Viktorija Panovaite
Pryaing on Ramadhan and Lebaran in Indonesia

Ramadhan and Lebaran in Indonesia

This year I had chance to explore Ramadhan and Lebaran in Indonesia (here more used name Idul-Fitri). I will write about it later. And now I share with you information that my Javanese friends told me and what I found in internet about Ramadhan and Idul-Fitri in Indonesia.

What you should know about Ramadhan and Idul-Fitri in Indonesia:


The dates of the 9th month of the Muslim calendar, Ramadhan, vary from year to year, as the Muslim calendar (Hijri) is based on a lunar cycle of 29 or 30 days. The exact date is determined by the sighting of the new moon. These lunar calculations lead to an official announcement by the government on the eve of Ramadhan and Idul Fitri, so that the faithful know when to begin and end the fasting month. You can find here Indonesian official holiday schedule.

During the month of Ramadhan, Muslims must refrain from eating, drinking, smoking, marital relations or getting angry during the daylight hours. In addition, those fasting are supposed to refrain from bad habits – lying, getting angry, and using bad language as well as to be more diligent in prayer and give to charities. It is believed that fasting heightens spirituality and develops self-control.

The fast begins in the morning just before sunrise, at “Imsak”, and is broken at “Maghrib” which falls at sunset. Fasting during the month of Ramadhan is one of the five pillars of Islam and an obligation for devout Muslims.

Those who are expected to fast include: adults (defined as those who have reached the age of puberty) and those who are sane. Those who are not expected to fast include: children, women having their period, travelers, the sick, those with long-term illnesses, pregnant or breastfeeding women and the mentally ill.

The faithful who fast awaken early in the morning to have a meal before “subuh”. In order to awaken the faithful, the call to prayer is sounded from neighborhood mosques. In addition, groups of young boys or devoted individuals walk around neighborhoods beating on drums and other noise makers to awaken the faithful (and their neighbors) are yelling out “sahur, sahur”.

The breaking of the fast at sunset is a normally very social occasion for which special foods are prepared for gatherings with family or friends. Upon hearing the sound of the “bedug” drum on the television or radio as well as the call to prayer from the local neighborhood mosque at sunset, the faithful know it’s time to break their fast – “buka puasa”. This is usually done with a very sweet drink and sweet snacks.

“Maghrib” prayers are made before a full meal is served. “Taraweh” congregational prayers are held in neighborhood mosques and at gatherings every evening at about 7:30 pm. These prayers are not compulsory, but they are attended and enjoyed by many. The schedule for “Imsak” and “Maghrib” is posted in major newspapers and on the television throughout Indonesia, as well as published in handouts by major religious organizations.

While it is expected that people will keep to their normal activities during the fast, needless to say the lack of liquid and food during the day and the unusual sleep and meal schedule soon take their toll.

During the fasting month you may see that sleep and food deprivation cause those fasting to have reduced energy levels as well as finding it more difficult to concentrate on tasks.

Why does Islam oblige its followers to fast during Ramadhan each year?

  • To develop compassion for the poor and needy who feel hungry every day.
  • As a spiritually and physically cleansing experience. Just as in other world religions, fasting is seen as an opportunity to separate yourself from the things of this world and to concentrate on your relationship with God.
  • To become closer to God by contemplating his will in your life.
  • To build self-discipline and to become a better person.

How does Ramadhan affect the lifestyle in Indonesia?

  • The overall pace of life overall slows down. Things take longer to get accomplished both at home and at the office.
  • An increased level of patience and tolerance is required when dealing with people who are fasting.
  • You may be awoken early in the morning by the enthusiastic young people parading through the neighborhood (don’t tell them to be quiet! This would be extremely offensive, just quietly endure).
  • Do not speak harshly with those fasting as if they get angry or have negative feelings towards others it invalidates their fasting for that day.
  • Muslims that may not normally be diligent in observing the obligatory five prayers a day may begin to pray regularly during this time.
  • Noise from the local mosques will increase in volume and frequency.
  • Street food vendors and some restaurants close during the day and some restaurants stop serving alcohol. The government orders the closing of night entertainment centers during the first day and the last day of Ramadhan. Some establishments that are in 5 star hotels or better known clubs will be allowed to operate; however will have shortened hours throughout the month. You won’t have any trouble finding seating at restaurants throughout for lunch, but dinner may be more difficult. Buffets catering to those breaking their fast at sunset offer a delicious array of Indonesian specialties.
  • You may feel uncomfortable eating or drinking before your fasting friends. It would be considerate to refrain from eating or drinking in front of others that are fasting.
  • Food prices rise (especially rice, eggs, flour, sugar, milk – mostly those products that needed to make cookies and similar dishes) as Idul-Fitri nears. Supermarkets will become extremely busy as people are looking for special treats to break the fast each evening, and especially the 2 or 3 days prior to Idul-Fitri as they prepare for the feasts at the end of the fasting month.
  • Traffic jams from the afternoon rush hour start earlier as many office workers are allowed to leave earlier than usual to get home in time to break the fast with family and friends.
  • You’ll notice a big increase in beggars at traffic lights as the poor flock into the city from the villages at this traditional time of heightened charity giving.
  • It’s difficult to schedule travel in Indonesia near the end of Ramadhan due to the annual exodus of 7+ million city dwellers to their hometowns. There are two peaks to this exodus which cause major logistical nightmares: 1) the departure from the urban areas back to the home village/town a few days before Idul Fitri and 2) the return to the town of residence normally 1-2 weeks later.
  • Your neighborhood association may organize a charitable drive for the poor in your neighborhood. It is advised that you contribute to this drive as a gesture of good faith and your membership in the local community.
  • You will notice a growing excitement amongst your Muslim friends and colleagues as Idul-Fitri approaches and they make plans for their special celebration.

Lebaran (Idul Fitri)

Lebaran, more often in Indonesia used by name Idul Fitri, is the celebration that comes at the end of the Muslim month of fasting, Ramadhan. The Arabic meaning of Idul Fitri is “becoming holy again”.

At the end of the month of Ramadhan and its special religious observance is the Eid holiday, called Idul Fitri . In Indonesia, this is the time when Muslims visit their family and friends to ask for forgiveness for any wrongs they have committed in the previous year. They express this wish in the phrase “Mohon Maaf Lahir Batin” which means “forgive me from the bottom of my heart/soul for my wrongdoings in the past year”. Traditional foods are consumed, family and friends gather to ask forgiveness and exchange greetings, new clothing is worn, children receive gifts of money and visits are made to recreational parks – all to celebrate the successful completion of the fasting month.

On Java, prior to the start of the fasting month (but not during it), visits are made to the graves of family ancestors (“nyekar”) to pay respects, clean the grave and leave flowers, causing major traffic jams near all major cemeteries.
Idul Fitri begins with mass prayer gatherings early in the morning at mosques, open fields, parks and on major streets. It is an amazing sight to see rows of hundreds of Muslim women all dressed in their “mukena” (white, head-to-toe prayer gowns) performing the synchronized prayer ritual. Muslim men tend to wear “sarong”, traditional shirts and “peci” hats to Idul Fitri morning prayers. On the walk home from the mass prayers, quick visits are made to friends in the neighborhood to ask for forgiveness.

Following the morning prayers and neighborhood visits, visits are made to close family members around town. Family members go to their parents first and then to the most senior relative’s house (oldest person in the family) to “Mohon Maaf …” with family members. Then depending on your age/status in the family, you visit aunts and uncles homes to do the same. At each house drinks and cookies or snacks are served, and since it is very impolite to refuse the food, by the end of the day you are so full you can hardly move. These customs may entail several days of visiting relatives and often there will be a gathering of family members at the senior-most relative’s house.

Employees may also visit the homes of their senior bosses in the company or critical business colleagues and government officials to “Mohon Maaf …” after their family visits is completed. Many people also take the opportunity of the Idul-Fitri holiday to visit recreational parks.

While gathering with family, it is customary for the adults to give the young children some money; they may meet even greet you at the door shaking their wallets! It is also customary to distribute money to children in the poor neighborhoods around your home; small bills given to children will bring huge smiles to their faces! Pick up a supply from your bank well in advance of the holiday.

During the weeks after Idul-Fitri many groups hold “halal bilhalal” gatherings where employees from a company, friends, colleagues or members of an organization gather to share a meal and ask each others forgiveness. Non-Muslims are often invited to participate in these festive gatherings also.

Various traditions associated with Ramadhan and Idul-Fitri

  • “Bazaar/Pasar Amal” – organized by various civic, charitable and neighborhood organizations, goods are sold at discounted prices to help the poor celebrate the holidays with new clothing and special foods.
  • “Bingkisan Lebaran” – elaborately wrapped parcels are given by business colleagues or associates to Muslims in the week prior to Idul-Fitri. They are usually arranged in a rattan or wood basket and contain food, small household appliances or dishes.
  • “Ketupat” – traditionally eaten at Idul-Fitri, the rhomboid-shaped “ketupat” casing is made of young coconut frond leaves that are still light green in color. Intricately woven by nimble fingered experts who can complete the weaving in 10 seconds, they are sold to the public at “pasar” (traditional markets) in bunches. The “ketupat” are filled with uncooked rice then steamed and left to cool before serving. The coconut leaf casing gives a unique flavor to the rice, one always associated with Idul-Fitri. The “ketupat” is cut open, removed from the casing and cut into small chunks, then served with various accompanying vegetable and meat dishes (opor and sambal goreng), often cooked in spicy coconut milk.
  • “Sungkem” – the Javanese custom of asking for forgiveness at Idul Fitri which demonstrates the respect given by young people to the family elders. The young person kneels and bows their head to the elders’ knees and asks for forgiveness.
  • “Sembayang” or “shalat” – ritual prayers that must be made five times each day by Muslims.
  • “Takbiran” – the prayer celebration on the evening of the last day of Ramadhan, to herald in the Idul Fitri holiday. Chants are praised to Allah, drums are beat endlessly, dances, songs, religious prayers and sermons are given in public displays of excitement and praise.
  • “Zakat” – the obligatory poor tax that is paid by Muslims during the Idul-Fitri period. “Zakat” should total 2.5% of one’s income, depending on the nature of the gift. “Zakat” is paid to charitable organizations, neighborhood groups or through direct distribution to the poor and needy in the neighborhood. “Zakat” tax is deductible in Indonesia; the funds can be deducted from your gross income before figuring taxes.
  • “Kartu Lebaran” – many people send greeting cards to their Muslim friends (whether they themselves are Muslim or not). For sale in shops throughout the city, Lebaran card designs should not depict people or animals. Geometric designs, mosques, traditional textiles or “ketupat” are common. Most cards have the date of 1 Syawal 141_ H written on the card. You need to fill in the appropriate year in the space. In 2015, the Hijri year will be 1436; in 2016 it will be 1437, etc. Calligraphy artists design specialized cards for customers on sidewalks near post offices and major market areas.

Have you been in Indonesia during Ramadhan or Lebaran? What is your experience – share it :)

Information used from Javanese people sharing and internet sources, as well all pictures.

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