Wednesday, September 14, 2005


I know most people realise that Indonesia is the world's most populous Islamic nation, but I'm not sure how many readers know what goes on with that religion. Actually, about 90% of the population follow Islam, with the remaining 10% being Christians, Buddhists and Hindus. I'm no expert on religion by any stretch, but here's what I know so far about Muslims in Indonesia.

In general, Indonesians don't practice the extreme forms of Islam, although there are large populations of more conservative fundamental Muslims in Aceh (north Sumatra, where the devastating tsumani was last year), Sulawesi and Solo City (down the other end of Java from Jakarta).

Therefore, it's rare to see women wearing the full black robe and headscarf here in Jakarta. Most Jakartan women dress in western style, although around 30% of them wear a fashionable headscarf with their skin tight jeans, high heels and blouse/tshirt top. That said, you don't see many short skirts, except for waitresses and girls looking for action, paid or otherwise in bars.

Muslims pray at least 5 times a day, and there are mosques and prayer rooms (mushollah) on every block in the city. Our factory has mushollah on site to facilitate the daily prayers. Only males are allowed to enter mosques, and on Fridays there is a one hour prayer session at lunch time in addition to the regular prayer times throughout the day. The Friday session is an important one for the guys, and they get changed out of their work clothes and into their "Sunday best". First prayer each day is at 4.30am, with the last prayer time being around 9.00pm. The times change from day to day based on the movement of the sun.

Pork products can't be eaten because pigs are regarded as unclean. You rarely see a dog here, and not because they're a delicacy like in Korea, but because dogs are considered unclean because they lick their asses. However, for some unexplained reason, cats are very popular here, even though they lick their asses. I don't know the reason for that.

The Muslim equivalent of Christmas festivities is Lebaran/Ramadan, which is held in October/November, and changes every year according to the lunar calendar. For an entire month, Muslims are not allowed to eat, drink or have sex during daylight hours, as a sacrifice and commitment to their faith. Every day after sunset, they woof down as much food and water as they can stuff into themselves, and presumably fornicate like rabbits until just before dawn, when they have a huge breakfast to get them through the day. At the end of the month of fasting they have a big feast with their family, a bit like what we know as Christmas.

The government legislates that all employers must pay their staff one month's salary as a bonus before the feast, to allow people to travel back to their home village and buy shitloads of food and gifts. During the Ramadan fast, alcohol cannot be on display, so the bars cover their windows and sell beer in coffee mugs. Last year some bars were raided by some zealots and gave the bar owners a hard time for selling booze. I'm told that the working girls still perform as normal during the fast, but they'll wake you up at 4.00am to order room service.

Because everyone is starving and running on zero sleep during the fast, productivity is very low. Our factory closes for 2 out of the 4 weeks of the fast, because little work gets done. We’ll be heading to Bali during that break for some R&R, since the Balinese are Hindu, so things are not affected by the Muslim fast.


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