Southeast Asia’s largest mosque hosts pilgrims in Ramadan

Karma Gurung

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Southeast Asia’s largest mosque hosts pilgrims in Ramadan
At Istiqlal Mosque in Jakarta, thousands take part in the breaking of the fast and evening prayers

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JAKARTA, Indonesia – Muslims all over the world observed the start of Ramadan, the holiest month in the Islamic calendar, starting Monday, June 6.

In Istiqlal Mosque in Jakarta, the largest mosque in South East Asia, thousands were in attendance during the evening prayer.

On Monday, the mosque handed out 3,000 boxes of free food to the public during iftar or the breaking of the fast. Many Indonesians travel long distances to come to the mosque to hear the great Imam and to get free meals.

Anty, a mother of two children, Ayesha and Mohamed, has visited the mosque for the past 9 years constantly. It takes her almost an hour to get to the mosque from her town but the iftar meal is the primary reason that makes her trip worth the while. 

“I feel the food is provided very generously in this mosque because they provide meals to my children also, but the local mosque in my area only provides meals to adults,” said Anty.

Anty also said “the meal in this mosque is special and better than what I eat normally.”

IFTAR. The meal box provided by Istiqlal mosque on the first day of Ramadan. Photo by Karma Gurung     

In Istiqlal, the meal box consists of dates, chicken curry, rice, egg and some vegetables along with tea and water.

Prophet Muhamed is believed to have broken his fast by consuming dates. Thus, dates have gained an important role in the iftar meal. Aside from dates, the iftar meal varies globally depending on ethnic cuisine.


But for Willianti, also a mother, her experience at Istiqlal was disappointing.

After learning about the mosque on TV, Willianti decided to visit Istiqlal this Ramadan for the first time with her husband and her daughter. Unfortunately her husband was not given a meal box due to a shortage of food later in the evening.

“I saw on TV that this mosque was very big and had a large kitchen where large amounts of food was being prepared, so I decided to bring my family here instead of the mosque in PondiCondi, where I usually go,” said Willianti.

Her daughter instead had to share her meal with her father, leading to a bitter Iftar meal that made the family decide not to come back to Istiqlal for tomorrow’s iftar.

“Some people are carrying 4 to 5 boxes of meals but my husband didn’t get a box. This is injustice,” said Willianti.

Abu Hurairah Abdul Salam, the head of Protocol of Istiqlal Mosque, defended the mosque stating that the pilgrim may have arrived late.

“The food is distributed a few minutes before iftar, around 5 pm so if they are not here by that time, it is their own fault,” said Salam.

“It’s the first day and we had 12,000 people visit for the Tarawih prayers so security wasn’t thorough to check these cases,” added Salam.

Aside from donations from residents of the area, two different organizations from the United Arab Emirates will be donating meals for the mosque for 4 days this year.

Family affair

Ramadan is also a family affair and for those that live and work far away from their families, it has become a sort of reunion. For Firman from Sulawesi, Indonesia, this Ramadan is his first holy month away from his family.

At Istiqlal, Firman and his friend shared their iftar meal amid a crowd of families with children running about the courtyard.

Firman was sent by his office in Sulawesi to complete a banking course in Jakarta but the stipend provided was not enough to bring his wife and 3 young children to Jakarta.

“I don’t have my family here with me, so I am not fully happy. The food served during iftar here is not the same as the one I’m used to having in the mosque in my hometown,” said Firman when asked about how he feels to be away from home.

SHARING MEAL. Firman and his friend share their first iftar meal together. Photo by Karma Gurung     

Long hours of fasting in high temperatures can be an emotionally draining experience for those engaged in working activities or children in school. Since the fasting period is decided based on the sighting of the moon, Indonesians will be fasting for a span of 13.1 hours daily for the next 4 weeks.

The start and end of Ramadan is marked by the lunar calendar, wherein the visual sighting of the crescent moon decides the hours of fasting in each city worldwide.


Marking the divine revelation received by Islam’s Prophet Mohammed, the month sees Muslim faithful abstain from eating, drinking, smoking and having sex from dawn to dusk.

During the month of Ramadan, Muslims fast from dawn to dusk and break their fast with a meal known as iftar. Prior to iftar, they also have a chance to eat and drink before the fast begins at dawn, which is known as suhur.

In Indonesia, the faithful spent the days leading up to Ramadan taking part in rituals, including visits to relatives’ tombs and swims in springs infused with flowers.

COMMUNITY. Women pray together inside the mosque after breaking fast. Photo by Karma Gurung

Most in the country practice a moderate form of Islam and centuries-old, local beliefs are often fused with Muslim customs to create a particularly Indonesian brand of the faith.

Indonesia’s conservative Muslim leaders regularly urge people not to partake in some of these rituals – such as swimming in springs – but the practices are deeply entrenched.

Hardline group the Islamic Defenders’ Front (FPI) meanwhile, also threatened to launch raids on Indonesian nightspots that flout restrictions during Ramadan. In the past, the group has raided bars that are open later than they should be, seizing alcohol and throwing out customers.

“Please respect the holiness of Ramadan,” Ja’far Shodiq, the group’s deputy chairman, told AFP.

“The FPI is not against fun – but sometimes fun can verge on immoral.” – reports from Associated France-Presse

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