Jun 30, 2014

Indonesia - Ramadhan begins with a festive vibe

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Ghost town: Scores of people spend their time at the Hotel Indonesia traffic circle during Car Free Day in Jakarta on Sunday morning. Many people were surprised to see roads in the area empty on Sunday, which was also the first day of the fasting month Ramadhan. Usually, hundreds of thousands of Jakartans flock to Jl. MH Thamrin and Jl. Sudirman each Sunday for Car Free Day.

Sunday marked the first day of Ramadhan for the majority of Indonesia’s 210 million Muslims.

During the holy month, urban dwellers flock to the streets and malls to buy sweets or big meals to break their fast.

Nearing sunset on the first day, streets were crowded with vendors preparing to cater to people breaking fast, and malls were crowded with families scrambling to find a venue to break fast with their loved ones.

The usually crowded Jl. Rawa Belong in West Jakarta saw an even bigger crowd on Sunday as street vendors packed its sidewalks.

Residents on motorcycles and in cars parked along the narrow street causing long-tailed traffic.

Dozens of street vendors were selling a wide variety of foods and beverages. Iced fruit drinks proved to be popular with the many people eager to quench their thirst with a refreshing beverage before diving into big meals.

Customers patiently waited to be served, longingly staring at the fruit drinks being made by the vendors.

Fruit drinks vendor Siti Hajar said that she only sold the beverage seasonally.

“I only do this during Ramadhan for additional income,” said the 47-year-old as she poured servings of the beverage into transparent plastic bags.

A similar scene could seen at Pondok Indah Mall in South Jakarta, where hundreds of visitors scrambled to find tables in the mall’s restaurants.

Although the call to maghrib prayers was still an hour away, visitors had already started ordering food to keep tables.

One visitor, Ratih, said that she was keeping a table to break the fast with her friends.

“Today is the first day of fasting. I am so excited to break fast in the mall with my friends,” she said.

At Istiqlal Mosque located in Central Jakarta, which is the city’s biggest mosque, 45 cooks prepared 3,000 boxes of food to distribute to the needy.

According to kompas.com, the mosque spends roughly Rp 30 million (US$2,502) a day during Ramadhan. The mosque’s food procurement unit head, Hassanuddin, said that thousands of people gathered to break fast and pray at the city’s largest mosque each day.

The crowded streets that were seen nearing sunset, however, were a stark contrast to the strangely deserted city streets in the early hours of the day. Many Jakartans had slept in after sahur (pre-dawn meals), only getting out of their homes close to sunset to scour the city with friends and family in search of the perfect place to break the fast.

 The usually crowded Car Free Day along Jl. Sudirman in South Jakarta and Jl. MH Thamrin in Central Jakarta on Sunday was exceptionally quiet. Very few runners were seen enjoying the empty streets, Antara reported.

Despite the fasting month, some Jakartans still insist on watching World Cup matches in bars late at night.

Even threats by the hard-line Islam Defenders Front (FPI) to raid such bars did not stop soccer fans from heading to nightspots to watch soccer matches.

The FPI has pledged to raid bars that continue to sell alcohol, which Muslims are banned from drinking under Islamic law, or stay open too late.

It vowed to “monitor any sinful activities in entertainment places, cafes and bars during Ramadhan”, said FPI Jakarta head Salim Alatas, as quoted by AFP news agency.

However, the AFP reported that bars that remained open in Jakarta were still packed with locals and expatriates late Saturday and early Sunday.

One visitor, 27-year-old Endika Setiadi Putra, said that with the World Cup now in the knockout stages, the excitement would keep drawing people to watch the matches in bars even during Islam’s holiest month.

“If it’s the weekend, most people will go out [to watch the matches],” Putra said as quoted by AFP.

Meanwhile, the Medan Police conducted a raid early on Sunday morning to catch violent motorcycle gangs and prevent street racing, which has caused safety concerns among residents.

Medan Police chief Comr. Budi Hendrawan said that the police would conduct such raids throughout Ramadhan to maintain safety during the holy month.

“We ticketed 455 motorists during the raid. All of the motorists were ticketed because they did not have licenses, vehicle registrations or helmets,” Budi told reporters after the raid. (dwa/alz)

Apriadi Gunawan contributed to this story from Medan

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