An Eid in Jogjakarta

By Farish A. Noor
Oct.1, 2008

It has been many years, more than two decades in fact, since I last enjoyed celebrating Eidul Fitri anywhere in the world. Over the past decade Eid has always been a poignant moment for me, as I reflect on how badly things have deteriorated for Muslims the world over. It is sad, to say the least, that despite all the efforts of legions of progressive Muslim academics, activists and leaders the world over the image of Islam and Muslims worldwide has taken such a battering in the wake of 11 September 2001. During my long stay in Europe Ramadhan was often a testing time when academic-activists like myself would be drawn into public debates about how Islam constituted a ‘threat’ to European identity (while of course the fact that the capitals of Western Europe have been colonised by scores of McDonalds and KFC outlets is seen as something perfectly normal, as if Chicken fried ala’ Kentucky state was as European as croissants, bratwurst or fish and chips…)

After twenty-one years of living in Europe and watching the slide to the extreme right in the politics of countries like Holland, Austria and Germany, it makes a huge difference to be back in Asia and in Java in particular, the home of my ancestors. The past two months however have been laborious as I was trekking across all of Java as part of my research project. Finally, after eight weeks of non-stop travel and fieldwork, I found myself tired, smelly, dirty but contented as I nestled back in my adopted hometown of Jogjakarta, just in time to catch the takbir that announced the end of Ramadhan and the coming of Eid.

What followed can only be described as spectacular in the most over-stated way: Within an hour of the maghrib azan, the streets of Jogja was crammed and overflowing with thousands of motorbikes as the student body of this campus-based town spilled into the streets. Boys and girls from Jogja’s many universities and colleges took to their bikes, claiming the city as the urban landscape turned into a riot of colours. Spontaneous street parades popped up from nowhere, neighbourhood street bands and school bands marched up and down every street and alley, fireworks popped and fizzed in the sky and every home was lit with a plethora of colours. The atmosphere was gay and electric, and in the main square a pop concert was held as rock musicians and religious preachers took to the microphone singing songs of God and Love. God and Love: this is the Islam that seldom, if ever, gets coverage in the international media that seems more obsessed with the image of Islam as a religion of hate and violence.

For outsiders, including Malaysians who live next door to Indonesia yet know little about their own neighbours, this would have been a revelation. How could Ramadhan and Eid be celebrated with such gusto and abandon? Could Islam really be as colourful and happy as this?

Yet I was there watching as hundred of kids ran about carrying lanterns and dragon and lion dance masks- Yes, dragon and lion dance masks that in neighbouring Malaysia or Singapore would be immediately identified as Chinese, and consequently non-Muslim. Yet here there were hundreds of Muslim kids playing around, laughing, cheering, smiling with dragon and lion dance masks without even thinking for a second that they could be signifiers of an alien culture. What after all, is alien about Chinese culture? Havent the Chinese in Indonesia been here for half a millenium already? To the everlasting credit of Abdurrahman Wahid (Gus Dur), President of the Nahdatul Ulama, he will forever be remembered as the Indonesian President who with a stroke of his pen immediately classified all the Chinese of Indonesia as natural citizens and pribumis, in recognition of their immense contribution to Indonesian history, politics and culture. This is what happens when you have a progressive, open, pluralist Muslim leader in power.

The Churches were lit in Jogja and the citizens of Jogja of all faith communities came out to celebrate Eid together, as one big family (keluarga besar) that lived, worked, loved and suffered together. Jogjakarta’s sense of identity is as strong as its neighbouring city of Surakarta – where I am also based as Professor at Muhamadiyah University Solo – and in both cities we see how Indonesians have managed to build a sense of common identity and solidarity on the basis of a shared Indonesian citizenship where race and ethnicity have become secondary. It is to the credit of my Indonesia activist-academic friends and comrades that in both Jogja and Solo we have set up a common alliance between Muslim, Christian, Hindu and Buddhist groups to counter all forms of facist, racist, communitarian and sectarian politics be it in the corridors of power, the media or even academia. These are my friends, brave souls every one of them, who work hard despite the pittance they earn as academics and activists; all for the love of knowledge and the hope that the reformasi movement in Indonesia will eventually reach its appointed destination of creating a country that is free, fair and equal for all.

In the midst of this Islam and activism go hand in hand, and it is for that reason that the Islamic culture we see in places like Jogja and Solo – despite the emergence of right-wing extremists in our midst – remains open, plural and democratic. Indonesia’s progressive Muslim intellectuals realise that piety cannot be reduced to empty slogans or stale formalism only, but needs to be put to practice. You cannot call yourself a Muslim if you stand passively by and watch the rise of facist racist politics before your very eyes, any more than a pious Muslim can stand by and watch a child be molested and raped while doing nothing.

The result of the combined efforts to keep Indonesian Islam alive, vibrant and dynamic were demonstrated last night as I watched this city celebrate Eid in a manner unmatched anywhere else on this planet. The laughter, humour, joy and spirit of celebration that was so tangible that you could taste it in the air is something that Muslims in many other parts of the world have lost or forgotten. For that reason alone, we should take time to ponder the many roads not taken in the development of a democratic, progressive, activist-oriented Islam elsewhere in the world.

For now, however, I am left with the happy prospect of relaxing for a few days in Jogja before returning to my humdrum labours back at the University. And while doing so, I thank Jogjakarta and Surakarta for giving me a glimpse to the past, and helping me recover the many Eids that I have lost over the years.

  1. #1 by StevePCH on Thursday, 2 October 2008 - 8:50 am

    beyond the boundary of religion , there is true brotherhood and sisterhood of human.
    In Malaysia, I believe, it’s achievable yet, it will need the right mindset.
    We have been treating our friends of other races like brothers and sisters but due to the various racial and religious stokings by irresposible parties, we are always back in square one.

    Selamat Hari Raya and may the type of celebration seen in Jogja soon be felt in Malaysia too.

  2. #2 by Jimm on Thursday, 2 October 2008 - 9:06 am

    God never made us all to be divided ..
    We ourselves does all these … with our own evil thoughts
    We like to out-do each other to stay ahead of the rest …
    We run races that normally against HIS Will …
    At the end of the journey , each man will only realized that HIS Words are more important in life ….
    Mankind …. the evil killing machine that ever liveon earth..

  3. #3 by dawsheng on Thursday, 2 October 2008 - 9:06 am

    “You cannot call yourself a Muslim if you stand passively by and watch the rise of facist racist politics before your very eyes, any more than a pious Muslim can stand by and watch a child be molested and raped while doing nothing.” – Farish

    Best Eid statement I heard in years!

  4. #4 by lopez on Thursday, 2 October 2008 - 9:23 am

    what a place to reciprocate , this piece of land rape by hoolanders left next to nothing towards their nationhood, except there is one thing left there for good ,- products of mixed marriages either force or voluntary …beauty queens..

    nice words doo not overlay wicked thoughts and actions,
    deeds speaks louder that mere rhetorics, to be influence by rhetorics is a man in dire striats and in seek of solace and soul searching…a confuse man.

  5. #5 by biggun on Thursday, 2 October 2008 - 10:55 am

    Born as a Kelantan Chinese, we had long celebrated this type of Eids for many years ever since the Tok Guru Tuan Aziz was the Menteri Besar of Kelantan, to those who wants to feel the different kind of celebration of Eid, why not pay a visit .

  6. #6 by bystander on Thursday, 2 October 2008 - 11:32 am

    i share and concur with your views. but most muslim academics here have very shallow intellects, less travelled and lack courage to look beyond race and religion but merely a bunch of sheep following the racist umno leadership and ulamaks. little chance of malaysia resembling jogka you so rightly craved and implied for malaysia to follow. any brave gus dur in our midst? non. most are just corrupted or amorous or racist politicians with only one aim ie to corek, corek and corek.

  7. #7 by pakmang on Thursday, 2 October 2008 - 11:35 am

    In fact we should treat each other like brothers and sisiters as one family at everywhere and every now and then. We are only transit in this planet temporarily. So, having one world one dream is the most beautiful concept for everyone.

    Selamat Hari Aidilfitri.

  8. #8 by richmom on Thursday, 2 October 2008 - 8:42 pm

    I have employed 4 Indon maids and found that they are humble,considerate and love my dogs as much as tried to “snatch” my sitzu to their bedroom at night.But I encountered a malay customer complain my cute little dog’s presence once I stopped by a road side fruit stall.He threatened the shop owner that her acceptance of customer like me will drive away all Muslim customers.I wander is it because all Malaysian Muslims are anti to all other beings including human and animals other than the supreme Melayu or only this miserable guy who is unlucky to bound into my way.

  9. #9 by One4All4One on Thursday, 2 October 2008 - 9:39 pm

    If the heart and mind are willing, there can be no discrimination and prejudice of any kind.

    Taking what Farish Noor described as a “spectacular and unmatched” Eid ever, one cannot help but wished that such an occasion would be similarly celebrated in one’s own land.

    One may venture further to wish that that kind of spirit would exist in the heart and mind of every individual so that any kind of celebration worthy of a national scale would also be received with sincerity and openness.

    Having said so, it should be noted that such spirit does exist in many an individual, just that the situations and circumstances do not permit it or encourage it to show itself.

    A suppressive and suspicious environ does not promote open expressions. What can you expect when religions are not allowed to be practised freely in the true sense of the word? What can one expect when a religion is controlled politically and arbitrarily? What can one expect when an ethnicity is identified by its religion and vice versa, where, by right, a religion should be practised freely and individual seeking for truths should be encouraged, but not hindered and suppressed by man-made decrees?

    As long as such an artificially concocted situation exists and perpetuated, there would not be any possibility that the Eid that Farish just encountered could be “reproduced” in our country. Not in our life time, nor in the distant future, unless and until that restrictive and suppressive situation is not lifted and changed.

    But for the free-spirited individuals, let’s celebrate the Eid and all other note-worthy festivities in our hearts and minds, without limits and borders.

    Greetings to all true universal hearts and minds!

  10. #10 by One4All4One on Thursday, 2 October 2008 - 9:43 pm

    typo error, sorry..

    As long as such an artificially concocted situation exists and perpetuated, there would not be any possibility that the Eid that Farish just encountered could be “reproduced” in our country. Not in our life time, nor in the distant future, unless and until that restrictive and suppressive situation is lifted and changed.

  11. #11 by One4All4One on Thursday, 2 October 2008 - 9:51 pm

    …”reproduced” also = “replicated”

  12. #12 by katdog on Thursday, 2 October 2008 - 9:55 pm

    I may be mistaken but wouldn’t dragon and lion masks be construed as idolry and false beliefs? Its not just that the masks are inherited from chinese culture, but i think the muslim conservatives in Malaysia would balk at such ‘kepercayaan karut’. All the children would be rounded up and sent to JAKIM for ‘re-education’.

  13. #13 by chin on Friday, 3 October 2008 - 12:57 am

    I once have a chance to join my son’s sunday school classes. In fact, that particular sunday was not my mood to attend sunday service as there was a bit of argument between church members concerning very minor problems. For me, i hate to be involve with such hu-ha. Therefore that particular sunday was a bit of different for me, so i just escort my 3 year old son for his sunday school classes.
    As i sat there the whole morning, i felt that children opens up so easily & accepting with greater faith than adults. Now ! This ponder me & starts understanding children, children’s love are limitless, no boundary, true & genuine.
    As i ponder further, i also realised that how i get to know my neighbours. Its all thru my children. We moved into this neighbourhood couple of years ago, we never get to know our neighbours because we were so busy & never even bother to do so. I know most are muslim malays, hindus & etc, but we don’t know how are we gonna to approach them & the question at that time is “should we or we should not”. No initiative to do so, but as time flies for couple of years.
    Than one day, i was having a nice garden walk with my kids late afternoon. My kids in fact was playing with some neighbourhood’s kid which around their age. Than a malay couple approached us trying to strike a conversation & the conversation went smooth & comfortable which i then realised that they are my neighbour. Years passed, i felt comfortable with them & i must admit. That we adults are pretty damn ignorant, we would not have been close if not for our kids.
    Therefore, the writter for this particular article mentioned that some native kids playing with some lion dancing masks around should mark a good sign or gesture. If we wanna to have a warm & welcome atmosphere nation, we should be letting our kids mix around & not hinder them from doing that. As there was a very good slogan from Giordano’s advertisment years ago, “World without stranger” was very meaningful for me, i don’t know how you people felt, but being in the sense of warm & welcome really feels good.

  14. #14 by taiking on Friday, 3 October 2008 - 9:23 am

    LIke the rider who started his horse’s gallop with the wrong leg in an equestrian jump, here umno started malaysia with the wrong formula on the plate. And needless to say, both the jumper and umno would fall.

  15. #15 by hennesy on Friday, 3 October 2008 - 11:26 am

    Commenting on taiking’s response. IMHO, there was nothing wrong with UMNO, MCA & MICs achievement in bringing this country out of colonial rule & towards independence. It was the product of love for the people & the responsibility of great leaders to do so for the people. But human beings as we are, power if not handled properly would be easily corrupted. There is famous saying goes “Great power comes with great responsibilities”. Ask our grandparents & parents how Malaysia or Malaya was like during their youth & you would be surprised to find that it wasn’t like it now, definitely.

    So how did Malaysia became so “Ugly” ? Back then, there was no NEP in favor of a particular race. There was no Ketuanaan Melayu to bolster the prominence of a particular race. There was no Ali Baba deals, everyone was welcome to do business with the government, based on merit. There was no bumiputra or non-bumiputra. Everyone was a citizen. Foreign/local investors & businesses were not subjected to quota systems, they are free to hire or form partnership with anyone they wish based on merit. The legal system was fair to all. Education was free to all.

    I think if our great leaders wish to build a competitive & forward-thinking nation, the first thing to do is to abolish the NEP followed by ISA.

  16. #16 by ekans on Saturday, 4 October 2008 - 12:15 am

    A friend once told me about his encounter with an Indonesian woman who works in a Chinese temple as a cleaner. When she told him that she is a Muslim, he asked her whether she felt that working in a Chinese temple is haram & against Islam. She replied that she does not feel like being less a Muslim working in another religion’s place of worship because her faith in Islam is strong and she is just doing her job as a cleaner there, not praying to another religion.
    Just to make it clear that the purpose of posting this story is not to advocate that a person of one religion should be able to work in the place of worship of another religion. This is to illustrate an example where a foreign worker had come all the way here to work out of economic necessity, and still has a strong enough faith not to compromise her own religious beliefs.
    Politicians who use religion in order to garner support, create a impression that their religion is under the threat of being ‘attacked’ by other religions, non-believers or atheists. But how can one’s religion, being of personal & spiritual in nature, be threatened unless one’s faith is questionably lacking?

  17. #17 by lopez on Saturday, 4 October 2008 - 8:44 am

    in the stone age there is the sharman, in the renaissance of western world there is the pastor, in the eastern world there is the monk, priest and monk are used synonymously , whatever these people were called , and they are a powerful lot either in the western or eastern societies, they influence significantly the ruling chief, village head, warlord, monarch and even an emperor.

    The greatest user of their services are of course the same people who rule and decide.,,either because they are illiterate, or need second opinion or coerce by the very people they influence or used them as scape goats or used as stepping stones.,,,other used their services because they are lost , confused, pretentious, mad, crazy, undecided, follow the crowd, peer pressure,curious, helpless, poor, guilty of wrong doings, even for not being “lucky”

    in today’s globalised world and age of the millenium . age of science and technology , age of reasoning based on facts and evidence, now is a world in the age of change aligned towards globalised parctices in a global society.

    Whether you miss the bus or not , you decide.
    by the way priest and monls and whatever you called them plays the role of a free paying psychiatrist in those days especially the feudal societies of yesteryears…ironically some still exist and had miss the last bus and when technology reached them , they are caught in the blurr again.

  18. #18 by shinta on Monday, 1 February 2010 - 7:41 pm

    It’s interesting to note that Yogyakarta (as it’s properly spelled) is the only province in Indonesia where the governor is not directly elected. Because Yogyakarta is a sultanate led by Sultan Hamengkubuwono X, who is a revered king to Yogyakartans and a governor to the rest of us. Yogya has been a multi-religious society strongly supported by the current sultan and his father before him. Some of the best and most influential public and Islamic universities as well as Catholic seminaries/universities are located there. This was the vision of the current sultan’s father, who wanted to make the province the center of education in Indonesia. The late sultan believed strongly that education is the most important part of dakwah. When you are educated, you know who you are and what you believe therefore you are not afraid of outside influences. Yogyakarta bears the fruit of the late sultan’s vision: it is the base of, and produces, some of the country’s brightest (and multi-religous) minds.

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