Ramadan is the Islam holy month of religious observance, a time when Muslims fast from dawn to dusk every day. But as well as abstaining from food, Muslims are expected to refrain from drinking, smoking, marital relations and curb poor behaviour such as lying, getting angry or using bad language.
As well as fasting, Muslims are expected to be more diligent in prayer during Ramadan. This means attending as many as five prayer sessions a day; the first usually well before dawn and the last at sunset. Additionally, the prayer sessions themselves can be very long, well over an hour, and physically demanding due to the many cycles of standing, bowing, kneeling and sitting that are performed.
It’s believed that the fasting and prayer develops self-control, encourages introspection and reinforces the bond between Almighty and the faithful. And despite the lack of food, hydration and the unusual sleep patterns, Muslims are expected to keep up all their normal activities, although in practise most employers are very flexible during Ramadan.
What about non-Muslims?
Whilst fasting during Ramadan is obligatory for devout Muslims, for practical reasons, there are exceptions such as children, menstruating, pregnant or breastfeeding women, the sick, the mentally ill and travellers.
Non-Muslims are not expected to observe Ramadan but they should be respectful in their attitude and behaviour. And if someone seems a little short or ill-tempered, have a little compassion and understanding for what they’re going through because 30 days of fasting and sleep deprivation isn’t easy.
So what does Ramadan mean for travellers in Indonesia?
If you’re in Hindu dominated Bali. not much changes. But elsewhere, you may find some restaurants, warungs and shops close earlier than usual. The Call to Prayer, which normally only rings out for a few minutes prior to prayer time can go on for much longer, even up to an hour. So when you’re booking your accommodation you may want to check that the establishment is not too close a mosque. And in bigger hotels, ask for a room well away from the hotel prayer room, if they have one. As added insurance, pack some ear plugs.
Ramadan culminates with the Idul Fitri (also called Lebaran) holiday week, a jubilant celebration marked with feasting, friendship and family and thanksgiving. It’s a very special time for millions of Muslims across the world, comparable to Christmas for Christians. It’s also a time when many of Indonesia’s 200 million Muslim’s will be on the move across the archipelago, returning to their home villages and visiting family and friends.
This means you’ll need to book hotels and flights early, peak rates will apply and the roads will be busy. Seriously busy – twelve people died in a 13 mile, 3 day traffic jam in Java at the end of Idul Fitri in 2016. Many Indonesians flock to the beach and other popular destinations so you can also expect tourist attractions to be super busy.
When is Ramadan?
Ramadan falls in the ninth month of the Muslim calendar (Hijrah). Being lunar based, the exact dates vary from year to year but generally, it falls around the middle of the year. The official dates are determined by the Indonesia Government each year.
Ramadan 2017 begins on Friday 26th May and ends on Saturday 24th June.
Ramadan 2018 begins on Tuesday 15th May and ends on Thursday 14th June.
The bottom line
Speaking from personal experience having travelled through many regions of Indonesia during Ramadan, there’s no reason you can’t enjoy your holiday just as you would any other time. You just need to be a little flexible, allow extra time and above all, be respectful.
The only exception would be Java, which goes from being very busy normally to hellish busy during Ramadan. We found some places almost impossible to get around. Our advice – think twice about visiting Java during Ramadan, avoid it like the plague during Idul Fitri week.