A Fitting First Day: An American’s Observations of Idul Fitri

By Jennifer H. Lundt*

A little bit about me to frame my observations, my name is Jenny and I am a University student double majoring in “Peace and Conflict with a specialization in Asia” and “Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies”. I have spent a decent amount of time in the Middle East, with internships in Morocco and Jordan. WIth additional side trips to Egypt, Qatar, Kuwait, and Lebanon. I have also spent a decent amount of time in Asia with an internship in Thailand for 5 months, and a semester abroad in Nepal lasting 4 months.

Indonesia has been a country that has been on my bucket list for many years. Extending beyond the obvious reasons of the natural beauty found here, it is fascinating for me for being a combination of my two academic interests. An Asian country with the largest population of Muslims in the world? Perfect.

Admittedly, I only booked my tickets based on the cheapest price, so it couldn’t have felt more perfect that June 15th fell on the last day of Ramadan, or Eid al-Fitr. Two summers ago, I lived in Amman, Jordan for 2 months also during the holy month of Ramadan. So I thought I knew what to expect whilst experiencing another Eid. However, I was completely unprepared for the differences that I would encounter between the two places.

My first interaction with the holiday was on my flight from Singapore to Jakarta where my Singapore Airlines dinner had a little flag sticking out of it reading “Idul Fitri”. I noticed the difference in the language between Bahasa and Arabic. In Jordan and other Arabic speaking countries, the day is called “Eid al-Fitr”. Here in Indonesia, they call it Idul Fitri. To me, this highlighted a large difference already in between the cultures. It is clear that Indonesia has a unique spin on their Islam that I have never seen or experienced before.

When I collected my bag and passed through immigration, I was surprised still at the number of taxis that swarmed at me post arrival. Not passing judgment on their behalf, but it gave me a moment of pause thinking of Christmas morning in my own culture and how even on holy days, many people are still required to or choose to work. We all have to make our livings somehow, I guess.

As I checked into my hostel for the night by Gambir Station, the man at the front desk warned me that most of the city would be empty, and thus I would have a hard time getting to see many the main sights in Jakarta. He told me about “mudik” or “pulang kampung” where the people in urban areas return to their hometowns to spend time with their relatives and ask for forgiveness or just generally celebrate. What he told me was true. Driving around that first night, Icould tell that a large majority of the city was missing. Large swaths of buildings had lights up, and storefronts were completely closed up. However, there were large banners promoting Idul Fitri or Lebaran on almost every street.

Similarly, upon visiting Grand Indonesia Mall, I noticed that most of the storefronts had advertisements promoting special sales and offers for Lebaran. They even had store decorations and even music promoting the holiday. The tangible spirit reminded me again of Christmas, where the holiday is commercialized for profit. Additionally, I learned that this period of time is known for shopping, except for the self instead of others like at home. Millions of dollars are put into the retail industry during this period.

The few days I was in Jakarta were the most empty the city is all year. This struck me as interesting, because there still was excruciatingly painful traffic. I can only imagine what the city streets are like for the rest of the year. Conversely, I found differently in Bali. As I traveled to Bali right after Jakarta, I was struck with the amount of complaints some people had about the influx of people for this holiday season. Many people told me that the streets in certain popular areas became completely unnavigable.

How challenging it must be to coordinate all of this movement. Even just moving those from an urban center to the outside is clearly a challenge. It is one of the biggest human migrations in the entire world, with tens of millions of people on the road. Many people I talked to expressed how difficult it was to travel due to the lack of facilities including bathrooms along the road and the increase of prices during the holiday. Several others told me that the traffic during the period along many of the main roads in Java is a true nightmare.

It was fascinating in Bali to talk to Hindus about their opinions of the holiday. Everyone that I talked to was in favor of it, because it means more time off of work for them, and free paid at that. However, several Christians living in Bali expressed frustration that they don’t get to celebrate their holidays like Easter or Christmas with their families in the same way.

As for the biggest similarity between Jordan and Indonesia, I found the focus on family and food to be the main highlights. In Jordan, I remember my host family and I stuffing ourselves with all of the food that would indicate the fast breaking. In Indonesia, I learned that it is the same exact practice.

What is clear so far from my observations is this: there is a unique national culture of general Indonesian identity but so much strength in all the many islands and cultures that combine to form this greater place. I have only just arrived in Indonesia, but the conversations I had regarding Idul Fitri will stay in my heart and mind for a long time, as they are the first basis for the strong culture of this wonderful country. Idul Fitri provided a strong context for my understanding of Indonesian peoples and culture as a wonderful, caring culture. I can only imagine what other knowledge will come with my time here.


*Student at the Department of Peace and Conflict Studies, Colgate University, Hamilton, USA and Internship at the Institute of Southeast Asian Islam (ISAIs), Sunan Kalijaga State Islamic University, Indonesia

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