Reflections on Ramadan

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Mesjid Istiqlal, the largest mosque in Jakarta, and in Southeast Asia.  

Ramadan is the Muslim fasting month, culminating in Eid al-Fitr, and is the most important holiday for Muslims around the world.  Commemorating the revelation of the Qur’an to Muhammad, the observance of Ramadan is one of the Five Pillars of Islam, alongside a belief in Allah, the five daily prayers, Hajj, and charity.

I have spent the last three years in Indonesia, the most populous Muslim-majority nation in the world, first as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA), and later as the ETA Coordinator.  However, due to the timing of Pre-Departure Orientation in D.C. each year, I have never been in Indonesia for any part of Ramadan.  This year, I pushed my return date back a bit, so that I could take in some of the Ramadan traditions practiced in the country that has become my second home.

Now, I did not remain in Indonesia for the entirety of Ramadan.  Because my research visa had come to an end, I needed to first leave Indonesia and re-enter with a tourist visa.  Rather than buy an international roundtrip ticket solely for the sake of getting a tourist visa, I decided to travel for two weeks in Cambodia and Thailand first, and so I actually spent the first half of Ramadan in countries where Muslims are a minority, much like in the U.S.  Interestingly, I happened to choose a hostel in Chiang Mai, Thailand very close to one of the few mosques in the city, and so I still heard the call to prayer and regularly met folks on the street who were headed to evening prayers at the mosque, or meeting at the several restaurants along “Halal Street” (as the sign proclaimed at the entrance) to break their fast together.

In Indonesia, I split my Ramadan experience between three cities.  I spent the first few days of Ramadan in Jakarta before leaving for Southeast Asia, and spent a few more days there after my trip.  I then headed off to Sulawesi, where I spent a few days in Manado with friends who have moved there, and then spent the last days of Ramadan, as well as Idul Fitri (the Indonesian spelling of Eid al-Fitr), in Gorontalo, my second ETA site.

While in Indonesia, I did join my friends in puasa (fasting, in Indonesian).  The first meal of the day is taken before the first prayer, or Fajr.  This pre-dawn meal is called Sahur, and in many communities children march through the neighborhood banging on drums and calling out “Sahur!  Sahur!” to remind people to wake up and begin their fast.  While there are neighborhoods in Jakarta that do so, because I live in a tall building I was not able to hear them.  The first time I heard this call was in Manado, and I was pleasantly surprised at the energy the children had, and the happiness with which they took to their task, even so early in the morning (as someone who is definitely not a morning person, I would probably have been too groggy to have done well, had this been my task).  Once azan (the call to prayer), is heard, everyone clears away the breakfast dishes and prepares to pray.  When fasting, Muslims of course do not eat or drink, but they also refrain from sex, swearing, and even negative thoughts.  It is not uncommon for friends of Muslims to join a day or two of fasting, and it truly is an excellent exercise in self-control (try sitting in the hot Indonesian weather with no water, brain frazzled by a dialect of Indonesian you haven’t spoken in a few months, and thinking only positive thoughts), at the very least.  For someone who is Muslim, while self-control is an aspect of fasting, it is only one small part of this month of added prayer and reflection.

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Buying jajanan on the street.

Later in the evening, after the sunset prayer, or Magrib, it is time for buka puasa (the “opening” or breaking of the fast).  This might be done alone, but is often done together as a family, or perhaps at the local mosque.  In Indonesia, most people buka puasa with jajanan (snacks), usually of the gorengan (fried food) variety.  Sellers line the streets in the hours leading up to buka puasa, so that people can buy the foods on the way home.  Buka puasa bersama (breaking the fast together) is also a very popular practice in Indonesia, and I regularly did so with friends and other community members.  It is not uncommon for non-Muslim friends and co-workers to join for buka bersama, and while in Manado, which is actually a Christian-majority city, I participated in a buka bersama with my friend and some of her university friends, at which everyone attended was of a different religion, naturally leading to a questions and discussions which I do believe were highly illuminating for everyone present.

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Breaking the fast after Tarawih.

Throughout Ramadan, many Muslims seek to improve their practice and their understanding of the Qur’an.  Many of my friends spent additional hours studying the Qur’an, for example.  Another common practice that I experienced while spending Ramadan in Indonesia was Tarawih.  Tarawih is essentially extra prayers performed during Ramadan.  These are usually done in sets of eleven or twenty-three rak’ah[1], and while some people perform Tarawih alone, but many do so at the local masjid (mosque).  I was fortunate enough to be invited by friends to observe Tarawih twice, once at Mesjid Istiqlal in Jakarta, and once in the musholla (prayer room) behind my friend’s house in Manado (which her grandfather had actually built).  The sense of community Is especially strong, I feel, during Tarawih, which was a privilege to witness.

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Tumbilotohe.

I spent the last week of Ramadan in Sulawesi.  After spending a few days in Manado to visit friends from Gorontalo who have since moved there, I headed to Gorontalo for the last two nights of Ramadan.  I especially wanted to spend the last few nights of Ramadan in Gorontalo because I wanted the chance to observe Tumbilotohe, a very special form of adat (tradition) in the city where I once served as an ETA[2].  Tumbilotohe is usually translated to “Nights without Darkness,” and it takes place during the final three nights of Ramadan, throughout the province of Gorontalo.  Throughout Tumbilotohe people line the streets outside their houses with oil lamps.  The belief is that these lights will attract the attention of angels to Gorontalo, and the timing of this festival is due to the larger Muslim belief that acts of ibadah (acts of devotion) have more value during the last days of Ramadan.  In more recent years some communities have replaced the traditional oil lamps with fairy lights, and instead of traditional noise makers children now also run down their streets with sparklers, but the essential spirit of the celebration remains the same.  After hearing so much about this celebration from my friends in Gorontalo, it was a blessing to be able to finally be a part of it.

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Listening to the khutbah.

I remained in Gorontalo for Idul Fitri.  One of my co-teacher’s husbands was giving the khutbah (sermon) at one of the local mosques, and so I joined her and her family for sholat Idul Fitri (Eid al-Fitr salah, or prayers).  From what I could understand (I still find it difficult to understand Indonesian when spoken through a microphone), her husband spoke of the importance of remembering the lessons of Ramadan throughout the year, and of continually bettering their practice, not merely during the month of Ramadan.

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Doa Lolipu. (Photo credit to my co-teacher.)

Following sholat Idul Fitri, my co-teacher’s husband, and as such herself and her family and myself, were invited to the home of one of the men who had helped lead the prayer.   We were joined by other important men associated with the mosque, the leader of the community in which the mosque was located, as well as their families.  What followed was another tradition unique to Gorontalo, doa lolipuDoa means prayer in Bahasa Indonesia (generally, in comparison to sholat, which is the Indonesian spelling of salah, which is Muslim prayer), and lolipu is Bahasa Gorontalo (the language of Gorontalo), translating to something along the lines of “our city.”  Two men led this special prayer, and afterwards men of especial importance were given nasi kuning (yellow rice) and tili aya (a sweet dessert), two dishes commonly found at almost every acara in Gorontalo.  Once this ceremony was complete, everyone was invited to share the nasi kuning and tili aya, as well as several other dishes that had been set out.  My co-teacher explained to me that this same ceremony would occur near every mosque in Gorontalo, with those who had led that day’s prayer.  Doa lolipu is quite common in Gorontalo, and also occurs when someone dies or when there is an important event in the city.  Idul Fitri is, of course, another important event.  This sort of ceremony may not necessarily occur in other parts of Indonesia, though other areas might have their own adat regarding Ramadan as well.

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Me with the family of one of my co-teachers.  

The rest of that day, as well as the following day, was spent visiting.  Alongside my co-teachers, we went from house to house in the neighborhood, wishing everyone a blessed Idul Fitri, and exchanging the phrase “Mohon maaf lahir dan batin,” which essentially means, “Please forgive the sins of my body and soul.”  There is food in every home, and we were encouraged to eat everywhere we went (and we, in turn, encouraged people to eat when they came to us).  When visiting family, my co-teacher and her husband also gave jakati (gifts of money for family members, in larger amounts for adults and smaller amounts for children).  Everywhere we went, when a new adult family member entered the room, children would immediately gather, shouting, “Jakati! Jakati!”  We also visited the tombs of her father and her husband’s father, to pause and pray.

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Another “family photo.”  

While the first day of Idul Fitri was largely dedicated to family and neighbors, the second day was devoted to visiting friends and co-workers.  This day was especially special for me, as it entailed many visits to the homes of other teachers from the school where I used to teach.  These are the people who became my family while I lived there, and so as wonderful as the visits to my co-teacher’s family were, it is these visits that brought me the most personal joy.

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Some of the teachers who took me into their homes during Ramadan.  

Ramadan is an extremely special time for Muslim’s around the world, and it was a privilege to witness some of the different practices across this vast archipelago.  I am incredibly grateful to everyone who opened their doors and their hearts to me, making Ramadan 2017 an unforgettable time for me as well.  Terima kasih (thank you), and mohon maaf lahir dan batin.

[1] A rak’ah is essentially one set of salah, including the movements and prayer.

[2] I actually wrote an entire blog about Tumbilotohe, which you can find here.

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America, I Love You, So Listen Up

I am an American currently living in Indonesia, on the opposite side of the globe from my home country.  I sent my absentee ballot in weeks ago, and on November 9th I woke up as people in the United States were still going to the polls, and I spent my morning and afternoon watching the numbers come in until eventually the new president-elect of the United States was announced.

I am a farm girl from rural Central New York, who studied English Education at a liberal arts college, and who has lived in Indonesia since graduating with my undergraduate degree, teaching English and engaging in what most people call “soft diplomacy.”

I am a mixed bag of backgrounds and experiences and I have used all of them in whatever ways I thought I was qualified to do.  I wrote blog posts and slam poems about how I hope my experience here in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation would shape how people considered this election.  I tried to reason with family members and friends from home over Facebook and in person while I was in the U.S. this summer (though New York State may have gone to Hillary, my county voted 57% Trump), because I know from growing up in these areas that it is those personal connections that help people to listen to new ideas, and I thought that maybe because I from there, people might listen to me.  I posted long-form think pieces to my Facebook wall and sent critical videos to friends from college who were seeing a one-sided view of the people who raised me and in many ways created the social-justice oriented person I am today (my college education shaped it as well, but it cannot claim it in full as it would like to), because someone once told me the people with college degrees are more likely to read and listen to long texts.

And through it all, I listened.  Though I have a slightly more complex background, I knew I could not rely merely on that to take the pulse of the nation.  And so I read all the articles Facebook friends posted no matter how biased those articles were (on both sides), so that I could see where the far right and far left seemed to be standing.  I read political theories and commentaries from all sorts of sources.  I fact-checked.  I talked to people.  I read.  I listened.

I shared and discussed what I had learned.  I thought that by listening, asking questions, and trying to use the voice of reason on both sides, I was doing the right thing.

I cast my vote, and then waited for the rest of my country (or at least those who would turn out on election day), to do the same.  And then I was told that in January, Donald Trump would become the new president of my country.

I won’t say I wasn’t disappointed, sad, and angry: throughout the election I clung to my stubborn optimism and insisted that Americans would make the right choice, the kind choice.  That is what I told my friends here, who were horrified at this new side of the U.S. they didn’t really know existed before now.  And then America allowed Donald Trump to become the president-elect.

There are a lot of reasons people have given for why Donald Trump was able to win.  Here is mine: we didn’t listen.

If you voted for Trump, because you actually believe in the racist, misogynistic, homophobic, xenophobic vitriol that defined his campaign, I don’t really know what to say to you.  Did you listen to anyone at all, ever?

If you voted for Trump because you are tired of a broken system which seems to fail almost all ordinary Americans, okay, I hear you.  But did you not listen to the voices of the folks who are black, Latino/a, Muslim, Jewish, LGBTQA*, etc. who were scared to leave their homes even before he was actually elected, and who are even more scared now that he is the president-elect?  Don’t tell me that he didn’t commit all these atrocities as an individual (though he has committed enough of his own): the language of his campaign has had a powerful effect on the language and attitudes of even schoolchildren.  He has given so many (dare I say all) of the poisonous -isms that are still in the waters of America a platform to stand on.  If you knew all of this, then when you voted for Donald Trump, you said with your ballot that that was okay.  If you didn’t know this, it is because you didn’t listen.

If you did not vote for Trump and you are now blaming “racist, rural, poor whites” for the reason he won, you are not listening to the exit polls, who tell us that those whose income is less than 50,000 a year were more likely to vote for Hillary Clinton or a third party.  If you did not vote for Trump and refuse to recognize the broken system that may have led some in desperation to do so, and instead insist on referring to them as “the deplorables,” you are not listening to a group that feels ignored and disenfranchised, no matter who they voted for.  Is there racism and xenophobia imbedded into this particular brand of disenfranchisement?  Are the people they are voting for probably not interested in their well-being?  Yes and yes.  But this is part of a greater classist system that has existed for far longer than this election, and calling people names is not the way to fix this system.  If you continue to respond to this highly problematic population by painting them in one color and refusing to see them complexly, you are not listening.

If you voted third party, I understand that you want to be part of a system that allows more than two options, but this was not the time or the way to try to make that system a reality.  I know you didn’t want to be “responsible” for letting someone you could not agree with become president.  But in the end that’s not how this system allows your vote to work.  You were told this, and you too did not listen to the real fears of minority groups and therefore allowed this man into office.

If you critique the third-party voters without also recognizing that the two-party system is messed up and people should have been able to vote that way without sacrificing the respectability of our country, you are also not listening.

If you did not vote because you were protesting an election wherein no one seemed to care about you, or because you felt that you had not truly viable options available to you, I am so sorry that you feel as hurt as you do.  But the stakes were too high, and people were saying this, and you did not listen.

If you are treating those who did not vote as though they are the end of all democracy, if you are in any way criticizing the effect of their non-vote without also acknowledging their pain and realizing that, if you did vote, you most definitely voted for one of the reasons they feel this level of pain, then you are not listening.

If you voted for Clinton, like myself, we don’t get a free pass.  If you were “with her” and you feel fully confident that she was absolutely the best person to be the next president of the United States, you also were not listening.  There is no denying that Hilary had a resume of experience that made her much more qualified than any of the candidates.  There is also no denying that, in the Trump vs. Clinton dichotomy, she appeared to a huge number of people to be the “lesser of two evils.”  If you voted for her and did not note the ways in which she also, though to a much lesser degree, dehumanized parts of the American population, then you did not listen.  If you do not recognize that she stood to leave several minority groups behind if she was elected, then you did not listen.  If you do not see Hilary Clinton, as all of the candidates this election, as some level of problematic, then you did not listen.

I voted for Hillary Clinton.  I did not do so because she was all I sought for in a candidate: to be honest, I am still sad that Bernie Sanders was not an option on my ballot, as I felt he might be able to bring about real changes to a broken system.  I did not vote for her solely because I recognized that she was the least dangerous (even if she wasn’t completely harmless), to the minority groups I might not belong to but value and support, though I could not claim to have listened at all in this campaign if this did not factor in to how I cast my vote.

I voted for Hilary because along the way I began to notice that in many ways, Hilary Clinton listened too.  She was criticized for having gone back and forth on issues, but it seemed as though this was her responding to the pulse of America, in the same way I tried to respond, though on a much smaller scale.  I did not agree with Hilary on a lot of issues, and I disapproved of many of the ways she ran her campaign.  But I came to believe that she might be a leader who listened, and I put my hope, and my vote, in that.

There are some who say that Donald Trump’s acceptance speech shows that he too can listen.  I see far less evidence of that, but I pray that I am wrong.

The tale is not entirely bleak, and there are results of this election that give me hope for the future, and remind me why I still do love the place where I am from.  There are now four women of color in the senate.  Our nation’s first Somali-American legislator, Ilhan Omar, will represent Minnesota Hose District 60B.  Tulsi Gabbard became the first person to use the Bhagavad Gita to swear into her role as a congresswoman.  These small morsels lead me believe that not all is lost.

I won’t be one of those people who says that everything is going to be okay.  I will be one of those people who says that we shouldn’t give up.  I will be one of those people who says that now, more than ever, is a time for movement.  It is a time to create change which will create a more understanding United States, one that is less divided not because we have agreed to follow one extreme or the other because it is easy, but because we have changed ourselves to be more empathetic.  And to become more empathetic, we need to listen.

Of course, listening is where we need to start, but not not where we can stay forever, if we want to create real, productive change.  In many ways, I feel that I listened too much and spoke too little during this election season: recognizing that I am a small individual with little influence, there are still things I would have done differently.

There are many ideas out there for what individuals can do, especially if you were hoping for a Hillary win. I do not know yet what the right move is, nor what my own personal next move will be.  I need to re-take the pulse of America, now that it’s diet and exercise regimen has changed so drastically.  I must also consider my unique position in living abroad, and how that affects what I can do. (For now, it means I do not have the privilege to sit back and reflect to the same degree that many other white young people at home can do.  As a representative of America in a foreign country, I have to explain what happened to our friends who live across the world.  It also means I cannot physically offer protection on public transport to those who feel most threatened in this post-Trump America.)  I must consider what my own capacities are, and what I am actually capable of doing, and doing well, both right now, and in less than a year, when I will most likely return to the United States.

I will do my part.  I will take action, and raise my voice, in the way that is most appropriate to who I am and my situation.

But first, I have some listening to do.

Note: I have tried to link, when possible, to pieces I have read or videos I have watched which I think better illustrate some of these points.  Please click on these links.  Listen. 

Remember to Love: A Response to Islamophobia from a Non-Muslim Teaching Assistant in a Muslim-Majority Country

I read the news of the bombings in Beirut, Baghdad, and Paris on my smart phone.  And not for the first time, I wished I had better access to internet or access to a paper newspaper in my native language, because the news was simply too heavy to be coming from a piece of technology that can fit in the palm of one hand.  That weekend, when I had the opportunity to go to the local internet café, I spent hours reading various articles and watching short videos about all the events that had occurred within a mere 48 hours.

A myriad of emotions weighed me down as I immersed myself in a world of the news: blocks of text, photographs, and chaotic videos attempting to encompass all that had happened.  I was saddened by the loss of so much life in such a violent fashion, and that so many families and friends would feel that empty space so poignantly.  I was angry at the way different media centers were covering the various attacks depending on where those attacks had occurred.  And I was also afraid.  Afraid of how people’s reactions to these tragedies—for they were all, each of them, tragedies, and I would never call them less that that—would further encourage Islamophobia around the world.

Over the next few days, every time I got on Facebook or other social media sites, I was bombarded by standardized profile pictures and French flags, as well as various explanations—some thoughtful, others not so much—as to why people chose not to change their profile pictures or overtly support France.  I saw vehement protests against the media’s coverage of the various attacks, which certainly seemed to be problematic, at best; and I read reminders that readers are also partially responsible for how informed they are.

And mixed into all of this, I saw a wide range of articles, posts, cartoons, and videos that epitomized all that I had feared: a blatant, cruel Islamophobia that often encouraged the same kind of violence practiced by terrorist groups.  Perhaps even more dangerous were those more subtly prejudice, celebrating the United States’ Bill passed recently by the House of Representatives that might limit the U.S.’s acceptance of refugees from Syria, even though this kind of fearful response is exactly what terrorist groups such as ISIS are seeking to create.

As all of this saddens, angers, and scares me, I find myself paralyzed as I try to determine how I ought to respond.  I try to carefully choose articles and videos to share on my own Facebook timeline.  I unapologetically argue with people whom I feel are perpetuating the unfounded general fear of Muslims I see so often in responses to such tragedies.  And now I find myself attempting to write a blog post—which may only reach a few people, but will reach people nonetheless—and not really knowing what I can say that will have any impact.

I can point out, as so many others have, that Islam is not inherently more violent than any other religion.  I can iterate that 81% of ISIS terrorists indicted in the United States are American citizens, and none of them were from Syria.  I can beg readers to stop seeing refugees from Syria as potential threats, and start seeing them as people, as families seeking safety and security.

I can proliferate the voices of Muslims from around the world who have created powerful campaigns to counteract the wrong opinions so many have about Islam as a whole, such as the #NOTINMYNAME campaign which started in London, or the group of students who bravely wear pins proclaiming, “I’m Muslim, Ask Me About Islam.”  This might in theory be one of the best responses I can have to these events, because as an ally my voice should not be louder than those who are actually marginalized by such oppression.

But I also know that not everyone will click on links related to groups created by Muslims.  I know that, as generally non-religious American raised in a Catholic household, my voice is sometimes more palatable to a Western audience.  Even if I should not be the loudest in the room, I should also not be silent.  Perhaps, if voices like mine speak loudly enough, the world will quiet enough to allow the most important voices to be heard.

I have now lived in Indonesia, a Muslim-majority country for over a year, and this year I even work in a madrassah, a Muslim religious school.  And while I recognize that Islam is very different in different places, and this will cause many to disregard my argument, as the most-populous Muslim nation in the world, I don’t think that my experience with Islam here in Indonesia can objectively be ignored.

Because so many of the positive aspects of my experience here have directly stemmed from people’s devotion to Islam.  I have been welcomed with open arms into two very different communities by some of the most genuine and kind people I have ever had the opportunity to meet.  I came here barely speaking the language, and only superficially understanding the culture, and I have largely been met with nothing but love.  There are multifarious reasons that might go into my being accepted here, some of which might stem from a uniquely Indonesian friendliness, some of which might be related to my privileged idolization as a white westerner, but when I have asked friends outright why they are so open and welcoming, a majority of the responses are the same: “That is what Islam teaches us.”

This has, largely, been my experience with Islam.  That Islam is love.

Yes, there are levels of conservatism that are unfamiliar to me, the Northeastern American dripping with sweat in what I feel is far too many clothes for Indonesia’s tropical climate.  But, again, this is the particular form of Islamic belief to which I am exposed, in the same way that the conservatism of the Amish and Mennonite communities I grew up around do not represent the beliefs of all Christians.   Yes, I find that some of problematic views on gender roles may stem from people’s religious belief.  But they may also stem from a plethora of other influences, and I, too, was raised in a religion that still does not allow women equal roles within the religious institution, thereby influencing many members of this religion to believe that men and women are not equal.

I do not believe that Islam is perfect.  But I do not believe that any religion is perfect.  I recognize that there are good Muslims and bad Muslims (to make a vague and under-analyzed assessment of a large group of people), just as there are good and bad Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, etc.  I cannot ignore that ISIS claims in its very name to be an “Islamic” organization, even as I cannot ignore that the KKK claims to be a Christian organization.

But, for all religions I have ever had the privilege to be exposed to or to study, I do believe that at their core they intend to make the world a better place.  I believe that, at their core, they are about love.  Islam is not different.  Islam, too, is love.

All I ask of people as they react to the various tragedies that have occurred recently is to try to emulate this same love.  It is okay to be sad, to be frustrated, and to even be angry at all that has happened.  But do not direct that frustration and anger towards people who have done nothing wrong.  Do not allow your fear and your rage to close your borders and your hearts to those who need love the most.  Be sad.  Be frustrated.  Be angry that the world still seems to be more ready to hate than to love.  But do not hate in return.  Keep your doors and your hearts open.  Remember to love.

While working on various paperwork for AMINEF and materials for lessons earlier this week, I was pulled away from my table in the corner of the internet café by a group of excited Indonesians who wanted to talk to the foreigner tapping away at her keyboard.  One of them was a Catholic Priest who has worked for the last twelve years in a neighborhood a little outside of Paris, and we inevitable ended up discussing the recent situation.  He is originally from Gorontalo, and had only returned to visit his sick mother.  In slow, carefully chosen Indonesian that would ensure I would understand even though I am not fluent, he expressed his worry at being here while his parish is seeking to understand recent events.  He felt he had a duty to his mother and that he could not leave right away, but he hopes that he can go back to France very soon in order to guide his parishioners.  “They will be sad,” he said to me, “But I do not want them to be angry.  I want them to remember to love.”

It was heartening to find a kindred spirit so far from home, a reminder that all people are capable to the love we both desire so much for the world.  And it, combined with various conversations with friends both within and without the ETA program, gave me the encouragement I needed to keep speaking, even as I am never sure what exactly needs to be said. Just as this man will return to Paris and remind his parishioners that Islam is not ISIS, that Islam is the faith of his beloved friends and neighbors from the Muslim-majority city he spent his formative years, I will remind anyone who will listen of the same idea.

Islam is not ISIS.  Islam is part of the spirit that creates such beautiful smiles on my students, helps build the system of support I have in the teachers at my school, ensures I am never left stranded in this amazing, baffling country without a friend.  Islam is love.

Whatever religion we may or may not belong to, however hurt we may be by the pain of the world, we must remember this.  We must remember to love.

A Day of Sharing: Idul Adha

Having been exposed to my first Idul Adha experience last year, I was thrilled to have the opportunity of a second year to learn more about the specific traditions surrounding this celebration in Indonesia.

Idul Adha, often called Eid al-Adha outside of Indonesia, reflects the story of Ibrahim and Ishmael.  Similar to the way Ibrahim sacrificed a ram after an angel told him he did not actually need to sacrifice his son, Muslims around the world sacrifice cattle, goats, and sheep, and share the meat from these animals with family, friends, neighbors, and the poor.

Last year, after being forgotten about in all of the excitement (understandably), I never saw the actual sacrifices done at my school.  This year, however, I was part of most of the day’s celebrations.  I was picked up early in the morning by my kepala sekola (headmaster), and taken to his family’s Idul Adha[1].

The day starts with prayer: the streets are filled throughout the morning with people going to and from the local mosques, and parts of some streets are even closed.  Because I was going to my headmaster’s mother’s house, I observed most of this from the windows of his car.  Watching Ibu-Ibu and Bapak-Bapak walk home in their prayer clothes is one of my favorite sights here: it reminds me of the chatting that happens after Sunday mass lets out in my hometown, and while I am not religious, I admire the community that comes out of religion.

One everyone returns home from prayer, the sacrifices begin.  One bull was already sacrificed by the time we arrived (only males can be sacrificed for Idul Adha), and I was ushered to the front of the crowd surrounding the area where the sacrifices were taking place (there are times when being an honored guest can get you into slightly awkward situations), a spot it seemed many others were vying for.

My kepala sekolah’s family sacrificed three bulls, two of which were slaughtered by my kepala sekolah himself.  His wife, who babbled away throughout the entire ceremony, providing me with wonderful insights into all I was seeing without me even having to ask, told me the person with the highest position was the one who ought to potong (cut) the animals, and in this case it was him.  Prior to cutting the animals throat above a hole dug into the ground to catch the blood, he read off seven names, his voice drawing out each name so that it sounded almost like the praying I hear during sholat at school.  (A cow is enough to cover seven people, while a sheep or goat is enough for one.  When I asked, it seemed people only needed to be covered by an animal once they reached a certain age, but it was unclear to me what age that was.)

Following the slaughter, the carcass was skinned, and the meat was divided into even portions.  Last year, I was able to help with this portion of Idul Adha at my school, but because I was in more of a desa (village) setting, the day’s events followed a more traditional route, and it was only the men who surrounded the piles of fresh beef.  I sat with the women during this time, chatting and smiling for a million selfies.

Following this, however, the meat was brought to the kitchen, and it was the women’s turn to take over.  At first, I was told to sit and watch from the corner (again, being in a unique position as a guest is sometimes challenging to navigate), but eventually dived in anyway, and was soon skewering meat onto tiny wooden sticks, to be grilled into sate later.

Eventually, after eating more than our fill and talking for hours, we worked our way back into the city, stopping as we went to drop meat off at various homes and organizations (I believe this was the portion designated for the poor). The children fell asleep,

I can’t fully express how thankful I am to have been so welcomed, for the second year in a row, into this Muslim celebration.  Coming from a country where many Muslim students still have to miss school to participate in this important holiday (though the recent change in New York City gives me hope that this might change), the beauty of this day and how it plays out here is certainly not lost on me.  Like so many holidays, both religious and secular, this holiday brings families and whole communities together, for a day of sharing food, laughter, tradition, and love.

[1] To be honest, I actually didn’t know I was going to an Idul Adha sacrifice when I was picked up.  I had been told I was going to a school celebration on Saturday (which I ended up coming very late to, due to car-pool confusion, so I’m actually quite glad I had an unexpected day of Idul Adha), but all my kepala sekolah told me about Thursday was that he wanted to introduce me to his family.  But, as it usually goes in Indonesia, I was surprised (pleasantly so) when we got to our destination.  The only bummer was that I only had my phone, and not my actual camera, with me for the event.