Ramadan Rhythms in Jakarta: From Sidang Isbat to Ngabuburit

SimpleJoy
6 min readMar 11, 2024
Observing “hilal”, credit: Kompas.id

Every year, I find myself looking forward to Ramadan in Indonesia, even though I don’t personally observe it. My interest, sparked partly by my son’s fascination, kicks off with a government-led official meeting called ‘Sidang Isbat.’ It’s an official meeting where religious leaders and astronomers come together to decide when Ramadan will start, based on the moon.

Indonesia uses two main criteria for identifying the new moon. The first one, Wujudul Hilal (WH), focuses on the hilal’s (the thin crescent moon’s) very existence, as Muhammadiyah advocates. The majority of Islamic organizations and the government use Imkanur Rukyat (IR), which includes visibility criteria for the hilal that MABIMS (Ministries of Religious Affairs of Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore) established in 2022.

This meeting is a big deal because it helps everyone get on the same page about when to start fasting, aiming for unity and less confusion. But even then, discrepancies in Ramadan’s start date occasionally occur. For instance, this year, some started fasting on March 11, but the official call was March 12.

The Islamic calendar does not adhere to the international date line concept. Days change at maghrib (sunset), not midnight as in the Gregorian calendar. So, Ramadan can be 29 or 30 days long, depending on when the moon is sighted or calculated. This means everyone may end up celebrating Eid al-Fitr (Idul Fitri) together next month, no matter if they started fasting on the 11th or the 12th.

The start of Ramadan also means changes in the daily grind. Government and private offices shift their hours to finish earlier, which messes with Jakarta’s already crazy traffic. Everyone’s trying to get home for iftar, the meal to break the fast, so the roads are packed.

That first week of Ramadan? It’s a time of adjustment. Waking up super early for Sahur, the meal before the fast, means people’s routines change. Evenings are for family time, not staying late at work, going to the gym, or hitting the mall. And because of this shift, nobody wants to plan big meetings or launches then — it’s just not the time. So, Ramadan here isn’t just about fasting; it’s also a change in lifestyle.

Traffic jam in Jakarta, credit: Kompas.id

Starting in the second week of Ramadan, things get more relaxed. Suddenly, my calendar can fill up with iftar (bukber or buka puasa bersama, gathering for breaking fasts) invitations—high school buddies, old workmates, extended family, even my elementary school gang. It’s a golden time for malls, restaurants, and cafes.

But here’s the thing: Iftar isn’t until around 6 p.m., and the office shuts down at 4. So, what’s everyone doing in between? They’re “ngabuburit.” This cool word from the Sundanese language basically means killing time until it’s time to break the fast at sunset. And “killing time” could mean anything. Some of us might window shop or hit the malls for real shopping. Or we might just “bengong” — that’s staring into space, daydreaming, or thinking about nothing in particular. The young, adventurous ones? They might zip around in “illegal” motor races.

Mall in Jakarta during Ramadan, credit: Kompas.com

With all this going on, I’ve learned to tweak my own schedule. If I’m not home by 3 p.m., I’m stuck in a traffic nightmare. And unless I’m out for a gathering, I won’t have dinner at Iftar’s time at restaurants. Who wants to deal with overwhelmed waiters, endless waits for food, or, worse, cold meals? Yeah, some folks order early to beat the crowd, leaving your soup as cold as juice. Ha!

Mall in Jakarta, during Ramadan, credit: Detik.com

I used to love catching up with friends during Ramadan. But as I’ve grown older, the traffic jams and chaos at these get-togethers just sometimes aren’t for me anymore. Now, I only venture out when I’m sure I have the energy — both physically and mentally — to handle it

Thinking about it takes me straight back to my childhood. Ramadan in Jakarta was sometimes unbelievably taxing, in contrast to my recollections from my childhood. Back then, in my hometown of Solo (or Surakarta), in Central Java, Ramadan already had a special place in my heart.

We had this tradition where my parents, my older sister, and later my little brother would head to Masjid Agung, the biggest mosque around. We didn’t go inside since we don’t observe Ramadan. Instead, we’d hang out in the front yard, where this massive firecracker, or mercon raksasa as we called it, would be lit right after the sun went down.

Stepping back in time at Masjid Agung, Solo, credit: Purubaya

The noise it made! It boomed so loudly you could hear it all over town, and we lovingly called it “dhul.” It was the signal that the fast was over for the day, and we always looked forward to it.

After the excitement, we’d stroll around the mosque and Pasar Klewer, the nearby big clothing market. Even though the market was shut, food stalls would pop up in front like magic. That’s what sticks with me: the food. It was everywhere, affordable, tasty, and easy to get. No traffic, no lines, no fuss. Sure, it might have been a headache for my parents, but as a kid? I didn’t notice any stress at all.

Pasar Klewer, Solo, credit: Kompas.com

Lately, I’ve found myself drawn to the traditional markets near my place during Ramadan. Just an hour or two before iftar, the food stalls come alive. They’ve got everything from snacks to full-blown meals, featuring flavors from all over Indonesia: Java, Sunda, Manado, Makassar, and beyond. Sometimes, I bump into neighbors, we catch up for a bit, and then I carry on with my ngabuburit, wandering down the streets. It’s totally laid-back — no traffic, no lines, and no rush.

Traditional Market during Ramadan, credit: Tribunnews

But there’s one thing that’s changed since I was a kid: now, whenever I’m about to grab a bite, I get this flashback of my doctor’s warnings and my lab test results. All that talk about avoiding trans fats, sugar, fried foods, and the like suddenly floods my mind. It’s a real appetite killer, I tell you!

Despite the challenges of traffic jams, dietary cautions, and the hustle of daily life, the spirit of Ramadan — with its emphasis on reflection, community, and connection — continues to resonate deeply, inviting us to find moments of peace, joy, and kinship amid the whirlwind of our routines.

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SimpleJoy

Mother & aid practitioner 🌏 | Exploring cultural bridges 🌐, aid industry insights 🔍, and cherishing life's simple pleasures 🌸