During Ramadan, an Uneasy Mix of Faith and Commerce
As the call to prayer sounded over Jakarta on Thursday night, there was a greater urgency than usual to the traffic as the faithful hurried home to prepare for the first day of the fasting month. Others were rushing for another reason — to eat with family already fasting. The start of Ramadan was declared either Friday or Saturday by different groups.
From the beginning, the Islamic holy month in Jakarta was celebrated in diverse ways.
In Indonesia, 90 percent of the population identifies as Muslim, with the majority adhering to the Sunni faith. But there is diversity within this unity, with some practicing syncretic mystical beliefs, others following the lead of religious organizations like the traditionalist Nahdlatul Ulama and modernist Muhammadiyah, and some even leaning toward atheism, identifying as Muslims no further than on their national identity cards.
Despite the diversity of practice and belief, the law requires all businesses to observe Ramadan in the same way, or at least by the same rules. Regional bylaws regulating the operation of entertainment venues during the holy month apply equally to Muslims and non-Muslims, and are expected to be strictly enforced this year by the police.
But even this is not enough for some hard-line groups like the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), whose members have been known to take it upon themselves to ensure that all businesses observe the holy month.
Last weekend, FPI members raided nightlife venues in North Sumatra, South Sulawesi and West Java, confiscating bottles of alcohol and threatening further violence if the venues remained open during Ramadan. National Police Chief Gen. Timur Pradopo responded by issuing an order for mass organizations to refrain from conducting raids during the fasting month.
Salim Umar Al Attas, the chairman of the FPI’s Jakarta chapter, said that his group would be keeping a close eye on police efforts to enforce the bylaws in the capital.
“If the police ban us from conducting raids, they should deploy members from all levels to work [on enforcement],” Salim said. “The month of Ramadan should not be disrupted by the fact that some places of sin remain open.”
Closed for Ramadan?
In Jakarta, most food and beverage businesses are permitted to maintain regular opening hours during Ramadan, though many are careful not to offend those who are fasting, for example by drawing curtains to conceal food and diners from view.
Some entertainment venues, such as karaoke clubs and live music spots, are required to close for a number of days during the holy month and the Idul Fitri holiday that follows. Other venues, including nightclubs, discotheques, bars, saunas, massage parlors and some gambling centers, are required to stay closed for the full month. Alcohol may not be served, except at approved hotels, though in past years many venues have continued to serve it discreetly.
At Cafe Batavia, a well-known tourist spot in Jakarta’s Kota Tua (Old City) in North Jakarta, business will run as usual, with some concessions made for Ramadan.
“We will remain open during Ramadan, while of course abiding by the regional regulations,” said the cafe’s finance control officer Wahyudi on Tuesday. “[But] we will not serve alcohol, there will be none of that.”
Wahyudi did not confirm whether the venue would cover its windows during the day when people outside were fasting.
“Our [dining] area cannot be seen from the outside, and besides, there are partitions,” he said. “The point is, we plan to follow the regulations.”
South Jakarta nightclub Blowfish intends to remain open, despite falling under one of the banned business categories for the fasting month.
“We will remain open. But the DJ music will be interspersed with live music,” said Novi, a receptionist for the nightclub.
“Usually we follow the regional regulations,” she added. “But as for whether we will sell alcohol or not, I’m not yet sure.”
Arie Budhiman, head of the Jakarta Tourism and Culture Agency, said that authorities would do their utmost this year to ensure that businesses abided by the regional bylaws.
“[Banned businesses will] be given sanctions if they open at the beginning of Ramadan, operate during Ramadan, abuse the operating hours, [or] abuse religious and moral norms,” Arie said.
But with confused messages coming from different members of the police, it is unclear which authorities will be taking responsibility for enforcing the regulations while ensuring the security of businesses that abide by them.
Earlier in the week, National Police Chief Gen. Timur Pradopo raised eyebrows with comments regarding “public participation” in maintaining law and order.
“The main point is, it isn’t necessarily the police who [act]. We will prioritize public participation. If it is Ramadan, ulema should act,” Timur said, referring to Islamic scholars.
In contrast, National Police spokesman Sr. Comr. Boy Rafli Amar said that people should not take the law into their own hands and instead report any violations to the police.
“Raiding venues is not right, according to the law,” Boy said. “If [radical groups] still do it, there will be strict action. We don’t mind public participation, but it should be coordinated with us.”
Jakarta Police spokesman Sr. Comr. Rikwanto confirmed the commitment to stopping vigilante violence against businesses in the capital, but still put the onus on business owners to protect themselves by obeying the law.
“If everything is done according to the rules, I’m sure there will not be any anarchic acts,” Rikwanto said. “But we will act swiftly against any actions that break the law, or those people who resort to anarchy.”
Rikwanto added that there would be no special protection for venues at risk of being raided, and that police patrols would continue to operate normally.
“The police will maintain normal procedures with normal patrols,” he said.
Bonar Tigor Naipospos, the deputy chairman of the Setara Institute for Peace and Democracy, called on people of all religions to work together for a peaceful Ramadan.
“Our society must understand that not everyone observes [Ramadan], there are also non-Muslims,” Bonar said. “We must respect one another, we mustn’t force people to follow the will of the majority, because that is a form of coercion.”
He added that as a time of introspection and tolerance, the holy month should serve as a reminder of the common struggle among Indonesians of all faiths for peace and religious harmony.
“We should take advantage of the opportunity for communication and understanding between different religious groups,” he said.