Every evening at 6:45, residents of a South Jakarta neighborhood listen to his sweet voice as he broadcasts the evening adzan (call to prayer).
Ridwan Chumaeidi, 43, the caretaker of a mosque in Cilandak, has been a muadzin (announcer), an imam (prayer leader) and a cleaner of the mosque for the past five years.
He may seem like any other mosque caretaker, but My Jakarta discovered his strong views about Jakarta and his determination to change the city.
Do you make many mistakes when broadcasting adzan?
I try my best so that my voice sounds good. Sometimes I forget a line, and when I realize my mistake, I say ‘Ya Allah!’ [laughs].
But humans are in the place of blunder. Even imams make mistakes. Sometimes when they are leading prayers, their minds wander. Not everything goes smoothly unless God allows it.
What time do you get up in the morning?
We have a schedule with three caretakers here, myself included. For noon, I will be the imam, and I broadcast the adzan twice — in the evening and at dawn. But if the others don’t come, then I am the imam, the muadzin and even do the cleaning for the entire day.
Sometimes I wake up at 3 a.m., or sometimes 3:30, but the latest is 4 a.m., because Subuh starts at 4:39.
How enjoyable is being a mosque caretaker in Jakarta?
There are good sides and bad sides of being a caretaker.
The good is that I’m always near a mosque, a place for spiritual retreat. The bad thing, I guess, is the very small pay [laughs]. With four kids, a monthly salary of Rp 750,000 [$80] isn’t enough.
Every time I receive my pay from the mosque, I transfer it instantly to my family back home. I always pray first so that my kids don’t starve back in the village. After that I would then think about how I’m going to eat.
So how do you pay for your needs?
I just manage. Sometimes I wonder to myself how I can fulfill these needs. But I’m not sure how. Maybe it’s the answer from my second prayer, to have an adequate life.
I tried teaching courses. Arabic courses, or other courses such as health therapy. I learned bekam [Islamic health therapy], so that I can help myself and others.
Previously, I taught in the local madrasa [Islamic school] to get extra money. But then my wife died and I was fired because mourning and taking care of the whole process related to her passing took more than a month. Thanks to God, for this new academic year, I will be appointed as a teacher again.
Tell us more about the health therapy.
I have a hobby of learning about health therapies. There’s an inner satisfaction in helping others with their health. I am satisfied even if I don’t get paid. If my therapy didn’t work, I would feel uneasy.
Do adzan broadcasters frequently get complaints from neighbors?
We do. On normal days I broadcast a recitation of the Koran, sometimes at dawn. People protest, saying that it’s too early, or too late at night.
Now I never play it because so many people complained. Even if I change the time, someone will still complain. So I’d rather not play it at all, but when it’s the time for adzan, there’s adzan.
And the people who complain are usually Muslims. They say it’s for solidarity.
Don’t you get bored being in the mosque for the whole day?
Of course sometimes I’m bored. But this is my fate.
One day it has to change. It doesn’t have to be like this forever. But the one who has to make the change is me. As God said: ‘A community cannot change if the community itself does not try to change.’ That’s why I have to change. If it stays like this forever, I will never own a house.
I’m happy working in God’s house, praying together everyday, but the bad part is that I am far from my family.
Do you want to bring your family here?
I don’t have extra rooms here, so where would they sleep? Even at the moment I share my room with another caretaker.
My kids are better there anyway. Back in my village they are with my wife’s family. I’m scared of the community here. Some seem not to care much about religion.
Ridwan was talking to Zarra Stamboel