Muslims in Indonesia celebrate Ramadan amid soaring prices

March 22, 2023 GMT
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An official is silhouetted as he uses a telescope to scan the horizon for a crescent moon that will determine the beginning of the holy fasting month of Ramadan in Jakarta, Indonesia, Wednesday, March. 22, 2023. Millions of Muslims in Indonesia are gearing up to celebrate the holy month of Ramadan, which is expected to start on Thursday, with traditions and ceremonies across the world's most populous Muslim-majority country amid soaring food prices.(AP Photo/Achmad Ibrahim)
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An official is silhouetted as he uses a telescope to scan the horizon for a crescent moon that will determine the beginning of the holy fasting month of Ramadan in Jakarta, Indonesia, Wednesday, March. 22, 2023. Millions of Muslims in Indonesia are gearing up to celebrate the holy month of Ramadan, which is expected to start on Thursday, with traditions and ceremonies across the world's most populous Muslim-majority country amid soaring food prices.(AP Photo/Achmad Ibrahim)

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Millions of Muslims in Indonesia are celebrating the holy month of Ramadan that was set to begin Thursday as many grappled with soaring food prices as a result of supply disruptions following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

From colorful torchlight street parades to cleaning relatives’ graves and sharing meals with family and friends, every region in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country and the largest archipelago has its own way to mark the start of Ramadan.

Religious Affairs Minister Yaqut Cholil Qoumas announced on Wednesday evening that Ramadan will begin on Thursday after the sighting of the crescent moon was confirmed by Islamic astronomy observers teams from several regions. Most Indonesians — Muslims comprise nearly 90% of the country’s 277 million people — are expected to follow the government’s official date.

Shortly after the announcement, mosques flooded with devotees offering evening prayers known as “tarawih” on the first eve of Ramadan. In Jakarta’s Istiqlal Grand Mosque, the largest in Southeast Asia, tens of thousands of worshippers crammed together shoulder-to-shoulder.

During Ramadan, Muslims refrain from eating, drinking, smoking and sexual intercourse from sunrise until sunset. Even a tiny sip of water or a puff of smoke is enough to invalidate the fast. At night, family and friends gather and feast in a festive atmosphere.

The fasting is aimed at bringing the faithful closer to God and reminding them of the suffering of the poor. Muslims are expected to strictly observe daily prayers and engage in heightened religious contemplation. They are also urged to refrain from gossip, fighting or cursing during the holy month.

Although Indonesia has more Muslims than any other country in the world, its Ramadan traditions have been influenced by other religions. Nyadran is a Javanese ritual heavily influenced by Hinduism and Buddhism that involves visiting ancestors’ graves.

Each year, thousands of villagers who live on the slopes of Mount Merapi in Central Java visit cemeteries to welcome Ramadan. People clean and decorate graves and make prayers and offerings. They bring various foods in bamboo containers that they eat together after praying.

In other regions on the main island of Java, including in the capital, Jakarta, Muslims also mark the holy month by cleaning their relatives’ graves, scattering flower petals on them and praying for the deceased.

After evening prayers, many boys and girls across Jakarta parade through the streets of the densely populated neighborhoods. They carry torches and play Islamic songs accompanied by the beat of the rebana, the Arabic handheld percussion instrument.

People in Indonesia’s deeply conservative Aceh province celebrate the beginning of Ramadan with Meugang festivities by slaughtering animals such as oxen or buffalo, as well as smaller animals like chicken and ducks. The meat is then cooked and shared with family, friends and the poor and orphans in a communal feast.

Hundreds of residents in Tangerang, a city just outside Jakarta, flock to the Cisadane River to bathe in a tradition that involves washing one’s hair with rice straw shampoo to welcome the fasting month with a symbolic spiritual cleansing.

Islam follows a lunar calendar, so Ramadan begins around a week and a half earlier each year. At the end of Ramadan, Muslims celebrate the joyous Eid al-Fitr holiday, when children often receive new clothes and gifts.

Indonesia’s Trade Ministry has said prices of imported staple foods including wheat, sugar, beef and soybeans have increased sharply this year as a result of rising global commodity prices and supply chain disruptions, particularly following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

But many people say the rise in prices not only impacts imported foods but also local commodities like rice, eggs, chili, palm oil and onions. Gas and electricity prices have also gone up. Many blame the government for this.

Some Muslims worry how they will cope financially during Ramadan this year.

“Prices are going up every week. How come the government cannot help with this? Anything to do with cooking is rising,” said Yulia Ningsih, a mother of two who lives in Jakarta. “I worry that rising food and energy costs will impact Ramadan celebrations.”