Fast Times in Jakarta

Mosques in Jakarta are adorned with loudspeakers like these.

Mosques in Jakarta are adorned with loudspeakers like these.

Now that I’ve written on what Ramadan is about, here’s how Ramadan plays out on a daily basis here. A number of things change in Jakarta this month. First, Muslims (i.e., most of the city’s population) get up before dawn. Indonesians tend to be early risers anyway, and strict Muslims rise for prayer at dawn all year, but this month they need to have a big breakfast before 4 a.m.

Muslims will fast all day from about 4 a.m. to 6 p.m. So, many restaurants are closed, especially the small local types. Alternatively, restaurants may stay open but keep a shade covering the windows so that people do not see who is eating inside. Then most restaurants offer break-fasting specials, such as giant buffets, opening at 6 p.m.

This means that traffic patterns change as well. Rush hours shift to earlier times. Most notably, at about 4:30 p.m., traffic becomes crazy; the roads are nearly gridlocked in the frenzy to get home for the break-fasting feast. This is earlier and more concentrated than normal evening rush hour. Though drivers here are generally quite calm, this month, all those hungry drivers seem more aggressive than usual. But after 6 p.m., all roads seem empty; everyone has found a place to eat.

Soon traffic should be light, because most Muslims make a traditional trip home in the last week of Ramadan, known by the term “return to village.”

One more notable change is the sound of the mosques. Every day, 365 days a year, every mosque plays prayers over loudspeakers five times a day (around 4:50 am, noon, 3:30 p.m., 6:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m.). During Ramadan, these prayer calls are longer, louder and more insistent, especially at 6:00 p.m., for fast breaking. It is worth noting that there is a mosque on virtually every other corner in Jakarta. (In a search of our neighborhood, an area less than 10 miles across, Google Maps quickly identified 14 mosques). So, for much of the day we are surrounded by discordant prayer songs from every angle.

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