and Majestic look at His servants on the night of mid-
Sha`ban, and He forgives those who ask forgiveness, and He bestows mercy on
those who ask mercy, and He gives a delay to the people of envy and spite in their
Being supported by this tradition, some Javanese choose to fast during
the day of nisfu Syaban whereas they spend the night in prayer, zikir, and
other additional devotional exercises. It is my impression that many ‘ordinary’
Javanese are unaware of the importance attached to this night by some
of their fellow Muslims, and it is definitely so that a ruwahan is far more
important to them than are celebrations (including fasting and supplications)
of nisfu Syaban. Nevertheless, some Javanese Muslims organize their ruwahan
rituals during the nisfu Syaban, and others may throw a special slametan
during this night. Sometimes the opinion is raised that God decides during
85 Quoted by Renard 1996: 14. Cf. Wensinck 1997: 154.
86 [] [accessed 2003-09-24]
this night who will pass away during the coming year—and what will happen
to those who do not—, but this is not a commonly held belief in Java.
Sahur! Sahur! Sahur! Sahur!
Although some Muslims already performed the traweh (J., I. tarawih,
A. tar¢aw³®h) prayers the night before, Pasa for most Javanese begins some
time before 3 a.m. on the first of Ramadan when mosque loudspeakers present
their sahur cries.87 Sahur (A. sa®h¢ur) is a term used in Indonesian and
Javanese as both noun and verb, denoting thus either the nocturnal meal eaten
during Ramadan, or the actual eating of this meal. In his task of waking up
the still sleeping local populace, the muezzin is at times helped out by
neighborhood youngsters, who just love to spend the wee hours going around
their kampung beating home made drums, yelling sahur, sahur! This practice,
known as tek-tekan (J.), beyond doubt contributes to the positive childhood
memories many Javanese have of Ramadan.
This section, with its subsections, will focus on whatever the Javanese
do, feel, and believe during the first through the last of Ramadan. It will thus
focus on those Javanese who actually perform the fast. As Saiful Mujani
recently has showed in his (award-winning) doctoral dissertation from Ohio
State University, this includes most of the Javanese Muslims: no less than
94% of his (Indonesian) respondents stated that they “very or quite often”
perform the Ramadanic fast.88 Some Javanese actually only fast for a couple
of days during Ramadan: the first and the last; the first, the last and the middle;
the first two and the last two; or some other odd combination. Mas
Yunus, a close friend and mosque official (I. takmir) in Yogyakarta, likened
the act of limiting one’s fast to the first and last days of Ramadan to wearing
only hat and shoes: however fine those pieces may be, none will pay any
attention to them. And to add one day in the middle (“a piece of cloth covering
the most private”) will do some but hardly much good. Mas Yunus, and
many more with him, also questioned the inherent logic in this conduct. “If
one accepts the Koran as God’s words, and Muhammad as His prophet,” he
argued once a few days into Ramadan while we were waiting for the traweh
prayers to commence, “one cannot logically deny the ‘obligatory-ness’ of
Ramadan (I. wajibnya Ramadhan).” To clarify his standpoint further, he
flipped the argument after some moments of silence: “Performing only a few
days of Ramadanic fasting, one cannot claim to have accepted God’s revelation
(I. wahyu Tuhan) and the way of the prophet (I. sunat rasul).”
87 For many Javanese women, to be fair, Ramadan begins some time before this as they have to
cook for their families; see also below.
88 Mujani 2003: 102.
There is little variation in daylight hours in Indonesia due to the country’s
proximity to the equator. As for Blora, this means that the time for the subuh
dawn prayer varies between 03.50 a.m. (November) and 04.35 a.m. (July),
and the maghrib dusk prayer between 5.25 p.m. (June) and 6.01 p.m. (January).
As imsak (I., A. ims¢ak), the time for concluding the nocturnal meal, is
scheduled some ten or fifteen minutes before subuh, actual fasting begins at
its earliest 03.35 a.m. and at its latest 04.20 a.m. The fast thus lasts for approximately
fourteen hours per day in Central Java. As the climate in Indonesia
is tropical, variations in temperature are likewise small throughout the
year (28-35ðC) although the rainy season usually presents slightly lower
temperatures than the dry season. To perform the fast during the rainy season
may thus be said to be a bit more ‘comfortable’ than to do it in the dry season,
but very few Javanese seem to care about the influence of climate on
their fast. Instead, they argue that a successful fast is dependent not on slight
variations in temperature but on the right intention (I. niat) and sincerity (I.
When the muazzin exclaims the sahur cry some time prior to 3 a.m.,
many Javanese women have already been up for more than an hour, preparing
the food to be consumed by her family. Cooking in Java is a time consuming
activity that strictly follows a bunch of unwritten rules, and few
Javanese women would be happy to use prefabricated spices, for example. I
once aired my opinion to Bu Nuri, a middle aged woman, that it would be
very practical just to buy a packet of fried rice seasoning, mix that with last
night’s rice and a few eggs, and serve that as sahur. Yes, she agreed, that
would be practical, but what kind of mother or wife would serve such food to
her children and husband, she rhetorically asked. “I for one,” she assured me,
“would not have the heart to do that (I. tidak tega). And all the more so in
Ramadan, when people really need to eat real food,” she added. Instead she,
as most other Javanese women, gladly—albeit not without occasional and
silent complaint—spent one or a couple of pre-dawn hours in the kitchen
every morning, together with her daughters and domestic help, preparing
genuine home-made Javanese food for the rest of the family throughout
Ramadan. At times the domestic helps (I. pembantu) are totally entrusted
with the task of preparing the sahur food in Javanese homes which have such
help, but their female employers usually help them out. This intervention has
two reasons: the felt need by the Javanese women to reassure themselves that
the food is satisfyingly cooked, and the wish to ease the burden on the maids
who, perhaps, are fasting too.89 That the sahur cooking is in the hands of the
women is nothing strange: in Java it is the women who cook throughout the
year, including the month of fasting. (Anything else would be strange, in-
89 It is my impression that families who are devout in their religiosity prefer that their maids are
that too.
deed.) Many Javanese women take pride in preparing the meals for their
families during Ramadan. One young woman commented that she was
pleased to cook for her husband (their children did not yet fast), and stated
that it was she, by means of the food she cooked, who assured that her husband
managed to keep the fast the whole day. “And that,” she said, “must
render some merit (I. pahala).”
In line with ®had³th material discussed elsewhere, most Javanese are
convinced that there is berkat (J., blessings, A. barak¢at, sing. barakah) in the
sahur food and in the consumption of it. Accordingly, most Javanese drag
themselves up at around 3 a.m. to have something to eat. Apart from the
perceived blessings, there is nothing ‘special’ to Javanese sahur food, which
resembles—in regard to its constituents—any ordinary breakfast in Java.90 As
such it can consist of rice, vegetables, and some additional side dish (J.
lawuh), and is served with a cup of the inevitable sweet tea and a glass of
lukewarm drinking water. Among students in Yogyakarta—living away from
their parents and siblings, and yet to form their own family—the sahur meal
is usually bought in one of the many roadside food stalls (I. warung) present
in any Javanese town. Many of these are open from 2 a.m. (or even earlier)
until imsak during Ramadan, and some even accept pre-placed orders which
may be delivered by motorcycle some time during the pre-dawn hours.
Barely awake, fasting Muslims are not thought to be provided with a
culinary experience during the sahur meal (in spite of the women’s efforts),
but rather just to endow them with enough energy to keep them going until
late afternoon. This nocturnal meal is usually consumed in silence (as are
other meals commonly in Java), and members of the family excuse themselves
and disappear as they have finished. Some return straight to bed and
are sound asleep before the imsak cries from the mosques; others use this predawn
time to enjoy their last cigarette for fourteen hours (the high nicotine
consumption in Java causes some distress among Javanese men during
Ramadan). Others yet pick up their copy of the Koran and recite it loudly for
a while; whereas others watch some special sahur show, or perhaps a game
of soccer from some European league, on TV. Some, of course, make their
ways to the closest mosque in order to join the congregational subuh prayers,
and possibly follow a special Ramadan lecture given by the mosque official.
Such Ramadan lectures are referred to by the abbreviation kultum (I. kuliah
tujuh menit, seven minutes lecture), and constitute short sermons delivered
just after the dawn prayers.91 Usually, these highlight a special Ramadanic
topic each day, but more general (Islamic) questions may be discussed too
during these informal get-togethers. In some mosques, the kultum is then
followed by well-attended Koran recitation classes for children. However that
90 Note that ‘breakfast’ here is used in the sense of ‘morning food’ and hence not in the sense of
‘food with which to break the fast’ (which ‘breakfast’ signifies).
91 Ward Keeler has devoted an article to the issue of such Ramadan sermons (1998). Note that
kultum also are presented in connection with the tarawih prayers; see below.
may be, ten or fifteen minutes before the scheduled time of the subuh prayer,
the muazzin loudly declares that the time for the nocturnal meal is over: Imsak!
Imsak! Accordingly, all eating, drinking, and smoking come to an abrupt
end, and the fast begins.
Some companies and parts of the state bureaucracy shorten their employees’
working hours during (parts of) Ramadan, but commercial life
pretty much goes on just like during any other non-Ramadanic month in Java,
though with a slightly more laidback tempo and rhythm. Those who decided
to return to bed immediately after the sahur meal are usually up at 5.30 at the
latest to perform the subuh prayer (before it is too late), and then go to work
or take care of whatever has to be taken care of. Those who by that time have
recited the Koran for a couple of hours are probably quite worn out already—
at least hosting dry throats due to the loud recitation—and may decide to
return to bed for a couple of hours. Not all, however, have the possibility to
do that and instead head directly to work. Lost sleep will be regained in the
afternoon, hopefully.
The characteristic architecture of Javanese mosques captured just outside Blora.
Some elementary schools are closed throughout Ramadan (due to an
initiative taken by Abdurrahman Wahid during his time as president), but
higher education goes on as usual right up to the last week of the month. I
never heard anybody complain about this at my campus; in fact, most students
were determined that they would not let their studies disrupt their fasting,
nor let their fasting disrupt their studies. It seemed to me that most students
managed to keep this balance quite well, although some choose to prioritize
Ramadanic activities (and thus fell asleep in class). One friend among
this latter group once told me that it is better to spend the entire Ramadan on
devotional activities and pray that the coming eleven academic months will
float by satisfyingly. “After all,” he said, “I put more trust in God than I do in
the possibility of me opening the books.” Another friend was determined to
make use of the ubiquitous late-comings of the lecturers, and spent the time
between scheduled and actual beginning of class by silently reciting a pocket
size Koran. She believed this would render her able to khatam (I., recite the
entire Koran) during that year’s Ramadan.
Markets, stores, banks, governmental offices, shopping malls, and post
offices also stick to their regular opening hours during Ramadan. Consequently,
regular and commercial life continues relatively undisturbed during
the month of fasting, although many public spaces are less frequently visited
during the first week of the month. This is due to a felt need to acclimatize
one’s body and mind to the new pace of daily routines, and a (sound) conviction
that it is better to stay close to home during the first few days of Ramadan
in order to observe the reactions of one’s own body. Entering the second
week of Pasa this time of observations is over, and life returns even more to
the usual daily routines, just to further escalate and later culminate during the
last few days of the month when the preparations for the Lebaran feast demand
large amounts of activity. Ramadan is thus not associated with laziness
in Java; in fact, a substantial number of Javanese have told me that they are
engaging themselves in more activities than usual during the month of fasting.
People thus tend to socialize more, and many also follow some afternoon
course in Arabic, fikih (I., Islamic jurisprudence), business Chinese, or computer
programming. Indeed, educational institutes often offer special, and
well-attended, Ramadan courses. In one respect, this is a way of deceiving
time, of course: tropical afternoons in the midst of a busy city as Yogyakarta
are demanding—even if one is not fasting. On the other hand, most Javanese
are in full agreement that pursuing knowledge is an obligatory (I. wajib)
activity within the Islamic tradition (“even if you have to go as far as
China”). Ramadanic afternoon courses do thus not pose any moral problems
for Javanese Muslims; on the contrary, in attending these courses they generally
regard themselves as fulfilling their religion.92
Those spending their afternoons at home may do so in front of the TV,
behind the Koran, absorbed in a novel, in bed, or—if they happen to be
women—in the kitchen. An Indian musical drama may seem at least as attractive
as the Holy Book, as may a couple of hours in bed in order to accumulate
the needed energy for the later traweh prayers. Accommodating to the
interests of the women are cycling peddlers offering fresh vegetables, dried
and salted fish, and the omnipresent soybean products, tahu and tempe. As
92 This widespread idea of the obligatory-ness of pursuing knowledge (I. menuntut ilmu) has
made my position as a foreign student in Java rather uncomplicated. When people understood
that I had not been ordered (by some weird professor) to Java against my will, but rather made
my own way there voluntarily, I was soon placed in the honorable group of people going out of
their way in search of knowledge. Not as far as China, some commented, but still.
many women do not feel attracted to the idea of making their way to the
market everyday during Ramadan, these circling hawkers sell quite well
during the month of fasting. As they come along and announce their presence
with their special sound (ringing a bell, beating a piece of wood, or simply
yelling), fasting women may easily come out and pick up whatever they need
for the later buka meal (I., meal for breaking the fast). Compared to the market,
prices are slightly higher, quality somewhat lower, and the assortment
relatively meager, however. As the fast prolongs, we should not be surprised
then that many women return to their habit of going to the local market.
The last half hour before the breaking of the fast is often slightly chaotic
in Java: traffic rules virtually loose their last supporter as everybody has
to get home before the sound of the maghrib call to prayer. Homes are also
often characterized by fervent action as all food has to be ready and everybody
ideally should have taken their afternoon bath by that same time. Along
the roads, seasonal vendors set up their tables offering the special Javanese
drink kolak packed in small plastic bags, various sorts of fried foodstuffs (I.
gorengan), and ice cubes for those mixing their own syrup. The kolak is a
very sweet drink coocked with coconut milk as its base, and bananas, sweet
potatoes, and palm sugar (I. gula Jawa, lit. ‘Javanese sugar’) as its main
additional ingredients. It may be served lukewarm or with ice, and serves as a
tremendously fine drink to break the fast with, as it is sweet, filling, and delicious
at the same time. Notably, the kolak is served almost exclusively during
Ramadan, and can thus be said to be a ritual drink; however, there are no
specific religious conceptions associated with it. Many Javanese women take
pride in their kolak (using semi-secret recipes) and spend substantial amounts
of time in preparing it. The ones sold along the roads, they say, are just cheap
copies. During this half hour preceding the breaking of the fast, food stalls
and restaurants are also crowded with people who have not been able or willing
to cook for themselves.
Ideally, the whole family should be gathered at home some time prior
to sunset. A few minutes before the time for breaking the fast, glasses of
kolak, sweet tea, and sweet coffee stand ready, and the aroma from the
gorengan—in the form of fried bananas, perhaps—, and the food to be consumed
later whet the appetite. The TV is often on during this time, broadcasting
some Ramadanic soap opera (discussed shortly elsewhere) and also announcing
the time for breaking the fast in various towns in Indonesia.
Suddenly, the mosque speaker system begins to crackle and the long
awaited siren announces that the sun finally has set, and that fasting is over.
The call to prayer immediately follows. In Javanese homes, people often utter
alhamdulillah (I., A. al-®hamdu lill¢ah, praise be to God) as they siren goes off,
before they quickly reach out for a glass of kolak or tea. Pure water is also
thought to be a superior drink to have at this moment, and it is generally
believed that cold drinks should only be consumed after one have had at least
one hot (that is, lukewarm). In line with the tradition of the prophet, dates—
which do not grow in Indonesia—are further thought to be the most superior
fast breaking food. Consequently, dates are imported from the Middle East in
immense quantities preceding and during Ramadan. Iraqi dates are generally
in great demand as they are cheaper than others, but Egyptian, Tunisian,
Afghani, Iranian, and Saudi Arabian dates are sold in Indonesia during
Ramadan as well.
In Java, this breaking of the fast has no given pattern that is ubiquitously
followed everywhere. Some families choose to break the fast together
sitting on a carpet in front of the TV, whereas others break it individually,
and others yet go to the mosque. The common denominator is that the initial
buka meal only is made up of a glass of tea, kolak, coffee, or water, and some
small snacks and/or fruits (including dates). After that, Javanese Muslims
make the ritual ablution and perform the maghrib prayer and only some time
after that—but still before isya and traweh prayers—have their dinner. Notwithstanding
the quite widespread conviction in Java that there are blessings
in sharing a meal together (and especially so after a day of fasting), Javanese
prefer to eat alone or with close relatives only, so as to avoid potential conflicts
concerning social status, prestige, and the like—questions that are
touched upon by way of Javanese eating etiquette. As a consequence, Javanese
only rarely break the fast together with friends and colleagues—a habit
which stands in stark contrast to reports from elsewhere in the Muslim
world.93 Invitations to break the fast are, however, quite often offered, but
these are generally mere basa-basi (J., conventionalities) that should not be
taken at face value. Receiving such an offer one should just politely reply,
“O, yes,” and then forget about it. Should the offer after that get more detailed
and include place and time for the proposed event, however, attendance
is expected.
Although Javanese generally feel more or less awkward eating in the
presence of other than very close relatives, there is one event that eliminates
this discomfort: the collective breaking of the fast (J. mbuka bareng, I. buka
bersama) in the mosque. A few days before the commencement of Ramadan
in Yogyakarta one year, the local mosque official (I. takmir), Mas Yunus,
arrived at my house and handed me a list of dates and names that the Ramadan
committee (I. panitia Ramadhan) in our neighborhood had agreed upon
for the organization of this collective breaking of the fast. As I found my own
name in the line corresponding to the 19th of Ramadan, I was further instructed
that I was supposed to bring twenty five boxes of food and as many
with snacks to the mosque approximately half an hour prior to sunset on the
correct date. This tradition of buka bersama is shared by both modernists and
traditionalists and is, as far as I know, spread throughout Java. The underlying
principle behind this custom is that more unfortunate Muslims must be
93 Buitelaar (1993: 59), speaking of the Moroccan way of fasting, says that “[i]deally, close
relatives share breakfast at least twice a week [during the month of fasting]. [...] Ramadan is also
the time to invite friends over for breakfast [i.e., to break the fast]. Such invitations render the
host ajr [religious merit].”
provided for with food and drink—the Ramadan committee ensures that there
is sweet tea and drinking water each night—for breaking the fast in mosques.
An additional gain of the practice is that the local residents get to know each
other better, and thus develop a sense of togetherness. The cookies, moreover,
are often left to the Koran reciters that spend a substantial part of the
night in the mosque. As the 19th of Ramadan turned up, my wife and I spent
the better part of the day frying lele (I., a kind of freshwater catfish), cooking
rice, folding paper boxes, and making cookies.
It is noteworthy that the word used in Java and elsewhere in Indonesia
for breaking the fast is buka. This word literally means ‘to open’ and is generally
used in profane contexts (open the door, open the window, etc) only,
and has no connection to Arabic (where the breaking of the fast is know as
fuçt¢ur and the breakfast itself as façt¢ur or ifçt¢ar).94 This contrasts starkly with
other words used in connection to the month long fast: sahur, imsak, tarawih,
idul fitri, and fidyah for example, which all show a direct ‘Indonesianization’
of the Arabic. Admittedly, the very terms for fasting in Javanese and Indonesian
(J. pasa, I. puasa) are of Sanskrit origin, although the Arabic derived
shaum and siyam occasionally are used too.
Let us return to the fast. After the maghrib prayer and the subsequent
dinner, it is not uncommon for Javanese Muslims to feel bloated. In fact,
many fasting Muslims have informed me that their hunger and thirst, which
have haunted them for the last hours before sunset, immediately disappears
after a glass of kolak and a piece of gorengan or a couple of dates,95 but that
they cannot reject a substantial dinner after that. My own experience is quick
to support such statements. Once the maghrib prayers have been performed, a
plate of steaming rice, freshly cooked vegetables, and some side dish naturally
seems attractive. However, Javanese Ramadan buka meals are not as
“lavish” as those described by Buitelaar in Morocco, and neither do the Javanese
“indulge in excessive consumption” after sunset during the month of
fasting.96 Instead, the buka meal in Java is just like any other regular dinner
during a non-Ramadanic month; it is just that bodies which have been denied
any food or drink for over fourteen hours react slightly different from bodies
which have not experienced this. The bloated feeling thus has a medical explanation,
and is not to be referred to unreasonable ingestion. The commonly
held idea that Muslims indulge in extreme feasts and spend the entire night
by eating and drinking during Ramadan is not supported by the Javanese
As that bloated feeling is about to evaporate, the mosque speaker system
starts to crackle again and the muezzin announces by way of the adzan
that it is time to perform the isya and the subsequent special Ramadanic
94 Occasional usage is also made in Arabic of the term taôj³l (I. takjil).
95 Or, rather, after one, three, or five dates, since odd numbers are preferred. (God is odd in the
sense He is One.)
96 Buitelaar 1993: 58.
traweh prayers. By that time, the clock indicates somewhere between 6.35
p.m. (May) and 7.10 p.m. (January) in Blora, and people have a few minutes
to make up their mind as to whether they are going to join the congregational
prayer in the neighborhood mosque or not. Given that the traweh prayers are
of such immense importance to Javanese Muslims, a special section will be
devoted to them below.
If Ramadan is the most important ritual to Javanese Muslims, then the traweh
prayers are definitely that ritual’s most crucial ‘sub-ritual.’ Indeed, to some
Javanese, Ramadan is identical with these supererogatory nightly prayers:
“Ramadan without sholat traweh,” I was repeatedly told, “is just not Ramadan.”
The other way around is also true, for there exists no traweh prayers
outside the month of fasting. During Syaban in 1999—when my first Ramadan
in Java drew close—friends time after time reminded me on the magnitude
of the impending traweh prayers, and how they looked forward to perform
these prayers again. Newly convinced then that this nightly Ramadanic
ritual was of great significance to (Javanese) Muslims,98 I decided to visit
different mosques each night during Ramadan that year in order to follow the
traweh prayers, which I also did with the exception of a few nights when I
had other engagements. It was then I realized that people who never visit
their local mosque during the rest of the year show up in great numbers for
the traweh prayers, and that people who usually are lax in their performance
of the five obligatory daily sholat come along in order to perform these nonobligatory
prayers. Mosques are consequently often crowded during the
nights of Ramadan, and additional straw mats outside the actual mosques are
frequently required in order to meet the sudden increase in demand of
mosque space. It is not only men who show up for these prayers; women and
children at times make up for half of the congregation during these nightly
sessions. I thus initially appreciated the supererogatory prayers as expressing
a strong Muslim unity, in that they gathered together large portions of the
Muslim community. When I scratched on the surface of this manifestation,
however, I found differences in ritual detail among certain groups of Muslims.
The main issue between them was the number of raka’at (I., A. rakôah,
pl. rakaô¢at, units) to be performed in the traweh prayers.99 I thus find it legitimate
to dwell on these prayers at some length here.100
97 Parts of this section have been published earlier in the journal Indonesia and the Malay World
(M¦oller 2005), and are included here with the permission of the editors of that journal.
98 “Newly” because knowledge and appreciation of Islamic rituals are hardly gained through
following classes in Islamic- or religious studies in the West.
99 For another discussion on different opinions regarding the ‘correct’ number of rakaô¢at to be
performed in a different context, see Lambeck 1990: 30ff. Lambeck discusses the Friday prayer
in Mayotte (Comoro Islands), and shows that Muslims there by tradition have performed six
The tar¢aw³®h (A., I. tarawih, J. traweh) prayers are performed only during
Ramadan: sometime after the obligatory night prayer (A. ôish¢aé, I. isya)
but before the time of the nocturnal meal (A. ims¢ak, I. imsak). In Java, they
are performed congregationally in the mosque immediately after the isya
prayers, whereas those preferring to perform them in solitude may do that
later. As we have seen previously in this work, the practice of sholat traweh
is not mentioned in the Koran. It was, however, the practice of the prophet to
perform such prayers, and various traditions seem to indicate that he performed
no more than eight raka’at of them, and that he did so initially in the
mosque and later in his house. The reason for this latter state of affairs is said
to be that he was worried that the young Islamic community would come to
regard the traweh prayers as obligatory—something that would substantially
burden the umat. Muhammad thus decided to carry out his tar¢aw³®h prayers in
solitude at home, and the practice has come to be regarded by ulama as sunat
muakkad (I., confirmed non-obligatory act). When the prophet had deceased
and ôUmar bin al-Khaçtçt¢ab had become Islam’s second caliph (A. khal³fah)
and commander of the faithful (A. am³ru l-muémin³n), things changed in
relation to the tar¢aw³®h prayers. Instead of letting the Muslim community
perform these supererogatory prayers individually, he arranged congregational
performances of them in the mosques, and proposed that the number of
units be increased to twenty three. There are no reports of contemporaneous
protests to this decision.
As stated above, Javanese Muslims regard the traweh prayers to be of
immense importance, and these prayers constitute perhaps the most important
Ramadanic ritual as far as they are concerned. As such, many Javanese tend
to regard the performance of these prayers as wajib (I., obligatory, A. w¢ajib),
even if they on some level are aware that such is not the case. The paradoxical
result of this is that Javanese mosques are at their fullest when a nonobligatory
ritual is to be performed. I recall one night in a relatively small
and extremely crowded mosque in Yogyakarta when the imam had to stand
up after the isya prayers (but before the actual traweh) to address the congregation.
“Honored ladies and gentlemen,” he said in the characteristic overly
polite Indonesian way, “let us remember that the performance of the tarawih
prayers is defined as sunnah according to Islamic law (I. syariat Islam). We
are thus not compelled (I. diwajibkan) to perform these prayers,” he continued,
“and if we decide to do it anyway, we do not need to attend the congregational
prayer in the mosque, but may perform them at home.” During this
short address he also drew attention to the idea that parents are obliged (I.
diwajibkan) to care for their children, and that obligations need to be taken
prayer cycles at this occasion (that is, the regular noon prayer plus two extra rakaô¢at) whereas
modernist influenced Muslims argue that the correct number should be only two (i.e., that the
Friday prayer substitutes—not supplements—the noon prayer).
100 Notably, Buitelaar has very little to say about the tar¢aw³®h prayers in Morocco (e.g. 1993: 60,
61, 93), probably due to the unfortunate combination of the facts that she, as a woman, had
limited access to the religious lives of the men, and that women rarely visit mosques in Morocco.
care of satisfyingly before any journey of additional and devotional acts can
be embarked upon. Consequently, it is perhaps better, the imam proposed in
his refined criticism, for mothers of infants to stay at home with their babies
than to bring them to the mosque where they necessarily either will be breastfed
or left screaming—something that in turn will disturb the rest of the congregation.
As far as I could observe from my position in the mosque, no one
deviated from the traweh session that night, but that the message had got
through was shown the following night when the congregation (especially the
female part of it) was perceptibly smaller. Some people I spoke to also acknowledged
the wisdom of the imam in this respect.
The main street of Blora with the minaret of the town mosque at the back. Compare
with the picture on page 330.
A majority of the mosques and inhabitants of Yogyakarta are modernist
in their religious orientation, and I was thus for quite some time unaware of
the tensions that can arise between modernists and traditionalists in respect to
the number of raka’at to be performed. It was only as I (during my tarawih
tour in 1999) found myself in a traditionalist Nahdlatul Ulama mosque in the
outskirts of Yogyakarta that I realized that differences in ritual practice play a
visible and important role in the performance of these prayers. As it happened,
after eight raka’at the man right in front of me discreetly left the
mosque, as did a few others further back. At that moment I was perplexed
and wondered why they had no intention of following the additional three
raka’at of witir prayers (to be discussed below). More surprises were to come
shortly: instead of the concluding witir prayers I was prepared of, the imam
continued with yet another twelve raka’at of tarawih, and only after that
announced that three raka’at of witir were to be carried out. As during any
other Ramadanic night in the mosque, I attracted some post-traweh attention
that night, and some of those courageous enough to talk for a while explained
that ‘Muhammadiyah people’ (that is, modernists) only perform eleven
raka’at (eight tarawih plus three witir) during Ramadan, whereas ‘NU people’
(traditionalists) like themselves perform twenty three (twenty tarawih
plus three witir). Later I also noticed that some Muslims left modernist
mosques after eight raka’at too, thus ensuring themselves the opportunity of
performing twelve additional raka’at at home before concluding with the
three units of witir. The modernist conviction is backed up by the practice of
the prophet himself, whereas the traditionalists rely on the consensus and
collective wisdom of previous ulama.
This difference of opinion between modernists and traditionalists naturally
disturbs the Muslim community and the social and inner solemnity
many Javanese search for during Ramadan, just as we saw the rukyat-hilal
debate did above. Not few Javanese Muslims with insufficient knowledge of
the causes to the problem tend to uncritically stick to ‘their’—or rather, their
surrounding’s—habits and ritual practices, with verbal slandering and defamation
as results, so as to assure that little or no progress in the matter is
made. Such slandering and defamation is often, however, restricted to closed
parties and only rarely turn into ugly public disputes. Many mosque officials
and prayer leaders in Java tend to have a wider intellectual horizon in this
respect, which my first Ramadanic visit to the town mosque in Blora is witness
of. As I entered the mosque—some time prior to the isya prayers in
order to get a place in one of the front rows—the takmir (I., mosque official)
immediately greeted me, and made inquires about my presence there. When I
told him I was there for the tarawih prayers, he invited me to take a seat on
the floor. “The imam here performs twenty three raka’at,” he immediately
told me as if he knew of my interest, “but you, and everyone else, are of
course free to go whenever you want to.” He further explained that most
visitors to the town mosque in Blora are traditionalists, although a substantial
number of modernists leave after eight units.
A traweh dispute in Blora
In my kampung in Blora, I found out, by talking to Pak Hasan, that there had
been serious polemics and antagonism between defenders of the two standpoints
in the raka’at debate a couple of years prior to my arrival there. Key
figures in this polemic were Pak Hasan himself, a traditionalist kyai and the
imam of a newly established musholla in the neighborhood, and Mas Surya, a
student at the National Institute of Islamic Studies (IAIN) in Yogyakarta. I
never had the opportunity to meet Mas Surya in person due to the fact that he
no longer lived in the kampung when I first heard about the polemic. I came
to understand, however, that he had come under modernist influence during
his studies in Yogyakarta, and that he had tried to transfer those newly ac@
quired influences to his native and traditionalist area. His main object of
criticism in this regard became Kyai Hasan, who recently had established his
own small traditionalist musholla in the neighborhood. People were aware
that a traditionalist interpretation of Islam was delivered in this prayer house,
and no one had any problems with that since most of the residents indeed
were either traditionalists themselves, or indifferent to the modernisttraditionalist
polemic. This meant that twenty three raka’at were performed
during the traweh prayers; that lengthy zikir sessions on occasion followed
the regular sholat; and that additional traditionalist rituals could be expected.
Living only a few houses away, Mas Surya could not accept this, and he
probably felt that the local residents were deceived by the traditionalism of
Pak Hasan. Consequently, he made contacts with Kyai Hasan and presented
his modernist visions and criticized the backwardness of the Javanese traditionalist
Islam. According to Pak Hasan, the student had told him that performing
twenty three raka’at during the traweh prayers was nothing but syirk
(I., grave sin), and that he’d better perform eleven raka’at only. The modernist
argument was not new to Pak Hasan, and he could thus present his critic
with the standard traditionalist rationales without much hesitation. With no
more to add to the discussion at that moment, Mas Surya left the small prayer
house—and with that also the polemic. Next time he came back to Blora
from Yogyakarta, however, he brought with him a book on traweh prayers—
advocating the performance of eight raka’at, of course—to Kyai Hasan. According
to the latter, the young student also began to spread bad words about
the Kyai in the neighborhood. Being a man of letters, Pak Hasan read the
traweh book, but found it to be of little or no use, and full of what he conceived
of as straightforward errors. This book was quickly shown to me by
Pak Hasan (as he still had it) and I noted that it was a translation of an Arabic
text that I had never seen before in bookstores in Java. The kyai did not let
me look in it—let alone photocopy it—, however, as he did not want to “lead
me astray too” and I can consequently not give an account of its contents
here.101 Pak Hasan was very displeased by the fact that he still had the book
in his house, as he was afraid one of his children some day would pick it up.
Consequently, he had asked his critic to recollect it, but this had never happened.
(Pak Hasan refused to throw it away as it still was a piece of religious
scholarship (albeit astray) in his eyes.)
Some time passed by, and Mas Surya did not change his opinion, and
Pak Hasan too stuck to his traditionalist view. An already tense relationship
thus grew even tenser. As Pak Hasan and I tried to reconstruct the event—
shortly after the Bali bombings in 2002—the kyai pictured it as if he was
‘terrorized’ (I. diteror) by this young man, and the whole uneven situation he
had created. As Surya refused to listen to Pak Hasan’s arguments and discreet
slandering went on, the kyai finally decided to publicly denounce his
101 I tried, of course, to find this book elsewhere, but without success.
critic and elaborate on his own view in a Friday sermon. Lucky enough, Pak
Hasan had kept this handwritten sermon, and I was able to photocopy it.102
In this sermon, Kyai Hasan presents sholat traweh as it was performed
during the time of the prophet, during the reign of Ab¢u Bakr, and during the
reign of his successor, ôUmar. He also discusses the opinions of subsequent
ulama (especially Sh¢afiô³ scholars), and presents the arguments and argumentations
of those advocating the performance of eight raka’at. The initial part
of this text is in line with standard ideas about the evolution of the tarawih
prayers, and we are told about how Muhammad initially used to perform his
tarawih in the mosque but how he later secluded himself at home in order not
to let the tarawih prayers become obligatory for the Islamic community. We
are also told in this section that the tarawih prayers pretty much remained
like this during the reign of Ab¢u Bakr. ôUmar, however, did not like to see
how Muslims performed these prayers for themselves or in small groups in
the mosques, and suggested that they be performed together in the mosque
under the leadership of one imam. He further stated that they should consist
of twenty three raka’at. Here the view of Pak Hasan begins to diverge from
standard traditionalist scholarship, because he states that ôUmar must have
known how many tarawih units the prophet used to perform, and that he
would not order his community to perform twenty three raka’at unless he
was sure it was the custom of Muhammad to perform them in that number.
Kyai Hasan also states that the companions of the prophet (A. aâ-âa®h¢abah, I.
sahabat) had reached a consensus (A. ijm¢aé, I. ijmak) in regard to this number,
and that it thus is a part of the Islamic law (A. shar³ôah, I. syariat) and
obligatory to follow. In other words, if nightly prayers do not consist of
twenty (plus three) units, then we are not talking about traweh prayers, but
about something else. Concerning the hadits related by ‘Aisyah in which it is
reported that the prophet never performed more than eight nightly raka’at
during Ramadan or any other month, Kyai Hasan agrees that this hadits is
sound (I. sahih, A. âa®h³®h) and that the statements of ‘Aisyah cannot be denied.
However, he ponders upon the type of sholat this hadits has in mind. Is
it really sholat tarawih? Or is it sholat witir? Or sholat tahajud (another supererogatory
nightly prayer), perhaps? Or yet some other sholat sunnah?
That the prophet only performed eight nightly raka’at seems unfeasible to
Pak Hasan who argues that the obligatory nightly prayers (maghrib and isya)
together with the additional non-obligatory sholat associated with these,
consist of no less than thirteen raka’at.103 Moreover, it is repeatedly reported
in the hadits literature that Muhammad also performed other supererogatory
prayers, such as sholat witir and sholat tahajud. The eight units ‘Aisyah
102 Pak Hasan always delivers his sermons in Javanese, but this particular traweh sermon was
written and read in Indonesian.
103 I.e., three obligatory raka’at for the maghrib prayers, two supererogatory raka’at after them,
two supererogatory raka’at before isya, four raka’at for the obligatory isya prayers themselves,
and two additional raka’at after them.
talked about then probably refer to sholat tahajud, Pak Hasan argues, which
indeed may not exceed eight units.
As Pak Hasan generally is a very moderate and tolerant man, I was
quite surprised when I read his sermon: it would be more in line with his
general attitude to allow for multiple interpretations and practices in regard to
the raka’at debate. I was also surprised that he questioned the commonplace
interpretation of the tradition in which the prophet’s wife relates that her
husband never performed more than eight nightly units in his prayers. And,
finally, it took me by some surprise too that he suggested in this sermon that
ôUmar ordered twenty three units to be performed based on his personal
observation of the custom of the prophet. These are rather controversial conclusions.
Traweh in the An-Nur modernist mosque
Let us now turn to the actual traweh prayers as they are performed in contemporary
central Java. As should be clear by now, the execution of these
supererogatory nightly Ramadan prayers cannot be described as a uniform
phenomenon, and this is of course related to the raka’at debate. But this is
not the only reason, for there exists in Java a wide flora of minor differences
in regard to the traweh prayers, and many of these differences are peculiar to
specific mosques, and at times even to specific imam. In describing the sholat
tarawih as they are performed in central Java, I will thus describe the practices
of one modernist and one traditionalist mosque, and add to that discussion
a few peculiarities of other mosques too.
Modernist attitudes and practices in relation to sholat tarawih are generally
quite homogenous. The description below of the tarawih prayers in my
neighborhood mosque in Yogyakarta, Masjid An-Nur, is thus valid for many
modernist mosques in Java.
As the muezzin announces (by way of the call to prayer) that the time
for the obligatory isya prayers is in, people in the neighborhood start to get
ready. They do not hurry, however, as they know the imam and the muezzin
will let some time—longer than usual—elapse between the adzan and the
actual performance of the prayer. At times the muezzin or some other
mosque official will recite—or rather, sing—some salawat (I., praise of Muhammad,
A. âalaw¢at) to fill these elapsing moments.105 In the beginning of
Ramadan the mosque will be crowded and additional straw mats in the parking
lot will be needed to provide space for all worshippers, whereas it will be
104 When I asked him about this a few days into Ramadan (after the traweh prayers) he showed a
surprisingly softer attitude to the problem and simply said that any performance of sholat
tarawih is good, regardless of the number of raka’at, although the performance of twenty
raka’at is “more perfect” (I. lebih sempurna). He would not, however, elaborate on this further
as he regarded it to be a closed topic.
105 In many other modernist mosques, including the large Masjid Al-Fath in Blora, there is no
salawat at all, and many Javanese Muslims feel that the practice is part of traditionalist Islam.
only half full (at best) during the middle and last parts of the month. A one
meter wide green textile separates the mosque into two almost equally large
parts: one front part, and one back part. The front part is generally slightly
larger than its back equivalent, but these measures may be adjusted should
circumstances require so. The front part is the male domain, whereas the
women gather at the back; the green textile is mostly a symbol as people
easily can (and do) see over it into the other realm. Nevertheless, this piece of
cloth is regarded as necessary (by both men and women) in order to keep the
two spheres separated during the traweh prayers. It is noteworthy that during
the eleven non-Ramadanic months, no separation fabric is set up in this
mosque; those (few) women joining congregational prayers do so at the back
of the mosque with full visual freedom. As the neighborhood Muslims drop
in, they generally perform two raka’at of sholat tahiyatul masjid (I., A. aââal¢
atu ta®h³y¢atu l-masjid), the non-obligatory but highly recommended
prayers to be performed as one enters a mosque. This done, everybody sits
down and either engage in some small talk with the one sitting next by or
perhaps recite quietly some zikir or parts of the Koran. This is also a time that
may be used for private supplications, or the uttering of statements of thanksgiving
(I. syukur) for being able to fast for the entire day. When the muazzin
feels that he has waited long enough, he again grabs the microphone and
announces by way of a sort of condensed adzan, the iqomah (I., A. iq¢amah),
that the isya prayers are to begin. There is nothing special to these isya
prayers in Ramadan; they are performed just as during the rest of the year,
i.e. consisting of four raka’at. Each raka’at, as always, consists of the recital
of Al Fatihah, the bending of the upper part of the body (I. ruku’, A. ruk¢uô),
the complete prostration (I. sujud, A. suj¢ud), and a variety of more subtle
practices, which can be studied in any regular sholat manual.106 Added to this
is the niat, the intent, which precedes the prayer. As the salam concludes the
isya prayers, members of the congregation may rest for a while, since they
are about to be presented with a kultum, a short Islamic lecture.107 (Some may
also use this time to perform two additional and individual raka’at.) In Masjid
An-Nur, the Ramadan committee makes sure that such lectures are offered
by invited guests every night in connection with the tarawih prayers, and
topics covered in these sermons are generally connected to Ramadanic fasting
or some other branch of Islamic worship. Once this kultum was offered
by a local policeman who told the congregation about the police’s work to
eliminate the usage of narcotics in Yogyakarta, but it is far more common
that the khatib is a local religious authority and the topic explicitly related to
Islamic ritual practices or theological basics. For those who have fasted the
entire day and only recently finished a substantial meal, this kultum offers a
106 See for example Rifa’i 1976 (?), Al Sawwaf 1999 and Zuhri 1956 for a discussion of the
sholat from an Indonesian perspective.
107 Though rare, it happens that this kultum is presented after eight raka’at of tarawih prayers,
but before the sholat witir (see below).
welcome break in activities. It is a time to regain one’s breath after the isya
prayers, and to let the drops of sweat come to a temporary end.108 For kids,
this is a time for play, and Javanese children indeed usually run around both
inside and outside the mosque before, during, and after the kultum. Many try
to follow the prayers, but most run out of patience after a few raka’at and
spend the rest of the time having fun with their friends. This is a rare opportunity
for Javanese children, who generally are not allowed to play outside
the house after maghrib prayers. During Ramadan, however, things are a bit
As the kultum is over, the muezzin raises his voice again: aâ-âal¢ata
sunnata t-tar¢aw³®hi j¢amiôatan ra®himakumull¢ah (A.), which has the approximate
meaning of ‘Let us perform the non-obligatory tarawih prayers in congregation,
in hope that God will extend His Grace on you all.’ Some, but not
all, reply by saying l¢a il¢aha ill¢a ll¢ah mu®hammadur ras¢ulu ll¢ah (A., there is no
god but God, Muhammad is the prophet of God). This is the sign that the
tarawih prayers are about to begin and the entire congregation raises and
starts to mumble individually the prescribed intent for this: uâall³ sunnata ttar¢
aw³hi lil¢ahi taô¢al¢a (A.), i.e., ‘I intend to perform the non-obligatory tarawih
prayers for God, the Exalted.’110 Most Javanese have interiorized this
intent in Arabic, but some just state their personally composed intents in
Javanese. This done, the imam raises his two hands and utters All¢ahu akbar
(A., God is greater), and commences the first raka’at by reading loudly Al
Fatihah and one additional Koranic chapter. What first differs these tarawih
prayers from their obligatory equivalents is that there is no ‘sitting’ between
the second and the third raka’at; instead the imam and the congregation immediately
go on to perform the third and the fourth prayer cycle. As the
fourth raka’at is over and the salam uttered, the congregation may again rest
for a short while. (It is worth mentioning that the word tar¢aw³®h is grammatically
linked to istir¢a®hah, which bears the meaning ‘relaxation’ or ‘rest’; istirahat
in Indonesian.) It is not a complete rest, however, since the congregation
is thought to repeat after the muezzin the following (line by line):
astaghfiru ll¢ahu l-ôa®z³m
astaghfiru ll¢ahu l-ôa®z³m
astaghfiru ll¢ahu l-ôa®z³m
all¢ahu l¢a il¢aha ill¢a llah huwa l-®hayyu l-qayy¢um
rabban¢a f³ d-duny¢a ®hasanah
wa f³ l-¢akhirati ®hasanah
108 It is amazing how inadequately ventilated the majority of the Javanese mosques are. I once
discussed this with a Javanese architect who acknowledged that he rarely could focus as
wholeheartedly as he would like on the prayers, since his mind always was busy thinking about
how one could improve the circulation of the air in the mosque. When mosques are crowded (as
they are during Ramadan and in connection with the Friday prayer), the poor ventilation
becomes especially demanding.
109 See a subsequent chapter for a discussion of the liminality of Ramadan in Java.
110 This is a condensed intention; more extensive versions—stating amongst other things the
number of raka’at to be performed—exist as well.
wa qin¢a ôadh¢aba n-n¢ar
all¢ahumma âalli ôal¢a sayyidin¢a mu®hammad
In English this formula would read:
I ask God the Mighty for forgiveness
I ask God the Mighty for forgiveness
I ask God the Mighty for forgiveness
God – there is no deity save Him, the Ever Living, the Self-Subsistent Fount of all Being
O, our Sustainer! Grant us good in this world
and good in the life to come,
and keep us safe from suffering through the fire.
O, God, bless our leader, Muhammad
Line four and lines five through seven are Koranic injunctions.111
Now the break is over, which the muezzin announces by repeating the
words aâ-âal¢ata sunnata t-tar¢aw³®hi j¢amiôatan ra®himakumu ll¢ah (see above).
The congregation then rises again and performs four more units of tarawih
prayers, following the imam. The subsequent rest is again filled by the abovementioned
formula, and then the tarawih prayers are over. Before dispersing
the congregation, however, the imam will also perform three additional
raka’at of witir (I., A. witr) prayers. The performance of sholat witir has the
status of sunnah within Islamic law, but many ulama have come to regard it
almost as an obligatory ritual act.112 Before the muezzin declares the commencement
of these prayers (A. aâ-âal¢ata sunnata l-witri j¢amiôatan
ra®himakumu ll¢ah), portions of the congregation stand up and leave the
mosque. There are two possible reasons that may explain this: the first is that
those leaving the mosque are traditionalists who feel that the traweh prayers
not yet are concluded. Since they believe that these nightly Ramadanic
prayers should consist of twenty prayer cycles (see below), they intend to
perform an additional twelve raka’at at home, before concluding them with
the witir. But those leaving the mosque after eight cycles may also be modernists
who agree with the imam that the Ramadanic prayers should only
consist of eight raka’at. However, they intend to perform more supererogatory
(but non-tarawih) prayers before they conclude that day’s sholat with
the witir. After witir has been performed, no other non-obligatory sholat are
possible that day.
In Masjid An-Nur, the witir prayers consist of three raka’at that are
carried out in one sequence—that is, without salam after two units. Immediately
after the third raka’at, the imam or the muazzin declares in Indonesian
that the time has come to state the intent (I. niat) for tomorrow’s fast, and he
invites the congregation to do this collectively by the latter repeating the
leader’s words:
111 QS 2:255 and 2:201 respectively. Note that difference in style in this translated passage is due
to the fact that the Koranic quotes are taken from Asad (1980).
112 Al Sawwaf 1999: 199.
Nawaytu âawma ghadin ôan ad¢aéi far®di sh-shahri rama®d¢ana h¢adhihi s-sanati far®d¢an
lill¢ahi taô¢al¢a.
(I intend to fast tomorrow due to the religious duty of Ramadan this year, for God
the Exalted.)
For children this is not only the end but also the culmination of the
traweh prayers, and they seem to compete with each other to see who can
state their intent most loudly. The traweh prayers are thus concluded by a
bunch of kids screaming nawaytu âawma, and so on. In the An-Nur mosque,
the intent is uttered in Arabic only, and once done, the congregation quickly
splits up and people return to their respective homes. (A few Muslims stay
on, however, and start to recite the Koran, but this will be dealt with under a
special entry.)
Since the beginning of the isya prayers, an ample hour has passed by at
this time.
Traweh in the traditionalist Al-Rahman prayer house
Let us now turn to the traditionalist prayer house in my neighborhood in
Blora: Musholla Al-Rahman.113 This is a very small musholla situated in a
narrow lane adjacent to the house of its owner and regular imam. As it is not
a mosque, no Friday sermons are delivered here, and the place is generally
quite calm during the non-Ramadanic months. There is only room for at the
most three lines of worshippers (with seven or eight persons in each row),
and the women have been given an even smaller area to the left of the actual
musholla (in a room that initially did not belong to the musholla, but to the
home of the imam). The male and female sides of the musholla are separated
by a concrete wall, in which a hole has been made for a tiny window.114 As
for the adzan and the iqomah, the practices of this hamlet show no differences
from the modernist practices described above. The salawat filling the
time between them, however, is longer and more musically adorned than the
Yogyakartan salawat. This is due to the beautiful voice of one of the imam’s
grownup sons. This man, Mas Syafi, recites-cum-sings his salawat with extreme
emotional precision and his voice holds a seemingly never-ending
capacity. This competence of Mas Syafi has rendered him a popular performer
of salawat (and reciter of the Koran), and many Muslims in the
neighborhood have learnt by heart long portions of Arabic salawat due to
113 Again, one example suffice here, although references are also made to other traditionalist
mosques when their practices differ from that of Musholla Al-Rahman.
114 In the large (traditionalist) town mosque in Blora, Masjid Baiturrahman, the mosque is—
during Ramadan—divided into a smaller left wing for the women and a larger right wing for the
men. This ensures that women too may perform their prayers in the desirable first sof (I., line, A.
âaff) in the mosque. Some argue (with ®had³thic support) that the most desirable place for women
in the mosque is at the very back, however, and there is thus a tendency that Muslim women
intending to perform the traweh prayers to occupy the backer parts of their left wing first.
them often enjoying the performances of this local genius. Consequently, as
Mas Syafi vocally beautifies the Ramadanic nights just prior to the isya
prayers, men who have already made their way to Musholla Al-Rahman join
in the singing.
After Mas Sayfi has summoned the neighborhood Muslims to the sholat
isya, the imam stands up and loudly pronounces the intent for the prayers,
and this constitutes the first sign that we are in a traditionalist hamlet (as
modernists state the intent silently, if they state it at all). The obligatory isya
prayers are carried out in a rush, and there is no room for any additional sunnah
prayers after that, and neither is there any sermon in the form of a kultum.
115 Instead, the one having shouldered the role of Bil¢al (I. Bilal, the muezzin
of the prophet), in this case Mas Syafi, in a gentle voice recites an extended
supplication in Arabic before raising his voice to a high pitch reciting
the following ‘lines,’ which are answered by the congregation (I. jama’ah):
Bilal: all¢ahumma âalli ôal¢a sayyidin¢a mu®hammad
(O God, bless our leader, Muhammad)
Jama’ah: all¢ahumma âalli wa sallim ôalayh
(O God, bless and grant him salvation)
Bilal: all¢ahumma âalli ôal¢a sayyidin¢a wa mawl¢an¢a mu®hammad
(O God, bless our leader and master, Muhammad)
Jama’ah: all¢ahumma âalli wa sallim ôalayh
(O God, bless and grant him salvation)
Bilal: all¢ahumma âalli ôal¢a sayyidin¢a wa nabiyyin¢a wa ®hab³bin¢a wa shaf³ôin¢a wa
dhukhrin¢a wa mawl¢an¢a mu®hammad
(O God, bless our leader, our prophet, our beloved, our intercessor, our saviour, and
master, Muhammad)
Jama’ah: all¢ahumma âalli wa sallim ôalayh
(O God, bless and grant him salvation)
Bilal: aâ-âal¢ata sunnata t-tar¢aw³®hi j¢amiôatan ra®himakumu ll¢ah
(Let us perform the non-obligatory tarawih prayers in congregation, in hope that
God will extend His Grace on you all)
Jama’ah: l¢a il¢aha ill¢a ll¢ah mu®hammadun ras¢ulu ll¢ah
(There is no god but God, Muhammad is the prophet of God)
While reciting this, the muezzin does not pause between his ‘lines,’ and this
means that the jama’ah has to squeeze in its all¢ahumma âalli wa sallim
ôalayh to the best of its ability: the result is that everybody more or less yell
this formula without any pauses either. And the result of this, in turn, is that
the voice of the muezzin is drowned by all the other voices, and that no one
probably could tell when the session was over, had they not seen the imam
get up from his seated position.116
115 In many other traditionalist mosques there is time for both additional sholat sunnah and
kultum. These practices are thus in no way anathema to traditionalist Islam in Java.
116 The situation is not always this chaotic in traditionalist mosques. In Masjid Baiturrahman, for
example, the situation pretty much looks like its modernist equivalent (as described above) in
this respect. It is however common that that this ‘dialogue’ between ‘Bilal’ and the jama’ah is
present in traditionalist mosques.
As the traweh commences, one is immediately struck by the high
tempo: the different Koranic chapters are recited at such a pace that the
words seem to float into each other, and the recital itself is kept at a minimal
length due to the selection of these chapters (only the shortest are recited).
Moreover, the different sholat positions are only held for a few instances, so
as to make certain that the performance of one raka’at is over before long.
Modernist critics on occasion refer to this high-tempo traweh as sholat
ayam—that is, ‘chicken prayers.’ To watch traditionalists perform these
prayers, they say, is like watching a bunch of chicken picking after grains of
rice in the soil: it is fast, it is a mere reflex, and it is seemingly uncontrolled.
The tempo is high indeed, and before one knows it, two raka’at have already
been carried out and closed by the salam. Whereas the modernists carry out
the tarawih units four-by-four, the traditionalists utter the salam after each
two raka’at. After the first two raka’at the time for relaxation is minimal, as
there only is time for the muezzin to raise his voice and state: aâ-âal¢atu
j¢amiôah (A., let us pray congregationally). The responses to this are multiple:
some say l¢a il¢aha ill¢a ll¢ah, some repeat the words of the muezzin, and others
say nothing at all. After yet another two units, there is a slightly longer pause
in which the congregation under the leadership of the iman recites the following
sub®h¢ana ll¢ah, wa l-®hamdu lill¢ah, wa l¢a il¢aha ill¢a ll¢ah, wa ll¢ahu akbar.
(Glory be to God, and All Praise is due to God, and there is no god but God, and God
is greater.)117
Before the next two raka’at continues, the imam also recites a supplication
that is punctuated by frequent and loud amin.
In such sequels the traweh prayers are then performed until twenty
raka’at have been carried out. If one sequel consists of four raka’at, it would
thus look like this:
1. Bilal: aâ-âal¢ata sunnata t-tar¢aw³®hi j¢amiôatan ra®himakumu ll¢ah (with occasional
and different answers)
2. First raka’at: Al Fatihah (QS 1) plus additional (variable) Koranic chapter
3. Second raka’at: Al Fatihah plus s¢uratu l-ikhl¢aâ (QS 112)
4. Short pause. Bilal: aâ-âal¢atu j¢amiôah (with occasional answers)
5. Third raka’at: Al Fatihah plus additional (variable) Koranic chapter
6. Fourth raka’at: Al Fatihah plus s¢uratu l-ikhl¢aâ
7. A little longer pause: sub®h¢ana ll¢ah, wa l-®hamdu lill¢ah, wa l¢a il¢aha ill¢a ll¢ah, wa
ll¢ahu akbar (thrice), plus supplication
After five such sequels (twenty raka’at), the muezzin announces that it
is time to conclude this nightly session by way of three units of witir.118
117 In other traditionalist mosques or musholla this formula may have a different form. In Masjid
Baiturrahman, for example, one often hears ashhadu an l¢a il¢aha illa ll¢ah, astaghfiru ll¢ah,
all¢ahumma inni aséaluka l-jannah, wa aô¢udhubika mina n-n¢ar (A., I bear witness that there is no
god but God, I ask for forgiveness, O God, I ask for Paradise and protection from the fire).
These are not—in contrast to the practices in modernist mosques and prayer
houses—performed consecutively, but divided into two parts: the first hosting
two units, the second only one. During the last raka’at the three last chapters
of the Koran are recited (QS 112, 113, and 114) in addition to Al Fatihah.
This done, the imam recites yet another extended supplication in Arabic,
before he invites the congregation to recite some or all of the following
phrases repeated (3, 9, 20, ‘infinite’) times:
astaghfiru ll¢ah, li l-muémin¢un wa l-muémin¢at
(God, forgive the believing men and the believing women)
sub®h¢ana ll¢ahu wa bi®hamdih
(Glory be to God, and to Him praise)
l¢a il¢aha ill¢a ll¢ah
(There is no god but God)
wa il¢ahukum il¢ahun w¢a®hidun, l¢a il¢aha ill¢a huwa r-ra®hm¢anu r-ra®h³m
(And your God is the One God, and there is no god but He, the Most Gracious, the
Dispenser of Grace)
l¢a il¢aha ill¢a ll¢ahu wa®hdahu l¢a shar³kalah, lahu l-mulku wa lahu l-®hamdu yu®hy³ wa
yum³tu wa huwa ôal¢a kulli shayin qad³r
(There is no god but God, the One, without any partners, to Him is the kingship and
to Him is all praise, He brings life and He brings death, and He has the power over
all¢ahumma âalli ôal¢a sayyidin¢a mu®hammadin ôabdika wa ras¢ulika n-nabiyyi lummiyyi
wa ôal¢a ¢alihi wa aâ®h¢abihi wa sallim
(O God, bless our leader, Muhammad, Your servant and prophet, the illiterate
apostle, and grant his family and companions peace)
This zikir (I., A. dhikr) varies in form and length from night to night, and it is
up to the imam to recite ‘whatever’ he wants; the congregation listens and
follows. Sometimes entire (but short) Koranic chapters are recited and at
times only certain verses. (The quoted lines above are only a few selected
examples.) Zikir sessions like these are sometimes referred to in Java by the
word wirid (A. wird), and the two terms are often used interchangeably.
Elsewhere wird are usually strongly connected to specific Sufi masters, and
may not be recited without the explicit permission of the relevant shaykh,119
but such usage is (among ‘ordinary Muslims,’ at least) unknown in Indonesia.
118 In some traditionalist mosques, this is the time for pronouncing the intent for tomorrow’s fast,
which thus is done before the witir prayers. Note also that some traditionalists leave the mosque
before the performance of the witir prayers, in order to be able to perform more additional (but
non-tarawih) sholat at home before concluding the day with the witir. Above we noticed a
similar attitude among some modernists who prefer to leave the mosque after eight raka’at. In
larger traditionalist mosques one inevitably also sees modernists who leave the congregation
after eight raka’at have been performed. This thus gives support to Mujani’s idea that mosques
in Indonesia are “inclusive” and that two Muslim groups being involved in a dispute may
perform their rituals together in the same mosque (2003: 134). It is my impression, however, that
if the possibility is present, modernists will go to a modernist mosque and traditionalists to a
traditionalist mosque.
119 Denny 2002.
Some mosques in Java have standardized formulae to be repeated after
the traweh prayers. In such cases the congregation is aware of this since the
local Ramadan committee has let circulate a small pamphlet containing supplications,
zikir, and intents to be interiorized in the neighborhood prior to
Ramadan. One such pamphlet circulating in a neighboring area in Blora during
Ramadan in 2002 suggested the following tarawih supplication (I. do’a
sholat tarawih):
sub®h¢ana l-m¢aliki l-qud¢us
(Glory be to the Sovereign, the Most Holy)
sub®h¢ana l-m¢aliki l-qud¢us
(Glory be to the Sovereign, the Most Holy)
sub®h¢ana l-m¢aliki l-qud¢us
(Glory be to the Sovereign, the Most Holy)
subb¢uhun qudusun rabbun¢a wa rabbu l-mal¢aéikati wa r-r¢uh
(Most Glorious and Most Holy, Lord of the angels and the Spirit)
all¢ahumma innaka ôafuwwun kar³m, tu®hibu l-ôafwa f¢aôfu ôann³
(O God, truly You are the Most Forgiving and Most Noble, You love forgiveness, so
forgive me)
all¢ahumma inn¢a naséaluka ri®d¢aka wa l-jannata wa naô¢udhu bika min sakhatika wa
(O God, we ask for Your favors and Paradise, and we seek Your protection from
Your discontent and from the fire).120
When the imam feels that the zikir, wirid, or doa has reached its conclusion,
he goes on to invite the congregation to state the intent for tomorrow’s
fast, first in Arabic and then in Javanese:
Niat ingsun puasa tutuko sedino sesuk anekani ferdhune wulan romadlon ing sak
jerone tahun iki ferdhu kerono miturut dhawuhe Allah (J.).121
This done, the imam or the muazzin starts to sing yet another salawat
and all present sing along, shake each other’s hands, and return home.
Again, around an hour has passed by since the isya prayers commenced. As
in the modernist mosques, some Muslims linger on in the mosque in order to
get ready for the Koran reading session, and schoolchildren flock around the
imam and the muazzin in order to get their signatures in small Ramadanic
schoolbooks, which their teacher in religion (i.e. Islam) later will scrutinize.
A large amount of signatures renders higher grades.122
Here we should also shortly draw attention to a phenomenon known as
tarling in Java. Tarling is short for tarawih keliling (I.) which means ‘cir-
120 I have also heard this supplication in modernist mosques in Java.
121 The meaning is identical to that listed above in connection to the modernist tarawih prayers.
122 These small books cover a wide range of Ramadanic activities that need to be signed and
accounted for: fasting, obligatory sholat, Friday prayers, sholat tarawih, tadarus Al Qur’an
(reciting the Koran), interiorization of Koranic chapters, interiorization of supplications, dawn
lectures, dusk lectures, the payment of zakatulfitri, sholat id, and silaturrahmi. See for example
Hariyoto & Budiyono n.d. Children are thus quite busy during Ramadan.
cling tarawih’ and denotes the practice of local politicians and ulama who
perform their tarawih prayers in different locations each night. These locations
are not necessarily mosques; sometimes offices of the state bureaucracy
are used, sometimes luxury hotels. The idea of these tarling sessions is
to strengthen the bonds of brotherhood (I. tali persaudaraan) felt between
Muslims in the great umat. Thus, the practice is occasionally referred to by
the acronym tarhim (I.), which is short for tarawih dan silaturahim (I., tarawih
and the bonds of brotherhood).123 These tarling or tarhim sessions are
seen as vehicles for a needed rapprochement between the state bureaucracy
and the local population, and various government officials use them to deliver
their ideas and political goals in the kultum. For local ulama there is the
possibility of spreading some perceived orthodoxy during these sessions.
(In the same spirit, some companies organize tarawih nights with all
their employees in order to strengthen the bonds between employer and
employee as well as among the employees themselves. A few mayor national
companies also arrange very popular tarling with famous khatib (I.,
‘preacher’) all over the country during Ramadan. These latter have a strong
flavour of badly concealed marketing, according to the writer.)
As we know, the month of Ramadan may be referred to by the expression
shahru t-til¢awah (A.), or ‘the month of reciting [the Koran].’ The reason for
this is (at least) threefold: firstly, the Koran was first revealed to Muhammad
during Ramadan; secondly, Jibr³l used to recite the Koran together with the
prophet during this month; and thirdly, Muslims around the world recite the
Koran to an unprecedented degree during Ramadan. We should thus not be
surprised to find Koranic recitation in a variety of contexts in Java during
Ramadan. In homes, in mosques, and in study classes the words of God are
continuously recited during this month. Of course, many Javanese Muslims
recite the Koran throughout the year, but there is a noticeable increase in
recitation during Ramadan. Ramadan is also a favored occasion for a complete
Koran recitation (from beginning to end). In non-Ramadanic contexts it
is more common to recite certain parts of the Holy Book, without feeling any
obligation to perform the entire recitation. This, again, is the result of the
practice of Muhammad and the archangel Jibr³l.124
123 Note that tali persaudaraan is an Indonesian translation of the Arabic derived silaturahmi or
silaturahim (as discussed elsewhere in this work).
124 Of course, complete recitations occur in non-Ramadanic contexts too. One of my former
lecturers in contemporary Indonesian literature, for example, acknowledged that he routinely
recited the Koran from the first chapter to the last. Sometimes he settled for one juz per day, but
not rarely did he recite two, three, or even more juz during one and the same day, and this he did
throughout the year.
In Javanese and Indonesian, reciting the Koran is referred to by either
ngaji, tilawatul Qur’an, or tadarus al Qur’an.125 As the Koran is aptly divided
into thirty parts (A. ajz¢aé, sing. juzé, I. juz)126 many optimistic and
enthusiastic Javanese Muslims have pre-Ramadanic plans to recite the entire
Koran during the month of fasting by way of reciting one juz per day. Although
a substantial number of Javanese do khatam (I., recite the entire Koran,
A. khatamu l-quré¢an) during Ramadan, most of those making plans for it
usually fall behind the schedule after a couple of days and realize the impossible
task it would be to make up for this after a week or two. They may then
continue to recite as long parts per day as they are able of, or just to recite
some of their favorite Koranic passages over and over again. One friend of
mine told me that he would like to recite the entire Koran during Ramadan,
but that he had neither the time nor the needed patience to do so. Instead, he
decided that he would recite the last thirtieth of the Koran, the popular juz
‘amma, each day during the month, since he knew this part quite well and felt
he could recite it without major linguistic obstacles. Those who manage to
stick to their plans of reciting one juz per day will experience a successive
(but slightly irregular) increase in intensity in their recitation. Their travel on
the Koranic road will begin in the long, mellow, and legalistic Medinan chapter
al-baqarah—which in itself consists of more than one juz—, whereas
their journey will end in the short, intense, and powerful Meckan chapters
consisting of only a few lines that conclude the Koran. As Ramadan approaches
its end, this may have a rather suggestive effect on the reciting and
fasting Muslim.
In 2000 (1421 AH) I decided for the first time that I would recite the
entire Koran during that year’s Ramadan. It was after much hardship and
linguistic struggle I found my self in the last week of Ramadan on schedule,
and I was enthusiastically convinced that I would fulfill my task. However, as
three days of the fast remained, I fell seriously ill and could not complete the
undertaking. The following year I was determined to succeed, and had prepared
myself by short but continuous recitations throughout the year. As it
turned out, I reached s¢uratu n-n¢as (QS 114) in the afternoon in the last day of
Ramadan, and was immensely satisfied. Only after that could I understand
what my friends had said earlier about khatam Al Qur’an, and I could understand
why they strove to achieve it year after year. I share with my friends in
this respect an inability to describe the feelings after completing the entire
recitation of the text, and can here just draw the reader’s attention to the fact
that fasting for fourteen hours in a tropical country is in itself quite tiresome.
To add to this—and all the other daily activities—a daily Koran recitation
demanding between one and two hours per day, is rather challenging, all the
125 Of these, only the first is an indigenous term; the second has its origin in the Arabic til¢awatu
l-quré¢an and the third is related to the Arabic verb darasa, which means ‘to study’ or ‘to teach.’
126 Each juzé is further divided into two a®hz¢ab (sing. ®hizb), and these in turn are divided into four
rubô¢at (sing. rubô). See Nelson 2001: 5.
more so since the recital is carried out aloud (which results in dry throats).
When the month long exercise then comes to an end, one cannot but feel
The complete recitation of the Koran during Ramadan can be guaranteed
in a majority of Java’s mosques. There, Ramadan committees or mosque
officials usually set up schedules for the Ramadanic recitation and engage
local Muslims known for their recitation abilities and love of the Koran.
These are the ones lingering on in the mosque after the tarawih prayers, and
those who each night have loads of cookies and sweet tea at their disposal. In
some mosques, like the modernist Masjid An-Nur in Yogyakarta, schedules
are fixed and each night sees the recitation of two juz. This means that the
entire Koran is recited twice during Ramadan. Other mosques, however, like
the traditionalist Masjid Al-Fath in Blora, have open schedules. The only
thing that is sure in such instances is that the entire recital of the Koran is
guaranteed, and that it probably will be recited in its entirety three or four or
even more times during this month. Recitation is begun after the tarawih
prayers and lasts for a couple of hours. At the time of sahur, the recitation is
begun again and keeps going right up to the time if imsak. After the subuh
prayers have been performed, the Koranic recitation may continue for yet
another hour.
Many mosques also arrange Koranic study groups during Ramadan, as
do some private educational institutes. The mosque study groups are primarily
thought to engage the neighborhood children, but some mosques also
arrange courses for adults. Koranic courses like these, whether for children or
for grownups, may be of two kinds: recitation classes and exegesis classes. In
the first of these, the basics of tajw³d (A.), or the “system of rules regulating
the correct oral rendering of the Quréan,”127 is learnt out. In Java, a system
called Iqro’ (A. iqraé) is often used for this purpose, and students are taken
from the presentation of the Arabic alphabet to complex Koranic structures.
The emphasis is here entirely on the correct recitation of the text, and little or
no attention is paid the meaning of the recited material. In the exegesis (A.
tafs³r) classes, however, Koranic meaning stands in focus. A certain verse or
cluster of verses is selected for each meeting, and the participants are encouraged
to discuss—under the leadership of the imam—possible different interpretations
and meanings. In addition, emphasis is also laid on the reasons for
the revelation (I. asbabun nuzul, A. asb¢abu n-nuz¢ul), and how the Koranic
injunction may be implemented in the daily life of the Muslims.
(For those not willing to join a mosque Koranic class, several TVstations
provide both tajwid and tafsir classes during Ramadan.)
On regional, national and international levels, in addition, Koran recitation
competitions are frequently held in connection with Ramadan. In competitions
like these, both the beauty and the tajw³d correctness of the reciters are
127 Nelson 2001: 14.
judged, and Indonesia has lately achieved honorable positions in several such
international til¢awah competitions.
How can the sudden increase in Koranic recitation during Ramadan be
explained? One explanation that was frequently given to me was the idea that
Ramadanic ibadah (I., A. ôib¢adah, acts of devotion) are rewarded according
to a special Ramadanic scale. The recital of one single Koranic verse or short
chapter in Ramadan may thus equate—in relation to divine rewards—the
complete recitation of the text during any non-Ramadanic month. The attraction
of this is obvious, and some friends have (with this idea in mind) expressed
their conviction that Koranic recitation outside of Ramadan is far
more tiresome than rewarding. According to routine reciters, however, this
idea is grounded in the disbelief that there is nothing more to Koranic recitation
than the uttering of Arabic sounds and the turning of pages. But there is
more to Koranic recitation than that, they say, since non-Ramadanic recitation
ensures that a Muslim may live with and by the Koran. Koranic principles
may be implemented in social life, and Koranic truisms may affect the
heart and mind of the reciter. Moreover, Koranic recitation is thought to bring
calmness (I. ketenangan) and tranquility (I. ketenteraman) to the reciter, and
this is not limited to the month of fasting.
Another explanation that has been given to me by some Javanese Muslims
is the idea that Koranic recitation may carry (I. membawa) private supplications
(I. doa) right up to God. The recitation is thus seen as a vehicle that
transports prayers to the divine realm. Reference is here occasionally made to
QS 2:186 which has it that God listens to and answers the supplications of the
believers,128 but more scripturally inclined Muslims deny a direct relationship
between recitation and the granting of supplications, even with such alleged
legitimizing foundations. Koranic recitation may very well, they argue, have
such positive effects, but it is not an Islamic principle that it automatically
would be so.
From the hadits material, we know that it is said about Muhammad that
he became “more generous than a fast wind” in the month of fasting. Interestingly,
this statement always occurs in connection with the telling of how
Jibr³l came down to the prophet and recited the Koran with him during each
The Prophet was the most generous amongst the people, and he used to be more so in
the month of Ramadan when Gabriel visited him, and Gabriel used to meet him on
every night of Ramadan till the end of the month. The Prophet used to recite the Holy
Qur’an to Gabriel, and when Gabriel met him, he used to be more generous than a fast
wind (which causes rain and welfare).129
128 Note the proximity of QS 2:186 to the Koranic verses laying the foundations for Ramadanic
fasting (QS 2:183-185, 2:187).
129 ®HB 3,31,126. Cf. ®HM 30,5718.
The (direct) relationship between generosity and Koranic recitation is rarely
discussed in Java. But it is something of a truism that Koranic recitation may
evoke sought-after qualities in a Muslim, and that generosity is a fundamental
of Islamic life. (This latter axiom will be discussed under a special entry.) It
is thus possible to argue—and not few Javanese do just this—that the act of
reciting the Koran forms ideal Muslims, or at least plays a prominent role in
this forming.
When it comes to Nuzulul Qur’an (I., A. nuz¢ulu l-quré¢an, the ‘coming down’
of the Koran, the revelation) and Lailatul Qadar (I., A. laylatu l-qadr, the
Night of Power) in Indonesia, some confusion exists. One the one hand we
have the following Koranic injunctions, which seem to imply that Lailatul
Qadar and Nuzulul Qur’an are one and the same event, or that they at least
‘happened’ on the same occasion:
®Ha. M³m.
Consider this divine writ, clear in itself and clearly showing the truth
behold, from on high have We bestowed (anzaln¢ah) it on a blessed night (layaltin
mub¢arakah): for, verily, We have always been warning [man]
On that [night] was made clear, in wisdom, the distinction between all things [good and
Behold, from on high have We bestowed (anzaln¢ah) this [divine writ] on the Night of
Destiny (laylati l-qadr)
And what could make thee conceive what it is, that Night of Destiny?
The Night of Destiny is better than a thousand months:
in hosts descend in it the angels, bearing divine inspiration by their Sustainer’s leave;
from all [evil] that may happen
does it make secure, until the rise of dawn.131
It was the month of Rama®d¢an in which the Quré¢an was [first] bestowed (unzil) from
on high as a guidance unto man and a self-evident proof of that guidance, and as the
standard by which to discern the true from the false.132
In other words, the Koran was revealed during Ramadan, and more precisely
during the Night of Power (A. laylatu l-qadr): Nuzulul Qur’an happened on
Lailatul Qadar, so to speak. On the other hand, we have two distinct celebrations
or commemorations of Nuzulul Qur’an and Lailatul Qadar respectively
in Java (and elsewhere in Indonesia). The first of these is commemorated on
the 17th of Ramadan, whereas the latter generally is thought to fall on the 27th,
or some of the other last odd nights of Ramadan.133 Surprisingly, there exists
130 QS 44:1-4.
131 QS 97:1-5.
132 QS 2:185.
133 See previous chapters for discussions on the dating of Lailatul Qadar.
very little—almost negligible little—written material on this subject, and few
Javanese seems to spend much time or energy reflecting on the relationship
between these two commemorations.
One of the (very) few scholars in Indonesia who have written something
on this relationship is the well-known Muslim liberal, or neo-modernist,
Nurcholish Madjid. Madjid states repeatedly that the commemoration of
Nuzulul Qur’an is a specific Indonesian ritual, that has no equivalent elsewhere
in the Muslim world. This, he argues, is due to the creative ijtihad of
H. Agus Salim, which was approved of by then-President Soekarno.134 In this
view, Nuzulul Qur’an and Lailatul Qadar do not coincide. The former is
commemorated on the 17th of Ramadan, the “day when the true was distinguished
from the false” (A. yawma l-furq¢an), that is, the “day when the two
hosts met in battle” (A. yawma l-taq¢a l-jamô¢an), that is during the war at
Badr.135 Ultimately, it is the ‘coming down’ of the Koran—which nota bene
is the literal understanding of Nuzulul Qur’an—that is commemorated on this
day. Lailatul Qadar, on the other hand, is celebrated or commemorated during
one of the last odd days of Ramadan, most often the 27th. What is ‘left’
for this occasion if the Koran was revealed during the 17th, is the idea that
this night has profound influences on people’s destinies for the coming year,
or even longer (“a thousand months”). On this night, in line with QS 97, the
“angels and the Spirit”136 come down to earth, something which ensures its
prosperousness and importance within the Islamic community.
According to Madjid, the ijtihad of commemorating Nuzulul Qur’an
and Lailatul Qadar separately is a very good thing since it “reminds us [the
Indonesian citizens] of the spiritual values it holds that God participates or
intervenes (in a positive meaning) in our nation’s history.”137 Now, how can
this be? According to Madjid, this is caused by the fact that Indonesia’s day
of independence (August 17th, 1945) coincided with the 17th of Ramadan.138
This is a partial truth: August 17th, 1945, did coincide with Ramadan 1364
AH, but it was not the seventeenth of Ramadan, but rather the eighth. But this
is actually not a problem; the important thing is that seventeen is a ‘semisacred’
number in Indonesia, due to the proclamation of independence in
1945 and all the lustrous celebrations of this date ever after.
On a national level in Indonesia, Nuzulul Qur’an is celebrated or commemorated
with the President and vice President together with cabinet members
and ambassadors from Muslim countries—and parts of the Jakartan
umat, of course—at the Masjid Istiqlal, or Independence Mosque, in Ja-
134 Gaus 2000: 46, 81, 83, 96; Madjid 2002a; Madjid 2002b.
135 References are here to QS 8:41.
136 Asad, whose Koranic translation and exegesis is used throughout this thesis, translates the
phrase al-mal¢aéikatu wa r-r¢u®h simply as “the angels.”
137 Gaus 2000: 47. ...akan mengingatkan kita pada nilai-nilai spiritual di mana Tuhan seakanakan
ikut ambil bagian atau melakukan intervensi (dalam arti positif) terhadap jalannya sejarah
bangsa kita.
138 Gaus 2000: 46, 81; Madjid 2002a.
karta.139 Offered on this occasion is a presidential (political) speech and one
or several sermons delivered by Indonesian ulama. During the Nuzulul
Qur’an commemoration in 2002, President Megawati thus spoke on the dangers
of falling back into an era of (pre-Islamic) ignorance (I. jahiliah, A.
j¢ahil³yah), and offered refined criticism of the United States and its actions in
several Muslim countries during this time.140 On this occasion, the popular
‘preacher’ Abdullah Gymnastiar (Aa Gym)—whom we have discussed elsewhere—
also delivered one of his emotional khutbah. That both the presidential
speech and the various khutbah have been highly invested with political
meaning during these commemorations in Indonesia cannot be denied; I will
not, however, discuss these ‘oral texts’ here.141
On a more local level, the commemorations of Nuzulul Qur’an and
Lailatul Qadar take multiple forms. In my neighborhood in Yogyakarta,
these events rather strictly followed the Jakartan national Nuzulul Qur’an
example, and thus offered speeches and sermons by local politicians and
religious scholars in the neighborhood mosque. In the well-attended peringatan
(I., commemoration) of Nuzulul Qur’an, the splendor and grandeur of the
Koran was always in focus, and the congregation was informed of how the
Koranic values could be applied (I. diamalkan) in its daily life; how the
community should interact with the Koran; how the Scripture was revealed to
the prophet; how it has stood the test of history; etc, etc. The peringatan
Lailatul Qadar, on the other hand, more often dealt with the specific problem
of how to ‘achieve’ (I. memperoleh) this prosperous night, and what one
might expect from it. Added to this were the ubiquitous Javanese small foodbox
containing a few cookies and a glass of water, which could either be
consumed in the mosque during the peringatan itself, or taken home for later
consumption. It was the local Ramadan committee that had responsibility for
both the speeches and the food boxes.
In Blora, a similar pattern with mosque sermons and food boxes could
be discerned. Here, however, I also found that it was all but uncommon to
hold a slametan in connection to Lailatul Qadar. In these rituals—called
maleman or occasionally likuran142—it is not prayers directed to deceased
relatives that stand in focus (as in the ruwahan discussed above), but rather
prayers of various (other) sorts, including such for the successful ‘achievement’
of this prosperous nights. Slametan in connection with Lailatul Qadar
are often held in mosques or prayer houses.
The relationship between Lailatul Qadar and Nuzulul Qur’an is a troublesome
one which only few Javanese seem to ponder upon. When I have
139 It is worth noting that there exists no official commemoration of Lailatul Qadar in Indonesia.
140 Media Indonesia, 2002-11-22.
141 Interested readers are referred to, for example, Departemen Penerangan 1971, Departemen
Penerangan 1977, and Departemen Agama 1982/83.
142 Maleman (J.) is derived from the word malem meaning ‘night’ (the reference is to the night of
Lailatul Qadar), and likuran is derived from likur which has the meaning of ten (reference is
here to one of the last ten days of Ramadan in which Lailatul Qadar is thought to occur).
made inquiries among my Javanese friends on the matter, they have often
been short of any answers, and instead proposed that I should talk to this or
that ulama or kyai. As mentioned elsewhere, this has been a recurring problem
for me in Java: as soon as the Javanese feel that they are talking about a
religious (Islamic) issue they are only peripherally knowledgeable of, their
humbleness has forced them to refer me to someone who ‘knows better.’
(Good) Muslims as they feel themselves to be, they are definitely not interested
in providing some foreigner with inaccurate information about their
already misrepresented religion—an attitude that has often been problematic.
The little information I have been able to accumulate on this topic shows,
however, that the peringatan Nuzulul Qur’an generally is thought to be the
night in which the Koran was bestowed upon Muhammad (on the 17th of
Ramadan), whereas Lailatul Qadar is one of the last odd nights of the month
in which the angels come down to earth and fix destinies for the year to come
and provide divine forgiveness. As this night is thought to be better than a
thousand months, many Javanese Muslims indulge in several supererogatory
rituals during this night. (During the regular traweh prayers, s¢uratu l-qadr
(QS 97) is often recited during the last few nights of Ramadan.) The general
idea is that Lailatul Qadar is the best thinkable night for accumulating pahala
(I., divine reward).
I have repeatedly made inquires about Nuzulul Qur’an and Lailatul
Qadar—and their relationship—on several large Indonesian mailing lists,
including those of Nahdlatul Ulama, Muhammadiyah and Jaringan Islam
Liberal (JIL). Only once, however, has my questions been taken up for discussion,
and then only by one single person. This person, Pak Thomafi, provided
me with the following understanding: the soundest date for the revelation
of the Koran is the 24th of Ramadan, although some say the 17th and
others the 27th. The ‘original’ Nuzulul Qur’an and Lailatul Qadar coincided,
but there is nothing that says that so must be the case during all the subsequent
years. Lailatul Qadar may then occur on one of the last odd nights of
Ramadan, whereas he had no clue from where the Indonesian umat had got
the idea of the 17th of Ramadan as Nuzulul Qur’an.143 He did, however, imagine
that it might be a result of the importance of the 17th of August (1945),
when I mentioned it for him. This Thomafi also stated that commemorations
of Nuzulul Qur’an are not limited to the Malay-Indonesian world; “Egypt,
Morocco, and their neighbors” commemorate it too.144
The disinterest most Javanese show the (diffuse) relationship between
Nuzulul Qur’an and Lailatul Qadar points to the precedence they give to
ritual practice over theological speculations. Indeed, most Javanese are
knowingly of ‘what to do’ on these two occasions.
143 It is noteworthy that I got a similar answer by an editor of the newspaper Republika when I
addressed my questions to their Ramadan column in 2002. (This e-mail is kept by the author.)
Cf. Ash-Shiddieqy 2000: 256.
144 All these e-mails are kept by the author of this work.
The practice of mosque seclusion (A. iôtik¢af, I. iktikaf) during the last days of
Ramadan was strongly recommended by the prophet as a means of drawing
closer to God, and it is even alluded to in the Koran.145 Such seclusion involved
ritual prayer (A. âal¢ah), supplications (A. duô¢aé), Koran recitation,
dhikr sessions, and various other forms of supererogatory devotions. Some
traditions tell of how some of the wives of the prophet accompanied him
during these retreats, and others tell of how they washed and combed his hair.
Women were thus encouraged to engage in iôtik¢af too. This condition might
have contrasted to the pre-Islamic ideals and practices, but it has been argued,
as mentioned elsewhere, that this kind of ritual seclusion possibly antedated
the coming of Islam. Suffice it here to recall the circumstances of the prophet
when he received his first revelation on Mount ®Hir¢aé, which in certain ways
pretty much reminds of the later iôtik¢af ideal.
As a supererogatory way of drawing close to God during the month of
Ramadan, this practice has never, however, received the same appreciation
and number of supporters as have, for example, the tar¢aw³®h prayers. And this
is not peculiar to Southeast Asia, Indonesia, or Java, but seems to be a general
Muslim phenomenon. The result of this is a wide gap between ideal and
practice, or jurisprudence and sociological reality.146
Of the ‘ordinary Muslims’ I have lived among in central Java, none
have performed a complete mosque seclusion reminding of the practice of the
prophet. One reason for this is the lack of time that haunts Javanese Muslims
during the last days of the fast. This is a time that is full of activities connected
to the feast of Idul Fitri, and many Javanese actually spends substantial
amounts of time during this last part of the month of fasting in public
transportation heading ‘home’ (see below). Those who already are at ‘home,’
on the other hand, are busy preparing for the homecoming of geographically
distant family members. Another possible reason for the lack of serious interest
in iktikaf in Java is made up of the fact that this is an individual ritual. The
Javanese are no loners, and to find some kind of privacy outside the own
home is virtually unthinkable: sociability and social abilities are the keys to
Javanese life, and there is very little room for individual activities. Indeed,
too individual individuals are often regarded as suffering from some kind of
disease. Another reason for the disinterest in performing iktikaf is, I believe,
to be found in the fact that the ‘ritual success’ of this practice is hard to
measure. The ritual success of Koranic recitation—which often is an individual
ritual too—is easy to measure: one juz a day and you are on time. The
results and success of iktikaf, on the other hand, are harder to grasp, and some
145 QS 2:187.
146 Bousquet 1978: 280.
Javanese I have spoke to on the topic have expressed their ideas on the vague
(I. samar-samar) character of iktikaf. There are no clear rulings on what to be
done, and most people grow tired of Koranic recitation or zikir sessions after
a couple of hours.
Mosques are not empty, however, during the last ten days of Ramadan.
Whereas it is true that attendance at the traweh prayers decreases in line with
the evolvement of the month, no such decrease is noticeable during and after
the daily obligatory day-prayers, that is sholat luhur (I., A. ®zuhr) and sholat
ashar (I., A. ôaâr). Instead, these prayers are generally still well-attended
during the last part of Ramadan compared to any other month of the year, and
many Javanese also linger on in the mosque for quite some time after the
prayers. Not few in fact take a nap on the mosque floor between luhur and
ashar, and refers to this as a kind of iktikaf, but mosque officials are generally
not in approval of such a practice. In some mosques, signs declaring the
prohibition of mosque sleeping have been put up, in spite of the widely
known fact that prohibition signs (of various sorts) have very little effect in
In some mosques in Java, ‘real’ iktikaf is also practiced, but this is generally
not done by ‘ordinary Muslims’ but rather by pesantren students or
other highly devotional and pious people. As this work in the first hand is not
concerned with the religious lives of that part of the Javanese umat, this is a
topic that by necessity needs to be addressed in another work.
As we have discussed above, the small amount of the zakatulfitri (I., A.
zak¢atu l-fiçtr) has to be paid before the time of sunset on the last of Ramadan.
It is of extreme importance that this ‘tax’ is paid in time, since—I have been
told over and over again—the fast is not valid (I. tidak sah) in the eyes of
God before this is done. And once the maghrib call to prayer announces the
end of the fast on the last day of Ramadan, it is too late to pay the zakatulfitri.
Javanese Muslims are thus wise to assure themselves that they have paid the
special Ramadanic tithe in time. But as the last third of the month is rather
busy, it happens that this sinks into oblivion. Luckily enough then, mosque
youngsters usually wander around their neighborhoods during the last few
nights of Ramadan asking the local residents if they have paid their zakatulfitri
yet. If they already have paid it, “alhamdulillah, praise be to God.” If
not, “let us accept it on behalf of the local mosque.” This practice ensures
that very few Javanese forget to pay their tithe in time; in fact, I have never
heard it happen.
Those who do not wait for the mosque youngsters to come around may
choose to pay their zakatulfitri on their own. They can then pay directly to
the local mosque—most mosques have zakat committees—or directly to an
individual or organization. It is my experience that the Javanese prefer to
direct their Ramadanic tithe to a mosque since they put trust in the ways the
money is handled there, and mosques generally have good ideas of where the
money will be most needed for the moment. Nevertheless, a substantial number
of Javanese also pay their tithe directly to individuals or organizations in
need. Individuals here may refer to unknown beggars on the street or to poor
relatives of the housemaid,147 whereas organizations receiving zakatulfitri
generally are orphanages with relation to one of the major Islamic organizations
in the country. There is a tendency for people who are compelled to pay
fidyah as a compensation for their absent fasting (due to pregnancy, or something
else) to do this to organizations of this kind. Islamic orphanages thus
receive sacks of rice, other foodstuff, clothes, and cash to an unprecedented
degree during Ramadan.
The zakatulfitri is not the only form of charity in Ramadan. Many Muslims
also spend a part of their money as sedekah (I., âadaqah), or supererogatory
charity, during this blessed month. Some rural Javanese have taken advantage
of this situation, as we saw above, and make their ways to urban
centers during the fast, but in minor towns such mass movements are absent.
What we find there, instead, is an increase in tithes to the already existing
beggars. This, in a way, ensures that Ramadan is a ‘blessed month’ (I. bulan
penuh berkah) for them too.
To spend a portion of owns belongings in the interest of the welfare of
the Islamic community is a highly esteemed practice in the Islamic tradition,
and an act of devotion (I. ibadah, A. ôib¢adah) in itself. Both the Koran and
the way of the prophet are quick to support this. Not few Javanese Muslims I
have spoke to on this matter have expressed how they, with their already
strained economic situation, actually cannot afford much supererogatory
charity. Nevertheless, during Ramadan they become afraid that their fasting
will not be accepted by God (I. diterima Allah) if they refuse a beggar. “How
sad would it not be,” a young mother mused, “if the values of fasting (I. nilainilai
puasa) were refused by God (I. ditolak Allah) due to unfounded greed.”
Another friend told me that he did not dare (I. tidak berani) to refuse beggars
during Ramadan. To provide these beggars with some coins did not settle this
man’s mind, however, and he often expressed his worry that he was not sincere
enough (I. kurang ikhlas) in his ways. “What is charity without sincerity?”,
he once asked himself in my presence.
Of those who can spend some money on sedekah during Ramadan, not
few like to let their surroundings know that such is the case. There is thus
some ‘showing off’ during Ramadan in connection with the payment of supererogatory
tithes, and connected to this is the concept of gengsi (I., pres-
147 I once encountered an old man in Blora who walked around the town knocking on wealthy
people’s houses in order to ask for their zakatulfitri, but this is not standard procedure. Some
very wealthy businessmen are, however, known to every year allocate a large sum of their
money for distribution in the neighborhood. Such a happening attracts poor people from quite
some distances.
tige). Few scholars on Javanese culture have drawn attention to this gengsi,
and those who have done it have generally done so way too warily. Gengsi is
of extreme importance to the lives of the Javanese, something which they
themselves are very well aware of. To show off (I. pamer, memamerkan) is a
way of producing gengsi, and wealthy Javanese are able of producing substantial
amounts of prestige during the month of fasting. Javanese reactions to
such showing off are multiple: some are impressed and thus reinforce the
produced gengsi, whereas others—a minority perhaps—experiences something
between dislike and disdain. The occasional Western observer should
probably belong to the latter group: to listen to a wealthy woman brag about
her new three hundred dollar gold necklace in front of a gathering of women
who cannot even dream about a new shirt for the Lebaran feast concluding
the fast, is pleasant in no way. However, as she brags about the new piece of
jewelry in Ramadan, she also perhaps hands out some pieces of textiles or
cash to the more ill-fated women. This too is showing off, and all present are
impressed that she can afford to provide everybody with something useful.
And the wealthy woman herself will then ‘show off’ once more in the presence
of her likewise wealthy friends in that she will tell them all that she
spent so-and-so much money on their more unfortunate sisters. And that will
render her gengsi in those circles too.148
People with some public influence may attract local media when s/he
spreads money around her/him in Ramadan, and newspapers thus often host
pictures of politicians (or their wives), artists, and businessmen (or their
wives) distributing cash money or other essentials at Muslim orphanages and
similar places during this month. Apart from accumulating regular gengsi,
this also ensures a general picture of the person involved as a pious Muslim
ever ready to care for the community. When I talked to Kyai Hasan about this
phenomenon, he sighed and recited the following:
in tubd¢u â-âadaq¢ati faniôimm¢a hiy
wa in tukhfuh¢a wa tuét¢uh¢a l-fuqar¢aéafahuwa khayru lakum
wa yukaffiru ôankum min sayyi¢atikum
wa ll¢ahu bim¢a taômal¢una khab³r.
He then translated it freely into Indonesian for me. An English translation
reads as follows:
If you do deeds of charity openly, it is well;
but if you bestow it upon the needy in secret, it will be even better for you,
and it will atone for some of your bad deeds.
And God is aware of all that you do.149
148 Note that it is not only Javanese women who are interested and preoccupied by notions of
gengsi; Javanese men are too. Nevertheless, it is my impression that gengsi is more important to
women than to men in Java.
149 QS 2:271.
It was thus clear that he very much disliked the practice of showing off
sedekah, but that it nevertheless in Koranic language was “well” to do just
that. As he earlier had argued in connection with the ruwahan ritual meal,
rituals involving money should be secret as far as possible,150 and he told me
that he was convinced of the superiority of performing such deeds in full
secrecy. Secret sedekah, however, attracts no gengsi at all, and is hardly appealing
to many Javanese Muslims, as a result.151
During the last part of Ramadan, most working Javanese receive tunjangan
hari raya (THR, I., holiday alimony) by their employer. This tunjangan
may be seen as a kind of sedekah, but is actually not optional for the
country’s employers since the Indonesian government requires from them
that this alimony is paid to all their workers. The government has also set up
a minimal amount to be paid in this respect.152 Whereas the THR proper is
paid in cash money, many employers also give their employees presents of
different kinds during the last few days of Ramadan. These generally consist
of various foodstuffs (that might come in handy as the feast of Lebaran is
approaching): a packet of coffee, some candy, a bottle of condensed milk, a
kilogram of sugar, cooking oil, a couple of bananas, etc. Such bingkisan hari
raya (I., holiday parcels) may also be bought in any regular store during the
second half of the month, and be given or sent to friends, relatives, or business
associates. In the latter case, the line between holiday presents and
bribes is a delicate one (as is the case with Christmas gifts in certain contexts
in the West).
As Indonesian Muslims enter the last third of Ramadan, they start to get
ready not to go to the mosque and engage in iktikaf, but rather to undertake a
journey to their parental homes. Since many Indonesians live and work far
outside their native area (I. perantauan), this means that millions of people
will make substantial journeys during this time. Indonesians refer to this
150 The regular Indonesian term for secret is rahasia. Here, however, Kyai Hasan used sirriyah,
an Indonesianized form of the Arabic sirr³yah (secret), so as to draw religious legitimacy to his
151 The performance of the most gengsi generating Muslim ritual, the hajj or pilgrimage to
Mecca, is occasionally criticized by more liberal and pragmatic Muslims. They argue that the
money spent by the more than two hundred thousand Indonesian Muslims who perform the
pilgrimage each year could be better spent on national education, infrastructural development,
and the like. Such criticism meets little positive response, however.
152 Generally, these governmental decrees are obeyed well in Java, but one can each year read in
local newspapers about worker demonstrations and the like, caused by the inability or
unwillingness of their employer to pay this tunjangan hari raya.
practice as mudik.153 Mudik involves all layers of (urban) society, and it is all
but uncommon that non-fasting Muslims and non-Muslims mudik too.
The Indonesian government always prepares and makes available large
amounts of vehicles for public transports during this mudik time. In 2002 the
Minister of Transportation (I. Menteri Perhubungan) could thus report that
more than 30,000 busses, some 250 train cars, and 150 ships and vessels
stood ready for those who would mudik.154 To this should be added all the
domestic flights (which inevitably are fully booked around Lebaran) and
additional war ships that may be used should there be need to do so. Moreover,
many large companies rent their own buses for their employees (and
their families) during this time, so as to spare them the trouble of finding (and
buying) tickets. (Needless to say, this is an appreciated Ramadan present.)
Due to all these vehicles—to which should be added a substantial number of
private and rented cars—the mudik time in Indonesia is one of chaos. Busses
are full, trains are crowded, ships are delayed, and, characteristically, tickets
are since long sold out. In fact, tickets are in the hands of calo (I., ticket
scalpers) who demand outrageous sums of money for the sought-after travel
documents; it is not uncommon that tickets are sold for the price of three,
four, or five times the regular ditto in connection with the Lebaran. If one
finally—and expensively—gets a ticket, new surprises await: severe traffic
jams, occasional (fatal) accidents, delays, and criminality along the road. In
East Java alone, Media Indonesia reported in 2002 that there were no less
than 39 predictable troubled spots (I. titik rawan) for traffic accidents, 40 for
traffic jams, 31 for erosion, 32 for flooding, 25 for insufficiently working
bridges, 21 for damaged roads, and 30 for criminality.155 To these numbers
should be added all the non-predictable spots.
With all these hardships—to which can be added the tiring heat, humility,
pollution, etc—one is surprised that Indonesians still are as eager to
mudik as they are. For they really are eager: no Lebaran without mudik, is a
common phrase in Indonesia.156 And it seems, in fact, that many Indonesians
semi-secretly enjoy to endure the hardships of mudik. One student friend of
mine in Yogyakarta used to say that even if he could afford it, he would not
take the plane back to Medan, North Sumatra. Instead, he would still choose
to journey for several days with defective buses, and to cope with all the
inconveniences along the road such a trip offers. “Mudik should be a bit
tough,” he said. The idea behind such a statement—which is all but rare—
seems to be that the final arrival is much more enjoyable if it has been ante-
153 Most Indonesians who work and live outside their native areas live, of course, in Jakarta. The
time around Lebaran is thus a pleasant time to visit the capital, if there ever is one. In 2002, the
daily Kompas reported that an estimated 11 million Jakartans (!) would mudik that year
(Kompas, 2002-12-02. See also Kompas, 2002-12-01). This number is doubtful, however.
154 Kompas 2002-12-01.
155 Media Indonesia, 2002-11-20.
156 It is interesting to note that the prolonged economic crisis has had very little effect on the
practice of mudik.
dated by severe hardships. (In a way then, mudik has a similar role as Ramadanic
There are at least two major reasons why people in Indonesia enjoy
mudik. One is that they may meet up with relatives and friends in their parental
area, and ask them for forgiveness. As Ramadan comes to an end, fasting
Muslims hope for divine forgiveness, and are eager to complement that with
human forgiveness too. They thus make their ways back to their places of
origin in order to extend their requests for forgiveness to their parents and
elderly relatives, at the same time as they—by their mere presence—render
possible younger relatives to ask to be forgiven. As their already deceased
relatives are likely to be buried in the same area, they may also, by way of
nyekar, ask them for forgiveness. The second reason is frankly to show off.
Most people who have worked hard for the last year in the capital or some
other urban center are eager to proclaim that they have been successful.
Compared to those who have stayed behind in the native area, they are indeed
likely to be quite well off. Oleh-oleh, or (small) gifts, to all relatives and
friends in the neighborhood are required by way of culture, and not few also
endow their parents and closest relatives with some cash money. It is also
expected that the returnees will spend substantial amounts of money while
they stay in their native areas. The expectations on those homecoming from
the capital (or some other major city) are thus often high, something which
on many of the returnees have a stressing effect. Life in the capital has perhaps
not been that promising, and there is a slight risk that they may not live
up to the expectations. In order to render sufficient amounts of gengsi (J.,
prestige) back home, the pawnshop service (I. pegadaian) is ever ready to
give a helping hand. Has one not been able to buy one’s own car even after
three or four years in the capital—which is often expected—, then one can
perhaps rent one for a week or two and present it as one’s private belonging
back home. The tricks are many. What is of interest to us here is that an important
part of the practice of mudik is the act of showing off (I. pamer, memamerkan).
This in turn has a positive effect on the economy of the rural areas of
Java (and Indonesia), and it is often said that the entire rural economy of the
country to a very large degree is dependent on the yearly mudik.
The month following Ramadan is that of Sawal (J., I. Syawal, A. Shawwal).
In this month, life in Java eventually returns to ‘normal,’ but there are several
rituals and debates taking place in the midst of the Javanese umat before this
can happen. Some of these will be discussed below.
As Ramadan enters its last week, discussions concerned with the dating of
the first of Syawal—and hence the end of the fast—are bound to emerge in
Java. To a large extent, the discussions held during the last days of Syaban or
just preceding Ramadan are repeated in this connection: modernists argue for
a calculation of the new moon in order to settle the date of Lebaran, whereas
the traditionalists are in favor of physical sighting of it. During some years,
this condition results in multiple Lebaran in Java, as the modernists settle for
one day, and the traditionalists for another. The year 2002 (1423 AH) was
such a year.
Muhammadiyah and Persis were determined that the first of Syawal
would occur on Thursday, 5th December, whereas Nahdlatul Ulama (and
other traditionalists) argued that the visual spotting (I. rukyatul hilal) of the
moon was not possible that early. Consequently, they settled for Friday the
sixth to correspond to the first of the new moon. Javanese Muslims became
aware that Muhammadiyah and NU would celebrate the end of the fast during
different days some time prior to Lebaran, and this naturally invited to
debate and discussions. Again, I did not observe any direct confrontations or
heated debates between modernists and traditionalists on this issue, but loud
and frequent criticism was heard within both groups. As with the settlement
of the first of Ramadan, the traditionalists regarded the modernists to deviate
from the way of the prophet, whereas the modernists, in turn, blamed their
opponents for backwardness and for being reality denying. Though these
discussions remained inner-organizational issues, they still visibly disturbed
the fasting community during these last days of fasting. Repeating what was
said a month ago, people (in both camps) wondered how it could be that a
single Muslim community showed such a disunited front, and why Muslims
of different convictions could not agree on one date for the feast of Lebaran.
Again, I also noticed that many Javanese Muslims were not aware of the
underlying factors that caused this discrepancy—many just decided to blame
it on the ‘backwardness’ of the traditionalists, or the ‘oddity’ of the modernists,
depending on personal conviction.
As the last few days of Ramadan ideally should give birth to additional
acts of devotion—including the ‘searching’ for Lailatul Qadar—and the
calmness and tranquility these acts are supposed to grant Muslims, the
awareness during some years that the Indonesian umat will celebrate the end
of the fast on different days, becomes especially disturbing. Muslim leaders
and ulama—both local and national—are, however, quick to point out that
there is no problem in the division of the community in this respect, and they
almost mechanically repeat the common Indonesian mantra that ‘plurality is a
blessing’ (I. kemajemukan adalah rahmat). During the last days of November
in 2002, an official from the Department of Religious Affairs could thus state
that all Indonesian Muslim organizations could accept that there would be
two days for Lebaran that year, since both camps had their own strong rea@
sons for determining the date of the first of Syawal. The daily Kompas quoted
this official as saying that he hoped that “the Muslim community always
should guard over the Islamic unity (I. ukhuwah islamiah) and understand
and respect different opinions concerning the dating of Idul Fitri.”157 Plurality
is a blessing. In Blora, the local Religious Affairs office issued a decree of
eight points concerning the difference in determining the date for Idul Fitri,
and these eight points all came down to one issue: to respect the multiplicity
of interpretations and convictions in respect to the dating of Lebaran.158 Plurality
is a blessing. The head of the local branch of Majelis Ulama Indonesia
(MUI) in Blora, KH Mucharor Ali, also stated that differences in respect to
the dating of the end of the fast should pose no problems to the Muslim
community,159 and similar statements were issued by leaders of various Islamic
organizations and institutions around Java during the last days of
Ramadan this year. Plurality is a blessing; however, it is well disguised, and
indeed so well disguised that it does not even appear to be a blessing to a
majority of the Muslims in Java.
Modernist Muslims in Blora made no big deal out of the fact that they
celebrated the end of the fast one day prior to the majority of the Bloran (traditionalist)
Muslims. In fact, they held back on their celebrations and tried to
not disturb those Muslims who were still fasting. Takbiran (discussed below)
were thus not broadcast by way of the mosque amplifiers during the night
prior to the first of Syawal, but only recited inside the mosques and prayer
houses. There were further no parties of celebrating Muslims going around
town expressing their joy (I. takbir keliling; see also below).160 Instead, the
festivities were held in quietude in the modernist mosques, and I consequently
heard no traditionalist complaining over the activities of the modernists’
Lebaran celebrations. During the day of Idul Fitri itself, the sholat id
(see below) was performed without much noise, and regular (Ramadanic) life
pretty much continued for the majority of the Bloran population during this
day. Naturally, some celebrating Muslims were seen as they made their way
from one point in town to another, but things stayed pretty calm. I also noticed
that modernists waited to congratulate and ask for forgiveness their
traditionalist friends and neighbors until Friday, when the traditionalists also
had broken the fast. A large part of the modernists thus celebrated Idul Fitri
with at least as much enthusiasm and joy during the Friday—although they
performed their sholat id only once (on Thursday morning).
I should here also mention that the environment often has a determining
effect on the day chosen for the Lebaran celebration. One (traditionalist)
family in Blora used to tell me of how one of their relatives who lived in
157 Kompas 2002-11-30.
158 Suara Merdeka 2002-11-30a.
159 Suara Merdeka 2002-11-30b.
160 In Jakarta, the police was ready to prevent Muslim modernists to form such circulating takbiran
parties (Kompas 2002-12-04); no such preventative actions were needed in Blora.
West Java one year arrived in Blora during (as the traditionalists perceived of
it) the last day of Ramadan with a snack in his hand. They were startled: why
did Mas Pranoto not fast? Mas Pranoto too was perplexed: why did his family
still fast? As the story unfolded it became clear the geographically distant
relative had indeed fasted the entire month, but that he, as he now lived in a
modernist environment, had performed the sholat id that same morning in
West Java, and then immediately boarded a bus heading for Blora. What his
new environment thus regarded as the fist of Syawal was nothing but the last
of Ramadan to his old family’s environment. In spite of this condition, he
was still a traditionalist by conviction; it was only his environment that had
caused him to break the fast after twenty-nine days. As Ramadan was over
for him, he did not join the id prayers the following morning, but he did prepare
for a second Lebaran feast that day.
When the sun goes down on the last of Ramadan, the fast is over. This is
proclaimed after the maghrib prayers from every mosque by way of the takbiran:
all¢ahu akbar, all¢ahu akbar, all¢ahu akbar
l¢a il¢aha il¢a ll¢ahu wa ll¢ahu akbar
all¢ahu akbar, wa lill¢ahi l-®hamd
God is greater, God is greater, God is greater
There is no god but God and God is greater
God is greater, and all praise is due to God.161
As I have mentioned above, the Javanese proclaim this formulae from sunset
until the performance of the sholat id some time after sunrise the following
day. The entire night is referred to by the expression malem takbiran (J., the
takbiran night). This night is a joyous night with some sad elements, and
many Javanese Muslims I have talked to about the takbiran have acknowledged
that they have a hard time trying to describe their feelings during this
night. On the one hand, they say, they are happy that the fast is over, as it is
rather demanding to fast for thirty days in a row and as divine forgiveness
and feelings of takwa are hoped for at this time. One the other hand, many
also feel sad that they have to leave Ramadan behind and go on with their
lives. There are no guarantees that any of us will live to see the next Ramadan,
and those omitted traweh prayers and Koran recitation classes are consequently
deeply regretted. These regrets and sad feelings are, however, by
large defeated by their joyous counterparts during this night, and the night is
161 There exists at least two longer ‘versions’ of this takbiran formula. In Bosnia, I have been
told, the initial all¢ahu akbar is repeated only twice (Ask Gasi, personal communication).
at times referred to as the night of victory in Indonesian (I. malam kemenangan).
The only vague Koranic reference to the takbiran is to be found in QS
2:185 which says that the Muslim community should extol God and render its
thanks unto Him. There are as for as I know no prophetic tradition that
speaks of something that could be said to resemble the Javanese takbiran; it
is only reported that Muhammad used to recite this formulae for himself as
he walked to the ô³d prayers. This differs from the Javanese case, where the
takbiran formula is recited through the mosque amplifiers and reaches most
Javanese homes for some thirteen hours consecutively.162 It is the male members
of the community that take turns of reciting this, and especially children
who have interiorized the formula are given prominent places in this enterprise.
As this is the joyous night of victory, the takbiran cries remain enthusiastic
throughout the night, and perhaps even escalate during the last few
morning hours. For those few places in Java where a mosque is far away
from one’s house, special takbiran cassettes are sold in towns throughout the
island (and by some odd reason, new ‘editions’ appear each year).
Mention should here also be made of the circling takbiran parties (I.
takbir keliling). Partaking in these are usually younger men, who thus go
around town on their vehicles (bicycles, motorcycles, cars, trucks, etc.) honking
and screaming the takbiran formula. Often, groups of rural youth make it
into the towns during this night, and there is thus a (negative) ‘rustic’ atmosphere
over it, according to some (urban) Javanese. In Jakarta, streets in the
city center are crowded during the night of takbiran—despite the great number
of Jakartans who have gone mudik—, and the official celebrating of this
night is commonly held at the National Monument in the middle of the capital
with, amongst others, the President and the vice President present. In
2002, the popular Aa Gym delivered a sermon there, and various other artists
also helped to make the night full of joy.163
That the (physical) fast is over is first felt in the morning of the first of Sawal.
People can ‘sleep in’ till 5 a.m. or so, and once they are up and have performed
their sholat subuh, they may eat a plate of steaming rice and some
side dish. It feels odd to have a meal while the sun is up during the first few
post-Ramadanic days, many Javanese Muslims say, and I can only agree.
What has not been ‘allowed’ during the last thirty days is suddenly permissible.
Indeed, it is categorized as sunnah to have something to eat before the
162 When the modernist Muslims in Java celebrated Lebaran one day prior to the rest of the
Javanese Muslim community, however, the takbiran was recited only inside the modernist
mosques and homes (without amplification), as mentioned above.
163 Kompas 2002-12-09.
performance of the id prayers. However, as it is reported in the hadits material
that the prophet used to have only a snack on the morning of the first of
Sawal, many Javanese Muslims eat with moderation before the congregational
prayers, only to have a substantial meal as they come home again. But
let us return to the early morning hours now.
While having that minor snack as the sun rises over the horizon, the
takbiran cries from the mosques still go on and seem to compete with each
other as their time is running out. In the homes of Javanese Muslims, fervent
activity is to be expected during these hours. It is customary to take a bath
(i.e., to make the major ritual ablution; A. ghusl) before going to the congregational
prayers, and, indeed, almost every Javanese take a bath this morning,
just as they do during all other mornings. The whole family is thus supposed
to bath before leaving for the prayers, and all members should have something
small to eat before they dress themselves up in their best of clothes.
Certainly, the clothes to be worn on this morning is a major issue in Java
throughout Ramadan, and an overwhelming majority of the Javanese umat is
of the opinion that one should bear newly bought clothes on this morning
(and during the rest of the day).164 Consequently, much time, energy, and
money is spent during the last week of Ramadan to buy new complete outfits
for the entire family: from hats and veils to sandals and high heels. Stores and
markets are ever ready to support this Javanese tradition, and special Ramadan
discounts catering to it are to be expected during the entire month of
fasting. The commercialization of Ramadan is obvious in this respect. Of
course, critique of it is heard, but nevertheless easily drowned. The critics of
the tradition of bearing new clothes on Lebaran draw attention to the hadits
that has it that Muhammad only said that one should bear one’s best clothes
during this feast, and not necessarily one’s newest. Critics usually also point
to how the sought after feeling of equality of Muslims during the sholat id is
disturbed by the fact that an unannounced competition (playing for gengsi,
prestige) goes on simultaneously. Despite this critique, most Javanese Muslims—
urban, at least—show up on this morning with entire new outfits.
White is the favorite color, as it symbolizes the alleged purity Idul Fitri offers.
Let us return to our topic again. On the morning of the first of Sawal,
Javanese Muslims thus get dressed in their finest (and latest) clothes. Newly
washed sajadah (I., prayer rugs) are brought forward, and the characteristically
black velvet cap (I. peci) adorn the heads of most Javanese males. Additional
old newspapers are also collected hurriedly, as the grass where the
prayers are to be performed still might be wet from the dew. Grass? Yes, due
to the unprecedented popularity of the id prayers—everyone is there—
mosques do not have the capability to house the entire community during this
164 A similar state of affairs has been recorded in Morocco (Buitelaar 1996: 72).
morning. Consequently, large outdoor sport arenas are generally made use
of.165 Even these are crammed during this morning.
Sholat id in Blora. Note the balloons. Compare with the picture on page 297.
As all family members have taken their bath, had a snack, dressed up in
their best outfit, and collected their prayer rug and some newspaper, it is time
to depart for the prayers themselves. Amazingly, the time for the execution of
the id prayers is not standardized in Java, and severe confusion exists each
year. Sometime they are performed at 7 a.m. and sometime half an hour earlier
or later. Local newspapers generally state the exact time the day before in
small notices, but it seems as if these notices only rarely are read by Javanese
Muslims, as the last day of Pasa is full of activities. Times also have a tendency
to change without prior notice in Java; the value of small announcements
like these are thus questionable. Location too has a tendency to change
without prior notification. In 2002, a large portion of the Bloran umat was
thus startled as it arrived at the sport arena where the id prayers ‘always’ are
held: no one was there except other confused parts of the Muslim community
dressed in their new clothes. As it happened, the sholat id had been trans-
165 Note however that the ‘official’ Indonesian sholat id in Jakarta, with the President and other
officials, take place in the immense Masjid Istiqlal. When I in 1999 happened to be in
neighboring Bali during the end of Ramadan, I found that the id prayers there were also
conducted in a mosque. This was due to the fact that the entire but small Muslim community I
found in Southeast Bali (close to Candidasa) could be housed in the village mosque. The prayers
were thus performed there, and then the entire village had a festive meal together at the mosque
verandah. The atmosphere there was very familiar and emotionally loaded as everybody knew
each other (expect the odd foreigner who joined in). It is noteworthy that a substantial part of the
village population was made up of Javanese Muslims.
ferred that year to the town square (I. alun-alun) in front of the great mosque
in Blora, notification of which had gone largely unobserved. The consequence
of this was that a substantial number of Muslims did not make it in
time up to the new location, and thus missed out on the entire id prayers. I
had the opportunity to go by car at that occasion and thus arrived at the alunalun
just before the commencement of the sholat. On the way up there we
had to pass many disappointed faces of people who had realized they would
never make it. As we returned home after the prayers, the same faces had
become even more disappointed.
Whether the sholat id in Java is performed in an outdoor sports arena or
in the town square—and its adjacent streets—one thing is to be expected:
crowds of people. From both Morocco and Jordan, it has been reported that
the performance of the ô³d prayers is an entirely male affair: female presence
at this occasion is sought after in vain.166 In Java, the situation is different. It
is taken for granted that both women and men attend the ritual prayer, and
reference is often made to the following tradition from the collection of
Narrated Um ‘Atiya:
We used to be ordered to come out on the Day of ‘Id and even bring out the virgin
girls from their houses and menstruating women so that they might stand behind the
men and say Takbir along with them and invoke Allah along with them and hope for
the blessings of that day and for purification from sins.167
In addition, most Javanese Muslims are of the opinion that males and
females are totally equal in respect to ritual performance and the ability to
obtain divine blessings through these.168 Consequently, at this ritual occasion
approximately fifty percent of the attendants are female. (Even menstruating
Muslims attend the ritual location at this moment, although they may not join
the actual id prayer.169)
When arriving at the location chosen for the performance of the sholat
id, the first thing one notices is that everybody seems to be there. A crowd of
well dressed and fragrant Muslims has already arrived, and more people turn
up every minute. Traffic chaos is to be expected albeit the presence of a substantial
number of (non-Muslim) police officers. Cars, motorcycles, and bicycles
stand parked in every (im)possible location. Friends and relatives who
meet during these pre-sholat minutes shake hands while asking each other for
166 Buitelaar 1993: 74, 95, Antoun 1968b: 99.
167 ®HB 2,15,88. Cf. ®HB 2,15,91.
168 See QS 33:35 which seems to support this view.
169 The idea that menstruating women better not engage in certain ritual activities is attested from
around the world. In some places menstruating women nevertheless secretly partake in these
ritual activities—perhaps in the lady’s room instead of in the temple (Kristina Myrvold, personal
communication). I seriously doubt that any menstruating Muslim in Java would act in a similar
matter, since they are convinced that their ritual activities not would be sah (I., valid) under such
forgiveness and wishing happy holidays. The atmosphere is festival-like—
something which is supported further by the presence of helium balloon vendors
catering to the wishes of children—and there seems to be a smile on
every face one meets. (These smiles need not, however, be generated by the
conviction that divine rewards and blessings are in the coming, but may just
as much be caused by the joy many people feel as they wear new clothes in
the presence of a crowd of people who pay attention to them.) The second
thing one notices—during some years, in some places—is that men and
women freely mix with each other in this ritual location: there exists no ritual
division between males and females. Instead, people tend to be grouped together
on a family basis. A woman may thus perform the id prayers with her
husband and children to the right of her, for example, whereas to her left
another man and his family are to be found. Such mixing of the sexes is never
to be found in mosques in Java. How frequent this mixing is in Java in connection
with the sholat id is unfortunately unknown to me. More common is
it perhaps that the id ritual location is divided in a mosque-like way, with
women at the back.
A third condition that calls for attention is the fact that it does not rain.
For, indeed, it does not. This is often commented upon by the Javanese who
regard this to be a divine blessing—what a mess it would be if several thousand
sholat id performing Muslims were caught in rainfall! No, God would
never allow this to happen. During the four Idul Fitri I have spent in Indonesia
there has been no rain, despite the fact that this holiday (or, holy day)
occurred during the rainy season these years. Several friends have also told
me that they cannot recall a rainy Lebaran as long as they have lived. I have
not cared to try to verify that it has not rained on the first of Sawal during the
last fifty years or so in Java, but just noticed the general Javanese idea of
God’s relation to this day: Muslims keep it to be a holy day, and so does God
Himself. To let rain fall on the prostrating believers would be unfeasible for
The sholat id in itself differs slightly from other sholat. It shares some
common characteristics with the Friday prayer (I. sholat jum’at), but also
holds its own special features. Its first delineating feature is that it is not preceded
by the call to prayer, the adzan (I., A. adh¢an). Instead, the muezzin
‘suddenly’ stands up and declares that the prayer is about to begin by the
words: aâ-âal¢atu j¢amiôah (A., let us pray congregationally). In the town
square in Blora, however, even this is preceded by a speech by the local regent
(I. bupati). I use the term ‘speech’ here since the bupati does not offer a
sermon (I. khutbah) in the regular sense of the term. Nevertheless, the speech
of the bupati is colored by religious issues and punctuated by recurring Allahu
akbar. Whereas in the Friday prayer the sermon is offered before the
actual sholat, the sholat id procedure offers the reverse: sholat first, and then
the sermon. This is in line with the tradition of the prophet according to several
hadits, and also the reason we cannot talk about the ‘sermon’ of the bupati
in this respect. I have not been able to record the Idul Fitri speech of the
bupati in Blora, and neither have I made notes of it. In fact, I have hardly
listened to it. This has a twofold reason: first, the bupati holds his speech as
people (including me) arrive at the location. Focus is thus not on the regent’s
speech, but rather on finding a place for one’s prayer rug in the middle of the
crowd while shaking hands with those already present in one’s vicinity. Secondly,
the speaker systems used at occasions like these rarely have the ability
to convey the voice of the speaker other than to those sitting in the first few
rows. Thus, not many actually listen to the speeches and sermons delivered at
events like these.
Sholat id in Blora. Note the mixing of the sexes here (and the zebra cross).
Let us return to the prayer proper. As the muezzin announces that the
sholat is about to begin, the entire congregation and the imam rises. As always,
ritual prayer like these are preceded by individually and silently uttered
intentions (I. niat) before the imam begins the formal ritual by proclaiming
the takbiratul ihram: Allahu akbar. Instead of proceeding to the recitation of
Al Fatihah, however, the imam repeats the takbiratul ihram as many as six
times (totaling seven) and the congregation follows. In between these statements,
all present are supposed to recite sub®h¢ana ll¢ah, wa l-®hamdulill¢ah, wa
l¢a il¢aha ill¢a ll¢ah, wa ll¢ahu akbar (A., glory be to God, and all praise is due to
God, and there is no god but God, and God is greater), which is a well-known
zikir in Java. The sholat id consists of only two raka’at—as the Friday
prayer—and it is sunnah for the imam to recite s¢uratu l-ôal¢a during the first
raka’at and s¢uratu l-gh¢ashiyah during the second,170 as I have mentioned
elsewhere in this thesis. Before the second raka’at commences, however, the
iman is supposed to state Allahu akbar five times, and the congregation is
supposed to follow the imam in this respect.
Immediately after the sholat id in Blora. Note that some women already have
lifted their veils. Note also the parked motorcycles in the middle of the congregation.
The ritual prayer is over when the imam states the salam—first to his
right, and then to his left. A few seconds after that, smoke from cigarettes
become visible at numerous spots in the crowd as the heavily nicotine addicted
Javanese males have their first cigarette during daylight hours for a
whole month. Another thing that becomes visible is the hair of Muslim females
who simply take off their ritual dresses (I. mukena) immediately after
the prayer. Of course, those who wear jilbab (I., veil) regularly do not join in
this group, but it is remarkable, I think, that so many ‘non-veilers’ without
delay take of the mukena at this occasion: they are still at the ritual location,
and they are still expected to listen to the post-sholat sermon.
Talking about this sermon, or khutbah, it begins a few whiles after the
abovementioned salam (the intermittent time is used for supplications) and
should be—and is—punctuated by frequent Allahu akbar. As with the presholat
speech of the bupati, very few actually listen to this sermon. This is in
part due to the insufficiency of the speaker system, and in part to the fact that
170 QS 87 and QS 88 respectively. Muslim (2001: 98) also mentions s¢urat q¢af (QS 50) and s¢urat
al-qamar (QS 54) in this respect, as noticed above in the chapter on Ramadanic media.
a substantial number of Muslims in the congregation start to get ready to
leave, and indeed eventually leave the ritual location before the sermon is
completed. To some Javanese Muslims this is highly disturbing. They argue
that the spiritual shower (I. siraman rohani) the id sermon offers should be
more appealing than lukewarm tempe at home. They also tend to regard the
sholat and the khutbah as a single entity that cannot be separated just like
that; if one performs the sholat one should also listen to the khutbah. Despite
these complaints and critical voices, a majority of the umat has already left
the town square or the sports arena when the sermon comes to its end. A
friend from my kampung in Blora formulated his early departure from the
town square in the following two questions: “Why should I linger on there
when I could not even hear the words of the khatib? And why should I not try
to escape the heat?”171 It is thus very clear that Javanese Muslims attach far
more importance to the sholat than to the khutbah. In fact, the sholat is
treated as it was compulsory (I. wajib), and not supererogatory (I. sunat), as it
is. If a Javanese Muslims would perform only one sholat during the entire
year, s/he would probably pick the sholat id.
As people make their ways back home, they can expect at least three
things. First, that a bunch of poor people will greet them with their beggar
bowls as they leave the ritual location. The Ramadanic generosity usually
remains alive some time after Idul Fitri and the first of Sawal is a strategic
day for asking for charity in Java. Before and after the sholat, paper boxes for
sedekah also circulate in the congregation. Secondly, traffic chaos is to be
expected, as thousands of people try to get back home. Thirdly, one can also
expect that at least some Muslims do not take the same way back to their
homes as they came. This is motivated by a hadits in which it is reported that
Muhammad used to take different ways to and from the ritual location on this
day. The motivation for this, in turn, is that one wants to meet as many different
people as possible during this day in order to ask for their forgiveness
and wish them happy holidays.
Not all Muslims go directly to their homes after the sholat id, however, but
rather make their ways to the graveyards. They thus go nyekar (J.), a practice
that has been described earlier in this chapter. As during the pre-Ramadanic
nyekar, families or parts of them go to the graveyard together, and there are
consequently no special female visits to cemeteries in Java, as reported from
other parts of the Muslims world.172 There is no ritual division of the sexes in
Javanese graveyards.
171 To sit under the direct sun in Java, even if it is only 7.30 a.m., is rather tiresome.
172 Antoun 1968b: 99.
The underlying idea of visiting the graves of deceased relatives immediately
after the id prayer is to ask them (the relatives) for forgiveness. The
Javanese practice of asking friends and relatives for forgiveness on Idul Fitri
is thus not limited to people who are still alive. Post-Ramadanic nyekar in
Java can consequently be said to represent silaturahmi with the deceased. As
such, it is of immense importance to large segments of the Javanese umat.
The first of Sawal is not, however, the only possible day for engaging in such
activities: cemeteries in Java are frequently visited during the entire first
week after the conclusion of the fast.
Those Javanese Muslims who do not head directly for the graveyards after
the performance of the sholat id are most likely to make their ways back to
their homes. There, members of the (extended) family ask each other for
forgiveness. This cannot be done in just any way, but has to follow the Javanese
idea of hierarchical relationships. It is thus expected that younger siblings
ask their older dittos for forgiveness first, and that wives turn to their
husbands and ask them for forgiveness before any male initiative (regardless
of their age relationship) are taken. Cousins of the same age will have to
determine who will ask for forgiveness first by means of their—or their parent’s—
social (and thereby economical) status. As long as these initial procedures
are followed, there is nothing that keeps the older siblings and husbands
to turn to their younger siblings and wives respectively in order to ask
them for forgiveness after that. In contemporary Java, this indeed seems to be
the rule rather than the exception. Elder informants have recalled that this
would be very rare only for fifty years ago when hierarchical social structures
were much stronger than they are today, however.
The practical asking for forgiveness can take various forms. The most
‘simple’ variant is made up of a regular handshake and the utterance (from
both parts) of one of the following phrases: mohon maaf lahir dan batin or
minal ‘aidin wal faizin. The first of these is a standard Indonesian phrase,
which literally means ‘[I] ask [you for] forgiveness, [both for my] outer and
inner [wrongdoings towards you].’ The words lahir (A. ®z¢ahir) and batin (A.
b¢açtin) are frequently employed in Sufi circles, but are used by the entire Muslim
community in Java in connection with Idul Fitri. The second phrase mentioned
above is an Indonesianized form of the Arabic min al-ô¢aéid³n wa lf¢
aéiz³n, which in turn is an abbreviation of jaôalan¢a ll¢ahu wa iyy¢akum mina lô¢
aéid³n wa él-f¢aéiz³n. As mentioned above, Suyuti translates the latter term as
“May God include us all among those who return pure, and succeeds in defeating
the lustful desires” (I. Semoga Allah menjadikan kita semua termasuk
orang-orang yang kembali suci dan menang melawan hawa nafsu).173 Recalling
that some Indonesian authors are critical of this phrase—due to its ‘uncertain
origin’—the Arabic greeting taqabbal All¢ahu minn¢a wa minkum (A.,
may God accept our good deeds, and yours too) may also be heard in some
circles. The two most commonly used Lebaran greetings (I. tahniah, A.
ta®h³yah) in Java are, however, the two first mentioned in this discussion.
A slightly more alus (J., refined) way of asking for forgiveness is to
extend both one’s hands in the required handshake while bowing somewhat.
This is suitable for people that are (much) older than oneself, or more—in
some way or another—respected in society, but with whom one does not
have an intimate relation. Even more alus would it be to bow so low that one
may kiss the hand of the other person, or at least let it touch one’s forehead.
This is only suitable for people with whom one has a personal and intimate
relationship. Famous ulama and kyai are exempted from this rule, however,
and their hands are surely often kissed or made touch the foreheads of ‘common
people.’ The idea behind this is that the specific kyai or ulama is thought
to possess blessings (J. berkat) that may emanate from him and be bestowed
upon whoever touches him.
The most perfect and refined way of asking for forgiveness at Lebaran
in Java is by way of a practice referred to as sungkeman (J.). The person that
will be the object of this ritual (J. dipunsungkemi) will sit on a chair, whereas
the one that actively will perform the ritual (J. nyungkemi) kneels or even
prostrates on the floor before the former. He (the one kneeling) then extends
his two hands and lays his head down on the knees—or, alternatively, at the
feet as is customary at the royal courts in Yogyakarta and Solo—of the one
who dipunsungkemi. This done, he formulates his asking for forgiveness in
his most refined Javanese, which then is answered by the one sitting by a
small speech that may take various forms. In this speech, the one that just has
been dipunsungkemi may also ask for forgiveness, but it is more common
perhaps just to extend a sort of supplication in Javanese for the one kneeling.
In Blora, sungkeman is not so widespread a practice as it is in Yogyakarta. In
those families it is still practiced, it is generally limited to spouses (wives to
husbands) and intimate relatives (the younger generation to parents and parents-
in-law, and possible grandparents).
Sungkeman is very emotional, and intense weeping is all but uncommon
in Java during Lebaran. Most people I have talked to regarding this
topic have stated that they feel unsure of what comes over them at the moment
they nyungkemi. Many of them have expressed that they are overcome
by a surprising feeling of sincerity at this moment, and that they host feelings
of real regret regarding the conscious and unconscious wrongdoings they
might have conducted towards friends and family. This combined then with
173 Suyuti 1996: 135. See also Wagtendonk (1968: 2) who says that the feast concluding the
annual fast is characterized by, amongst other things, people wishing each other “djaôalan¢a
All¢ah min al-ô¢aéid³n al-f¢aéiz³n al-maqb¢ul³n. kull ôam wa antum bi khayr.”
the fact that the month long fast just has ended symbolically in the sholat id
and that this day of ‘purity’ has been waited upon for (perhaps) the entire
year, makes the sungkeman occasion invested with a variety of emotions.174
(It may be noted here that public weaping is extremely rare in Java, and regarded
as discordant with Javanese fine etiquette. That crying during the
sungkeman is accepted is probably due to its—and the entire month’s—
liminal character; this will be further discussed in the concluding chapter of
this work.)
As can be expected, some critical voices of the practice of sungkeman
exist in Java. These voices generally argue that the sungkeman ritual expresses
a hierarchical order that does not exist in Islam. Furthermore, there
are no reports in the hadits literature—let alone in the Koran—that the
prophet engaged in any sungkeman-like ritual. Instead, he treated all believers
as equals, and so should those walking on the straight path do too. Any
Javanese (or other local) tradition that prevents the realization of this principle
should be immediately abandoned, it is argued occasionally from modernist
camps. Interestingly, those defending the sungkeman also draw attention
to the fact that it is a purely Javanese tradition expressing Javanese ideas
of refined etiquette (J. unggah-ungguh), but they regard this to be something
positive. By practicing the sungkeman ritual every year, Javanese culture and
values—and with that, Javanese identity—will be preserved, they say. Moreover,
there is nothing ‘un-Islamic’ in showing respect to one’s parents and
elderly relatives. On the contrary, they argue, the prophetic traditions are
soon to support the view, for example, that children should pay respect to
their parents.
Before we leave the topic of Idul Fitri handshakes and the practice of
sungkeman, we should also note how some Muslim females arrange their
greetings with men. For many women in Java, there is no real problem in
shaking hands with fellow Muslims of the opposite sex. Many other, however,
are not interested in any kind of physical contact with men (other than
those who have blood- or marital relations with them), and they have consequently
developed a kind of non-physical ‘handshake’ for this purpose. Instead
of extending their right hand when meeting a male member of the umat,
they choose to extend both their hands with their palms facing each other.
The man is then ‘forced’ to do a similar gesture, and when their fingertips are
just about to meet, both of them retract their hands. As they do this, they also
generally lift them up: either just slightly visibly or right up to their own
faces. It is noteworthy that some—not few, in fact—females make a compromise
between the ‘regular’ handshake and this latter variant. For them, it
seems that the regular handshake is ‘too male’ in character, whereas the nonphysical
ditto is ‘too extreme.’ They thus extend both their hands with their
174 The year I spent Idul Fitri in Bali, I observed no regular sungkeman. Instead, the entire
population of the small village shook hands and embraced each other outside the mosque right
after the id prayer. An overwhelmingly majority wept, or at least had tears in their eyes.
palms facing each other, but when the fingertips are about to meet, they do
not withdraw them but rather let them physically meet the hands of the opposite
sex before they conduct a similar uplifting gesture as described above.
Enough said about handshakes for the moment. As people have returned
home after the id prayers—perhaps with a nyekar stop on the road—
and have asked members of the core family for forgiveness, hunger suddenly
sets in. As the female members of the household have been rather busy the
last few days, there is no shortage of delicious food, sweets and cookies at
this moment. A standard Javanese meal on this joyous day is opor ayam and
lontong, that is, pieces of chicken cooked in coconut milk served with rice
steamed in tubes of banana leafs. Also specific to this day is the ketupat, a
kind of rice cake that has been boiled in a box of plaited coconut leaves. In
addition, sweets and various cookies are to be found aplenty in almost every
home in Java during Lebaran. Several large boxes, each hosting a different
sort of sweets, are sure to be found on the table in the ruang tamu (I., room
reserved for guests) in Javanese homes, and friends, relatives, and neighbors
are encouraged to eat their fills.
Once this meal has been consumed, neighbors go around the neighborhood,
wishing each other happy holidays and asking for each other’s forgiveness.
For this former purpose yet another greeting is made use of, namely
sugeng riyadi (J.) which literally means ‘happy holidays.’ Ideally, younger
people should go to the house of those who are older, but virtually all inhabitants
of a certain kampung walk around the vicinity on this day and make
visits at friends’ houses as they walk by. Differences in age and social position
are thus rather neglected, although it is expected that all inhabitants of a
certain neighborhood pay a visit to the ‘village head’ (I. kepala rukun
tangga). Approaching a home, one makes use of either the Javanese expression
kula nuwun (J., excuse me; anybody home?) or the Arabic as-sal¢amu
ôalaykum (A., peace upon you), which then is answered by either mangga,
mangga (J., please, please [come in]) or wa ôalaykum sal¢am (A., and upon
you peace [too]). Then, after having said the customary holiday greetings, the
host bids the guests to sit down, whereupon the lids from the cookie boxes
are lifted and the guests invited to try out the sweets. Soon, glasses of tea or
some soft drink also appear. Before long however—usually only after a couple
of minutes—it is time to move on to other neighbors, and the guests bid
their farewells. As the guests leave, new guests arrive, and all present exchange
holiday greetings and ask for each other’s forgiveness (whether one is
formerly acquainted with each other or not). Naturally, some homes are visited
by several families at the same time, and this often leads to the establishment
of new bonds of friendship.
No one is exempted from this neighborhood silaturahmi; previous
grudges are forgotten when former enemies shake hand, and notions of prestige
and social positions are temporarily forgotten. In fact, it is not uncommon
even for non-Muslims to partake in this ritual. It took me by some surprise
when my family and I in Blora during my first Lebaran there headed in
the direction of a house known to be the home of a Christian family. This will
be awkward, I recall thinking as someone in the party extended the kula nuwun
greeting. The greeting was, however, answered and we exchanged the
common holiday greetings and were offered cookies and tea just as in any
other Javanese (Muslim) home. It is thus safe to conclude that Lebaran is not
an exclusive Muslim feast in Java. Talking about Muslim-Christian relations
we should also note that some Muslims families send ruwahan food boxes to
their Christian friends, something which then is reciprocated with Christmas
food boxes to Javanese Muslims in late December. The celebrations of feasts
of this kind are thus not restricted to adherents of a specific religious tradition,
although the participation in such feasts differs among Javanese of different
religious orientations. For a Christian Javanese, the participation in
Idul Fitri is probably restricted to offering cookies and sweets to visiting
Muslim friends and relatives—it is not uncommon that the extended Javanese
family hosts more than one religious orientation—, whereas a Muslim Javanese
will restrict her participation in the Christmas celebration to receiving
slametan food boxes and extending her Merry Christmas greetings to Christian
As Javanese extended families are sure to be quite large, it is unlikely
that all its members will inhibit the same kampung. Consequently, when the
neighborhood silaturahmi has been concluded, it has become time to visit
more distant relatives. In the families I know in Blora and Yogyakarta, such
extended family celebrations of Lebaran rotate each year according to an
agreed upon scheme. For example, if the head—which often is the oldest
living member—of this extended family has ten (grown up) children, then
they will arrange the family feast every tenth year so as to ensure that everybody
take an active part in these arrangements.
The Idul Fitri family feasts are made up of the same basic elements as
the neighborhood silaturahmi: holiday greetings, food, and drink. As they go
on for several hours, however, rice and several side dishes are added to the
sweets and the cookies, and the otherwise short greetings are extended to
conversations and discussions. Plays and games are often an integral part of
these feasts, and a karaoke set may make present a special festive atmosphere
as Javanese love to sing (and are not ashamed to do so). In some families,
one member states the intent of the get-together—which is to celebrate the
end of the month long fast, and to guard over the bonds of friendship strived
for in every family—, and recites a supplication which all present punctuate
by the characteristic amin. There are thus some similarities with a general
Javanese slametan, and the purpose of this jamboree is often said to be to
ensure that the whole extended family may be granted tranquility (J. slamet)
and harmony (J. rukun).
A favorite part of these family conventions for children is what is called
salam tempel (J.), that is, the distribution of new banknotes on behalf of parents
and aunts and uncles. As children see that one of the grown-ups come
with a bunch of fresh banknotes in his hand, they immediately swarm around
him, eager to lay their hands of some rupiah. There is generally no large
amount of money involved in this process, and the children are most likely to
have spent all of it before long in the closest neighborhood candy stall. For
the adults, however, the distribution of this money may accumulate some
gengsi (J., prestige) and may even be seen as a yardstick according to which
last year’s success can be measured. (It is perhaps noteworthy that the high
demand on fresh banknotes in connection to Lebaran in Java has given birth
to a group of entrepreneurs at bus- and train stations who sell, for example,
nine totally fresh banknotes of one thousand rupiah each for the price of ten
The extended family parties at Lebaran are generally over at noon or
just after—when the heat really sets in—and people return to their homes
again. During the afternoon, visits to friends are common. As Indonesia is a
huge country, however, and as Javanese people are likely to have relatives
and friends outside Java, physical meetings are not always possible during
Idul Fitri. Taking into consideration the high rates for inter-state telephone
calls in the country—together with the fact that telephone lines are far from
drawn everywhere—, we should not be surprised that Kartu Lebaran (I.,
Lebaran greeting cards) are common. Let me shortly describe three such
cards here. The first is the simplest one as the background is made up of a
‘rainbowish’ pattern, and the Indonesian text is limited to “Selamat Idul Fitri.
Minal aidin wal Faizin. Maaf Lahir and Batin.” It is thus just a happy holiday
card that reproduces two of the most common Lebaran greetings (see the
discussion above). The front page also hosts the Arabic text al-®hamdu lill¢ahi
rabbi l-ô¢alam³n (written in Arabic). This is a Koranic quote that in English
may be rendered as “All praise is due to God alone, the Sustainer of all the
worlds.”175 As one opens the card one finds the same greeting repeated again,
but here accompanied by the phrase “May God’s welfare and blessings always
accompany us.”176
The second card hosts a picture of a bouquet of flowers with the Arabic
All¢ah written in the middle of it, and the same greetings as on the first card. It
also holds a poem that goes like this:
The sound of the takbir......
reminds us of our past sins
in prostrations we ask for Your Forgiveness
let us ask [each other] for forgiveness on this holy day
let us forget past wrongdoings
Return us to the spirit of fitri
let us strengthen our Faith and Taqwa
by means of tightening the threads of silaturahmi177
175 QS 1:1.
176 I. Semoga keselamatan dan Rahmat Allah selalu menyertai kita.
177 I. Gema ta’bir......
mengingatkan kita akan dosa yang telah lalu
The third card—with its picture of a river, some white birds, and
trees—is also poetic:
All of a sudden......
time elapses so fast
just as pouring water
without any force.....
so too do our lives
go on, how beautiful
and pleasant.....
Yet in achieving
dignity, [our] ideals, and success
we cannot escape wrongdoings
and temptations.
On this holy day.....
let us purify our spirits and hearts
so that we will succeed
in every matter.178
Whether or not people actually read such Lebaran poems or just notice who
sent the card, I do not know.
The last thing we need to shortly notice here is that if Lebaran falls on a
Friday, the otherwise for men obligatory sholat jumat becomes noncompulsory.
Such was the case in 2002/1423, when all men in my vicinity
chose not to attend the Friday prayer.
sujud kami bersimpuh mohon Ampunan kehadirat Mu
di hari suci ini mari kita bermaaf-maafan
melupakan kesalahan hari kemarin.
Mengembalikan kita ke jiwa yang fitri
mari kita pertebal Iman & Taqwa
dengan memperketat jalinan benang silaturahmi.
178 I. Tiada terasa.....
waktu begitu cepat bergulir
tanpa paksaan.....
begitu pula lajur perjalanan
hidup kita, betapa indah
dan menyenangkan....
Namun dalam meraih
harkat, cita & kesuksesan
kita tak luput dari kesalahan
dan godaan.
Seiring hari yang suci ini....
bersihkan jiwa & hati kita
agar hari esok akan sukses
dalam segala hal.
As we have noted previously, there exists some prophetic traditions that recommend
six additional days of fasting immediately after Idul Fitri. Muhammad
is reported as having said that:
He who observed the fast of Ramadan and then followed it with six (fasts) of
Shawwal, it would be as if he fasted perpetually.179
It seems as the vast majority of Javanese Muslims do not practice this supererogatory
fasting in Sawal, and that a substantial number of them not even are
aware of the existence of this practice. It is generally felt that Lebaran cannot
be concluded in just one day as activities of silaturahmi may continue for the
entire first week of this post-Ramadan month. Forcing oneself to abstain from
sweets and cookies during visits to friends and relatives is not an attractive
alternative to many Javanese, and they are likewise not interested in presenting
visitors these same sweets as they themselves are fasting. Lebaran is a
multi-day feast, in which fasting is unthinkable. Consequently, some Javanese
postpone these six days of additional fasting to the second half of the
Some of my friends—most of them students at various Islamic universities
in Yogyakarta—were very strict in their observances of this Sawal fasting,
however. Committing oneself to these six days of fasting, they argued in
one voice, generates more pahala (I., divine reward, religious merit, A. fal¢a®h,
ajr) than fasting the entire Ramadan. Although, some were quick to add,
Ramadan is obligatory whereas fasting during the six days in Sawal is ‘only’
sunat. In the small town of Rembang on the northern coast of central Java—
less than an hour’s bus ride from Blora—the local Muslim community is also
known to be rather fervent fasters during the second through the seventh of
Sawal. Indeed, on the eighth of Sawal people in Rembang celebrate what
they call Lebaran Sawal, which is a second feast of Lebaran after these six
days of additional fasting. I have never witnessed this event myself, but from
what people in Blora and also some residents of Rembang have told me, this
second feast is even more joyous and vivacious than the first. This is in part
explained by the annual presence of a well-attended night market (I. pasar
In fact, this night market is an integral part of Ramadan in this area of
Java, as it moves around to different towns prior, during, and after the month
of fasting. I am not entirely sure of what route this market takes, but I know
that it generally visits Kudus some time prior to Ramadan, that it is in Blora
during the latter half of the fast, and that its presence in Rembang coincides
179 ®HM 6,2614. The careful reader will recall that perpetual fasting is not recommended in other
traditions (e.g., HM 6,2591, ®HB 3,31,185). In the present tradition, however, it is highlighted as
something positive.
with the celebration of the Lebaran Sawal. Javanese children are very fond of
this market, which thus constitutes one of the reasons for the bright childhood
memories many central Javanese Muslims have of the month of Ramadan. In
one modernist mosque in Blora where I used to join the traweh prayers, I
personally found the alarming noise of this market—which was located not
far away—to be rather disturbing, but I never heard any Javanese make this
comment. This was perhaps due to the plausible fact that they all had their
own cheerful memories from similar markets.
As mentioned in the introduction to this work, Yogyakarta is often thought to
be the ‘most Javanese’ of Javanese towns. It is here the Javanese language is
preserved in its most alus (J., refined) form, and it is here expressions of
Javanese culture are thought to be at their highest. If one wants to study
Javanese language and culture, then Yogyakarta is the place to be, according
to the common Indonesian—and foreign—standpoint.180 This is only partially
true, however. Being a university city, Yogyakarta is made up of a mix of
different peoples, and is probably one of the few places in Indonesia where
one is likely to find people from all of the country’s thirty-something provinces.
Consequently, the common language is here Indonesian rather than
Javanese, and different cultural expressions and traditions make a colorful
mix that makes up the ‘actual’ Yogyakartan culture. (See also the discussions
on ‘Javas away from the keraton’ in the introduction above.)
Thus, in my kampung in the northern parts of Yogyakarta most of the
inhabitants were not ‘ethnic Yogyakartans’ but rather located their home area
in some other part of the country. The majority of the residents were Javanese,
it is true, but the quarter also hosted people form West Java (Sundanese),
Sumatra, Kalimantan, and Bali. During Idul Fitri, the neighborhood
was consequently almost deserted as most people had gone mudik to their
places of origin. (This included me, as I was in Blora.) When we then all
returned to our kampung in Yogyakarta in early Syawal, the Ramadan committee
there had arranged a post-Ramadanic get-together for all residents—
including Christians, Buddhists, and everyone else—in the area. In Java, such
social feast arranged some time during the first two weeks after Ramadan are
known as either syawalan or halalbihalal. The main purpose of it is to let all
residents exchange holiday greetings and ask each other for forgiveness, and
the whole event can thus be said to be a large feast of silaturahmi. But there
is more to these syawalan feasts. The one I attended in Yogyakarta in 2001,
for example, offered both an extended Koran recitation by one of the locals,
and several moralizing speeches by likewise local politicians. The everpresent
food boxes containing a glass of water and some cookies were
180 The neighboring Solo is also thought to be superior in its ‘Javanese-ness.’
handed out as these speeches were delivered, and the event also presented
those present with a real meal consisting of rice, a vegetable soup, and a kind
of forcemeat balls (I. bakso). At the end of this social ritual, everybody shook
each other’s hands—physically or symbolically—and asked for each other’s
Companies and state institutions whose employees have gone home to
their parental areas during Lebaran generally also arrange similar feasts of
syawalan or halalbihalal for their employees during the first few weeks of
Syawal. As a concluding note, it might be interesting to know that some
companies on such occasions offer Javanese traditional dance that dramatizes
themes from Ramayana and Mahabharata.

In order to better understand the month of Ramadan as it is observed, lived,
and commented upon in Java, we will now occupy ourselves with some enterprises
of comparison. In the first section, I will discuss the relationship
between the three entities of ‘normative’ (Arabic) texts, popular and contemporary
Indonesian media, and the ethnographic ‘reality’ as these have been
described in previous chapters. In relation to this I will also evaluate my ideas
concerning the contemporary media expressions as ‘cultural brokers,’ and
show that the success of this media as mediators between normative and lived
Islam has been varying. All this will, I believe, render us able of comprehending
the inner dynamics not only of Ramadanic fasting in Java but also of
Javanese Islam in a broader sense.
In the second section, on the other hand, our perspective will be outward,
as Ramadan in Java will be compared to ‘other Ramadans’ in other
parts of the Muslim world. As substantial descriptions of these are surprisingly
few in number, the comparisons will by necessity be limited to a handful
of examples. This second section may also be seen as a survey and critique
of the available and contemporary Ramadan literature written in English.
First of all, I should stress that Javanese Ramadan does not show up such an
inner organization that I am about to describe here. That is, it does not present
its casual observer with such well-defined and clear-cut lines of demar@
cation and analytical categories as will be discussed below. Both modern
Javanese society and (Javanese) Islam are highly complex entities that on one
level defy strict categorization. On another level, however, such categories
may very well serve to highlight the inner dynamics and relationships of our
main interest here—that is, Javanese Ramadan.
As throughout this work, with ‘normative texts’ I refer here to the Arabic
Koran and collections of prophetic traditions, a®h¢ad³th. ‘Popular media,’ on
the other hand, refers to those contemporary Indonesian ritual handbooks,
articles, songs, poems, sermons, and more, that were discussed in chapter
four. With ‘actual practice’ I refer, finally, to what I have observed in Central
Java myself. Note, again, that the terms ‘normative,’ ‘popular,’ and ‘actual’
are not thought of as by necessity being in positions of opposition or contradiction
in this work.
Taqw¢a, takwa, and little interest
The ultimate goal of Ramadanic fasting according to the Koran is to “remain
conscious of God.”1 This God-consciousness (A. taqw¢a, I. takwa) is—in its
various grammatical forms—a recurring topic in the Koran,2 and hence an
important concept among certain Muslims. In his Koranic commentary, Asad
notes that this is a problematic term that cannot simply be rendered as ‘Godfearing’
(as is common in English Koran and a®h¢ad³th translations) since it
encompasses “the awareness of His all-presence and the desire to mould
one’s existence in the light of this awareness.”3 It is thus a positive feeling,
and this is also noted in the Indonesian Koranic translation published under
the auspices of the Ministry of Religious Affairs.4 Not surprisingly, the concept
of taqw¢a is also recurrently commented upon in the a®h¢ad³th collections.
Here we can read, for example, that:
Allah's Apostle was asked, "Who is the most honorable amongst the people?" He
replied, "The most Allah fearing."5
In the contemporary Indonesian media, we also found repeated discussions
of takwa, as the Arabic term is rendered in both Indonesian and Javanese.
We saw above how the Indonesian scholar Khudori Soleh discussed
1 QS 2:183.
2 Azharuddin Sahil (2001: 586ff.) lists almost two hundred entries under takwa in his Indeks Al-
3 Asad 1980: 3, n. 2.
4 Al Qur’an dan Terjemahnya 1971: 8, n. 12.
5 ®HB 4,55,597.
takwa from a linguistic perspective, letting each Arabic letter represent an
Arabic word or concept, and endowed people who bertakwa (I., have takwa)
with all sorts of positive qualities. We also learned that takwa is “the most
precious predicate by the side of Allah” and that it is “the mother of all virtue.”
We were moreover able of discerning the Indonesian idea that this Godconsciousness
not only affects humans’ vertical relations with God (I.
hablum minallah) but also their horizontal ones with their fellow humans (I.
hablum minannas). As such, takwa is also a major source of morality, and
what Indonesians refer to by the expression ‘social piety’ (I. kesolehan social).
Further, in the words of the modernist Amien Rais, takwa prevents
people from becoming “dangerous secularists and materialists” and ensures
that Muslims remain patient and that they keep their promises. The famous
Indonesian da’i (I., ‘preacher’) Zainuddin also talked (indirectly) about takwa
in one of his sermons, in that he said that one should supply oneself well
while still living in this world. According to the Koran, the best of supplies is
that of takwa.6 In the Ramadanic music too did we meet the concept of takwa
when Raihan sung that lailatul qadar is a ‘gift’ to those who bertakwa.
We thus see that Indonesian comments on takwa are based in a Koranic
and ®had³thic context. We also see, however, that the normative arguments we
find in these latter texts are further elaborated upon and developed by their
contemporary Indonesian interpreters; “dangerous secularists and materialists”
refer thus not to a Koranic context but to the contemporary Indonesian
equivalent. In the popular Indonesian media, the concept of takwa is also
linked to the contemporary situation in Indonesia, as distinct from that of
seventh century Arabia. In other words, modern Indonesian commentators
both develop the Koranic concept of taqw¢a and link it to contemporary Indonesian
society and the conditions therein. We thus go from taqw¢a to takwa,
which are not identical. Takwa has its roots in taqw¢a, but contains elements
that cannot be found in—or even referred to—the latter. Taqw¢a has been
made an Indonesian indigenous and contemporary concept in the form of
Among ordinary Javanese Muslims in Java, subtle notions of either
taqw¢a or takwa are of little interest. Some Javanese—not few actually—may
be able of reciting verse 183 of s¢uratu l-baqarah and thereby drawing attention
to the relevance of taqw¢a/takwa in relation to Ramadanic fasting. Few
would, however, be able of—or interested in—elaborating on the subject
further. When asked about the goal, aim, and use of fasting in Ramadan,
Javanese Muslims may thus quote the abovementioned Koranic verse, but
they are more likely to mention other, non-takwa reasons for the annual fast.
Primary among these are the ideas that divine forgiveness lurks around the
Ramadanic corner, and that good and pious deeds are rewarded according to
a special Ramadanic scale during this month. Javanese Muslims consequently
use Ramadan to obtain divine forgiveness and for accumulating as much
6 QS 2:197.
pahala (I., A. fal¢a®h, ajr, merit, divine reward) as possible. Taking this to its
limit, some Javanese even keep count of their pahala reserve, and may state
that this-or-that action will probably render them so-and-so much pahala.
Observing similar conditions in Morocco, Buitelaar has thus talked about a
“rather transactionalist and pragmatic attitude toward the divine,” and “the
image of God as an accountant.”7 In more common language usage, we
would say that good deeds are thought to attract divine rewards and blessings,
and that some (Javanese) Muslims keep rigorous control over these
deeds and hoped-for rewards.
Names and qualities: Rama®d¢an, Bulan Memberantas Korupsi, Pasa
Ramadan may pride itself of being the only month to be mentioned in the
Koran.8 Apart from this, it also has numerous ‘nicknames’ which all tell
about Muslims’ ideas about this holy month. That Ramadan is both shahru lbarakah
in the Arab Muslim world and bulan penuh berkah (A., I., the
blessed month) in Indonesia does thus not come as a surprise. Neither should
we be surprised that Indonesian authors frequently make use the term bulan
maghfirah (I., the month of forgiveness). This nickname may be referred
back to the popular tradition in which it is said that Ramadan is divided into
three equally long sequences in which God’s grace is bestowed upon the
fasting community in three different forms (blessings, forgiveness, and the
release from the fire).
Indonesian contemporary media does not stop with these names. Instead,
a flora of other nicknames and designations are habitually employed in
this context: bulan silaturahmi (I., the month of guarding over one’s bonds of
friendship), bulan memberantas korupsi (I., the month of eliminating corruption),
bulan keadilan (I., the month of justice), bulan reformasi (I., the month
of [political] reforms), and bulan kesetaraan jender (I., the month of gender
equality), to mention just a few. We see that all these designations have relatively
clear connections to Indonesia: the first a cultural connection, the second,
third, and fourth a political ditto and the last a new but increasingly
important one.
When it comes to Ramadan’s extraordinary qualities, boons, and secrets,
Indonesian media demonstrates quite some creativity too. Hence, apart
from mentioning the normative extraordinarinesses and boons of Ramadan
such as initial Koranic revelation, divine forgiveness, and the chaining of the
devils, Indonesian authors also highlight a series of other boons. This is
probably common throughout the Muslim world.
In the daily lives of Javanese Muslims, the month of fasting is commonly
referred to simply as Wulan Pasa or Bulan Puasa (J., I., fasting
7 Buitelaar 1993: 124.
8 QS 2:185. It may also pride itself of being the only Arabic month which has been given a
widely accepted Anglicized form.
month). Even more common is the straightforward designation Ramadhan.
Apart from these names, one also frequently hear that Ramadan is a holy (I.
suci) and blessed (I. diberkati) month. But that is about all; more elaborating
designations are not made use of, and when it comes to the boons, secrets,
and extraordinarinesses of this month, Javanese ordinary Muslims generally
have little to say. Instead, focus is again on what is done in this month—not
on what is said about it. Mas Luqman, a student friend in Yogyakarta, once
pondered upon the validity of some Indonesian authors in that they discuss
the secrets (I. rahasia) of Ramadan. His point was that if God intended to
have secrets for humans (“which He surely did!”), then these secrets cannot
possibly be revealed in contemporary local scholarship. Would God really
fail to keep His secrets real secrets due to the detective work of these authors,
Luqman wondered. “If we really are talking about secrets,” he concluded,
“then we should let them be secrets.” Readers are encouraged to remember
the words of Ash-Shiddieqy, quoted in chapter four above.9
Rukyat-hisab: no problem, ideally no problem, problems
The Koran has little to say about the dating of Ramadan. In the verses concerning
the Ramadanic fast we are only told that the Muslim community
should fast “in the month of Ramadan.” In the a®h¢ad³th literature we find
more specific regulations in regard to the determination of the arrival of the
new moon. It is widely held on the basis of these two sources that Muhammad
used to rely on the physical sighting of the new moon in the first place,
and that he ‘completed’ Shaôb¢an as consisting of thirty days if the sky was
overcast. There is thus no real ‘problem’ discernable in the Koran and the
traditions in regard to the correct dating of the new month.
In the Indonesian media, on the other hand, we learn that different opinions
exist in the Muslim community as of how this date should be settled.
Some—in the Indonesian case the Muslim modernists with Muhammadiyah
at the front line—argue that the new moon should be scientifically calculated
as we now have reliable methods for doing this. Others—Muslim traditionalists
and the Indonesian government, for instance—still chose to rely on their
own eyes when it comes to settling the first of the new month. Indonesian
contemporary books, articles, and sermons that touch upon this subject are
generally rather ‘liberal,’ and simply encourage their readers and listeners to
have a wide horizon in this respect. Echoing a worn-out Indonesian slogan
they repeatedly state that plurality in the Indonesian Muslim community is a
blessing, and that differences of this kind should not create any problems.
9 Which in English translation reads: “Scientists cannot find the essence or the boons of Ramadanic
fasting, since there simply is no sound text on the matter. [And] we cannot rely on our
minds, for questions of this nature are not covered by the abilities of human reason.” (Ash-
Shiddieqy 2000: 12.)
These words of wisdom do unfortunately not reflect the Javanese reality.
In Java, as elsewhere in Indonesia, the debate concerning the correct
dating of the first of Ramadan (and Syawal) is very much alive. Wide horizons
and ideas about plurality as a blessing are regularly absent. Most years
this debate may be avoided as the different methods of determining the first
of the new month reach the same conclusions. Other years, however, tensions
and heated debates are to be expected. My experience is that these debates
and the critique they express are most often held within specific groups of
Muslims in Java. Modernists may thus criticize the allegedly backward way
of arranging rukyatul hilal sessions throughout Indonesia during the last (or
second last) day of Syaban. But they generally do this within their own
group, so as to avoid direct confrontation with those advocating such a
method. Likewise, traditionalists may very well be rather strong in their critique
of the hisab method, but they are likely to be that in places free from
modernist ears. Some persons I have talked to have echoed the contemporary
ritual handbooks saying that such differences of opinion should not stress the
Indonesian umat, and it is my impression that ideas like that are gaining
ground in contemporary Indonesia. Especially young and educated people are
likely to express such opinions.
Welcoming Ramadan: arak-arakan, ruwahan, nyekar
Javanese Muslims are quite eager to welcome or, as they say, receive (J.
nyambut) the month of fasting. Kindergartens, large companies, and local
governments all arrange special pre-Ramadanic festivities and processions (I.
arak-arakan) during the last few days of Syaban, as does shopping malls and
smaller stores. Apart from this, a large portion of the Javanese umat is also
likely to hold a special ritual, the so-called ruwahan. Javanese Muslims
spend substantial amounts of time, energy, and money on the preparations
and performances of such rituals, and it would probably be unthinkable for
many Javanese to let Syaban pass by without throwing a ruwahan.
In addition, Javanese Muslims—at least traditionalist inclined ones—
are quite likely to visit the graves (J. nyekar) of their deceased parents, parents-
in-law, or other relatives some time prior to the commencement of
Ramadan. This they do with the conviction that they need to ask for their
deceased family members’ forgiveness before they begin the fast. This is also
the general idea behind the ruwahan ritual, although one’s relations with still
living relatives and neighbors also are guarded over by means of this ritual.
Javanese Muslims are furthermore likely to demand a ‘cleaner society’
during Ramadan, and working and lobbying for this begin some time before
the fast commences. Such a society in this context means a society free from
perceived immoralities of various kinds—prostitution and gambling being the
two most targeted. Demanding a ‘clean society’ is reasonable according to
Javanese Muslims, as they do not want to be disturbed by alleged immoral
elements during their ritual activities in this holy month. Ideally, there should
be no gambling or prostitution during any time of the year in Java, but especially
not during Ramadan.
Now, what do the contemporary media have to say about these ways of
welcoming the month of fasting? Not much. Actually, nothing at all, since
neither the pre-Ramadanic arak-arakan nor the ruwahan or the practice of
nyekar are even mentioned in this ‘literature.’ True, one do occasionally run
into short articles in Indonesian newspapers that tell about certain ‘local practices,’
including throwing slametan and visiting graves, but there are never
any substantial discussions of these phenomena. Instead they are often portrayed
only as belonging to the (very local) sphere of culture (I. kebudayaan)
or tradition (I. adat), and not to that (more honorable nationwide or even
worldwide category) of religion (I. agama). It took me by some surprise that
so many pre-Ramadanic activities held to be important by Javanese Muslims
fail to cause any discussion at all in the Indonesian contemporary and popular
What we find in this media instead are repetitions of the sermon delivered
by Muhammad to his followers as Ramadan was about to commence.10
In this sermon (as we have it today) the prophet explained, amongst other
things, that the month of Ramadan is home to a night better than a thousand
nights, and that non-obligatory deeds will be rewarded as if they were obligatory,
whereas obligatory deeds will be rewarded as if they were carried out
seventy times. In addition, stress is laid on the importance of providing fellow
Muslims with food for breaking the fast in this sermon; to do this is said
to be equal (in divine rewards) to performing the fast itself. Indonesian authors
thus conclude that organizations, institutes, and neighborhood mosques
ought to arrange pre-Ramadanic meetings where the duties and regulations of
the month of fasting are elaborated upon. The purpose of such meetings
should be to repeat the sermon of the prophet and discuss its content. Ahmadi
and Prasetya suggest that the attendants of such a meeting should be presented
with “a kind of Ramadanic program in line with [their] abilities and
(Needless to say, the Koran and the a®h¢ad³th have neither references to
ruwahan nor arak-arakan.)
The supererogatory prayers: tar¢aw³®h, tarawih, traweh
Although not mentioned in the Koran and although they did not have a
‘name’ of their own during the time of the prophet, the supererogatory tarawih
prayers attract intense attention in the Indonesian contemporary media.
Muhammad used to perform such prayers under the umbrella term qiy¢amu llayl,
(A., nightly prayers) according to the traditions. Initially he performed
10 Cf. Ash-Shiddieqy 2000: 30ff, Ahmadi & Prasetya 2000: 1ff.
11 Ahmadi & Prasetya 2000: 3. ...semacam program Ramadan yang sesuai dengan kemampuan
dan keadaan pendengar.
them in the mosque but soon chose to perform them in solitude at home as he
became afraid that his followers would come to regard them as obligatory.
After his death, the caliph ôUmar decided that they should be performed
congregationally in the mosque and that the numbers of prayer cycles (A.
rakaô¢at) to be performed should be twenty-three (twenty raka’at of tarawih
and three of witir). This stands in contrast to the ®had³th that has it that Muhammad
never performed more than eighth rakaô¢at during any night, neither
in Ramadan nor in any other month.
Anticipating this condition, the modern Indonesian media discuss the
problem of the number of raka’at during the tarawih prayers at some length.
Again, it is a liberal view we meet in the literature. We are thus introduced to
the two different approaches mentioned above, and the conclusion that members
of the Islamic community may choose either eighth or twenty raka’at
according to their own convictions. Both numbers have legal backing, it is
argued, and it is nevertheless not the numbers that are of the greatest importance
here; focus should instead be on the hoped-for rewards. Instead of arguing
over the exact number of raka’at, Muslims should then spend their energy
on performing these prayers in full devotion (I. khusyuk), with the right
intention (I. niat), and in full sincerity (I. ikhlas).
In a rather lengthy discussion in chapter five, we learned that the practice
of performing these nightly supererogatory prayers (J. sholat traweh) is
held in high esteem by Javanese Muslims. Mosques and prayer houses are at
their fullest during the nights of Ramadan, and many Javanese even seem to
equal Ramadan with these traweh prayers.
The performance of the sholat traweh in Java is, however, slightly
disturbed by the difference of opinion concerning the number of raka’at
these prayers should consist of. Some perform only eight raka’at whereas
others perform twenty. Both camps refer their practices to the authentic
sources of Islam (the Koran, the traditions, the consensus of the scholars, and
the act of reasoning by analogy) in doing this. One group does this in the
light of ‘modernity’ whereas the other does it in the name of ‘tradition.’ The
result is at its best discussions, and at its worst ugly disputes. As with the
dating of the first of Ramadan, critique towards other opinions are generally
held within the own group, but regular disputes also occur. Such a traweh
dispute in Blora was discussed in chapter five.
Again, it is my impression that young and/or educated Javanese are
overrepresented in the group of Muslims who advocate a more liberal view
on the matter of raka’at in the traweh prayers. As the discussion of the
Bloran traweh dispute showed above, however, there is no guarantee that
even the combination of young and educated gives birth to ‘liberal’ views.
The first revelation: nuzulul Qur’an, lailatul qadar, maleman and iktikaf
Throughout this work we have met the idea that the Koran was first revealed
to Muhammad some time during Ramadan. In support of this, verse 185 of
s¢uratu l-baqarah says that Muslims should fast in “the month of Ramadan in
which the Koran was [first] bestowed from on high.”12 Elsewhere in the Koran,
the night in which this happened is referred to as laylatu l-qadr, the
Night of Destiny.13 The exact date of this night and the controversies around
is discussed in the a®h¢ad³th literature, and here it is also said that divine forgiveness
lurks around the corner of it.
Comparing this ‘normative’ information with what is said in the Indonesian
media on the subject we see that no major development has taken
place. Indeed, the ritual handbooks, articles, songs, and poems seem just to
repeat—albeit in translated form—the words of the Koran and the traditions.
We are thus informed about the Koranic truism that this night is “better than
a thousand months” and that God’s angels descend to earth in it.14 As a result,
members of the Muslim community are repeatedly reminded that they ought
to engage in ritual activities during this night. Broadly speaking, the normative
material stops at this, and so does the Indonesian contemporary material.
As we learned in chapter five, Indonesians commemorate two events in
this respect: lailatul qadar and nuzulul Qur’an. The lines between them and
their meanings are rather diffuse. In fact, a majority of the Javanese Muslims
seem to be unable of differentiating them from each other. The general
view—if there ever was one—is that the Koran was revealed to Muhammad
during nuzulul Qur’an and that destinies are fixed and divine rewards harvested
in heaps during lailatul qadar (if one ‘gets’ it, that is). In Indonesia,
the former is celebrated—or rather, commemorated—on the seventeenth of
Ramadan, whereas the latter receives attention ten days later, on the twentyseventh.
Occasionally, nuzulul Qur’an is also linked to the Indonesian day of
independence, which was proclaimed (during Ramadan) on August 17, 1945.
Apart from some short articles written by Nurcholish Madjid, this is not discussed
in contemporary works in Indonesia. A similar fate has been bestowed
upon the special ritual meals thrown in some quarters during both nuzulul
Qur’an and lailatul qadar, so-called maleman.
Connected to the idea of laylatu l-qadr is that of iôtik¢af (A., I. iktikaf),
or mosque seclusion. This practice is hinted at in QS 2:187, and further developed
in the a®h¢ad³th literature. Our Indonesian handbooks, articles, songs,
and poems have rather little to say about this practice. Where it is mentioned
at all it seems to be more of loyalty to the normative material, than to the
expectation that readers will engage in it. Indeed, among fasting Javanese
Muslims only a very small portion devote the last third of Ramadan to iktikaf.
12 QS 2:185.
13 QS 97.
14 Again, see QS 97.
Koran recitation
To Javanese Muslims, the recitation of the Koran is inevitable during Ramadan.
Many Javanese awake to the sound of Koran recitation broadcast from
the local mosque, and just as many fall asleep after the traweh prayers to the
same sound. In between these two occasions, large parts of the Javanese umat
also recite for themselves, listen to others reciting, or perhaps follow a course
in Koran recitation. The number of Javanese Muslims who manage to recite
the entire Koran during Ramadan is never exceeded in any other month.
As I have argued above, this ‘sudden’ interest in Koran recitation is
largely based on the idea that good deeds will be rewarded generously during
Ramadan. To this we should add, however, the fact that Muhammad used to
recite the Koran together with the archangel Jibr³l during Ramadan, and we
thus see that there is a strong link between normative texts and actual behavior
in this respect. The Indonesian contemporary media, on the other hand,
remain relatively quiet on the matter. The excellence of Koran recitation is
mentioned from time to time, but no big deal is made out of it. It is thus obvious
that ordinary Javanese Muslims lay much more stress on Koranic recitation
during Ramadan than do various forms of contemporary media.
Social piety and the implementation of Ramadanic values
To care about one’s fellow Muslims is often thought of as a religious duty.
The Koran indeed repeatedly praises people who spend a part of their wealth
in the interest of the community:
Behold, God rewards those who give in charity.15
...and all men who give alms and women who give give in charity... for [all of]
them has God readied forgiveness of sins and a mighty reward.16
Remember also that zak¢ah (A., I. zakat, charity) is one of the so-called five
pillars of Islam.
When it comes to the specific Ramadanic context, we have learnt from
a prophetic tradition that Muhammad used to become “more generous than a
fast wind” during this month. And in his pre-Ramadan sermon, the importance
of charity is repeatedly stressed.
As for the contemporary Indonesian media, we saw that it was foremost
the Ramadanic articles that addressed this topic. In these articles we found
some criticism of the way most Indonesian Muslims approach Ramadan, and
the fast therein. It was said that attention is almost entirely paid to the spiritual
or private part of Ramadanic fasting, and that the social dimension is
widely neglected. Ramadan is thus understood as a cultus privatus only, and
15 QS 12:88.
16 QS 33:35.
not as a cultus publicus. Hoped-for feelings of iba (I., affection) and kasihan
(I., pity), and the social solidarity those should invoke, are consequently
sought after in vain in the Indonesian context. Ramadan, in its capacity of a
‘momentum’ for social change and renewed social awareness, is thus not
fully appreciated, and this is as true for ‘ordinary’ Muslims as it is for politicians.
I do not fully agree with this criticism. Many Javanese Muslims state
that one of the primary goals of Ramadanic fasting is to gain an understanding
of the everyday life situation of the pauper elements (I. fakir-miskin) of
society. And this, they say, is bound to provoke feelings of pity, affection,
and social solidarity, and lead to practical action. These practical actions
generally consist of the distribution of some cash money, but it is not entirely
uncommon that people cook or buy loads of food and have that distributed to
the poor during Ramadan, or, as we saw above, allocate gifts or alms of various
kinds to them. These alms may be caused by a fear that God will not
accept (I. menerima) thirty days of fasting if they are not accompanied by
some social piety, but they may also be generated by notions of prestige (I.
gengsi) and the wish to show off (I. pamer). Anyhow, I feel that there is a
heightened social awareness during Ramadan in Java, and that the critique
presented in the discussed articles thus only partially reflects the truth. It
might be that some Javanese Muslims—both high officials and politicians as
well as ‘ordinary’ people, but probably more so the two former—are ‘insufficiently’
moved and inspired by the ‘Ramadanic momentum.’ It is not so,
however, that Javanese Muslims generally only care about the spiritual and
private dimension of the month long fast.
Other mosque activities: kultum, pengajian, classes of ngaji and tafsir
In Java, many mosques and even prayer houses arrange short Islamic lectures
(I. kultum) both at dawn and at night; the former are held in connection with
sholat subuh and the latter in connection with sholat traweh. In addition,
some mosques also hold other nightly get-togethers consisting of a sermon, a
few cookies, and some gossip—so called pengajian. These are generally
widely attended. As if this was not enough, many mosques also arrange special
Koranic classes: either classes of recitation (I. ngaji), or of exegesis (I.
Interestingly, neither normative nor popular texts have anything to say
about this role of mosques during Ramadan. What is occasionally hinted at is
that Muslims are obliged to search for knowledge during any time of the
year, and that religious activity should increase in both quantity and quality
during the holy month of fasting.
There can be no Lebaran, or perhaps even Ramadan, in Java if there is not
the practice of mudik (I., going home to one’s native area). Despite the many
hardships that await Javanese Muslims who will undertake such a journey, an
amazingly large number of them are so eager to depart, that iktikaf and other
‘late’ Ramadanic activities have to be neglected. Focus is on two things: get a
ticket, and get on the vehicle. Everything else—outrageous prices, traffic
jams, intense discomfort, etc—is not weighed in the decision to go mudik. To
mudik in connection with Lebaran is perhaps the only chance during the year
to meet up with family and friends, and this is indeed the main reason for
going. Those eager to have a religious (Islamic) motivation for the practice of
mudik refer to the silaturahmi—both with living and deceased relatives—
such a journey enables.
Similarly to the fate of ‘other mosque activities’ discussed above, the
practice of mudik is not mentioned in the popular and contemporary Indonesian
media that discusses Ramadanic fasting. When it comes to the feast of
Lebaran focus is instead on the special id prayers, to which we now turn.
Idul Fitri – nothing more than the id prayer?
ô´Idu l-fiçtr (A., I. Idul Fitri), or the feast that concludes the month of Ramadan,
is not mentioned in the Koran. In the traditions, focus is generally only
on the performance of the special ô³d prayer and the khuçtbah (A., sermon)
presented in connection with it. We thus understand that there is little more to
this holiday than performing the congregational prayer and listening to the
sermon at the morning of the first of Shawwal. Added to this are a few optional
ritual details: one should ideally have taken a bath the same morning,
one should dress in one’s best clothes, and one should not take the same way
back from the ritual location as the one used to get there. As far as the ritual
handbooks are concerned, nothing more is added to this (Koranic and
®had³thic) view of the feast.
In the Indonesian Ramadanic articles, songs, poems and even soap
operas, however, the feast of Idul Fitri is more thoroughly elaborated upon.
Here we find discussions about this day as the day of victory (I. hari kemenangan),
and the day during which Muslims return or are returned to their
natural dispositions (I. fitrah). We also find an emphasis on the Indonesian
post-Ramadanic habit of silaturahmi and halalbihalal, and especially the
importance that should be attached to them. Stressed in this material is naturally
also the need for asking for forgiveness on the day of Idul Fitri. Some
authors choose to stress the Islamic character of practices such as halalbihalal
and silaturahmi, whereas others choose to stress their Javanese character.
For Javanese Muslims, there is much more to Lebaran than the id
prayer; in fact, the id prayer is just the beginning of the feast. The Javanese
celebration of the end of the fast has been rather thoroughly discussed above,
and we need not reiterate that discussion here. Suffice it to mention some
aspects of it that receives attention neither in the normative nor the popular
texts: sungkeman, refined handshakes, salam tempel, nyekar, karaoke feasts,
kartu Lebaran, and post-Ramadanic syawalan feasts.
Summary: a multitude of relationships
From this short exercise in comparisons, we may now safely conclude that
there exists no ‘standard’ relationship between the entities we have called
normative, written, and lived Ramadan. In some instances we have seen that
the Indonesian contemporary media has developed and elaborated normative
ideas, and firmly established them in the contemporary Indonesian society.
At the same time, ‘ordinary’ Javanese Muslims have cared little about such
ideas in the first place, and instead focused on the practical sides of Ramadan
[1, 2].17
We have also seen how, among Javanese Muslims, a problem has been
created from normative sources, where such a problem is seemingly absent.
In this case, the popular Indonesian texts have tried to reduce this problem to
a minor issue, by way of focusing on other aspects of the specific ritual [3].
In another similar but different case, we have learned that partially confusing
normative texts have had their confusion reduced in popular Indonesian texts,
in order to reduce tensions in Javanese society [5].
In yet some other instances, we have realized that the Indonesian media
only repeats what is said in the normative texts, without paying much attention
to the actual—and occasionally confused—situation in Java [6, 11].
Furthermore, we have also seen that some Javanese practices fail to be mentioned
in both the normative texts and their contemporary and popular
equivalents [4, 9, 10]. In yet another discussion did we see that there is a
stronger link between actual practice and normative texts than there is to
contemporary media [7]. Similarly, we also observed another strong link
between actual and normative sides of Ramadan in another instance, although
the contemporary media argued that this bond was non-existent. [8].
In short, the relation between normative, written, and lived Ramadan
cannot be described with the same terms in all instances.
17 Numbers within brackets refer to the various headings in this subsection. [1] thus refers to the
discussion on takwa, [2] to that of Ramadanic names and boons, [3] to that of the rukyat-hisab
controversy, [4] to that of Javanese ways of welcoming the month, [5] to that of traweh prayers,
[6] to that of the first Koranic revelation, [7] to that of Koran recitation, [8] to that of social
piety, [9] to that of mosque activities, [10] to that of mudik, and, finally, [11] to that of Idul Fitri.
I presented the idea in the introduction to this work that popular media may
perhaps be seen as ‘cultural brokers.’ I argued that we may preferably regard
the contemporary Indonesian media expressions as mediators between what
has been referred to as ‘normative’ and ‘practical’ Islam respectively. It was
my idea that these media kind of had one leg in each tradition, and that they
were able of making the two communicate. It is now time to see just how
successful brokers the contemporary and popular Indonesian Ramadan media
expressions have been; that is, to what extent they have succeeded in mediating
between these two traditions. Again, nothing general can be said.
Successful broking
In only two cases discussed in this work can we talk about popular media’s
successful broking in Ramadanic questions. These two cases are those of the
rukyat-hisab controversy and the traweh dispute. ‘Successful,’ the reader
understands, refers not primarily to actual success in convincing or educating
Javanese Muslims; should that be the case, we should not meet these controversies
and disputes in contemporary Java. Much more modest then, the term
rather refers to a success in appreciating a problem and discussing it from
various angles.
Concerning the rukyat-hisab controversy, we saw that the ritual handbooks
had a relatively tolerant view of various practices, even though all of
them favored the rukyatul hilal method. This tolerance was most clearly seen
in the work of the modernist Ash-Shiddieqy who—uncharacteristically for a
Muslim modernist in Indonesia—argued for rukyatul hilal and that the two
methods of rukyah and hisab should complement each other in this enterprise.
Similar attitudes were presented by some Indonesian astronomers during
Ramadan 2002. Likewise, Indonesian newspapers and various talk shows
in radio and TV unconditionally present such a tolerant view of the rukyathisab
controversy, which should not be a controversy at all according to
writers and speakers in these media. Should various groups of Muslims in
Indonesia settle for different dates for either commencing or concluding the
annual fast, then local ulama, scholars, and politicians are quick to note in
various contexts that such a result should not disturb the Indonesian umat.
Instead, Indonesian Muslims should take the opportunity of enjoying the
plurality their country possesses.
It is noteworthy that I have never read or heard any comment in popular
Indonesian media that straightforwardly condemns either of the two methods
of rukyatul hilal or hisab. It is in this respect we can call that media ‘successful
brokers,’ since they nevertheless discuss the issue at some length.
When it comes to the sholat traweh—or, rather, the number of raka’at
these prayers should consist of—we found an even more tolerant, liberal, and
inclusive attitude in the ritual handbooks. After discussing various ideas of
how many units the traweh prayers should comprise, and presenting lengthy
and very manual-like sections on how these should be carried out, all of our
handbooks agreed that the question concerning the number of raka’at should
not pose any problems to the Indonesian or Javanese Muslim community.
Instead of concentrating on this matter, focus should be on the aim of the
prayers themselves, and the performer’s intent and hoped-for sincerity. As for
the number of raka’at, the Indonesian author Romdoni Muslim concluded
that each Muslim may decide for either eight or twenty, according to her own
convictions and abilities. ‘Islam’ does not settle for a specific number, and
various constituents of the Islamic community cannot, as a consequence, act
arrogantly and blame others for doing ‘wrong.’ Again, comments in the Indonesian
popular media on Ramadan that condemns either of the two raka’at
convictions are, to the best of my knowledge, non-existent. Hence the ‘success’
of the contemporary media in this respect too.
Less successful broking
In many more instances than those just discussed, we see that the broking or
mediating qualities of the Indonesian contemporary and popular Ramadan
media are rather meager. This is somewhat unfortunate, since many practices
held dear by the Javanese umat consequently are not mentioned—let alone
discussed—in this media. It might be that authors have no wish to regard
these practices as belonging to the Islamic (normative) tradition, and thus
choose not to mention them. If this is the case—I am not sure it is—one
would rather see some cultural critique in these works, but that too is virtually
First and foremost, it is the Javanese ways of nyambut (J., receiving)
the month of fasting that are left unmentioned in the popular media. Practices
that are nearly inseparable from Ramadan according to the Javanese way of
appreciating this month are thus simply ignored by this media. As we learned
in chapter five above, many Javanese Muslims go out of their ways in their
‘welcoming’ of the month of fasting, and practices such as arak-arakan,
ruwahan, and nyekar are intrinsic to the ritual complex that constitutes
Ramadan. It is perhaps true that Muslim traditionalists in Java are more inclined
than modernists to perform these pre-Ramadanic rituals, and that we
therefore might expect that authors feel uncomfortable in discussing them.
But then again, this popular media demonstrates a rather traditionalist view in
several other instances. The question why these practices are left
unmentioned must then be left behind—unfortunate for us, and, I believe, for
Javanese Muslims. It is obvious that the popular Indonesian media cannot be
referred to as ‘cultural brokers’ in this respect.
The same can be said about the media discussions on nuzulul Qur’an,
lailatul qadar, and maleman. What we find in the media are mere repetitions
of the normative material; discussions of Javanese actual practice are sought
after in vain. There are thus practically no words on the confusion concerning
the two commemorations of lailatul qadar and nuzulul Qur’an in contemporary
Java,18 and neither is there any discussion on the specific slametan during
these commemorations.
Concerning the feast of Lebaran or Idul Fitri, a similar condition can
also be discerned. In the ritual handbooks, Idul Fitri is simply reduced to the
special id prayers and some additional normative ritual details. The Ramadanic
articles present a slightly more nuanced discussion of the feast, but they
are nevertheless still far from the Javanese ‘reality’ with its queer mix of
sungkeman and Elvis on the karaoke set.
All these cases then falsify the idea I had that contemporary and popular
Indonesian media discussing Ramadanic issues can be regarded as ‘cultural
brokers.’ It is obvious how these media fail to mediate between normative
and practical Islam.
Little interest and/or no broking needed
In yet some other instances, there is only little need for, or interest in, broking
activities. Such is the case for example in regard to the taqw¢a/takwa discussion,
and the discussions about the additional names and extraordinary qualities
of Ramadan. There is no need for mediating here, since Javanese Muslims
generally only show a minor interest in such discussions. There is further,
so to say, no ‘problem’ or discrepancy between normative and actual
Islam in this respect—due to the Javanese disinterest—, and any mediating
attempts by the contemporary media would necessarily be superfluous. Two
other instances where no broking is needed are those of mudik and what has
been referred to above as ‘other mosque activities.’
In order to widen the horizon of the Javanese Ramadan that stands in focus in
this work, we will now turn our attention outward to see how Ramadan has
been described in relatively recent times elsewhere. As already mentioned,
such reports on Ramadan written in English are very few. Focus in this section
will be on comparing Ramadan in Java with ‘Ramadans’ elsewhere, but
an enterprise like this necessarily also becomes a survey and critique of the
available (English) Ramadan literature. The decision to present this survey so
late in this work has been motivated by my will not to ‘burden’ the reader
with ideas and imaginations of ‘other Ramadans’ before the Javanese case
was thoroughly discussed. By doing this, I hope the reader’s preconceived
18 The one odd exception in this respect is Nurcholish Madjid, but even his treatment of the issue
is rather elusive.
notions of what Ramadan ‘should’ or ‘should not’ consist of have been held
to a minimum.
Women’s participation: Buitelaar
To the best of my knowledge, the one and only monograph (written in English)
being solely dedicated to the ethnographic study of Ramadan, is that of
Marjo Buitelaar. Her work, Fasting and Feasting in Morocco: Women’s
Participation in Ramadan, was published in 1993.19 This is a valuable, interesting,
and entertaining work, as it throws light on how Ramadan is lived in a
Moroccan context. Buitelaar focuses primarily on the lives of Moroccan
women in her study, however, and thus conveys only a partial understanding
of Ramadan due to the relatively strict segregation of the sexes in Moroccan
society. Her work is moreover hampered by a common feminist way of reasoning,
which seems to have as its goal to defend female practices, and discard
male dittos. She can thus say that women are “disadvantaged” when it
comes to voluntarily fasting, since they are to ask their husbands for their
consents before they begin fasting. Without that consent, there may be no
voluntarily fast. Men are thus the ones in control of religious merit, ajr; they
may fast whenever they want to.20 What Buitelaar oversees is the common
idea among Muslims, that a woman who obeys her husband’s wish—in this
case abstaining from fasting—will also receive divine merit for that very
reason. In this view then, her husband supplies her with ajr without her having
to perform the voluntary fast in the first place. In Java, I have never heard
a woman complain over the fact that she would have to ask for her husband’s
consent if she wanted to perform voluntarily fasting. Instead, I have been
presented with the idea that married couples should discuss all matters—
including religious ones—with each other before acting alone. More than one
woman have added that there are more than three hundred potential days for
voluntarily fasting during a year, and that a women and her husband should
be able of finding suitable days among them to perform such a fast.
Elsewhere, Buitelaar, in a similar shallow line of reasoning, suggests
that women “have not completed the process of purification [during Ramadan]
as effectively as men have,” since the women wear colorful dresses
instead of the white, pure jell¢aba during ô³du l-fiçtr.21 Turning the argument
the other way around, one could perhaps suggest that men have not had so
much fun as the women during Ramadan, since they do not adorn themselves
with colorful dresses. For men, a simple white color is enough for the occa-
19 Buitelaar 1993. This is a slightly revised version of her Ph.D. thesis “Fasting and Feasting in
Morocco: An Ethnographic Study of the Month of Ramadan” (1991).
20 Buitelaar 1993: 35f.
21 Buitelaar 1993: 112.
sion. Buitelaar also states that women are excluded from the ô³d prayer since
“they should not be seen by men while praying.”22 This too is a partial truth
only: men should not be seen by women while praying either; segregation
always involves at least two parties.
Anyhow, Fasting and Feasting contains sufficient ethnographic data
for us to understand the general features of Ramadan in Moroccan (female)
society. After discussing the “prescriptions on fasting in Islamic law” in the
first chapter of the work, the author proceeds to discuss the activities of Moroccan
Muslims during the month of Shaôb¢an.23 Here we may read about
certain practices and ideas that make Ramadan in Morocco a specific Moroccan
ritual: the special ®hr„±ra (MA.)24 soup, the „sebbak„±ya (MA.) cookies,
Ramadan banners, etc. We learn that women during this month spend some
time and energy on cleaning their houses and buying new kitchen utensils:
purity is central to the Moroccan idea of Ramadan according to Buitelaar (see
also below), and there is supposed to be barakah, blessings, in new kitchen
ware. This month also sees the celebration of a substantial numbers of wedding
parties. An engaged man who (due to different reasons) cannot yet get
married to his fianc‚e will have to send special Shaôb¢an presents to his brideto-
be, and attend a party held in honor of the engaged couple in the house of
his future parents-in-law. Moroccan Muslims, we are told, also arrange special
“Shaban parties” during this month, so called „seôb„ana (MA.), in order
to—in the words of one of Buitelaar’s informants—“rejoice and celebrate the
coming of Ramadan.”25 Unfortunately, neither the engaged-couple-party nor
the „seôb„ana are discussed at any length by Buitelaar.
Moroccan Muslims often also fast for a couple of days during Shaôb¢an:
some make up for missed days during last year’s Ramadan, whereas others
follow the way of the prophet who is said to have fasted more during
Shaôb¢an than during any other month (except Ramadan). It is noteworthy that
Moroccan women prefer to make up for missed days due to menstruation as
soon as possible after Ramadan, and thus depart from the example set by one
of the prophet’s wives. The most popular day for voluntary fasting during
this month falls on the fifteenth (MA. nuââ), during which God is thought to
decide “who will live and who will die in the year to come.”26
Apart from cleaning their houses and kitchen utensils, Moroccan
women also have various methods of purifying their bodies during this pre-
Ramadanic month: Buitelaar mentions visits to the public bath (MA.
−hamm„am), the suspension of drinking alcohol forty days before the fast (!),
22 Buitelaar 1993: 74, n. 24.
23 It is surprising that Buitelaar in her first chapter (and, indeed, throughout the work) fails to
discuss the concept of taqw¢a, which is the ultimate Koranic goal of fasting during Ramadan as
laid out in QS 2:183.
24 ‘MA’ in this section refers to Moroccan Arabic as transliterated by Buitelaar.
25 Buitelaar 1993: 32.
26 Buitelaar 1993: 35.
and bloodletting.27 In addition to this, Moroccan women (associated with the
religious order of Gnawa) also purifies their psyche during Shaôb¢an by way
of nights of trance-dancing. This practice is described by Buitelaar at some
length; in fact, it receives a longer discussion than any other Ramadan connected
ritual in her work.28 I am not sure if the length of this discussion corresponds
to the importance attached by Moroccan Muslims to these l„±la
(MA.) or derdeba (MA.), nights of trance-dancing. Without going in to details
here, we should note that the general idea behind these nightly rituals
seems to be to bid a temporary farewell to the spirits who will be locked up in
shackles during Ramadan.29 The whole ritual thus has a ®had³thic motivation.
Let us pause for a moment here and compare Moroccan Shaôb¢an activities
with their Javanese counterparts. As Muslims in Morocco, the Javanese
are eager to finish off whatever they have going in Ruwah (J., A. Shaôb¢an).
Differing from the Moroccan case, however, this does not generally include
the arrangement of wedding parties, which are more likely to be held in the
months of Besar (J., A. Dh¢u l-®hijjah) or Mulud (J., A. Rab³ôu l-awwal). There
is further no idea in Java that one’s house should be thoroughly cleaned during
Ruwah, or that one’s kitchens utensils should either be washed and polished
or, ideally, replaced with new—barakah loaded—ones.30 Java share,
however, the presence of various special Ramadan foodstuff and Ramadan
banners during Ruwah with the Moroccan case, and the Moroccan „seôb„ana
could perhaps be likened to the Javanese ruwahan ritual. The scarce information
of the seôb„ana in Fasting and Feasting unfortunately deplores further
Both Moroccan and Javanese Muslims seem to spend more time fasting
during Shaôb¢an than during any other month, and this is in line with the practice
of the prophet. It seems, however, that the importance of fasting during
the fifteenth (MA. nuââ, I. nisfu Syaban) is more stressed in Morocco than in
Java. In Java there is no pre-Ramadanic ritual which has as its aim to bid
farewell to the spirits that will be locked up during the fast, and neither is
there any ideas comparable to those of the purity of the body and the psyche
in Morocco. There is no culture of going to public baths in Indonesia, and
bloodletting as a means of ‘removing bad blood’ during Shaôb¢an is unheard
In Java, we have seen that the problem of the dating of the first of
Ramadan is widely discussed: modernists argue for the calculation of the new
moon, whereas the traditionalists argue for the physical sighting of it. Buitelaar
has apparently not observed any such discussions in Morocco, since
she—in her section on the “prescriptions on fasting in Islamic law”—simply
27 Buitelaar 1993: 39.
28 Buitelaar 1993: 40-51.
29 Buitelaar 1993: 42.
30 The idea that the whole society should be ‘cleaned up’ from immoral elements is shared by
both Javanese and Moroccan Muslims (Buitelaar 1993: 111).
suggests that “the first and last day of Ramadan should not be determined by
calculation, but by witnessing the new moon.”31 As I understand it, her words
‘should not be’ in this quote could also be replaced by ‘is not.’ Looking from
the Javanese perspective, I must admit that it seems odd that all Moroccan
Muslims should accept this.
For Javanese Muslims, there is also the practice of nyekar (J.), or going
to one’s deceased relatives’ graves, during Ruwah. Just as the ruwahan ritual,
this practice is occasionally referred to by the expression ngirim donga (J.,
send prayers), which then reveals its ultimate goal. As we know, Javanese
Muslims also go nyekar after the conclusion of the fast, in connection with
the feast of Lebaran. In Morocco, Buitelaar reports that it is the day after the
27th of Ramadan (the day after laylatu l-qadr, that is) that is the “the day of
the visit to the deceased” (MA. nh„ar z-ziy„ara). Differing from the Javanese
case, Moroccan Muslims do not refer to this practice as ‘sending prayers’ but
rather as ‘giving alms’ (MA. nâedqu), and these alms are directed to the still
Turing to the actual month of fasting, we see that Buitelaar’s account of
it is focused on a few major themes: the “preferred days” (15th and 27th) of
this month, Ramadanic food and daily habits, and the feast of ô³du l-fiçtr.
On the eve before the first Ramadan, people go out of their houses to
congratulate their neighbors and say mebr„uk ôl„ik çrem®d„an (MA., ‘blessings be
upon you this Ramadan’), the answer to which is ll„ah ib„arak f„ik (MA., ‘God
bless you’). There is a festive atmosphere and children gather “to march from
alley to alley, beating their drums and singing special Ramadan chants.”33
Talking about everyday life during the holy month of fasting, Buitelaar says
that people in Morocco like to sleep late; unemployed women may sleep as
late as nine or ten o’clock, and “many take a nap at noon” (!).34 Concerning
the food eaten during this month, Buitelaar says that both the quality and the
quantity of it increase, and she speaks of “lavish Ramadan meals” and “excessive
consumption.”35 Special attention is given to the aforementioned
®hr„±ra soup, which is inevitable at the time for breaking the fast, and contributes
to the specific Moroccan character of Ramadanic fasting. Families are
inclined to break the fast together, and, indeed, the “family ethos is strongly
emphasised during Ramadan.”36
31 Buitelaar 1993: 29. In this same section Buitelaar also simply states that the “conditions that
render the fast valid are that one should pronounce the intention to fast and be in a pure state.”
She thus ignores several other prerequisites of the person fasting according to the M¢alik³te
school of law (which Moroccan Muslims adhere to): to be a Muslim, to be sane, to be capable of
performing the fast, and to be in the month of Ramadan. Cf. chapter three above, and the section
on ‘Legal Differences.’
32 Buitelaar 1993: 70.
33 Buitelaar 1993: 53.
34 Buitelaar 1993: 55f.
35 Buitelaar 1993: 58. I have already commented on this in chapter five above.
36 Buitelaar 1993: 59.
The first of the “preferred days” is that of weâçt çrem®d„an (MA.), the middle
of Ramadan. We learn nothing more from Fasting and Feasting than this
celebration includes giving toys to children and having a soup of chicken or
rabbit for supper. The second of the preferred days, that of laylatu l-qadr, is
more thoroughly discussed. People in Morocco refer to this night as s-sebôa u
ôe„sr„±n, that is, ‘the 27th.’37 Moroccan children often fast for the first time
during the day prior to this night, and mosques are full of people “praying
and reciting the Koran.” Women, being largely excluded from mosques,
however, rather go to visits the tombs of various saints.38 Laylatu l-qadr is
further believed to be the night when the spirits—who have been locked up
during Ramadan—returns to the face of the earth. Moroccan Muslims thus
burn incense to welcome them back, according to some of Buitelaar’s informants.
According to other, however, the incense is meant for the angels
that—according to the Koran—descend to the earth during this night.39
Before ô³du l-fiçtr, the entire house is again cleaned, and Moroccan Muslims
pay the zak„at al-fiçtr. This special Ramadan tax is paid in either wheat or
cash in Morocco, and people who have the legal right to collect such alms
come to do that at the houses of those who will pay. Among those collecting
fiçtra, one’s midwife, the local oboe player, the dustman, and the watchman,
are to be expected. One can also distribute extra fiçtra for various reasons.40
During the feast of ô³d, people send ‘breakfasts’ to their neighbors, and visit
relatives. The special ô³d prayer is “exclusively visited by men”; women stay
at home and are busy applying henna on their feet and hands.41
The starkest contrast to the Javanese Ramadan as described in chapter
five above, is the minimal attention paid to the supererogatory nightly prayers
(A. tar¢aw³®h) in Buitelaar’s work. She mentions their existence briefly,42 but
fails to discuss them or even describe them. As I have hinted elsewhere in
this work, this is probably due—partly, at least—to the fact that Buitelaar is a
woman and thus has had limited access to mosques during her fieldwork. In
Marrakech, Buitelaar says she knew of no one (woman) who performed these
nightly prayers in the mosque, whereas in Berkane, even the mother in her
host family “went with friends to pray the tar¢aw³®h in the mosque.”43 There is
thus undeniably a certain importance attached to these prayers by women in
Morocco too. They are perhaps not as identified with Ramadan as they are in
Java, but I doubt that Buitelaar’s failed account of them reflects the general
female attitude in Morocco. One also wonders why she did not go along her
female host to the mosque.
37 Buitelaar 1993: 64.
38 Buitelaar 1993: 65.
39 Buitelaar 1993: 69.
40 Buitelaar 1993: 72f.
41 Buitelaar 1993: 74.
42 Buitelaar 1933: 25, 60, 61.
43 Buitelaar 1993: 61.
I was also surprised by the little attention that is paid Koranic recitation
by Buitelaar and/or her informants. In one passage, Buitelaar says that “neither
in Marrakech nor in Berkane did I meet people who actually read the
Koran.”44 This too strongly contrasts with the condition in Java where
Koranic recitation is inseparable from the month of Ramadan.
The “preferred days” too differs from conditions in Java. The middle of
Ramadan is not celebrated in any way by Javanese Muslims, and when it
comes to the phenomena of lailatul qadar, there is much more confusion than
Buitelaar suggests there is in Morocco. In Java we have the double commemoration
of lailatul qadar and nuzulul Qur’an, and concerning the date
for at least the first of these are there different opinions. The 27th is a recurring
date mentioned in Java, but various other views are to be expected too. I
have never heard that children perform their first fast during the day prior to
the night of lailatul qadar in Indonesia, and neither have I met the idea that
the spirits should return to earth on this night. (Logically this would suggest
that Ramadan ends with lailatul qadar, and this is not the case, according to
Muslims in Java.)
In Java, the sholat id is for everybody: half of the congregation is female,
and even menstruating women come along for the festive occasion,
although they do not join the congregational prayer. With the balloons and
everything, there is a carinvalesque atmosphere. The Indonesian practice of
silaturahmi after the performance of the id prayer seems to resemble the
Moroccan practice of ‘sending breakfasts’ and paying visits to family and
friends. Notions of forgiveness and reconciliation are also present in Morocco
during this day.45 Judging from Buitelaar’s account, the importance of
it is more stressed in Java, however. According to many Javanese themselves,
silaturahmi during Idul Fitri is a thoroughly Indonesian custom that has no
equivalent in the Muslim world. As such it is often presented as a source of
This is not the place to discuss Buitelaar’s analytical discussion of Moroccan
Ramadan, but a few words on it seem inescapable. Buitelaar argues
that there are “three key notions” in the Moroccan view that make Ramadanic
fasting “a meaningful act.”46 Elsewhere she speaks of “three notions through
which Moroccans construct the practice of fasting.”47 These three notions are
that of umma, çtah¢ara, and ajr (MA.): i.e., the Muslim community, (ritual)
purity, and spiritual rewards. The only of these that seems specifically Moroccan
is that of çtah¢ara; ritual purity is indeed of immense importance to
Moroccan Muslims.48 As such it is not solely linked to Ramadanic fasting,
however. Ideas of the wider Muslim community and hopes for divine rewards
44 Buitelaar 1993: 66.
45 Buitelaar 1993: 76, 89.
46 Buitelaar 1993: 77.
47 Buitelaar 1993: 177. Italics added.
48 See ïstergaard’s dissertation (2002) on ritual purity in Morocco.
probably play a role in virtually all Islamic rituals, regardless of their actors’
geographic location.49 The five pillars of Islam, for example, do all in one
way or another call attention to the fact that Muslims all over the world share
some common ideas.50 Likewise, the notion of divine rewards as a reimbursement
for the performance of religious rituals are to be expected—is not
that one of the very basics of what we call ‘religiosity’? In Java too, Ramadanic
fasting involves notions of the wider Muslim community and that of
divine rewards (I. pahala), whereas that of ritual purity generally not is emphasized.
As for the notions of umat and pahala, Javanese Muslims do not,
however, present such a coherent front as the Moroccan Muslims do in Fasting
and Feasting. The idea of the unity of the Muslim community cannot be
but disturbed when even small neighborhoods in the Javanese countryside are
divided by different opinions on how Ramadan should be carried out. Members
of the Javanese umat (may) begin and end the fast on various days, and
differ in their performance of various Ramadanic rituals. Moreover, certain
(Ramadanic) rituals are not approved of by all Javanese Muslims, and here
the idea of hoped for pahala becomes important: whereas some Muslims
regard a certain practice as forbidden syirk (I., innovation), others regard it as
highly pahala generating. When I read Buitelaar’s analytical discussion, I
thus got the feeling that her ‘key notions’ and ideas of the ‘construction’ of
Ramadanic fasting not are as important and meaningful to Moroccan Muslims
as they are to herself.
Finally, Buitelaar also discusses Ramadan as a “liminal month.”51
Without discussing it at any length here, I agree that Ramadan may be seen
as having certain ‘liminal qualities’ or ‘liminal characteristics.’ From this
insight to the idea more generally that “[n]ormal patterns of classification
fade or are turned upside down during Ramadan,”52 the step is too far for me,
however. (This issue will be further discussed in chapter seven.)
49 Buitelaar also notes this (1993: 156) when she says that ‘her’ three key concepts “also feature
in the celebration of the other religious feasts,” but that they not are “articulated as clearly as
during the fast.” Unfortunately, Buitelaar only mentions “feasts” and not other more non-festive
religious rituals.
50 The testimony of faith (A. shah¢adah) should ideally be pronounced in Arabic, and thus invites
its articulator to a wider community whose members share this ritual language to various
degrees. In the five daily prayers (A. âal¢ah), Muslims all over the world turn to Masjidu l-®Har¢am
in Mecca, and the distribution of the alms (A. zak¢ah) surely draws attention to the wider
community. The annual pilgrimage to Mecca (A. −hajj) is likewise very concerned with wider
Islamic ideals. That Ramadan also involves notions of the Islamic ôummah should thus not
surprise us.
51 Buitelaar 1993: 159ff.
52 Buitelaar 1993: 181.
ïstergaard: additional material on Morocco
The Danish historian of religion Kate ïstergaard, has also paid attention to
Ramadan in the Moroccan context.53 As her ethnographic description is both
relatively short and based only on observations in one single family in Casablanca,
her data must be approached with some caution.54 Nevertheless, her
studies are important in that they throw some additional light on Buitelaar’s
description. We thus see that some of the phenomena we encountered in
Fasting and Feasting are found in ïstergaard’s work—and her Moroccan
family in Casablanca—too, whereas others are not. That houses are thoroughly
cleaned prior to Ramadan is attested by ïstergaard’s experience, and
she also notes the special Moroccan foodstuff mentioned by Buitelaar.55
ïstergaard also confirms that Moroccan Muslims tend to sleep late during
Ramadan, and that they are of the conviction that the beginning of Ramadan
should be settled only after spotting the physical moon. Indeed, the new
moon “must not be calculated.”56 To idea of letting girls fast for the first time
during laylatu l-qadr is also to be found in Casablanca, as is the idea of the
importance of the fifteenth of Ramadan.57
ïstergaard could not find anything that resembled Buitelaar’s “trancenights,”
58 and did consequently not observe people lighting incense on the
27th of Ramadan in order to ‘guide’ the returning spirits in Casablanca.59
Neither did she find that women pay visits to the tombs of saints during laylatu
l-qadr.60 Interestingly (and misleadingly), Buitelaar pays very much
attention to precisely these rituals: the trance-dance and the visits to various
shrines. (And this is an example of what I mean when I say that many anthropologists
in Muslim surroundings focus on what is not Islam.)
As Buitelaar, ïstergaard fails to discuss the Koranic goal of Ramadanic
fasting: taqw¢a. Instead she states that the “object of Ramadan can be said to
be the sanctification (helligholdelsen) of the revelation of the Koran.”61 As a
consequence of this, a large portion of her work on Ramadan is dedicated to
laylatu l-qadr. Resembling Buitelaar’s work, discussions of the tar¢aw³®h and
ô³d prayers are absent in ïstergaard’s studies. This is significant, for ïstergaard
criticizes those scholars who just focus on either of the two sides of
‘normative’ or ‘practical’ Islam. More precisely, she criticizes anthropolo-
53 ïstergaard 1994, ïstergaard 1996.
54 ïstergaard is aware of this, and says she makes no claims of presenting a representative
description of the broader layers of Moroccan society (1994: 51).
55 ïstergaard 1994: 53. In contrast to Buitelaar, ïstergaard (1994: 62) also notes the importance
of dates, and mentions (1994: 53) some kind of pancakes.
56 ïstergaard 1994: 56.
57 ïstergaard 1994: 65ff.
58 ïstergaard 1994: 55.
59 ïstergaard 1994: 73.
60 ïstergaard 1994: 72.
61 ïstergaard 1994: 95.
gists for regarding Islamic formal rituals as uninteresting.62 Again, it is
probably her—in this respect—disadvantaged position as a women that has
rendered her unable of studying these highly important (and ‘normative’)
Ramadanic rituals.
Richard T. Antoun’s article63 on Ramadan in a Jordan village provides us
only with little ethnographic information, as the focus is on “social, political
and economic relations” rather than on “ritual and belief.”64 Antoun is thus
interested in the effects of Ramadanic fasting on various sets of relations. He
observes that “the Islamic norm which receives the strongest affirmation
during Rama®d¢an is generosity,”65 and discusses how this softens economic
inequalities during the month of fasting. When it comes to the social relations,
he notices an increased social interaction during Ramadan, with its
invitations, visits, and opportunities for reconciliation. The primary occasion
for this is the feast concluding the month. Apart from the common visits,
congratulations, and handshakes, Jordan Muslim men also send special gifts
(A. ô³d³ya) to females who have married outside the patrilineal group.66 The
sending of such gifts to close female relatives is regarded as obligatory. It is
during the ô³d festival that political relations are guarded over too, and this by
means of visits to political leaders and to members of other clans.67
Antoun observes certain practices that we need to note here. The first is
that boys generally enter the village mosque for the first time during Ramadan,
and are ‘initiated’ to the world of men at that occasion.68 It is more
common for both boys and men (and girls and women!) in Java to visit the
mosque during Ramadan than during any other month of the year, but there is
no idea among the Javanese that boys should enter a mosque for the first time
during the fasting month. Neither is there in Java a “Festival of Old Women”
(A. ô³d al-ôaj¢aéis) after six days of additional fasting in the month of Shawwal,
as Antoun reports there is in Jordan.69 There is no need for Javanese
women to arrange a separate festival a week after the ô³d proper, since they
partake in the ‘original’ festivities at the same conditions as men do. Other
Ramadan related practices that Antoun observes in Jordan include the performance
of twenty units of tar¢aw³®h prayers (by men only), the recitation of
62 ïstergaard 1994: 1.
63 The article was published in Muslim World in two installments in 1968 (Antoun 1968a,
Antoun 1968b).
64 Antoun 1968a: 36.
65 Antoun 1968a: 39.
66 Antoun 1968b: 95.
67 Antoun 1968b: 99.
68 Antoun 1968b: 99.
69 Antoun 1968b: 100.
maw¢alid (A., panegyric poems in praise of the prophet), the recitation of the
Koran, the circumcision of boys, and the commemoration (including a special
mawlid) of laylatu l-qadr.70 One wonders of there is a connection between
the circumcision of boys and their first entrance to the mosque; in Java, boys
are aggregated to the male Muslim community at the occasion of circumcision
(whatever month that may take place in). Circumcision itself is occasionally
referred to by the term ngislamake (J., to make someone a Muslim).
Finally, we should note that it in Jordan is not the quantity of food that
increases during Ramadan, but rather the quality. In fact, the regular three
meals a day are replaced by two meals during Ramadan.71 Similar conditions
may be observed in Java (but apparently not in Morocco).
Fallers: Advent and Ramadan
Lloyd A. Fallers discusses in his article “Notes On An Advent Ramadan” the
“holy months” of Ramadan and Advent.72 Being a Christian anthropologist in
Turkey during a time (1968) when the two “months” coincided, comparison
between them came natural, as each of them, in the word’s of Faller, “celebrates
God’s deliverance of Himself to man.”73 Instead of providing ethnographic
information on Ramadan in a Turkish context, however, the article is
more concerned with discussing the author’s own theological convictions and
the relation of religion and society in Turkey on a more general level. The
little Ramadanic information that is presented deals with a mosque meeting
during Berat Gecesi (T., A. nisfu Shaôb¢an),74 the celebration of Kadir (T., A.
laylatu l-qadr) and the organizing of special konuâma (T.) ‘talks,’ resembling
the Javanese kultum, during Ramadan.
Yocum: Ramadan in Rural Turkey
In 1990, Ramadan did not coincide with Advent but rather with Easter, something
which motivated Glenn Yocum to name his article on Ramadanic practices
in rural Turkey, “Notes on an Easter Ramadan.”75 Despite this, Yocum’s
article is not, however, concerned with Christian ideas or practices; the title is
merely alluding to that of Faller’s.
Yocum observes that Ramadan is carefully observed in rural Turkey,
and that people fast for various reasons. A commonly given reason is that
70 Antoun 1968b: 101.
71 Antoun 1968b: 100.
72 Fallers 1974.
73 Fallers 1974: 37.
74 The ‘T’ here refers to Turkish, of course.
75 Yocum 1992.
fasting is good for the health (it “rests the stomach,” in the words of one of
Yocum’s informants), and another is that fasting is a “debt” Muslims owe
God.76 These motivations for Ramadanic fasting may be found in Java too,
but many would also draw attention to the Koranic goal of fasting, i.e., the
attainment of takwa. As already quoted above, Yocum’s informants “seldom,
if ever” referred to the Koran when asked about why they held the fast.77 This
I find as peculiar as Yocum’s failed discussion of it.
Yocum himself observed the fast and participated in various Ramadan
rituals. We thus find short mention of the teravih (T., A. tar¢aw³®h) nightly
prayers in his work. It is said that the teravih namaz (A. âal¢ah) consist of
twenty rakaô¢at, which is a commonly performed number in Indonesia too.
But then Yocum says that
The regular retiring prayers add an additional thirteen rekats (seven done in unison
led by the imam, the other six done individually at one’s own pace), bringing the total
at the mosque’s nighttime Ramadan prayer ritual to thirty three.78
Apart from stating that this takes about forty-five minutes to complete and
that men are far more likely to perform them in the mosque than are women,
Yocum discusses these prayers no more. Readers are left wondering what
prayers he has actually observed.
Further, Yocum discerned three “special ritual occasions” during
Ramadan: Kadir Gecesi (T., A. laylatu l-qadr) on the 27th of Ramadan, cemetery
visiting on the last of the month, and the ¬Seker Bayram± (T., A. ô³du lfiçtr)
at the time of the conclusion of the fast.79 The commemoration of Kadir
Gecesi was not as elaborate as he had expected, and he only noted that the
teravih prayers were extended with yet two rekat (“making a grand total of
thirty-five”) and that the congregation lingered on in some “chanting of Arabic
verses” he could not locate.80 It is interesting that the rural Turkish Muslims
pay their respects at the cemeteries during the last of Ramadan, and that
they do so congregationally after the performance of the ikindi prayer in the
mosque. In Java, as we have seen, people are more probable to visit the
graves of their ancestors immediately prior and/or after Ramadan. During the
“Candy Festival” (T. ¬Seker Bayram±), Turkish Muslim men attend the special
ô³d prayer, and people who can afford it use new clothes and give toys to
their children, in addition to paying visits to friends and relatives during this
day. There are ideas that people should forgive each other during this feast,81
76 Yocum 1992: 212f.
77 Yocum 1992: 213.
78 Yocum 1992: 216.
79 Yocum 1992: 219ff.
80 Back in America, an Egyptian Muslim informed him that this ‘Arabic chanting’ probably was
the recitation of chapter 97 of the Koran, which deals with laylatu l-qadr (1992: 219, n. 32). I am
more inclined to believe that the congregation recited some dhikr litanies, however.
81 Yocum 1992: 221.
but they do not seem to be as emphasized in the Turkish context as in the
Finally, we should note that Yocum’s rural Turkish informants ate
some special foodstuff during Ramadan, as we have seen is common in other
parts of the Muslims world as well. They did not, however, says Yocum,
indulge in “elaborate, late or all-night communal feasting of a kind sometimes
described for other Muslim settings.”82 As we have learned, neither do
the Javanese.
Mai Ahmad Zaki Yamani is the author of an article on the observance of the
Ramadan fast in Saudi Arabia.83 We learn from this article that “[s]ocial
behaviour in Saudi Arabia is markedly different during Ramadan from that
during the other months of the year,” and that virtually everybody is fasting.84
As in Java, Ramadan in the Saudi Arabian context seems to be a joyous affair
that is waited upon by its observers. Saudi ideas about the religious importance
of the month (such as divine forgiveness and multiple divine rewards)
seem to be similar to their Javanese counterparts, but many social (day-today)
practices take another turn in Saudi Arabia. There is, for example, a
special pattern for how young couples are supposed to break the fast during
the month. On the first of Ramadan they must go to the paternal home of the
husband for the breakfast. During the second day they are supposed to go to
the paternal home of the wife, whereas the third day is reserved for an older
brother or sister of either the husband or the wife. As Ramadan goes on, most
relatives should be included in this fast-breaking schedule, and Yamani thus
speaks of Ramadan as a “time for the family.”85 (In Java, Ramadan definitely
is a time for the family too, but the extended family is paid intense attention
only during the feast concluding the month. During the fasting month itself, it
is the core family that stands in focus.)
When it comes to the food consumed during Ramadan, Yamani notes
that there are some special dishes and drinks that are served exclusively during
the fast. Interestingly, the Saudis temporarily leave behind Western cooking
during Ramadan, and turn to more ‘traditional’ food. In addition, the food
during Ramadan is “very elaborate and presented in large quantities.”86 That
the Saudis put such a stress on food is perhaps connected to their habit of
reversing the day during Ramadan. Many day-to-day activities are performed
82 Yocum 1992: 209. Contrary to this, Faller (1974: 38) talked about “over-eating” during
Ramadan (and Christian Lent).
83 Yamani 1987.
84 Yamani 1987: 80f. Yamani mentions that the question “Are you fasting?” only is posed to
children since it is taken for granted that all adults observe the fast.
85 Yamani 1987: 81.
86 Yamani 1987: 82.
during the night, and, says Yamani, it is only after the tar¢aw³®h prayers that
“life seems to begin.”87 People thus stay up all night, and shops often do not
close until 2 a.m. Working hours too are changed during Ramadan. Banks
may thus have their employees work from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and then again
from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. This starkly contrasts with conditions in Java, where
life pretty much goes on as usual during Ramadan.
Yamani also notes that there during the ô³d festival is a special present,
the ô³ddiya, that is offered by the older to the younger, from the men to the
women, and by the master of the house to the servants.88 However, the ô³d
itself is not as festive in Saudi Arabia as in Java, we learn. In fact, many wellto-
do Saudis (with which Yamani’s article primarily is concerned) leave the
country during the end of Ramadan and thus celebrate the ô³d abroad. The
Javanese, on the other hand, would do anything to get home during the feast.
Yamani’s article is highly interesting, but it is unfortunately rather short
and (as a consequence) shallow. Its readers are left with numerous questions
including, for example, the nature of the tar¢aw³®h prayers, the existence of
pre-Ramadanic rituals, and the ways in which the Koran is recited during
Ramadan, and to what extent.
P.J.L. Frankl has written a short article entitled “The Observance of Rama®d¢an
in Swahili-land (with special reference to Mombasa)” in consultation with
Yahya Ali Omar.89 This is a confusing article due to the fact that readers
never know what practices can be observed today, and which belong to a
colonial past. Apart from often failing to discuss the relation between some
older descriptions of Ramadan in ‘Swahili-land’ and the contemporary situation,
Frankl also has a tendency of mixing the tenses in his article. It is thus
hard to know what the following quote, for example, actually refers to:
On the eve of Rama®d¢an small groups of Muslims throughout the world of Islam assemble
at mosques, or on roof-tops or at road-sides to search the night sky. In Mombasa
parties returning from their shambas [pre-Ramadanic picnics] would dance
their way back to the town... [...] This practice was known as [...] ‘going to fetch the
new moon.’90
Readers are left uncertain as to whether such practices still are observed by
Muslims in Mombasa.
Nevertheless, some noteworthy ethnographic information concerning
Ramadan in Swahili-land becomes available to us through this article. For
87 Yamani 1987: 83.
88 Yamani 1987: 85.
89 Frankl 1996.
90 Frankl 1996: 419.
example, the interesting fact that Swahili Muslims divide the year into two
parts: Ramadan, and the rest. Furthermore, Ramadan is regarded as the last
month of the Islamic year, despite the fact of it being ‘only’ the ninth
month.91 We thus learn that Ramadan is regarded as extremely important to
the Swahili—indeed, by far the most important month of the year. We also
learn that Swahili Muslims tend to arrange pre-Ramadanic picnics on public
beaches, and processions in towns.92
According to a (in Java, at least) frequently cited ®had³th, Ramadan is
divided into three equally long parts: that of blessings (A. ra®hmah), that of
forgiveness (A. maghfirah), and that of the release from the fire (A. ôitqun
mina n-n¢ar). Some Swahili Muslims, however, divide it into three other
parts: the decade of the Arabs, the decade of the Swahili, and the decade of
the Bajuni (who live in the north of Swahili-land). Others say that focus
should be on repentance, belief, and worship during these three parts respectively.
93 This thus seems to be a Swahili variation of a normative theme.
Frankl has also observed that people during Ramadan “all day and
every day” live their lives “saying or chanting a kind of duôaé,”94 and that
Swahili Muslims increase the quality but not necessarily the quantity of food
during Ramadan. Indeed, isr¢af or extravagance is avoided during this
month.95 Frankl also draws attention to some religious practices beyond fasting
that are widely attested in Java too—for example, the tarawehe (A.
tar¢aw³®h) prayers, Koranic recitation, mosque classes, the commemoration of
laylatu l-qadr, the payment of the zak¢atu l-fiçtr, and the ô³d prayers on ô³du lfiçtr.
96 These phenomena are not discussed at any length, however, and readers
are left wondering about, for example, female presence at the ô³d prayer, and
the number of rakaô¢at performed during the nightly tar¢aw³®h prayers. Another
phenomenon—that is neither attested by my experience of Ramadan in Java,
nor extensively discussed by Frankl—is a special ‘mosque service’ on the
eve of ô³du l-fiçtr once the new moon has been sighted. This is referred to as
the i®hy¢aé or ‘revival’, ‘return to life’ in the Swahili context,97 but what this
term in turn refers to is unfortunately not discussed by Frankl.
Apart from some very specific Ramadanic peculiarities in various contexts,
this section has provided us with two major understandings. The first is that
the observance of Ramadan on this earth of mankind is characterized by both
91 Frankl 1996: 417.
92 Frankl 1996: 418.
93 Frankl 1996: 420.
94 Frankl 1996: 421.
95 Frankl 1996: 424.
96 Frankl 1996: 426f.
97 Frankl 1996: 427.
uniformity and diversity. That is, contemporary Ramadan is both homogenous
and heterogeneous if seen in a wider perspective. We have seen that the
observers of the Ramadanic fast, from Morocco to Bali, share some basic
understandings of the nature of the month. They all agree, for example, that
fasting during Ramadan is obligatory for all Muslims (with some exceptions
discussed elsewhere), and that Ramadan is the month chosen by God for the
revelation of the Koran. They also agree that the tar¢aw³®h prayers constitute a
splendid form of supererogatory devotion during Ramadan, and that this
month is peculiarly well suited for the complete Koran recitation. They differ,
however, in their implementation of these ideas. Javanese (and other
Indonesian) Muslims put much more stress on the tar¢aw³®h prayers than most
other Muslims, it seems, and the “preferred days” (to use Buitelaar’s words)
are differently appreciated in, say, Morocco and Java. Observing this, we
may securely talk about a ‘Javanese Ramadan,’ a ‘Saudi Arabian Ramadan,’
a ‘Palestinian Ramadan,’ etcetera. This is not to say that they substantively
differ in meaning to their observers, but rather only that they take quite different
forms in various cultural (and historical we may presume, although no
historical material is included in this work) settings.
The second major understanding of this section is that the material
written in English on contemporary Ramadanic practices is peculiarly limited.
Why Islamic ordinary rituals largely have failed to attract the attention
of Western scholars has been discussed earlier in this work; suffice it here
thus to mention that it is very unfortunate that such is the case. It hampers our
understanding of contemporary Islam—in a time in which a more nuanced
picture of this religion is needed, though rarely sought for—and it blurs our
sight when we try to see what is characteristically Moroccan about Moroccan
Ramadan, and what is characteristically Saudi about Saudi Arabian Ramadan.
Even worse, as a result of this state of affairs, we know little or nothing
about, say, French, Suriname, or Pakistani Ramadan. We may only hope that
they will attract future academic attention.

Our journey on the Ramadanic road is approaching its end here. We have
voyaged through both classical Arabic and modern Indonesian texts, and we
have tried to make our way through the thickets of the actual Javanese
Ramadanic practices and ideas. In order to understand all this, we had to
make a rather lengthy cruise on the road entitled ‘Islam in Java,’ on which we
found some needed signposts. We have also gone far away—temporarily
leaving the safe cradle Java constitutes for anyone who loves her—and learnt
something about how Ramadan is observed in non-Indonesian contexts. Before
that, however, we turned inwards and maneuvered between some specific
Javanese Ramadan expressions, or rather, between the relationships
between them. It has been both a long and a short excursion, and for me at
least, sitting at the wheel, it has been both interesting and fun. Before pulling
over for this time, we need to take a look in the rear view mirror, using some
analytical glasses. This is also a good time for reminding ourselves that the
ultimate goal of a journey like this is not so much the destination as the journeying
In the introduction to this work I stated my intentions with some clarity.
Below I will return to them all, and present a few additional discussions of
Ramadan and Islam in Java, and how they might be studied.
I have never spent Ramadan in a majority Muslim country except Indonesia,
and this is rather unfortunate. From what I learn from colleagues and friends
who have lived or spent some time in Muslim countries, however, the Javanese
Ramadan case is somewhat extraordinary. Or, rather, few Muslim com@
munities seem to lay so much stress on Ramadanic fasting (and additional
Ramadanic rituals) as such communities do in Indonesia. True, talking about
non-Indonesian Muslims, people—Muslims and non-Muslims alike—often
stress that Ramadan is the most important Islamic ritual to these communities.
We encountered this in chapter six above. Nevertheless, there are reasons
for us to suppose that the observance of Ramadan in Java belongs to the
more scrupulously and joyously performed rituals in the Muslim world. The
performance of the supererogatory nightly prayers, the traweh, in Java, for
example, seem to have few equivalents outside Indonesia when it comes to
their number of performers, alleged importance, and the carnival-like atmosphere
they create during thirty or twenty-nine nights each year. As it happens,
Javanese Muslims—both male and female, which in itself is extraordinary, it
seems, in the Muslim world—tend to regard these prayers as obligatory,
although Islamic jurisprudence is non-ambiguous in its deeming of them as
sunnah, or non-compulsory (yet recommended). People who during the rest
of the year has little time or energy left for the five daily (and, according to
Islamic law, obligatory) prayers, suddenly show up at their mosques, ever
ready to devote a substantial part of the Ramadanic nights to supererogatory
devotions. Hence, recommended prayers are regarded as compulsory during
Ramadan, whereas the obligatory daily prayers outside the fasting month are
regarded as voluntary, according to some Javanese Muslims.
The celebration at the end of the month, Lebaran or Idul Fitri, is also a
highly emphasized occasion in Java and the rest of Indonesia. In Arabic this
feast is known as ô³du l-sagh³r, or the Little Feast, in contrast to the feast held
in connection with the annual pilgrimage. In Indonesia, however, the feast
concluding Ramadan is sagh³r in no way. On the contrary, it is far more joyous
and elaborate than the later ô³du l-a®d®h¢a. In the words of the respected
intellectual Nurcholish Madjid, Idul Fitri is the “peak of the socio-religious
life of the Indonesian people.”1 Indeed, the Lebaran feast is of enormous
importance to Indonesian Muslims (and of some importance to non-Muslims
too), who all strive to go back (I. mudik) to their native areas some time prior
to the last of Ramadan. As a consequence, Indonesia probably hosts one of
the largest annual mass mobilization activities in the world in connection
with Lebaran. The prolonged economic crises, which has affected the Indonesian
people in numerous ways, seems to have had a hard time in reducing
the number of Indonesians who mudik each year. If Indonesians living outside
their natal area only go home once a year, it will definitely be during
Idul Fitri (and this is as true for people living outside Indonesia as well as
those who have tried their luck on a different Indonesian island). As they say,
there can be no Lebaran without mudik, just as there can be no Ramadan
without traweh prayers.
In Java (and the rest of the archipelago) Ramadan is a joyous affair.
Contrary to popular assumptions among non-Muslims in the West, Ramadan
1 Gaus 2000: 127.
is generally not regarded just as an annual—and immensely heavy—burden.
(Of course, some Javanese complain about the hardships of Ramadan, but
they are very few to the best of my knowledge. Moreover, most of them
would probably disagree if someone suggested that these hardships would not
be intensely and divinely reimbursed, and thus worth living with for a while.
Should they yet agree with this hypothetical statement, they could simply
choose not to fast, since there is no state enforcement of the Ramadanic fast
in Indonesia.) Instead, in Java Ramadan is waited upon, longed for, and enthusiastically
received once it arrives. Preparations begin during the month of
Ruwah, and things only go back to ‘normal’ about two months later in the
month of Sawal. In between these months, the Pasa fast has been enjoyed,
for, indeed, the Ramadanic month is enjoyable according to Javanese (contemporary)
Due to the popularity of the annual fast, Ramadan has generated a wide
range of different media expressions in Indonesia. In chapter four we thus
encountered handbooks, articles, sermons, music, poetry, and more, that all
had as their main theme the fast of Ramadan. These pieces of work—that are
of varying quality and standards—are widely read, sung, and listened to in
Indonesia, and there seems to be a never ceasing need to publish more handbooks,
write more articles, and compose more songs. Bookstores often have
specific sections (strategically placed just inside the door) for the fast around
Ramadan, and newspapers are overwhelmed by freelance articles about it.
Television programs (and the advertisements in-between them) are imbued
with Ramadanic themes alluding to the fasting Muslims’ sensitivities, as are
songs heard on radio, in shopping malls, etc. Together with a variety of other
changes—including the increasing usage of Islamic dress, Islamic greetings,
and crowded Islamic stores—felt in Ruwah, these conditions contribute to the
temporary Islamization Java undergoes during Ramadan. Many devout Muslims
in Java often express the wish that their societies look ‘Ramadan-like’
during the entire year, and that Ramadan not just should be a temporary upheaval
of various perceived immoralities. In line with this way of reasoning,
a work edited by Ramli Bihar Anwar was published in 2002 with the apt title
“Ramadanizing All Months: Fasting as a Spiritual Ladder.”2 Here, as in numerous
other contexts in Indonesia, Ramadan is seen as a momentum for
social, political, religious, and even economical change, and this on both a
personal as well as a societal level. Interpreting their religion in their own
peculiar way, Muslim radicals in Indonesia use this ‘momentum’ to smash
bars and discos, and harassing prostitutes and gamblers. Non-radicals too, we
should mention, are in general harsher against seeming immoralities of various
kinds in connection with Ramadan; having a bulldozer demolish some
bottles of booze in the town square consequently attracts a crowd of enthusiastic
2 Anwar 2002. In original, the title goes Meramadhankan Semua Bulan: Puasa Sebagai Tangga
Fasting during Ramadan is a ‘ritual’, we may say, but it would perhaps
be more suitable to refer to the Ramadanic fast as a ‘ritual complex,’ since it
contains so many different sub-rituals. We understand that abstaining from
food, drink, and sexual intercourse during the Ramadanic daylight hours is
just a part of the whole ‘Ramadan ritual,’ which includes so many important
rituals that have ‘nothing’ to do with the physical fast itself. Consider (again)
for example the performance of the traweh prayers, the intensified recitation
of the Koran, and the practice of visiting graves and throwing special
slametan rituals, which all stand outside the actual fast. Though devoid of
direct connections to the practices of abstaining from food and drink during
daylight hours, these rituals are nevertheless integral parts of the event known
as ‘Ramadan’ in Java.
Moreover, in Java the fast of Ramadan has generated some specific
Javanese rituals that have no or only vague counterparts in the rest of the
Muslim world. Most important of these is perhaps the special slametan held
during the month of Ruwah, that is, the ruwahan. In these rituals, the
neighborhood men gather at the house of the ritual sponsor immediately after
the maghrib sunset prayers, in order to listen to the intent (which they are
already knowingly of since it is always the same) of the ritual, an extended
prayer recited by an Islamic functionary, and some salawat, or praises of
Muhammad, before they all ‘accept’ the ritual and its intent. As they wander
of home again (some ten or fifteen minutes after the ritual commenced), all
participants are given a box filled with newly blessed food which the
neighborhood women have prepared during the last two days. The name of
this ritual (ruwahan) and the Javanese name of the month corresponding to
the Arabic Shaôb¢an (Ruwah) provide us with some hints about the meaning
of the ritual. As mentioned in chapter five, Ruwah is grammatically linked to
the Arabic word for soul (r¢u®h, pl. arw¢a®h), and Javanese Muslims are consequently
rather busy with attending to the souls of their deceased relatives
during this month. Throwing a ruwahan ritual is one means of doing this, as
the primary intent of such a ritual is to pray for the deceased family members
of the ritual sponsor. Visiting graves, nyekar, is another way of doing it.
Javanese Muslims often go nyekar during the month of Ruwah, and then
again in connection with the feast of Lebaran.
The occasion of laylatu l-qadr, or the Night of Destiny/Power, is celebrated
or commemorated around the Muslim world as the night during which
God chose to ‘send down’ His Koran to Muhammad. This bestowing of the
Koran (A. nuz¢ulu l-quré¢an) upon the prophet occurred during the night of
laylatu l-qadr, it is often argued. For those interested in Indonesian Ramadanic
practices, however, some confusion is to be expected in connection
with Lailatul Qadar and Nuzulul Qur’an. In line with Nurcholish Madjid, we
must agree that Nuzulul Qur’an is a specific Indonesian tradition. It is commemorated
officially during the 17th of Ramadan—perhaps due to the ‘magical’
qualities of the number seventeen in Indonesia (due, in turn, to the Indonesian
Day of Independence which falls on the seventeenth of August)—,
whereas Lailatul Qadar is celebrated ten days later. As I acknowledged in
chapter five above, I have failed to make much sense of the relationship between
these two commemorations in Indonesia, and I have also noted a
strong disinterest among ordinary Javanese Muslims in relation to it. To
them, it is nothing but natural that two commemorations of what seems to be
one and the same event are held during Ramadan.
In Java, Ruwah also hosts some pre-Ramadanic carnivals and festivals
with processions and other festivities. These are not outspokenly ‘religious’
in character, but are nevertheless intimately linked to the coming month of
fasting. They are ways of receiving (J. nyambut) the month of Ramadan,
simultaneously as they provide the fasting Muslims with some last secular
entertainment before the commencement of the more demanding fasting
month. Much due to the efforts of Muslim radicals, many places of entertainment
are closed—or open only under special circumstances—during
Ramadan; a colorful procession through the city center may thus seem attractive
on the last day of Ruwah.
The relationship between Java and Ramadan, or rather, between Javanese
Muslims and Ramadan, is thus a passionate one. Javanese Muslims
respect, admire, and put their trust in Ramadan, and they often seem to experience
that Ramadan feels the same way about them. The love is answered,
so to say, and Ramadan can thus rightly be denoted—as it sometimes is—as
sepotong surga, a piece of heaven (despite the Sanscritic origin of the Indonesian
gloss for ‘heaven’).
The family ethos is strongly emphasized in Java during Ramadan. Everyone—
children, young, old, males, females—partake in the ritual (albeit in
their own ways), and they preferably do it together. To a large extent then,
Ramadanic fasting in Java is not an individual affair. Family bonds are cared
for and strengthened during the fasting month, and I believe this is one of the
reasons for the popularity of Ramadan in Java. From the eating of the predawn
sahur meal to the performance of the nightly traweh prayers, the family
stands in focus. The Javanese tend to break the fast in their homes together
with their families, and only rarely is the buka meal consumed outside the
home. In those instances it happens, the whole family is bound to go. There is
consequently no culture in Java for men to gather at street vendors or restaurants
to break the fast, and neither do the women have their own gettogethers.
Of those who go to the neighborhood mosque to break the fast, a
majority, to be sure, is men and children (of both sexes). They do not break
with this general emphasis on the family, but rather choose to spend a few
nights in the mosque in order to socialize with the wider society too. Harmonious
relations should not only characterize the core family, but also that
family’s bonds with their neighbors. That women only rarely break the fast in
the mosque is linked to them being busy preparing the later meals around this
Not only the core family stands in focus during Ramadan. The Javanese
are very interested in their extended families, and their relations to members
of them. Extended families are indeed extended in Java. It is not unusual, for
example, that one knows the cousin of one’s grandmother, or that one has a
familiar relationship with the parent’s of an uncle married into the family.
Neither would it be considered strange if one suddenly should show up at the
doorway of a hitherto unknown member of one’s extended family. As long as
one could explain one’s relationship to the owner of the house, one would
surely be invited to stay. It is also common in Java that one’s identity is
closely linked to another person’s identity—more closely than is common in
the West. When meeting people in Blora, for example, I sometimes refer to
myself as ‘the son-in-law of the midwife’ or ‘the son-in-law of Pak Haji that
works at the bank.’ People then understand my position in my (extended)
family, and can go on trying to figure out whether or not we have some
common bonds of family or friendship.
The month of fasting witnesses an increased number of visits between
members of the extended family in Java. These do only rarely occur in connection
with the time for the daily breaking of the fast—thus contrasting with
reports from elsewhere—since that would put certain pressure on the host to
prepare delicious food. In addition, Javanese tend to feel ill at ease when
eating at the home of someone else. Visits within the extended family occur
throughout the month, though there is an evident emphasis on the last third of
the month, only to culminate during the feast of Lebaran that put an end to
the fast.
That visits are more frequent during Ramadan than during the rest of
the year is connected with the idea that not only divine—but also human—
forgiveness should be sought during the fasting month. To pay someone a
visit is also to pay one’s respect towards her, and that should generate feelings
of forgiveness and affection. In Indonesian there even exists a special
word for such visiting: silaturahmi. Being derived from the two Arabic words
for ‘bond’ or ‘link’ (âilah) and ‘merciful’ or ‘compassionate’ (ra®h³m), the
term itself pretty much describes what visits within the extended family
means to the Javanese Muslims.
The culmination of the Ramadanic family silaturahmi occurs during
Idul Fitri, as mentioned above. As many family members as possible go
home to their natal areas (I. mudik) in connection with this feast, and to spend
Lebaran away from one’s relatives is often depicted as the worst of nightmares.
Indeed, even those who live abroad try to get home during the end of
the fast. Idul Fitri is a time of great social interaction, and it is again the (extended)
family that stands in focus. During two or three days people go to see
their relatives, and consciously postpone silaturahmi with people to whom
they have other (non-blood) loyalties. Colleagues, friends, and members of
the same badminton team thus have to wait to congratulate and ask for each
other’s forgiveness until the end of the first week of Sawal, or even later. The
point is that family matters have to be thoroughly taken cared for first. The
notion of the extended family does not limit itself to the members who are
still living, however. As we have seen, Javanese Muslims frequently visit the
graves of their ancestors (J. nyekar) during the feast of Lebaran (and even
before the commencement of Ramadan). This is because deceased family
members still are family members, with whom one should uphold good relations.
More importantly, one should pray for the well-being of the deceased,
wherever they may be (the ambiguous ideas of the ‘location’ of the dead has
been mentioned elsewhere). Visiting cemeteries is not the only way of conveying
prayers for one’s deceased relatives in Java—the special pre-
Ramadanic slametan entitled ruwahan may just as well serve this purpose.
Interestingly, the one practice seems not to exclude the other. On the contrary,
people who throw ruwahan generally go nyekar too.
Connected to this general emphasis on the family during Ramadan is
the life of the children during the month. During no time else are children left
with so much freedom as during Ramadan: they can join in the pre-dawn
sahur processions, follow subuh dawn lections, visit relatives, and gather
together with family and friends for the traweh prayers in the mosque. Those
who already attend primary school will indeed have to do all this, since their
teacher in Islamic studies will scrutinize their ‘Ramadan exercise books’ once
school has started again. Ideally and normally, children should stay at home
after the sunset maghrib prayers, but this conception looses its foundations
during Ramadan, when later prayers and other activities are preferably carried
out. Children thus have a great deal of time for just playing around with
their friends during Ramadan. In connection with the traweh prayers, for
example, many children gather at the mosque just to play with their fellows.
In between the lines of praying adults, children are thus running around,
making loud noises. Few adults seem to care or even take notice of this.
The reason for letting children spend so much time just playing around
during Ramadan is probably twofold. Firstly, all Javanese Muslims are very
concerned that their children acquire a positive picture and experience of the
month of fasting. The ideas they obtain concerning Ramadan as children are
the ideas that will follow them throughout life. During the childhood years
then, the foundations for a life-long love of Ramadan are laid down. The
second reason is that fasting adults are not interested in reprimanding or
scolding their children during Ramadan, as they are afraid the values of their
fasting should be rejected by God (who, in the minds of the Javanese, is very
caring and loving of children) should they do so. It is, so to say, safer just to
let the kids do whatever they like to do. Moreover, as one mother told me
(alluding to a well-known prophetic tradition), “the devils are chained during
Ramadan, so what could possible go wrong if we let them go their own
Javanese Muslims are not solely focused on the family during Ramadan; the
Muslim community (A. ôummah, I. umat) in a wider sense is also focused
upon during this month. One’s relation to the local, national, or even international
umat is more problematic, however, than the relationship one has with
one’s immediate family. On the one hand, fasting during Ramadan is thought
to express the unity (and thus power) of the worldwide Muslim community.
Muslims from all over the world partake in the ritual fasting, and there is
consequently a strong sense of belonging felt among fellow Muslims during
this month. This feeling is also sensed at the national level (thus uniting Muslims
around the archipelago) and at the local equivalent. Ramadan is a time
when former grudges, wrongdoings, and disputes are solved, forgiven, or at
least temporarily forgotten, and the umat gathers together its strength for a
manifestation of unity and harmony. On the other hand, as members of the
Muslim community differ in their ways of perceiving Ramadan and its rituals,
the fasting month also has a tendency of dividing that same umat. We
have repeatedly seen, for example, that Javanese Muslims are divided into
two large camps when it comes to questions pertaining to the deciding of the
first of Ramadan, and the number of prayer cycles to be performed during the
nightly traweh prayers. The Muslim modernists in Indonesia are inclined to
prefer that the presence of the new moon (and hence commencement of
Ramadan) is astronomically calculated, and being of the opinion that the
traweh prayers should consist of only eight prayer cycles. The traditionalists,
by contrast, rather have the new moon physically spotted, and prefer performing
twenty prayer cycles of traweh. The idea of a worldwide Muslim
unity being expressed during Ramadan is thus falsified at the most local level
of the umat, as small neighborhoods often host both modernists and traditionalists.
Such diversity and its discussions in the Muslim community has led
scholars to speak about the relationship between modernists and traditionalists
in Java as one characterized by fierce antagonism, as we saw in chapter
two above.
My impression from Blora and Yogyakarta is that such characterizations
of the Javanese Islamic landscape are overly dramatic or, at least, outof-
date. True, discussions regarding the ritual diversity the Javanese umat
presents are bound to arise every now and then. (Lacking a central institution
that decrees what Islam is and is not, this is perhaps natural.) However, these
discussions are generally not as bitter and nasty in their overtones as one
might expect from reading anthropological accounts of Javanese Islam. If I
was interested in sustaining such a view of Islam in Java, I could easily have
done it; I would just let the traweh dispute discussed in chapter five characterize
the entire relationship between modernists and traditionalists in Java.
In that case, I would, however, neglect all those other Muslims who have no
problem at all with such ritual diversity, and I would, by consequence, thus
focus on what is not Javanese Islam. This is not appealing to me. On the
other hand, I cannot disregard the fact that some Muslims in Java have serious
problems with (ritual) diversity—this too would be misleading. I have
consequently tried to provide a slightly more nuanced picture of Javanese
Islam, and have thus drawn attention to the fact that most Javanese Muslims
are not as bitter over this diversity as one might believe.
In fact, it is part and parcel of Javanese culture to guard over the harmony
(J. rukun) and tranquility (J. slamet) of the society—despite certain
differences. We have noticed that the (central) Javanese regard themselves as
alus, or refined, in their manners. Open disputes and loud disagreements are
thus rather rare in Java. Moreover, if one’s own opinion deviates from that of
someone else’s, one is unlikely to state it straightforwardly, if one is to live
up to the Javanese standards of good manners. Mark Woodward has made the
apt observation that “[i]n Java, what is not said, or what is said only by implication,
is often at least as important as what is said directly.”3
The Javanese do not look for open disputes and debates, we may conclude.
4 To strengthen our case we may recall how Javanese Muslims during
Ramadan pray as many cycles of traweh as they like, without that disturbing
the rest of the community. Although it is common that entire congregations
in mosques are in agreement as to whether these prayers should consist of
eight or twenty cycles (mosques in themselves tend to ‘be’ either modernist
or traditionalist), it also happens that mosques host mixed congregations and
that some people thus leave the mosque after eight cycles, whereas others
stay on for twelve more. The town mosque in Blora is an example of this:
although a majority of those present in this mosque are traditionalists, not
few members of the congregation leave the traweh after eight cycles due to
their modernist preferences. As I thus first entered this mosque intending to
follow the traweh prayers, the mosque official greeted me and explained that
the imam would perform twenty prayer cycles, but that I could leave whenever
I liked. I stayed for twenty cycles, but noticed that several others left
after eight. They left, we may notice, very discreetly, and no one seemed to
bother much. Those intending to stay until the end quickly filled out the gaps
of those who had left, and the ritual could proceed—without any bitterness at
We may denote this quality of the Javanese as social competence or
cultural smoothness. For another example of such smoothness, we can recall
the celebration of Idul Fitri in 2002. This year, modernists and traditionalists
did not agree on the date of this occasion—modernists intended to celebrate
the end of the fast on Thursday, whereas the traditionalists were of the opinion
that the fast would still go on that day. One could thus expect some awkwardness.
However, the modernists held their celebrations surprisingly dis-
3 Woodward 1993: 567.
4 This is not only a positive thing; former President Megawati Soekarnoputri repeatedly refused
to meet her political opponents in open debates as she could not refer such a practice to what she
denoted as “eastern culture” (I. budaya timur).
creet during that Thursday. The recitation of the takbiran formulae was not
broadcast in the mosques’ amplifiers (the recitation was limited to inside the
modernist mosques), and modernist Muslims made no big deal out of the id
prayer, and neither did they disturb or distract their traditionalist fellows who
still observed the fast (in fact, they waited until the following day to greet
Apart from this Javanese smoothness, we should also draw attention to
the common Javanese idea that the ritual diversity Ramadan displays by no
means touches upon the essentials of Islam. The dissent (A. ikhtil¢af) that
characterizes the views of some Ramadanic practices by modernists and
traditionalists is in no way regarded as threatening to Islam as such. At its
worst, it may spread schisms within the Muslim community, but even this
‘function’ is nowadays rather limited. Javanese Muslims tend to focus on
larger issues that are common to the entire umat (such as social welfare, development,
etc.). Especially younger Javanese Muslims seem to accept that
their community to some extent is colored—not plagued—by ritual diversity.
Although this thesis not primarily has been concerned with the world of female
Javanese Muslims, we have occasionally run into the female sphere of
religious practices and ideas. As the world of Islam as described in academic
works (including this one) generally is that of men, we may profit from a
short summary of what has been said about the role of women in Ramadanic
practices in Java here.
For, indeed, contrasting with popular views, Ramadan in Java shows
that Ramadanic fasting—and, by extension, Islam—is not a male affair only.
Quite on the contrary, female Muslims are as much part and parcel of Ramadanic
rituals and Ramadanic daily life as male Muslims are in Java. Consider
for example the traweh and id prayers, where a substantial part of the congregation
(in the case of the id prayers, approximately fifty percent) is made
up by women. Except from some occasions of the id prayer, women are segregated
from the men while performing these supererogatory prayers. However,
men are also segregated from women, since segregation always involves
at least two parts: there are no reasons for us to look at segregation
only from one angle. Furthermore, ritual segregation is hardly ever problematic
in Java; instead, it is welcomed by both women and men who are of the
opinion that they will be more successful in carrying out their ritual duties in
the absence of the other—latently distracting—sex. (Moreover, if men want
to sneak a quick look at women, or if women want to peek at men, there are
plenty of other—and far better—occasions for this.) I knew of some young
women in Yogyakarta who refused to go to mosques that had no—or in their
eyes only insufficient—methods of segregating men and women. In some
cases they went so far as to contract a male imam to come to their house each
night during Ramadan to hold a short sermon and lead the traweh prayers.
For them, this was the ideal segregation, but we should note that such practices
are rare in Java.
Discussing the relationship between male and female in a Ramadanic
context, we may also draw attention to the fact that women as often as men
visit their relatives’ graves (J. nyekar) in connection with Ramadan, and that
the Koran is recited during this month by both men and women. In mosques,
male reciters are preferred, but otherwise it is my impression that women are
more diligent in their Koran recitation than men. When it comes to the recitation
of the takbiran formulae at the end of Ramadan, and the rukyatul hilal
(I., moon spotting) sessions at the beginning of it, male reciters/witnesses are
required. As we have learned above, the Sh¢afiô³ legal school—to which most
Indonesian Muslims adhere—prescribes that the new moon should be witnessed
by men. Startling some Western feminists, perhaps, I have never
heard any complaints about this state of affairs from Javanese women. Even
if they could recite the takbiran or follow the rukyatul hilal sessions, few
would have any time to do it, remembering that these events take place during
the first and the last night of Ramadan. These are nights when Javanese
women are at their busiest preparing either the first sahur meal of the month,
or cookies and sweets for guests coming to celebrate Lebaran. As mentioned
elsewhere, cooking is almost exclusively a female concern in Java, and many
take pride in their cooking. By preparing nutritious and delicious food, some
women say, they ensure that their families can observe the fast successfully.
That women in Java are busy cooking while their men look for the new
month should thus not be more disturbing than the observation that Christian
women just prior to Christmas often are busy cooking (and take some pride
in it) while their men is out buying a Christmas tree. It is a practical and
needed division of work: the women are dependent on the activities of the
men in order to know when they should conclude the month long fast, and
the men are dependent on the women for sweets and cookies to celebrate it
In the description of the ruwahan slametan in chapter five I also drew
attention to the role of women. Slametan get-togethers are often portrayed as
exclusively male affairs, but nothing could be more wrong. The slametan
does not commence with the gathering of the neighborhood men at the front
verandah of the ritual sponsor, but rather a few days or even weeks before
that. The decision to throw a ritual and all subsequent ritual preparations are
in the hands of women. As the neighborhood women gather at the home of
the sponsor to help with the cooking, we may also talk about a female part of
the ritual that holds some similar functions as the male part, i.e., to guard
over the tranquility (J. slamet) and harmony (J. rukun) that ideally should
characterize any Javanese kampung. Talking about Ramadanic food and
cooking, we should also note that Indonesian TV-stations broadcast loads of
Ramadanic programs intended for women.
Sadly enough however, Javanese and Indonesian women only rarely
contribute to what I have denoted as ‘written Islam/Ramadan’ in this work.
Ramadanic handbooks5 and articles are almost exclusively written by men;
sermons are delivered by them; and songs sung by them (exceptions occur).
Ramadanic soap operas clearly host female actors, but the directors are sure
to be men. This uneven distribution of authorship of the written Ramadan is
regrettable and hopefully regulated in the future. Considering the high number
of female students at Islamic campuses in Indonesia, there are hopes that
this will be done.
When it comes to questions of male and female ritual performance—we
should note finally in this section—, Javanese Muslims (as their coreligionists
elsewhere) are prone to cite verse thirty-five of s¢uratu l-a®hz¢ab
which, according to them, seems to suggest that men and women are equal in
this respect.6
This work has contested two common pictures of Islam in Java. The first of
these declares that the religion of Java is only superficially Islamic (if at all),
and that the hearts of the majority of the Javanese are closer to some odd mix
of animism and Hindu-Buddhism than to Islamic principles. Such ‘nominally’
Muslim Javanese have been referred to as abangan whereas those
attached to ‘pure’ Islamic practices have been called santri. The Javanese
religious landscape has subsequently been depicted as one characterized by
fierce antagonism between these two groups. The abangan majority is portrayed
in its most grotesque form in the literature as pork-eating idolaters
who refuse any involvement in normative Islamic rituals, whereas the santri
are described as ‘orthodox’ Muslims: strict, zealous and uncompromising in
their observance of the five pillars of Islam. Recent critic scholarship—both
Western and Indonesian—has refuted this picture of Javanese Muslims and
Islam in Java, and the present work supports this criticism. Discussions concerning
religion in Java are not focused upon Islamic versus non-Islamic
practices, but rather on the ritual diversity found within the Islamic community.
Most Javanese can in this way be described as santri, although their
santri-nesses take different forms. To characterize the Javanese Islamic landscape
in terms of an alleged antagonism and hostility between abangan and
santri is therefore obsolete. The diversity that can be found in the Javanese
5 Ramadanic handbooks occasionally contain some special section on the relationship between
Ramadan and women, but generally they are overly male in character. The one book dealing
with fasting and women I have found in Indonesia is entitled “Thirty Questions on Fasting for
Women” (I. 30 Masalah Puasa untuk Wanita) and is a translated Arabic work with a male author
(Al’Ali 2000).
6 See QS 33:35.
community should rather be understood and explained in terms of intra-
Islamic differences.
Realizing this, scholars have hence recently proposed other ways of
understanding Islam in Java. Common to these is that they all portray Javanese
Islam as Islam in the first place, and not as not Islam. Influenced by this
way of understanding Javanese Islam, I was initially convinced that the Islamic
scene in Java could be described in terms of Sufism, Islamic traditionalism,
Islamic modernism, Islamic radicalism, and liberal Islam, with additional
attention paid to certain institutions such as the Department for Religious
Affairs and the Council for Indonesian Islamic Scholars. I hence paid
these ‘actors’ some consideration in chapter two—a chapter written before I
more thoroughly began scrutinizing Ramadanic practices in Java. When I did
just that, however, I found that I had accepted the ideas and suggestions of
those other contemporary scholars far too uncritically. I found that this second
and more contemporary picture of Javanese Islam does not regard its
object of study as a religion but rather as a political potential—albeit Islamic.
In a political context, we can surely find both Muslim liberals and radicals,
but seen from an ethnographic or anthropological point of view, these categories
are hard to find, and all the more so outside Jakarta and some other major
cities in the country. In Blora and Yogyakarta, I hence found that ‘ordinary
Muslims’ still orient their religious lives according to the modernisttraditionalist
axis, or, more correctly, according to the Muhammadiyah-
Nahdlatul Ulama axis (without necessarily being members of these organizations).
They thus frequently identified themselves as either wong NU or as
wong Muhammadiyah—wong literally means ‘person’ in Javanese—and
could relate neither to Islamic radicalism nor to liberal Islam or Islamic neomodernism.
In other words, both one earlier (yet still too common) picture of Javanese
Islam, and one more contemporary ditto have been refuted and contradicted
by this work.
This work should also be understood as a critique of prevalent methods for
studying Muslim societies. In chapter one I briefly discussed how scholars
have been inclined to study Islam and Muslim practices in a framework consisting
of a strong polarity (or, at its worst, an outspoken antagonism) between
a perceived ‘Great Tradition’ and a likewise perceived ‘Little Tradition.’
Regardless of what these ‘traditions’ have been called, most scholars, I
argued following amongst others ïstergaard, have located the great tradition
above its little counterpart. It has thus been regarded as superior to the little
tradition in every possible way. Instead of this stiff (and misleading) picture
of Islam, I suggested that we flip these entities to a horizontal position and
that we realize that their relationship is not characterized by a one-way com@
munication. Instead, normative and lived Islam (as I choose to call them)
communicate with each other, and none of them should be appreciated as
‘more Islamic’ than the other. Furthermore, I suggested that we take into
consideration the non-Islamic culture/non-normative Islam, which also communicates
with both lived and normative Islam. Facilitating this communication,
I argued initially, is the ‘written Islam’ that I also denoted as ‘cultural
brokers.’ As such, this written Islam has to be paid serious attention, and be
lifted from its neglected position (created by Western scholars), as I maintained
in chapter four. That the written Islam not always works very well as a
cultural broker, as I found, does not mean that it need not be studied and
focused upon. On the contrary, any study whishing to present a nuanced
picture of a Muslim contemporary society ought to take local scholarship and
various media expressions into serious consideration.
Hence, one may advantageously study Muslim societies and Muslim
practices from three perspectives: the normative, the written, and the lived
perspectives respectively. I let the term normative Islam—or, as in this case,
normative Ramadan—refer to, in the word’s of Jacques Waardenburg, “what
Islam is held to prescribe.” In my chapter on normative Ramadan (chapter
three), I thus focused on the Koran, the prophetic traditions, and the consensus
of the Muslim scholars, or, put in a more popular term, on Islamic Law.
Though realizing that what is held to be normative is subject to change and
that this normative-ness is dependent upon the historical and cultural context
it is situated in, I argued that we may—and perhaps must?—generalize and
try to say something about this normative Islam/Ramadan. Readers may of
course ask for whom this is normative, but I suggest that a vast majority of
(contemporary) Muslims—so-called ‘mainstream Muslims’—would agree on
what has been denoted normative Islam/Ramadan in this work. Naturally,
special preference in this normative-ness has been given contemporary Javanese
To study Muslim societies only from the perspective of normative-ness
is not sufficient, however, since what Muslims believe they are prescribed to
do and what they actually do not always coincide. We need then to look at
lived Islam, i.e. to engage in practical ethnographic work. Scrutinizing this
lived Islam, we will probably see that it contains both normative and nonnormative
elements, and that a diversity of practices will characterize any
Muslim society. We will also see how lived Islam communicates and negotiates
with its normative counterpart. Such has the case been with Javanese
Ramadan, at least.
As already mentioned, this communication may at times—but not always—
be facilitated by the ‘written Islam,’ and this is the third perspective
we need to lay on Muslim societies. In a time when religious authority in the
Muslim world quickly is fragmentized and disseminated, this perspective is
of acute interest. Religious authority is no longer exclusively in the hands of
the Islamic scholars (A. ôulam¢aé); rather, anyone can—and does—interpret
her religion. Chapter four I thus devoted to the different media expressions
Ramadan recently has generated in Indonesia, and discussed Ramadanic
handbooks, articles, songs, sermons, poems, and soap operas.
The relationship between normative, written, and lived Ramadan in
Java (and its counterparts elsewhere, we may assume) cannot be described as
homogenous or having the same manifestation in every context, as I argued
in chapter six. Instead, there is a multitude of relationships to be found in this
respect. I showed, for example, that in some instances the written Ramadan
has elaborated and developed upon certain normative ideas, whereas in the
lived Ramadanic context such discussions spur little or no interest. In another
case, however, we saw that the lived Ramadan has created a problem from
the normative sources, and that it has fallen on the written Ramadan to try to
solve this problem, or at least reduce the tensions it may produce. In yet other
instances, we noticed that certain important practices in the lived Ramadan
context in Java are discussed neither in the normative nor in the written
In discussing how Islam is lived, we should also to some extent try to
focus on the every-day Islamic life, in order to have our readers realize that
there is more to the lives of Muslims than religious rituals. I wish I could
have discussed this at greater length in the present work—thus describing
soccer games, Internet cafe atmospheres, and gardening in a Ramadanic context—,
but that has not been possible. Nevertheless, I hope that some pictures
of every-day Ramadanic life have been conveyed in this work (i.e., the hardships
of mudik, the pawnshop affairs, the cooking, etc).
In the early twentieth century Arnold van Gennep classified certain rituals as
rites de passage, and discerned in them three subdivisions: rites de
s‚eparation, rites de marge, and rites de agr‚egation.7 These three subdivisions
he also named pre-liminal rites, liminal (or threshold) rites, and post-liminal
rites.8 van Gennep argued that rites of passage “accompany a passage from
one situation to another or from one cosmic or social world to another,”9 and
noted that the three subdivisions may be emphasized to varying degrees in
various rituals. He further classified the rites of passage into a number of
categories, and provided ample material from around the world in his quest
for verifying his thesis.
van Gennep’s ideas have had a wide influence, and Victor Turner is
probably the scholar who has developed and elaborated upon them most
7 van Gennep 1909. An English translation (to which references are made in this work) was
published in 1960; in it, the terms rites of separation, rites of transition, and rites of incorporation
are used.
8 van Gennep 1960: 21.
9 van Gennep 1960: 10.
thoroughly.10 Turner’s interest was primarily focused on the liminal period of
the rites of passage. He argued that “liminal entities are neither here nor
there; they are betwixt and between the positions assigned and arrayed by
law, custom, convention, and ceremonial.”11 He further argued that these
“liminal entities” compose an “unstructured or rudimentarily structured and
relatively undifferentiated comitatus”12—a communitas. In a L‚evi-Straussian
fashion he also enumerated a long list of binary oppositions so as to highlight
the relationship between liminality and structure/status system.13
I argue (as has Buitelaar done, though in a different way)14 that we may
preferably consider the Muslim fast of Ramadan in the light of van Gennep’s
and Turner’s theories. We saw in chapter five above how the Javanese perform
certain rites of separation during the month of Ruwah: consider for
example the pre-Ramadanic parades, the ruwahan (which cannot be performed
once Ramadan has started), and the attempts of settling one’s relationships
with persons with whom one has shared grudges. In addition, Muslim
radicals in Indonesia use the pre-liminal period to ensure that perceived
places of immorality will be securely closed during the fast, whereas local
politicians, religious leaders, and police officers ritually smash bottles of beer
during Ruwah as part of their separation from the daily life. On a more individual
level, Ruwah also witnesses how Muslims prepare their existent religious
paraphernalia to be used during the fast (such as washing the prayer rug
and dusting of the Koran), or how they buy entirely new utensils (such as
sarung, peci, or mukena).
During Ramadan proper, things are a bit betwixt and between, to use
Turner’s words. The acts of eating, drinking, and having sexual relations are
prohibited between dawn and dusk, and this is obviously in contrast with
‘normal’ non-Ramadanic behavior. In addition, Javanese Muslims stress that
the relationships between members of the Muslim community should ideally
be characterized by equality, egalitarianism, and a lack of differentiation
during Ramadan. Indeed, these qualities are felt to a certain degree in Java
during Ramadan, and many Javanese would like such a Ramadan-like society
all year round (‘Ramadanize all months!’).
Life during Ramadan is not entirely liminal, however, and fasting Muslims
do not compose a perfect communitas. Speaking of conditions in Morocco,
Buitelaar says that “[t]o describe the social relations between people
10 See for example Turner 1969. Note, however, that both van Gennep and Turner primarily
focused on the experiences of the individual during certain rituals. Since then, the theoretical
perspective on liminality has been broadened and employed in contexts other than those studied
by van Gennep and Turner. The original benefits from this perspective have thus partly been left
behind. Nevertheless, there are advantages in regarding certain rituals or ritual complexes (as
Ramadan) in the light of liminality, I argue here.
11 Turner 1969: 95.
12 Turner 1969: 96.
13 Turner 1969: 106f.
14 Buitelaar 1993: 159ff.
during Ramadan in terms of communitas would be to present an idealized
image of the situation.”15 This holds true for Java too; we may only recall
certain inner-Islamic differences the Javanese umat expresses during Ramadan
to ascertain that such is the case. That Ramadanic life not is entirely
liminal can further be seen from the fact that normal life pretty much goes on
as usual during the fasting month in Java. True, working hours may be shortened
under certain circumstances (but this does not mean that banks and
stores are open during nights instead!), but the general impression is that
commercial and bureaucratic life goes on in a manner not very different from
non-Ramadanic contexts. People still go to work during Ramadan, and various
mundane activities continue to spin the wheel of an ordinary day. Should
Ramadan be entirely characterized by an “anti-structure,”16 then Muslims
should—amongst other things—sleep during the entire day, refrain from
working, not pay attention to sex distinctions, and engage in lavish feasts
during nighttime. (Wait a minute... Is not this indeed a general Western perception
of the Muslim fast?)
We may say that Ramadan holds certain liminal qualities, or that it has
a certain liminal character. Apart from the examples mentioned above, this
liminality is also expressed in the life of children during the fast. Due to the
endeavors of former President (and chairman of Nahdlatul Ulama) Abdurrahman
Wahid, children are free from school (in most cases) during Ramadan,
and they spend both days and nights playing with friends. Whereas during
non-Ramadanic months children ideally do not leave their homes after
dusk (which occurs around sex p.m.), Ramadan presents them—by way of
the supererogatory traweh prayers—with opportunities for being out until
eight or even nine o’clock. Another reason for leaving home after dusk are
the special ‘night fairs’ (I. pasar malam) that travel around the island in connection
with Ramadan. Children are also left freer during the fasting month
as compared to during other months, and this is probably due to the fact that
the grown-ups have no whish of reprimanding their children during Ramadan
(something which is due, as mentioned above, in turn, to a fear that their
fasting will not be accepted by the children-loving God). Furthermore, it is a
common belief in Java that the devils (J. setan) during non-Ramadanic
months wander freely around after the maghrib dusk prayers. However, as all
devils are thought to be chained during the fasting month, this cannot hold
true for Ramadan. Adding further to the liminal character Ramadan presents
children with in Java, is the presence of firecrackers (which is strictly limited
to Ramadan) and the nocturnal tek-tekan sessions, in which kids go around
their neighborhoods announcing that the time for the sahur meal is approaching.
To walk around one’s neighborhood with friends at 2 a.m. beating drums
15 Buitelaar 1993: 160.
16 This term is found in the very title of Turner’s work (1969).
in order to awaken the adults would be unthinkable outside a Ramadanic
When Muslim men and women perform their prayers together, they do
so in a segregated manner (i.e., separated from each other). In chapter five,
however, I drew attention to the fact that the id prayer under certain circumstances
may be performed without paying any heed to this normal segregation
of the sexes: men and women may perform the prayers side by side. This
is truly liminal, I would say, and the only occasion in which a similar manner
is observed is during the performance of the prayers in Mecca during the
annual pilgrimage, the ®hajj. In Mecca, this is partly due to logistic problems,
and partly to the probability that the ®hajj is the most liminal of all Muslim
rituals. In Blora, I argue that the mixing of the sexes has similar reasons, i.e.,
both logistic problems and a sensed liminality. Indeed, the entire Lebaran
feast—which is initialized by the sholat id—can be said to have a liminal
Let us return to van Gennep. After the rites of separation (during Ruwah)
and the rites of transition (during Ramadan), the rites of incorporation
occur (during Sawal). We have seen how Indonesians strive to make their
ways back to their natal areas (I. mudik) in connection with the end of the
fast. Indeed, to mudik is of extreme importance to fasting Muslims in Indonesia,
who often say that there can be no Lebaran without mudik. In other
words, one cannot return to (or be incorporated into) the post-Ramadanic
society if one does not mudik. This, in turn, is caused by the felt need to engage
in silaturahmi, syawalan, and halalbihalal, i.e. to ask relatives and
friends for forgiveness (and to be asked for the same thing).
We may thus regard the performance of the Ramadanic fast as a rite of
passage, in which Ramadan proper is characterized to a certain degree by
something which may be referred to as liminality. In addition to this, the
Ramadanic fast may also be divided into thirty (or twenty-nine) lesser rites
de passage, as every day during Ramadan can be understood in terms of
separation (the sahur meal), transition (the daily fast), and incorporation (the
buka meal). As if this was not enough, Ramadan is not so much a single
ritual as a ritual complex hosting several sub-rituals, and many of these subrituals
too may be seen in the light of van Gennep’s ideas, and Turner’s
elaborations of them. To say that Ramadan is entirely liminal or that the Muslim
community constitutes a perfect communitas during Ramadan, however,
would be faulty.
17 Buitelaar (1993: 168f) has argued that a child’s first fast during Ramadan can be seen as a rite
of initiation (which is a sort of rite of passage, according to van Gennep) by way of which he or
she is incorporated into the Muslim community. This idea cannot be verified by the Javanese
case; in Java to make a Muslim (J. ngislamake) of a boy is to have him circumcised, whereas for
girls there seems to be no specific ritual for making them members of the Muslim community.
To look at rituals primarily (or only) from their functional meaning—in a
Malinowskian or Radcliffe-Brownian way—is long dated in the study of
history and anthropology of religions. However, just as we can argue that the
observance of Ramadan in Java expresses some liminal qualities, so can we
say that it expresses some functional equivalents. To a certain degree, it is
indeed tempting to view one’s material in the light of functionalist ideas, and
as long as one does not take the arguments too far, it is also legitimate, I hold.
Without thus pushing the limits, I would say that one ‘function’ of
Ramadan is to bring harmony and unity to the Muslim family and community.
We have repeatedly seen how Javanese Muslims increase their socialization
with members of their extended families during Ramadan, and how
they tend to settle—or try to settle, or at least temporarily forget—unsettled
matters and grudges of various kinds prior to (or during) Ramadan. Even
deceased relatives are included in this Ramadanic heightened socialization,
and Javanese Muslims are determined to have their families characterized by
harmony during the fasting month. When it comes to the unity and harmony
of the Muslim community, things get slightly more complicated as inter-
Islamic differences color the umat during Ramadan. We may once again
recall the questions of the number of traweh prayer cycles to be performed,
the commencement and conclusion of Ramadan, the practice of nyekar, and
so forth. Seeing such differences, some scholars have dramatized the Javanese
Islamic landscape and described it in terms of antagonism between
modernists and traditionalists (or, even worse, between animists-cum-Hindu-
Buddhists and Muslims). Though disagreements over these and other issues
are easy to find in contemporary Java, it is nevertheless my impression that
such issues of discord are outnumbered by issues of unity. Javanese Muslims,
I argue, see in the first place that their fellows fast and perform the supererogatory
prayers during Ramadan, and only in the second place do they pay
attention to on which day their fellow Muslims commence their fasting and
how many prayer cycles they perform. In other words, Ramadan does provide
the Javanese umat with unity and harmony, despite differences of various
kinds that may temporarily disrupt it.
In line with this, we may say that Ramadan also has the function of
reducing conflicts and tensions in Javanese society. Consider for example the
ruwahan, which explicitly (and partly) has as its aim to reduce tensions in the
neighborhood and to secure that it is colored by slamet, or tranquility and
peacefulness. Tensions and latent conflicts between family members are also
reduced during Ramadan by way of silaturahmi of some kind.
More interesting, perhaps, is that Ramadan in Java also seems to function
as a witness to the happy marriage between Islam and Javanese culture.
We can in the performance of Javanese Ramadan see that both normative
Islamic rituals and ideals and Javanese interpretations of them exist side by
side during the fasting month. Moreover, certain normative rituals are per@
formed in a specific Javanese manner, and we may hence speak of a ‘Javanese
Ramadan’ (and even a ‘Javanese Islam’) that is comparable to other
Ramadans/Islams elsewhere. Occasionally, the fact that Ramadan both expresses
normative Islamic ideals and Javanese (pre-Islamic) culture can lead
to contradictions. We may ponder, for example, upon the normative idea that
the umat should be characterized by an outspoken egalitarianism during
Ramadan (thus strengthening the idea of a communitas), and the actual practices
of greetings on the day of Lebaran. These latter are in some instances
far from expressing ideas of equality and egalitarianism; quite on the contrary,
they function so as to legitimize the hierarchical (largely pre-Islamic)
structure of Javanese society. Put differently, to prostrate before a local religious
authority, kiss his hand, and ask for his forgiveness, can hardly be interpreted
in the light of social equality. However, such oppositions are only
rarely reflected upon by ordinary Muslims in Java, and do not pose any challenges
to the marriage between Islam and Javanese culture. Instead, Javanese
Muslims are often proud to declare that their performance of Ramadan and its
rituals has a specific Javanese flavor. To most Javanese, that flavor is sweet.
Finally, another ‘function’ of Ramadan is that it constitutes a yearly
reminder to people that they are Muslims. This has been proposed to me by
Javanese friends, who have expressed the idea that they tend to become relatively
lax in their religious performances at the time Ramadan is about to
begin. As the fast commences, however, they are reminded in various ways
of their Islamic duties (and additional obligatory practices), and they experience
this as a relieving return to a more correct Muslim way of life. It is this
momentum many Muslim activists strive to make use of in their quest of
Ramadanizing the entire year.
Islam is occasionally portrayed as a religion in which it is not ‘orthodoxy’ but
rather ‘orthopraxy’ that stands in focus. I am inclined to agree with this
standpoint, and with Tord Olsson in that he argues that this preoccupation
with the practical sides of religion is not peculiar to Islam (see chapter one
and four above).
Pious and devout Muslims are thus very concerned with what they do,
and they try to mold their lives on the model set by the uswah ®hasanah (A.,
excellent example), Muhammad. They thus pray as the prophet did, and they
fast as he did. Even the execution of the first of the Islamic pillars—that of
the profession of faith—is more likely to be concerned with questions of
correct pronunciation of the Arabic and the ritual cleanness of the one who is
pronouncing it, than with issues pertaining to her beliefs and intentions.
Glancing at the other four pillars—the prayer, the fast, the charity, and the
pilgrimage—we quickly note that the correct performance of them is even
more emphasized. Muhammad is quoted as having said: “Pray as you see me
pray” (âall¢u kam¢a raytum¢un³ uâall³), and all the other Islamic rituals are
likewise molded upon the example set by him. There are thus sound reasons
for depicting Islam as a religion more concerned with orthopraxy than with
orthodoxy. This does not mean, however, that Islam is without normative
articles of faith (it is not) or that Muslims do not ponder upon questions of
belief and faith (they do). It just draws attention to the fact that practice is
more important than theory when it comes to how Islam is lived: emphasis is
thus on how, when, and where one performs a ritual, and only secondarily on
why one does it.
To strengthen the argument further, we may consider briefly the ritual
of Koranic recitation. During no other month do Javanese Muslims hear
Koranic recitation as frequently as during Ramadan. Living close to a
mosque (which virtually all urban, and many rural, Javanese do), people are
likely to wake up some time prior to the sahur meal to the sound of Koran
recitation broadcast over the neighborhood during this month, and to fall
asleep to the post-traweh recitation. In addition to this, many Javanese also
recite the Koran (I. ngaji) individually or follow recitation courses during the
fasting month. It should be noted, however, that very few Javanese Muslims
recite the Koran in order to deepen their understanding of their religion. This
is caused by the fact that the vast majority of the Javanese have no grammatical
understanding of Arabic at all; their knowledge of this foreign language is
circumscribed to a few important words and the ability to recite their Holy
Writ. Their focus is consequently not on the linguistic or grammatical meaning
of the Koran when they are reciting it, but rather on the correct way of
doing it. A correct rendering of the Arabic Koran will, it is believed, render
loads of pahala, or religious merit, to the reciter. As a result, classes of tajw³d
(A., recitation rules) are more popular than classes of tafs³r (A., exegesis).
Discussing Muslims in Mayotte, Michael Lambeck has observed that “it is
[...] the act of dzoru (recitation of sacred texts) rather than the insight gained
by means of or as a result of dzoru that is paramount.”18 The same could be
said for Javanese practices of recitation.
In the case of Ramadan in Java, we have repeatedly seen that what is
emphasized is the correct performance of a ritual rather than its underlying
principles. Some Javanese Muslims even suggest that we should not pay so
much attention to a ritual’s possible boons or essence since such issues are
beyond the scope of human reason. The underlying principles or inner essence
of the traweh prayers, for example, are hence not of interest to Muslims
in Java. What is of importance to them is the number of prayer cycles
these prayers should consist of, and what formulae should be recited inbetween
them. The monographs on Ramadan discussed in chapter four above
were to a large extent focused on the practical sides of Ramadanic fasting,
and I hence suggested that we call them Ramadanic handbooks. In them we
receive detailed instructions on how Ramadan should be performed, whereas
18 Lambeck 1990: 27.
questions of a more philosophical nature are dealt with in a hurry. This, I
believe, is probably partly motivated by the fact that everybody knows that it
is practical Ramadanic advice that is sought after when one buys a book on
Ramadan. Javanese Muslims are more prone to ask themselves: “How are the
traweh prayers performed?” than “Why are the traweh prayers performed?”
or “What are the traweh prayers underlying principles?”
Lacking historical material concerning the performance of Ramadan in Java,
we cannot surely determine the Javanese Muslim attitude to the fast during
other periods than the contemporaneous. We should here, however, recall
that I, in chapter two, argued that the history of Javanese Islam generally has
been one of slow—but increasingly fast—and steady movement towards an
Islamic ‘orthodoxy’. In that same chapter I also drew attention to the effects
of the worldwide Islamic resurgence in Java, and noted various ways in
which personal piety has been expressed and emphasized lately by Javanese
Muslims. I hence discussed the importance of the Islamic prayer in contemporary
Java, the use of Islamic dress, the reading of Islamic literature, the use
of the Islamic greeting, and the huge numbers of Indonesian going on the
pilgrimage to Mecca each year. In addition, I also noted some expressions of
the Islamic resurgence on the political level in Indonesia, and took as my
starting point the rapprochement between former President Soeharto and
various Muslim groups in the 1980s. In connection with this, I also mentioned
the (new) existence of Islamic banks and Islamic assurance companies
in Indonesia.
Taking this general Islamic resurgence into consideration, we may
probably conclude that the Ramadanic fast is more meticulously observed in
Java today than ever before. Should I dare to foresee the future, I would say
that I see no signs of this development either slowing down or turning
around; rather, I predict that it will escalate further, and that it will do so in its
own specific Javanese/Indonesian way. We should have this in mind when
we read and criticize previous accounts of Javanese Islam, i.e., that there are
no guarantees that Islam had such a prominent role in Java at the time of this
earlier research. Thus, though for example Geertz’s account of Javanese
Islam (resulting from fieldwork in the 1950s) may be criticized on several
points, we should not forget that he studied a Java that was quite different
from the Java we find today.
In regard to the relationship between the observance of Ramadan and its
rituals on the one hand, and the Islamic resurgence on the other, we should
finally note that it is characterized by a two-way influence. Put differently,
whereas the Islamic resurgence assures that the month long fast is thoroughly
observed in Java, there could be no Islamic resurgence to talk about in the
first place had this not been the case.
In the introduction to this work, I argued that Islamic rituals have been surprisingly
meagerly studied, and that non-Muslim theories of Islamic rituals
habitually have been detached from the lives, experiences, and explanations
of Muslims themselves. Hence, I proposed ‘four basics’ as an aid for our
understanding of these Islamic rituals. I argued thus that Islamic rituals (1)
follow the example set by the prophet Muhammad; (2) are believed to generate
religious merit; (3) are thought to be able of reducing the common feeling
of debt many Muslims host towards God; and (4) express certain Islamic
ideas and ideals (primarily that of the Oneness of God, taw®h³d).
Ramadanic fasting in Java fulfills all these four basics in that it is
molded upon the example set by the prophet; believed to generate pahala in
large quantities; supposed to lessen the Muslim debt towards God; and express
the unity of God (in that the Koranic aim of fasting is to attain takwa).
The same can be said about many Ramadanic sub-rituals (such as Koran
recitation and the performance of the traweh prayers (despite inter-Islamic
differences)), although not all (such as ruwahan, mudik, sungkeman). In the
cases Ramadanic rituals do not express all of the proposed basics, we see that
it is often the first basic that is missing. We know that neither the ruwahan
nor the practices of mudik or sungkeman have any clear references in the
Koran or the −had³th literature. Despite this, they are often thought to contain
the other proposed basics (either directly or indirectly), and thus be ‘Islamic’
in one sense or another. They are not normative in the sense we have used the
term in this work, and thus more open to criticism and debates than other
Islamic rituals. Indeed, some Muslims are prone to argue that if a ritual is
missing the first basic, then the others must by definition be missing too.
Islamic rituals and Muslims’ approaches to them are thus multifaceted,
but I am still of the conviction that the four proposed basics constitute a reasonable
and initial criteria for understanding Islamic rituals.
Here, our journey ends. We have allowed ourselves some sidetracks from the
desirable and asked-for ‘straight path’ (A. aâ-âir¢açtu l-mustaq³m), but nevertheless
feel that we have arrived in the vicinity of where we hoped to arrive.
While the journey has provided us with much knowledge whose contours we
could have sensed in advance, we have also met with more than a few surprises
along the road. Time and again, we have, in addition, been reminded
that the ultimate goal of a journey like the present is not the final destination,
but rather the journeying itself. Therefore, no grand finale can or will be
presented here.
That our journey ends here does not mean that the road ends too, or that no
further ventures are possible. Quite on the contrary, I like to believe that our
journey has paved the way for future excursions of a similar kind. Without
discussing these proposed voyages in any detail here, I would like to provide
some possible directions for them.
First and foremost, more studies of Ramadan are desperately needed. In
Java, it would probably prove fruitful to study the month of fasting in a rural
setting, or in some of the wali towns of the northern coast. Rural Muslims in
Java have at times been depicted as ‘less Islamic’ or, at least, ‘less orthodox’
than their urban counterparts in Western scholarship. Some urban Javanese
Muslims themselves, however, are unambiguous in their convictions that
their rural countrymen live closer to a perceived ideal Islamic life than they
do themselves. These contrasting ideas could thus hopefully be given some
clarity by studying rural Ramadan in Java. Such a study would also let us see
how Ramadan and its rituals in rural and urban settings differ on the same
island, whereas we naturally also would find many similar ideas and practices
in a rural context as we have found in this study. One can perhaps anticipate
that religious authority still to a larger degree is in the hands of religious
scholars in rural Java, whereas the availability and influence of what has been
denoted as “written Islam/Ramadan” in this study still is limited.
To study Ramadan (and, by consequence, Islam) in one of the wali
towns of the northern coast of Java would by necessity involve investigations
into the commonplace idea that these towns are centers of ‘orthodoxy’ and a
‘strict religiosity.’ Without anticipating too much here, one could perhaps
foresee that the role of Islamic scholars is larger there than in both Yogyakarta
and Blora, at the same time, however, as the entire spectrum of the
written Ramadan is ready available. Digging into Ramadan/Islam in a wali
town could also include investigations of the strategies of local scholars and
politicians for upholding the image of their town as a ‘strict Islamic’ one.
Such strategies are probably extra visible before and during the month of
I am also sure that studies of Ramadan elsewhere in Indonesia (i.e.,
outside of Java) would prove very worthwhile. It would be interesting, for
example, to study how Ramadan in Padang, West Sumatra, relates to its central
Javanese equivalent, or how people from South Sulawesi celebrate the
month long fast. In this connection, a study of the Ramadanic ideas and behaviors
of Javanese migrants elsewhere in Indonesia would also be valuable.
One might ask, for example, if and how specific Javanese Ramadanic practices
are upheld in a non-Javanese cultural and geographical setting. Questions
like these leads us in to questions on the religious behavior of minority
groups. A study of much interest would be one that discusses how Indonesian
Muslims in predominately Christian East Indonesia celebrate Ramadan (and
what the majority society has to say about that).
Needless to say, studies of Ramadan outside both Java and Indonesia
would be very valuable too. One could make a study of how overseas Indonesians
celebrate the month, or one could focus on entirely other groups. I
have already mentioned the need for studies of French, Surinamese, and
Pakistani Ramadan. Of course, studies of Palestinian, Danish, South African,
and Indian Ramadanic practices and ideas would be just as welcome.
Not only Ramadan calls for our attention, however, as studies of other
rituals (that do not belong to the Ramadanic ritual complex) are as surprisingly
few as those centered on Ramadan are. I call for studies of ordinary
Islamic rituals, as performed by ordinary Muslims, on a more general plane.
This would include studies of Islamic prayers, Koran recitation, pilgrimage,
sermon delivering, and so on, and I propose that such studies be arranged
according to the perspectives that have been provided in this work. In other
words, I believe it would prove rewarding to study such ordinary rituals in
the light of normative, written, and lived Islam, and to discuss the relationship
between these entities. Such studies can be conducted virtually in any
cultural or geographical setting, but I would personally vote for a concentration
on Southeast Asian and especially Indonesian contexts. This has to do
with my personal interests, of course, but also with the fact that more Muslims
live in Indonesia than in the Middle East.
Further, with the dissemination and fragmentation of religious authority
that I have briefly mentioned in this work, we must start to take local Muslim
scholarship and various forms of popular media seriously. Studying such
media means that we get access to both normative and more non-normative
written worlds, and in some cases it might be that they work as mediators or
brokers between what has been denoted as normative and lived Islam in this
thesis. Such material needs attention.
Finally, there is a burning call for studies of Islam as a religion, and not
only as a political potential. I do not in any way disregard or disdain studies
of political Islam, but in a time of ever-ceasing accusations against Islam as a
religion with omnipresent violent and terrorist inclinations, the need for a
counterbalance is obvious. This could preferably take the form of studies of
everyday Islam among everyday Muslims, and, preferably again, among
Muslims living in the so-called peripheral areas of the Islamic world. Such
studies can—and will—provide alternative images of Islam in the contemporary
والله اعلم

I Indonesien st¤ar det utom alla rimliga tvivel att den m¤anadsl¤anga fastan
under ramadan ¦ar islams mest betydande ritual. Att fasta under ramadan ¦ar i
m¤angt och mycket detsamma som att bek¦anna sig till den muslimska
religionen, medan det ¦ar en logisk om¦ojlighet att inte h¤alla fastan men ¦and¤a
kalla sig en god muslim. De fem dagliga b¦onerna har en liknande funktion i
dagens Indonesien (det vill s¦aga att f¦orse sina ut¦ovare med en muslimsk
identitet), men det ¦ar vanligtvis ¦and¤a fastan som s¦atts i f¦orsta (rituella)
rummet. Forskning fr¤an andra muslimska omr¤aden visar p¤a liknande
omst¦andigheter, ¦aven om iakttagandet av den m¤anadsl¤anga fastan i varje
best¦amd kulturell och historisk milj¦o hyser sina speciella k¦annetecken. Det ¦ar
med andra ord ofr¤ankomligt att ramadan i Palestina, till exempel, inte ¦ar
identisk med ramadan i Surinam, eller att ramadan i Malaysia skiljer sig fr¤an
sin motsvarighet i Frankrike. Vi kan allts¤a prata om flera olika ”ramadaner,”
och ¦aven inom en och samma statsstat kan vi f¦orv¦anta oss att finna olika
uppfattningar om hur fastan ska h¤allas och ut¦ovas. I den v¦aldiga arkipelagen
som Indonesien utg¦or beh¦over vi s¤alunda inte bli f¦orv¤anade d¤a vi finner
¤atskilliga, och stundvis motstridiga, ¤asikter om hur, varf¦or och till och med
n¦ar fastan b¦or observeras.
Av denna korta inledning torde det st¤a klart att den ramadanska fastan
inte bara utg¦or islams kanske viktigaste ritual enligt muslimerna sj¦alva, utan
att den ¦aven utg¦or ett frodigt omr¤ade f¦or akademisk forskning. Naturligtvis ¦ar
det rimligt att anta att stora forskningsinsatser redan riktats mot s¤adana
centrala ritualer som den rituella fastan under ramadan, och att detta gjorts i
skilda muslimska milj¦oer. Men s¤a ¦ar inte fallet. Ist¦allet blir man f¦orv¤anad
¦over hur lite akademisk uppm¦arksamhet den rituella fastan lyckats attrahera. I
introduktionsb¦ocker till islam avhandlas ¦amnet vanligtvis p¤a n¤agra f¤a rader,
och vetenskapliga artiklar och monografier som fokuserar p¤a ¦amnet ¦ar
t¦amligen l¦attr¦aknade. Bevekelsegrunderna till denna flagranta akademiska
negligering ¦ar inte helt l¦atta att f¦orst¤a, men vi kan ¤atminstone peka p¤a n¤agra
bidragande orsaker till att ramadan och ramadanska ritualer n¦astan helt g¤att
f¦orbi v¦asterl¦andska forskares anstr¦angningar. F¦or det f¦orsta ¦ar det s¤a att
forskare som sysslat med islam vanligtvis valt att koncentrera sig p¤a
religionens (arabiska och persiska) texter, och p¤a de civilisationer som
sprungit upp d¦ar islam etablerat sig. Vardagligt religi¦ost liv har med andra
ord hamnat i skymundan bakom st¦orre teologiska, (religions-)filosofiska,
politiska, lingvistiska och historiska perspektiv. Detta f¦orfaringss¦att ¦ar i sin
tur kopplat till id‚eer inom den v¦asterl¦andska religionsforskningen som h¦avdar
(direkt eller indirekt) att religion i f¦orsta hand handlar om tro, dogmer och
ortodoxi, och bara i andra hand (om ens det!) om ritualer och ortopraxi (se
Olsson 1999; 2000). En s¤adan uppfattning ¦ar starkt knuten till
protestantismens syns¦att, och inte applicerbar utan vidare p¤a religioner som
st¤ar utanf¦or denna tradition. En annan orsak till att ramadan inte lyckats ut¦ova
den dragningskraft p¤a v¦asterl¦andska forskare den f¦ortj¦anar, ¦ar troligtvis att
den ¦ar s¤a synlig, uppenbar och p¤ataglig i muslimska samh¦allen att dessa
forskare helt enkelt inte sett skogen f¦or alla tr¦aden. I all sin vardaglighet har
allts¤a den rituella fastan under ramadan och ¦aven andra muslimska alldagliga
ritualer inte f¦orm¤att dessa forskare att f¤a upp ¦ogonen f¦or dem. Sen ¦ar det
sj¦alvklart ocks¤a s¤a att ritualstudier kan vara synnerligen (fysiskt) kr¦avande
och erfordra l¤anga f¦altstudier.
N¦ar det g¦aller negligerandet av muslimska ritualer i Sydostasien kan vi
ut¦oka listan med bidragande orsaker n¤agot, d¤a forskare som varit aktiva i
Indonesien och ¦ovriga Sydostasien ofta varit av ¤asikten att den ”¦akta”
sydostasiatiska kulturen varit betydligt djupare ¦an islam, och att islam bara
kunnat betraktas som en inkr¦aktande kulturkraft i omr¤adet (Hefner 1997a).
Detta syns¦att har reviderats n¤agot under de senaste decennierna, men det ¦ar
fortfarande inte ovanligt att h¦ora s¤adana osannolika p¤ast¤aenden som att
indonesiska muslimer inte ¦ar ”riktiga” muslimer. En sista orsak till att
alldagliga muslimska ritualer bara funnit sin v¦ag till ett f¤atal akademiska
verk, ¦ar knuten till den omst¦andigheten att ¦aven om antropologer som varit
verksamma i muslimska omr¤aden ofta fokuserat p¤a ritualer i sina arbeten, har
de vanligtvis letat efter ritualer som st¤att utanf¦or (och helst i mots¦attning till)
muslimsk ortopraxi. Det har allts¤a inte s¦allan fokuserat p¤a vad som ¦ar ”ickeislam”.
I Ramadan in Java: The Joy and Jihad of Ritual Fasting st¤ar, som titeln
antyder, ramadan och ramadanska ritualer p¤a den indonesiska ¦on Java i
fokus. Avhandlingen ¦ar baserad p¤a tre ¤ars vistelse p¤a Java, d¦ar material fr¤an
olika f¦alt insamlats f¦or att senare behandlas. Det ¦ar f¦orst och fr¦amst de tv¤a
centraljavanesiska st¦aderna Yogyakarta och Blora som uppm¦arksammas, men
¦aven en hel del mer allm¦anindonesiska uppfattningar och praxis l¦amnas
utrymme. F¦or att kontextualisera avsnitten om de specifikt javanesiska och
indonesiska ramadanska ritualerna och uppfattningarna, ges ¦aven de arabiska
normativa texterna erforderligt sv¦angrum, och det presenteras en introduktion
till islam p¤a Java, s¤a som man kan uppfatta denna utifr¤an dess historia,
akt¦orer och de forskarinsatser som riktats mot den. Det h¦avdas s¤alunda att
islams historia p¤a Java kan beskrivas som en l¤angsam men allt snabbare
str¦avan efter ortopraxi (och ortodoxi), och att det ”islamiska uppvaknandet”
som f¦argat och i vissa fall karakt¦ariserat den muslimska v¦arlden sedan slutet
av 1970-talet, spelat en viktig roll i detta n¦armande av ortopraxin. Vidare
beskrivs det muslimska landskapet i det kontempor¦ara Indonesien som n¦astan
helt dominerat av modernister och traditionalister, samt att det ligger en
sufisk skugga ¦over dessa b¤ada grupper (dock fr¦amst traditionalisterna). Id‚eer
om att radikala och liberala muslimer skulle spela avg¦orande och
framtr¦adande roller i dagens Indonesien, som viss forskning och framf¦orallt
journalistik h¦avdat p¤a senare tid, refuseras best¦amt. B¤ade radikal och liberal
islam ges oproportionerligt stort utrymme i b¤ade indonesisk och v¦asterl¦andsk
massmedia, och det har d¦arf¦or antagits att detta utrymme reflekterar deras
faktiska inflytande. S¤a ¦ar inte fallet. Snarare ¦ar deras utrymme t¦amligen
begr¦ansat, och b¤ade radikal och liberal islam ¦ar relativt ok¦anda begrepp
utanf¦or landets st¦orsta st¦ader. I sm¤a st¦ader som Blora ¦ar dessa grupper
sk¦aligen marginella, ¦aven om b¤ade liberala och radikala ¤asikter (s¤a klart) kan
p¤atr¦affas ¦aven d¦ar.
Metodologiskt h¦avdas det i avhandlingen dels att islam (och muslimska
fenomen) kan och b¦or studeras utifr¤an tre vinklar, samt att muslimska ritualer
alla har n¤agra grundl¦aggande principer som de flesta muslimer kan godta,
¦aven om de uppfattar och utf¦or dessa ritualer p¤a olika vis. De tre vinklarna
som f¦oresl¤as ¦ar f¦oljande: den normativa, den skriftliga och den levda. Den
f¦orsta av dessa h¦arr¦or till det som muslimerna sj¦alva anser deras religion
f¦oreskriver, och ¦ar s¤alunda starkt kopplad till koranen och den profetiska
traditionen, som den bevarats i hadith-samlingar. Denna normativa aspekt av
islam ¦ar ocks¤a knuten till de muslimska l¦arde (ulama) och speciellt deras
f¦oreg¤angares arbeten. Den levda aspekten av islam ¦ar just hur islam levs,
uppfattas och utf¦ors av samtida muslimer. Som man kan anta kan man inte
s¦atta likhetstecken mellan normativ och levd islam, och med andra ord finns
det en diskrepans mellan vad muslimer anser sig vara ¤alagda att g¦ora och vad
de faktiskt g¦or. (Detta ¦ar s¤aklart p¤a inget vis enbart utm¦arkande f¦or muslimer;
i sj¦alva verket kan man s¦aga att det ¦ar regel snarare undantag att ett dylikt
f¦orh¤allande mellan normativ och levd religion kan iakttagas.) Levd islam
innefattar allts¤a (delvis) normativ islam, men den bygger ocks¤a vidare och
inkorporerar element som st¤ar utanf¦or islam (och kanske till och med i
mots¦attning till denna). Med den ”skrivna islam” avses i denna avhandling
alla de kontempor¦ara och popul¦ara mediala uttryck som publiceras med en
hastighet som saknar motstycke i den muslimska v¦arlden idag. Dessa uttryck
innefattar s¤av¦al b¦ocker och artiklar som predikokassetter, musik och
s¤apoperor, och kan i vissa fall fungera som en slags kulturella medlare mellan
den normativa och den levda aspekten av islam.
N¦ar det g¦aller de grundl¦aggande principerna f¦or muslimska ritualer,
h¦avdas det att dessa ¦ar fyra till antalet, n¦amligen att de f¦oljer profeten
Muhammads perfekta exempel; att de antas generera religi¦os merit (pahala);
att de kan minska den k¦ansla av skuld m¤anga muslimer k¦anner mot Gud;
samt att de uttrycker vissa muslimska id‚eer och ideal. Dessa grundl¦aggande
principer kan f¦ormodligen godtas av de flesta muslimer, men detta inneb¦ar
inte att muslimska ritualer inte st¦andigt debatteras och ¦ar f¦orem¤al f¦or starka
meningsskiljaktigheter. En sufier p¤a den javanesiska landsbygden och en
islamist (radikal muslim) i Jakarta kan troligtvis b¤ada skriva under p¤a
ramadans grundl¦aggande principer enligt detta m¦onster, men inte desto
mindre l¦ar de f¦orst¤a och implementera dessa principer p¤a n¤agot olika vis. Vi
m¤aste med andra ord inse att muslimska ritualer kan utf¦oras p¤a avvikande vis,
trots att dess ut¦ovare kanske alla godtar ritualernas grundl¦aggande principer.
I Ramadan in Java appliceras dessa b¤ada metodologiska grepp p¤a det
javanesiska materialet, och det ¦ar s¤alunda s¤av¦al normativ som skriven och
levd ramadan som st¤ar i fokus. Dessa ”delar” av ramadan beskrivs dels var
f¦or sig och dels i f¦orh¤allande till varandra. Speciell vikt l¦aggs vid det
etnografiska beskrivandet av hur ramadan firas i Java, och det ¦ar fr¦amst
ramadans m¤anga subritualer som ges utrymme i texten. N¤agra av dessa
ritualer diskuteras relativt utt¦omande, och l¦asaren ges m¦ojlighet att f¦orst¤a hur
till exempel de popul¦ara tarawih-b¦onerna har kommit att ut¦ovas p¤a olika vis
av modernister och traditionalister i Indonesien, samt hur det kan komma sig
att dessa b¤ada grupper under somliga ¤ar p¤ab¦orjar och avslutar den ¤arliga
fastan p¤a olika dagar. N¤agra specifika javanesiska ritualer, s¤a som slametan
(en rituell sammankomst d¦ar mat v¦alsignas och distribueras) och nyekar
(bes¦ok p¤a gravplatserna), diskuteras ocks¤a i avhandlingen, och det
argumenteras p¤a ett generellt plan att det finns gott om anledningar att prata
om en specifik javanesisk ramadan, eller ett specifikt javanesiskt firande av
denna helgade m¤anad. Detta framg¤ar ocks¤a med viss tydlighet d¤a den tidigare
forskningen om ramadan i andra muslimska omr¤aden diskuteras, och d¤a den
javanska ramadan s¦atts i j¦amf¦orelse med dessa.
Tv¤a ¤aterkommande tema i avhandlingen ¦ar de som vidh¤aller att det ¦ar
en gl¦adje att f¤a fasta, samt att iakttagandet av den ramadanska fastan med
r¦atta kan beskrivas som det ”stora jihad”. Det f¦orsta av dessa tema g¤ar stick i
st¦av med g¦angse uppfattningar bland icke-muslimer om fastans vara och
villkor, som hellre brukar beskrivas som en ¤arligen ¤aterkommande pl¤aga som
det muslimska samfundet helt enkelt inte kan v¦aja undan. S¤adana
uppfattningar f¤ar inget eller mycket litet st¦od i Indonesien, d¦ar fastan varje ¤ar
v¦antas p¤a, och emottages varmt (med speciella ritualer) n¦ar den v¦al
uppenbarat sig. Vidare beskriver m¤anga indonesiska muslimer en sorg n¦ar
fastan ¦ar ¦over, eftersom de inte kan vara s¦akra p¤a att de f¤ar leva tills
n¦astf¦oljande ramadan, och eftersom de f¦oljaktligen ¤angrar att de inte utnyttjat
detta ¤ars ramadan ¦annu b¦attre (och utf¦ort ¦annu fler frivilliga ritualer, det vill
s¦aga). N¦ar ramadan beskrivs som det ”stora jihad” har man i ¤atanke den
profetiska tradition i vilken Muhammad uppges ha sagt till sitt samfund efter
ett krig att de nu ¤aterigen skulle fokusera p¤a det stora jihad. Det ”lilla jihad”
¦ar per definition det fysiska kriget, medan dess stora motsvarighet ¦ar kampen
mot ens egna v¦arldsliga beg¦ar. Undertiteln till detta arbete, The Joy and Jihad
of Ritual Fasting, avf¦ardar s¤alunda tv¤a vanligt f¦orekommande f¦orutfattade
meningar hos icke-muslimer, n¦amligen att den ¤arliga fastan inget annat ¦ar ¦an
en ¤aterkommande pl¤aga, samt att ”jihad” i f¦orsta hand syftar p¤a den fysiska
krigf¦oringen och er¦ovringen. Denna sista fr¤aga lyfter ocks¤a upp ett annat
genomg¤ende tema i avhandlingen, n¦amligen att islam m¤aste kunna och f¤a
studeras som religion i denna v¤ar tid d¤a islam f¦orst och fr¦amst kommit att bli
f¦orknippad med en obskyr och op¤alitlig politisk potential.

Di Indonesia tak dapat disangkal bahwasanya puasa selama bulan suci
Ramadhan merupakan ritus terpenting dalam agama Islam. Berpuasa selama
Ramadhan ini bisa dikatakan identik dengan menyatakan diri sebagai seorang
Muslim atau Muslimah, dan merupakan kemustahilan logis untuk mengaku
sebagai orang Islam tanpa menghiraukan bulan penuh berkah ini. Shalat lima
waktu memiliki peranan yang mirip di Indonesia (yaitu memberikan sebuah
identitas Islam kepada para orang yang menunaikannya), namun pada
biasanya puasa malah lebih dipentingkan lagi. Penelitian dari berbagai daerah
lainnya di dunia Islam menunjukkan bahwa keadaan ini tidak hanya berlaku
untuk Indonesia, meskipun bisa dipastikan bahwa bulan puasa dalam suatu
budaya atau pada suatu waktu historis tertentu memiliki ciri-ciri khas
tersendiri. Dengan kata lain, kita tidak bisa menyamakan begitu saja
Ramadhan di Palestina, misalnya, dengan Ramadhan di Surinam, dan kita
juga harus sadar bahwa Ramadhan di Malaysia berbeda dengan Ramadhan di
Perancis. Maka, terdapat banyak Ramadhan di dunia Islam, dan bisa juga
diperkirakan bahwa di dalam suatu negara pun terdapat pendapat yang
berbeda-beda mengenai bagaimana bulan puasa ini hendak ditunaikan.
Dengan demikian, kita tidak perlu heran ketika menyadari bahwasanya
berbagai kelompok di Nusantara memiliki pendapat yang berbeda dan
terkadang saling bertolak belakang mengenai bagaimana, mengapa dan
malah kapan bulan puasa ini harus ditunaikan.
Dari pengantar pendek ini dapat kita tarik kesimpulan bahwa
Ramadhan ini tidak hanya merupakan ritus terpenting dalam agama Islam,
tapi juga bahwa ritus ini merupakan lahan subur untuk penelitian ilmiah dan
akademis. Tidak aneh jika kita mengira bahwa penelitian bermacam-macam
telah diarahkan kepada masalah bulan puasa ini, dan bahwa penelitian ini
telah diselenggarakan di berbagai daerah di dunia Islam. Namun, tidak
begitu. Sebaliknya, kami kaget waktu menyadari betapa sedikit penelitian
yang pernah ditunjukkan kepada bulan penuh berkah ini. Di dalam bukubuku
pengantar Islam, masalah puasa pada umumnya hanya dibahas dalam
beberapa garis saja, dan artikel atau buku yang fokus utamanya diarahkan
kepada bulan ini dapat dihitung dengan sungguh cepat. Alasan-alasan untuk
pengabaian akademis ini tidak terlalu mudah untuk dipahami, akan tetapi
kami dapat menunjukkan beberapa kenyataan yang telah ikut membantu
supaya bulan Ramadhan ini hampir belum disentuh para penliti dari Barat.
Pertama, ahli-ahli Islam di Barat pada umumnya memfokuskan perhatiannya
pada teks-teks klasik (dalam bahasa Arab dan Iran), dan pada peradabanperadaban
yang muncul di mana-mana Islam dijadikan agama utama. Dengan
kata lain, kehidupan keagamaan sehari-hari tidak menerima sebanyak
perhatian seperti masalah-masalah teologis, filosofis, politis, linguistis dan
historis. Kenyataan ini erat terkait dengan gagasan di dalam studi penelitian
agama di Barat bahwasanya agama terutama berhubungan dengan keimanan,
dogma dan ortodoksi, dan hanya setelah itu dengan ritus, peribadatan dan
ortopraksi (lihat Olsson 1999; 2000). Pendapat demikian terikat secara
kencang dengan pemikiran Protestan, dan tak dapat diaplikasikan begitu saja
pada agama-agama lain. Sebuah alasan lain yang telah akibatkan Ramadhan
tidak begitu dihiraukan peneliti-peneliti dari Barat, ialah bahwa ritus ini
“terlalu kelihatan.” Kata orang Swedia, orang tak dapat lihat hutan karena
kebanyakan pohon. Dengan sifat kesehari-hariannya, puasa selama bulan
Ramadhan tidak menimbulkan ketertarikan yang berarti dalam benak-benak
peneliti dari luar. Dan tentu saja, penelitian terhadap ritus seperti Ramadhan
ini seringkali membutuhkan banyak tenaga dan kerja lapangan berkelanjutan.
Berhubungan dengan pengabaian terhadap ritus-ritus Islam di Asia
Tenggara, kita juga harus menyadari bahwa peneliti yang aktif di daerah ini
seringkali beranggapan bahwa kebudayaan “asli” Asia Tenggara lebih
“dalam” daripada Islam, dan bahwa Islam hanya merupakan kekuatan budaya
yang secara terpaksa terdapat di Indonesia dan negara-negara lain di Asia
Tenggara (Hefner 1997a). Pendapat-pendapat demikian telah diralat oleh
penelitian mutakhir pada beberapa dasawarsa terakhir ini, namun masih
terdengar pendapat aneh seperti “orang Islam di Indonesia bukan orang Islam
sejati” dan sejenisnya. Alasan terakhir yang disebutkan di sini berhubungan
dengan pengabaian terhadap ritus-ritus biasa di Indonesia, ialah bahwa
meskipun sejumlah ahli antropologi telah mengadakan penelitian di Asia
Tenggara, termasuk Indonesia, mereka pada umumnya mencari dan
memperhatikan ritus-ritus yang berdiri di luar Islam normatif (dan mungkin
malah bertolak belakang dengannya). Dengan kata lain, mereka cenderung
memfokuskan perhatiannya pada sesuatu yang bisa disebut “bukan Islam.”
Dalam karya Ramadan in Java: The Joy and Jihad of Ritual Fasting,
bulan Ramadhan dengan ritus-ritusnya di Jawa merupakan fokus utama.
Disertasi ini berdasarkan keberadaan penulis di Jawa selama tiga tahun,
ketika materi-materi dikumpulkan untuk di kemudian hari disusun. Terutama
keadaan di kota Yogyakarta dan Blora, Jawa Tengah, yang diperhatikan,
akan tetapi gagasan-gagasan dan praktek-praktek yang dapat ditemukan di
seluruh Indonesia juga diberi ruangan. Supaya bab-bab yang secara eksplisit
membahas ritus-ritus dan pendapat-pendapat Ramadhan di Jawa dan
Indonesia lebih mudah dimengerti, teks-teks normatif dalam bahasa Arab
juga diperhatikan, dan juga terdapat dalam karya ini sebuah pengantar kepada
Islam di Jawa, sebagaimana ia dapat dipahami jika dilihat dari sisi sejarah,
aktor, dan penelitian sebelumnya. Maka, dikatakan dalam karya ini bahwa
sejarah Islam di Jawa bisa dideskripsikan sebagai sebuah gerakan pelan-pelan
(namun semakin cepat) menuju Islam ortodoks (atau, lebih tepatnya,
ortopraks). Dikatakan pula bahwa “kebangkitan Islam” yang memberi warna
kepada dan terkadang mendominasi dunia Islam sejak akhir 1970-an,
berperan secara penting dalam pendekatan ini. Lebih lanjut lagi, Islam di
Jawa masa kini digambarkan sebagai didominasi oleh orang modernis
(Muhammadiyah) dan tradisionalis (Nahdlatul Ulama), dan bahwasanya
terdapat sebuah “kerudung Sufi” di atas ini segalanya (terutama atas para
orang tradisionalis). Gagasan-gagasan yang menyatakan bahwa Islam radikal
dan Islam liberal memiliki peranan sangat penting dan sangat berpengaruh di
Indonesia kontemporer, seperti seringkali dinyatakan oleh berbagai peneliti
dan wartawan akhir-akhir ini, ditolak dengan tegas. Baik Islam radikal
maupun Islam liberal diberi ruangan di media masa yang tidak
mencerminkan pengaruhnya, dan merupakan kekeliruan untuk berfikir bahwa
pengaruh mereka sebesar suara-suara mereka di media masa. Tidaklah
begitu. Sebaliknya, ruang gerak mereka sepertinya cukup terbatasi, dan di
luar kota-kota besar, fenomena Islam radikal dan Islam liberal jarang
diperhatikan secara serius. Di dalam kota kecil seperti Blora, kelompok
seperti itu cukup dimarginalisir di dalam masyarkat, meski di sana pun
(tentunya) gagasan radikal maupun liberal dapat ditemukan.
Secara metodologis dinyatakan di dialam karya ini bahwa Islam (dan
fenomena Islam) dapat dan seharusnya dipelajari dari tiga sudut, dan bahwa
ritus-ritus Islam memiliki beberapa dasar atau garis besar yang dapat
disetujui semua orang Islam (meski mereka mungkin saja menunaikan ritusritus
tersebut secara berbeda-beda). Ketiga sudut yang disebut di atas ialah
sudut normatif, sudut media kontemporer, dan sudut nyata. Yang pertama
berhubungan dengan apa saja yang orang-orang Islam sendiri yakini agama
mereka mengharuskan. Dengan demikian, sudut ini erat terkait dengan al-
Qur’an dan kumpulan hadits. Sudut normatif ini juga terkait dengan pendapat
para ulama dan karya-karya fikih klasik. Sudut nyata memang Islam nyata,
yaitu bagaimana Islam dipahami dan diselenggarakan oleh umat Islam.
Seperti dapat dikira, Islam normatif dan Islam nyata ini tidak sepenuhnya
identik, tapi terdapat jurang di ataranya. (Ini bukan ciri khas Islam saja, tapi
dapat dikatakan merupakan ciri khas umum agama-agama.) Islam nyata
termasuk (bagian dari) Islam normatif, tapi juga menapung berbagai elemen
yang berdiri di luar Islam sendiri. Dengan sudut media kontemporer
dimasksudkan segala bentuk media populer yang dengan begitu cepat
dikeluarkan di dunia Islam masa kini. Bentuk ini termasuk buku, artikel,
kaset khutbah, musik, sinetron, dan lain sebagainya, dan dapat dalam keadaan
tertentu berfungsi sebagai perantara di antara Islam normatif dan Islam nyata.
Mengenai dasar atau garis besar ritus Islam, dinyatakan di dalam karya
ini bahwa jumlah mereka ialah empat, yaitu bahwa (1) ritus Islam mengikuti
contoh sempurna (uswah hasanah) Muhammad, (2) ritus Islam
mengakibatkan terkumpulkannya pahala, (3) ritus Islam dapat mengurangi
rasa berhutang seorang Islam pada Allah, dan (4) ritus Islam dengan
sendirinya menyatakan beberapa gagasan Islam, terutama yang berhubungan
dengan tauhid. Keempat garis besar ini berkemungkinan besar dapat diterima
kebanyakan orang Islam (di Indonesia), tapi ini tidak berarti bahwa ritus-ritus
Islam tidak didiskusikan dan dijadikan bahan percekcokan. Seorang Sufi di
pedesaan Jawa dan seorang radikal di Jakarta mungkin dapat menerima
keempat garis besar ini, namun mereka juga bakal memahami dan
mengamalkan ritus-ritus ini secara berbeda-beda. Dengan kata lain, kita harus
menyadari bahwa ritus-ritus Islam dapat ditunaikan dengan macam-macam
cara, meskipun orang-orang yang menunaikannya semua menerima garisgaris
Di dalam Ramadan in Java, kedua gagasan metodologis ini
diaplikasikan pada materi dari Jawa, dan dengan demikian baik Ramadhan
normativ dan Ramadhan nyata maupun Ramadhan menurut media
kontemporer yang diperhatikan. Ketiga “bagian” ini dibahas secara terpisah,
akan tetapi terdapat pula pembahasan mengenai bagaima mereka saling
berhubungan. Fokus khusus diarahkan kepada bagaimana bulan puasa
Ramadhan ditunaikan di Jawa (Ramadhan nyata), dan terutama ritus-ritus
Ramadhan ini yang diperhatikan. Beberapa dari ritus ini dibahas dengan
cukup panjang lebar, supaya sang pembaca dapat mengerti, misalnya,
mengapa shalat tarawih ditunaikan secara berbeda oleh beberapa kelompok
di Jawa, dan mengapa kelompok.-kelompok ini pada tahun-tahun tertentu
mengawali dan mengakhiri Ramadhan secara tidak bersamaan. Beberapa
ritus khas Jawa, seperti slametan dan nyekar juga dibahas di dalam karya ini,
dan dikatakan secara umum bahwa terdapat banyak alasan untuk
mencanangkan sebuah “Ramadhan Jawa” yang berbeda dengan Ramadhan-
Ramadhan di daerah lain. Hal ini semakin nyata ketika penelitian-penelitian
sebelumnya yang diarahkan kepada Ramadhan dibahas, dan ketika
Ramadhan Jawa dibandingkan dengan mereka.
Dua tema yang timbul berulang kali dalam karya ini ialah bahwa
berpuasa selama bulan Ramadhan merupakan kegembiraan tersendiri, dan
bahwa puasa selama bulan ini merupakan jihad al-akbar. Tema pertama ini
bertolak belakang dengan pendapat umum yang dipegang orang non-Islam,
yaitu bahwa puasa selama sebulan penuh hanya merupakan kesengsaraan
berkelanjutan yang tak dapat dihindari umat Islam. Pendapat serupa tidak
didukung keadaan nyata di Indonesia, di mana bulan puasa ditunggu setiap
tahun dan diterima (dengan ritus khusus) secara hangat ketika sudah sampai.
Lebih lanjut lagi, banyak orang Islam di Indonesia menyatakan bersedih hati
ketika harus berpisah dengan Ramadhan, sebab mereka tidak yakin mereka
dapat bertemu kembali dengannya. Ketika Ramadhan digambarkan sebagai
jihad al-akbar, di lain pihak, penggambaran tersebut berdasarkan sebuah
hadits Nabi yang mengatakanbahwa Muhammad berkata kepada para
sahabatnya setelah pulang ke Madinah setelah peperangan, bahwasanya
mereka sekarang harus kembali berfokus kepada jihad al-akbar lagi. Maka
“jihad kecil” ialah peperangan, sedangkan jihad al-akbar ialah perjuangan
melawan hawa nafsu diri sendiri. Maka, sub-judul karya ini, yaitu The Joy
and Jihad of Ritual Fasting, menolak dua pra-anggapan yang biasa dipegang
oleh orang-orang non-Islam, yakni bahwa puasa tahunan Ramadhan tidak
lain selain kesengsaraan, dan bahwa jihad pertama-tama berhubungan dengan
perjuangan melawan nafsu sendiri, dan hanya setelah itu dengan peperangan
fisik. Masalah terakhir ini juga menyangkut sebuah tema lain di karya ini,
yaitu yang mengatakan bahwa Islam harus bisa dan harus boleh dipelajari
sebagai agama di masa kini ketika Islam telah direduksi ke sebuah potensi
politis yang tidak dapat dipercaya, menurut khalayak umum.

Words are primary to be sought after in this glossary in their Indonesian
form, in connection with which possible other forms also are given (i.e.,
Arabic and/or Javanese). In the case these forms use another initial letter than
the Indonesian, separate entries with adequate references are provided. Note
finally that in the numerous cases where the Javanese coincides with the
Indonesian, no special reference has been made to point this condition out.
A. Arabic
I. Indonesian
J. Javanese
M. Malay
S. Sanskrit
A.H. anno hijriah (the Muslim era which began in 622 C.E.)
Ô¢alim (A.) see ulama
abangan nominal Javanese Muslims; expression popularized by Geertz (1960)
adzan, adhan, azan (A. adh¢an) the call to prayer from the mosque
agama (from S.) religion
a®h¢ad³th (A.) see hadits
ajz¢aé (A.) see juz
akhirat (A. ¢akhirah), the afterlife
Al Baqarah second verse of the Koran
Alfatekah (J.) see Al Fatihah
Al Fatihah (A. al-f¢ati®hah) first verse of the Koran
alhamdulillah (A. al-®hamdu lill¢ah) all praise be to God
Allahu akbar (A. All¢ahu akbar) God is greater
Al Qur’an (A. al-Quré¢an) the Koran
al Rayyan (A. al-Rayy¢an) the special gate in Paradise reserved for people who held
the fast during Ramadan
amal (A. ôamal) deed
amal sholeh (A. ôamal âal¢a®h) pious deed
apem (J.) rice flour cakes (inevitable in the ruwahan)
arak-arakan (J.) processions held during Ruwah to welcome Ramadan
ark¢an al-isl¢am (A.) see rukun Islam
ashar (A. ôaâr) the afternoon (obligatory) prayer
assalamu’alaikum (A. al-sal¢amu ôalaykum) the Muslim greeting (May God’s peace be
upon you)
asyura (A. ô¢ash¢ur¢aé) a day for fasting in the month of Muharram
ayat (A. ¢ayah, pl. ay¢at) a verse in the Koran
barakah (A. barakah) blessings
batil (A. b¢açtil) invalid; worthless
batin (A. b¢açtin) inner; internal (in contrast to lahir)
bedug (J.) drum at (traditionalist) mosques or prayer houses used to summon people
to prayer
berkat (J.) see barakah
bi’dah (A. bidôah) innovation
buka to break the fast
buka puasa to break the fast
Bukhari (A. Bukh¢ar³) an acknowledged collector of hadits
da’i (A. ®d¢aôin) one who invites to Islam; ‘preacher’
daif, dlaif (A. ®daô³f) weak (generally concerning hadits)
dakwah (A. daôwah) call (to religion)
Departemen Agama the Indonesian Departement for Religious Affairs
donga (J., A. duô¢aé) supplication
doa (A. duô¢aé) supplication
dukun (J.) traditional healer, ‘magician’, soothsayer
fajar (A. fajr) dawn
fardu (A. far®d) obligatory
fidyah (A. fidyah) a special ransom to be paid by Muslims unable to fast
fikih (A. fiqh) Islamic jurisprudence
fitrah (A. fiçtrah) pure
gamelan (J.) classical Javanese music; the instruments on which such music is per
gengsi prestige
gorengan fried foodstuff served in connection with the breaking of the fast (and at
other occasions)
hablum minallah (A. ®hablu mina ll¢ah) the relation with God
hablum minanas (A. ®hablu mina n-n¢as) the relation with one’s fellow humans
hadits (A. ®had³th) tradition of the prophet
hadits qudsi (A. ®had³th quds³) sacred tradition
hajj (A. ®hajj) the pilgrimage to Mecka
halal (A. ®hal¢al) lawful
halalbihalal post-Ramadanic get-togethers
haram (A. ®har¢am) unlawful
hasan (A. ®hasan) good (generally concerning hadits)
hilal (A. hil¢al) the new crescent moon
hisab (A. ®his¢ab) calculating the apperance of the new crescent moon
ibadah (A. ôib¢adah, pl. Ôib¢ad¢at) acts of devotion, pious practices
ICMI (Ikatan Cendekiawan Muslim se-Indonesia) The Association of Indonesian
Muslim Intellectuals
Idul Adha (A. ôidu l-a®d®h¢a) feast of sacrifice (held in connection with the annual pil
Idul Fitri (A. ô³du l-fiçtr) the feast concluding the fast of Ramadan
ijmak (A. ijm¢aé) consensus (legal term)
ijtihad (A. ijti®h¢ad) fresh interpretation through exertion
ikhlas (A. ikhl¢aâ) sincerity
iktikaf (A. iôtik¢af) seclusion in a mosque (primarily during the last ten days of Ramadan)
imam (A. im¢am) prayer leader
imsak (A. ims¢ak) the time for concluding the nocturnal meal in Ramadan (some fifteen
minutes before dawn prayer)
infak (A. inf¢aq) disbursements
iqomah (A. iq¢amah) the second call to prayer which announces that the prayers are
islah (A. iâl¢a®h) revival
isya (A. ôish¢aé) the nightly (obligatory) prayers
janabah (A. jan¢abah) state of ritual impurity
jihad (A. jih¢ad) struggle
jihad akbar (A. al-jih¢adu l-akbar) the larger struggle (i.e., the one against one’s own
jilbab (A. ®hij¢ab) veil
jimat (A. ôaz³mah) amulet
juz (A. juzé, pl. ajz¢aé) part of the Koran (the Book is divided into 30 juz)
juz ‘amma (A. juzé ôamma) the last juz of the Koran
kaffarah (A. kaff¢arah) atonement, expiation
kafir (A. k¢afir) unbeliever
kalamullah (A. kal¢amu ll¢ah) theology
kampung village; small part in a town
ketupat (J.) a kind of rice cake boiled in a box of plaited coconut leaves that is immensely
popular during Lebaran
khatam Al Qur’an (A. khatamu l-quré¢an) the recital of the entire Koran
khatib (A. khaçt¢ib, pl. khuçtab¢aé) Muslim ‘preacher’
khurafat (A. khur¢afah) superstition
khusyuk (A. khush¢uô) in full devotion
khutbah (A. khuçtbah) sermon
khutbah jum’at (A. khuçtbatu l-jumôah) Friday sermon
kiblat (A. qiblah) direction of prayer
kolak sweet drink (made of coconut milk, bananas, sweet potatoes, and Javanese
sugar) that is served at the time of breaking the fast
KUA (Kantor Urusan Agama) office for religious affairs
kula nuwun (J) ‘excuse me’; phrase stated when approaching a house
kultum (kuliah tujuh menit) seven minute lectures presented in the mosque during
Ramadan (and else)
kyai (J.) religious authority; religious teacher
lahir (A. ®z¢ahir) outer; external
lailatul qadar (A. laylatu l-qadr) the Night of Power
Lebaran (J.) the feast concluding the month long fast of Ramadan
Lebaran Sawal (J.) the feast concuding the six additional days of fasting immediately
after Ramadan in the month of Sawal (celebrated in Rembang and elsewhere)
luhur (A. ®zuhr) the mid-day (obligatory) prayers
maghrib (A. maghrib) the dusk (obligatory) prayers
makhruh (A. makr¢uh) reprehensible
maksiat immoralities of various kinds
mandub (A. mand¢ub) recommendable
masjid (A. masjid) mosque
mazhab (A. madhhab, pl. madh¢ahib) legal schools
min al ‘aidin wal faizin (A. min al-ô¢aéidin wa l-f¢aéiz³n) standard phrase to be stated
during Lebaran when asking for forgiveness
modin (J. from A. muéadhdhin) religous official
muakkad (A. muéakkad) confirmed; certain
muamalat (A. al-muô¢amal¢at) social interaction
muazzin (A. muéadhdhin) muezzin; the one who calls to prayer from the mosque
mudik undertaking a journey to one’s parental home or area in conncection with
Muhammadiyah the largest Muslim modernist organization in Indonesia
Muharram (A. Mu®harram) the first month of the Islamic year
MUI (Majelis Ulama Indonesia) the Council for Indonesian Islamic Scholars
mukena prayer dress used by women during the sholat
musafir (A. mus¢afir, pl. mus¢afir¢un) traveler that can be legally extempted from fasting
during Ramadan
musholla (A. muâallan) small prayer house
Muslim an acknowledged collector of hadits; Muslim
nabi (A. nab³) prophet
nafsu (A. nafs) desire; the lower self
Nahdlatul Ulama (A. nah®d¢atu l-ôulam¢aé) the largest traditionalist organization in
Indonesia (‘The Renaissance of the Religious Scholars’)
nahdliyin member of Nahdlatul Ulama
nasyid (A. nash³d) Islamic music
ngaji (J.) to recite the Koran
niat (A. n³yah) intent
Nuzulul Qur’an (A. nuz¢ulu l-Quré¢an) the ‘coming down’ (to the Earth) of the Koran
nyekar (J.) the visiting of graves
padusan (J., A. ghusl) the ritual major ablution prior to the month of Ramadan
pahala (A. fal¢a®h) (religious) merit; divine reward
pangestu (J.) blessing
pasa (J.) to fast; fasting
pasa sunat (J.) supererogatory fasting; non-obligatory fasting
Pasa (J.) the month of fasting; Ramadan
peci a fez-like cap widely used in Indonesia (as a Muslim symbol)
pepundhen (J.) sacred grave
peringatan (I.) commemoration
pesantren (J.) a traditional Islamic boarding school
pondok pesantren see pesantren
priyayi (J.) a Javanese aristocrat
puasa to fast; fasting; the fast
qada (A. qa®d¢aé) redemption, payment
raka’at (A. rakôah, pl. rakaô¢at) prayer cycles
Ramadhan (A. Rama®d¢an) the ninth month of the Islamic year; the month of fasting
rasul (A. ras¢ul) prophet
rasulullah (A. ras¢ulu ll¢ah) the Prophet of God, i.e. Muhammad
rukun (J.) harmony
rukun Islam (A. ruknu l-isl¢am, pl. ark¢anu l-isl¢am) the five pillars of Islam
rukyat (A. ruéyah) physical sighting (of the moon)
rukyatul hilal (A. ruéyatu l-hil¢al) physical sighting of the new crescent moon
Ruwah (J.) the eighth month of the Javanese calender; the month prior to Ramadan
ruwahan (J.) a special slametan held in the month of Ruwah
sabar (A. âabr) patience
sahih (A. âa®h³®h) sound (generally about hadits)
sahur (A. sa®h¢ur) the nocturnal meal during Ramadan; eating the nocturnal meal during
sajadah (A. sajj¢adah) prayer rug
sakim (A. sak³m) infirm (generally about hadits)
salam (A. sal¢am) short expression for the Islamic greeting assalamu’alaikum
salam tempel (J.) the distribution of fresh banknotes to children during Lebaran
salawat (A. âalaw¢at) praise of Muhammad
santri (J.) pious Javanese Muslim; student at a pesantren
sarung sarong; dress used by Indonesian Muslim males
Sawal (J.) see Syawal
sawalan (J.) see syawalan
shaum (A. âawm) the fast; to perform the fast
sedekah (A. âadaqah) charity
selapan (J.) a 35-day cycle which is a result of a mix between the Islamic and Javanese
shaykh (A.) see kyai
sholat (A. âal¢ah) ritual prayer; to perform ritual prayer
sholat id (A. aâ-âal¢atu l-ô³d) the ritual prayer performed on the morning of Idul Fitri
sholat jum’at (A. aâ-âal¢atu l-jumôah) the Friday prayer
sholat tarawih (A. aâ-âal¢atu t-tar¢aw³®h) the supererogatory nightly prayers during
sholeh (A. âal¢a®h) pious
silaturahmi, silaturrahmi, silaturahim, silaturrahim (A. âilah + ra®h³m) the habit of
visiting each other asking for forgiveness at the end of Ramadan; bonds of
friendship; guarding over one’s bonds of friendship
siyam (A. âiy¢am) the fast; to perform the fast
slamet (J.) a state of tranquility
slametan (J.) a ritual gathering for the neighborhood men in which prayers are recited
and blessed food distributed
subhanallah (A. sub®h¢ana ll¢ah) glory be to God
subuh (A. âub®h) the dawn (obligatory) prayers
sufisme (A. taâawwuf) Sufism
sugeng riyadi (J.) happy holidays
sungkeman (J.) the practice of kneeling (or prostrating) while asking for forgiveness
during Lebaran
sunnah, sunat (A. sunnah) the ‘way’ of the prophet
surat (A. s¢urah, pl. suwar) Koranic chapter
suwar (A.) see surat
Syaban (A. Shaôb¢an) the eighth month of the Islamic lunar year; the month preceding
syahadat (A. shah¢adah) the Islamic testimony of faith
syahid (A. shah³d) martyr
syariat (A. shar³ôah) Islamic law; exoteric Islam
Syawal (A. shawwal) the tenth month of the Islamic year; the month following Ramadan
syawalan post-Ramadanic get-togethers
syirk (A. shirk) the sin of associating something or someone with God
tadarus (al Qur’an) to recite the Koran
tafsir (A. tafs³r) Koranic exegesis
tajdid (A. tajd³d) reform
takbir (A. takb³r) the expression Allahu akbar
takbiran the tradition of reciting a short set formulae during the night preceeding
Lebaran that extols God
taklid (A. taql³d) the reliance on the decisions and precedents set in the past; ‘blind
takwa (A. taqw¢a) the fear of God; God-consciousness
tarawih (A. tar¢aw³®h) supererogatory nightly prayers performed during Ramadan
tarekat (A. çtar³qah, pl. çturuq) Sufi Order
tasawuf (A. taâawwuf) Islamic mysticism; Sufism
tasbih (A. misaba®hah) rosary used in various zikir practices
tauhid (A. taw®h³d) the Unity of God
THR (Tunjangan Hari Raya) holiday alimony to be paid to employees before Lebaran
tilawatul Qur’an (A. til¢awatu l-quré¢an) to recite the Koran
traweh (J., I. tarawih, A. tar¢aw³®h) supererogatory nightly prayers performed during
ujub (J.) greeting and intent stated at the slametan
ulama (A. ôulam¢aé, pl. of ôal³m) learned Muslims
umat (A. ôummah) the Muslim community
umra (A. ôumrah) the lesser pilgrimage (to Mecca)
ustadz (A. ust¢adh) Islamic teacher
wajib (A. w¢ajib) obligatory
wali Allah (A. wal³u ll¢ah) saint; ‘God’s friend’
wali Sanga (J.) the ‘Nine Saints’ who alledgedly spread Islam in Java
wayang (J.) shadow play performed with leather puppets
wirid (A. wird) the repetition of various formulaes in Arabic after performing sholat
wudlu (A. wu®d¢ué) prescribed ritual ablution (i.e. before sholat and the like)
zakat (A. zak¢ah) a religious tax, tithe
zakat fitrah (A. zak¢atu l-fiçtrah) see zakatulfitri
zakatulfitri (A. zak¢atu l-fiçtri) a special religious tax to be paid before the end of
ziarah (A. ziy¢arah) the practice of visiting tombs and graves
zikir (A. dhikr) ‘recollection’ of various formulae
EOI Encyclopaedia of Islam, Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1913-1936 (1993)
EOI2 Encyclopaedia of Islam, second edition. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1960-
EOR Encyclopaedia of Religion, Mircea Eliade (ed. in chief). New
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®HA ®Had³th Ab¢u D¢aé¢ud, prophetic tradition from the collection of Ab¢u
D¢aé¢ud. −HA 10,1983 refers thus to the tradition found in Ab¢u
D¢aé¢ud, book 10, number 1983.
®HB ®Had³th Bukh¢ar³, prophetic tradition from the collection of
Bukh¢ar³. ®HB 1,2,7 refers thus to the tradition found in Bukh¢ar³,
volume 1, book 2, number 7.
®HM ®Had³th Muslim, prophetic tradition from the collection of Muslim.
®HM 6,2566 refers thus to the tradition found in Muslim, book 6,
number 2566.
QS Qurô¢anic s¢urah, Koranic chapter. QS 2:183 refers thus to the
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lekfolk i ett nutida Thailand. Stockholm 2005.

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