Islamic Relief’s Rully Prayoga tells of a quieter but still spiritual Ramadan in Indonesia, where coronavirus is forcing people to find new ways to embrace togetherness during the holy month.

Rully Prayoga, Media and Communication Coordinator for Islamic Relief Indonesia.

In Indonesia the smell of kolak, a sweet dish made from banana or banana milk with palm sugar, is a sure sign that Ramadan is here.

Usually people start preparing for Ramadan a whole month ahead. It’s common that when the fasting month comes, people go back to their hometown for family reunions as part of the national annual ritual.

Share and care is always a theme of Ramadan. We usually share our food with neighbours during iftar or join iftar with close friends and family to strengthen our bonds.

For me it means going back home to Bandung. My hometown is about three hours’ drive from Jakarta, where I live and work. I will try to find kolak, share iftar and spend most of Ramadan with my family.

Kolak, a sweet coconut soup mixed with banana, yam or sweet potato.

Sharing food and killing time

Muslims are keen to share food with Muslim and non-Muslim neighbours and friends as the Prophet (peace be upon him) advised.

“He does not truly believe who eats his fill while his neighbour remains hungry by his side,” (Hadith, Bayhaqi)

This hadith has a deep meaning for me. Indonesia has the largest Muslim population in the world, so Ramadan is a sacred month for many. Everybody will be busy preparing food, and Ramadan here always starts with cooking food together, and eating together – in the West Java region, we call this cucurak.

At this time of year, the street vendors provide a colourful ambience. They offer food for iftar, even for shaur (early breakfast).

We also have something here called ngabuburit, a Sundanese term that means killing time while waiting to break our fast. People will take walks or hang out in the park, going to pop up markets known as Pasar Ramadan, or cooking. And many other activities that do not include eating, drinking, or gossiping.

Hunger is a year-round companion for some

But I always remember that this is a luxury – it’s not a reality for everyone. In my country there are still a lot of people who have nothing with which to prepare to embrace Ramadan. For them, hunger is a regular companion, not just a visitor during the sacred month.

They still need our help. So, in the spirit of sharing and caring to help others enjoy Ramadan, this year I’m supporting Islamic Relief as we distribute food parcels to some of the most vulnerable families in my country.

It is a privilege for me to experience the holy month sharing happiness and showing solidarity with poor and vulnerable people.

A mosque, usually crowded with people reciting Qur’an as they wait for ifar, stands empty.

A quieter kind of togetherness amid coronavirus

The Covid-19 pandemic is casting a long shadow over the sacred month.

We’re having to rethink how we approach an integral aspect of Ramadan – togetherness – since we have to adhere to strict social distancing to avoid spreading the virus.

It is totally different, quieter. There are fewer opportunities for people to interact both socially or even for jama’a prayer.

This year there is no chit-chat during the ngabuburit, or crowds of people waiting for iftar and the sound of tarawih prayer.

But Islamic Relief will continue to be there for those in need.

Last year, our Ramadan food parcels freed nearly 11,000 Indonesians from worry about where their next meal was coming from. I hope this year we will be able to reach many more.

And like so many, I pray the coronavirus outbreak will end soon. I hope to smell the kolak, hear people calling out to the street vendor selling iftar, and join collective prayers in the mosque. I pray for the return of true togetherness during the blessed month and beyond.

Please support our Ramadan Appeal. Your generosity will help us come together as one community and save lives together.