To the Sound of Kettledrums: The Prophet’s birthday, on December 30, in Jakarta 

FPK Photo/Arpan Rachman

The night is dark in Bekasi, 14 miles east of Jakarta. Last daily worship of Muslims, the Isha prayer, has just finished.

After the prayers, the birth of Muhammad (ﷺ), the Prophet of Islam, was celebrated in the Uswatun Hasanah Mosque on Dr. Ratna Street at Jati Kramat, Bekasi. It was a Saturday, on December 30.

In parts of Indonesia, the celebration of the Prophet’s (ﷺ) birthday is held on a date decided by the communities. Following the Mawlid , the day of the birth of the Prophet (ﷺ), in the same month, the communities pick a date. Depending on the availability of funds, and the space, a date is decided.

The pilgrims arrived filling the rectangular-shaped space in the mosque.

Wearing the headgear, adherents of Islam in Indonesia, a skull cap made of black velveteen, the participants tie a sarong as a substitute for trousers.

This small village on the outskirts of Jakarta is not very populated, there are patches of about a dozen houses, between narrow passages.

The scent of frankincense smoke around the mosque makes the night aromatic with sacred nuances. The night breeze blows softly scattering the fragrant splendor of a mystical spirit.

Inside the mosque, the Duroods, supplications to the Prophet (ﷺ), make a rhythmic pass.

Islam in Indonesia gradually spread as Arab Muslim traders kept coming to the place. Adoption of the religion by local rulers was the first step, followed by a continuous influence of mysticism of the Sufi saints who spread it into the masses.

During the late colonial era, Islam was adopted as a unifying and rallying banner against colonialism. Today, Indonesia has an overwhelming Muslim majority with a rich culture that has blended south east Asian culture, to the teachings of Islam.

The loudspeaker in the hamlet then starts up. The Imam, the leader of the prayer, directs the worshipers to pray for the ancestral spirits of the local people with a Fateha. It is followed with a longer, and easy to remember prayers, like a hymn written by a cleric, to inculcate Islamic teachings in the local language.

As the voice in prayers grows louder, scattered kettledrums rhythm starts to enter the prayer. A group of boys, teenagers, 13 in number, dressed in white beat kettledrums in a fast tempo, whilst the reciter of prayers sings praises.

One of the head priests, Kyai Haji Abuya Muhammad Mahfuz then addresses the gathering to tell them about Islam.

“With the sincerity of our intentions, may the Lord accept our prayer. The important thing is to imitate the Prophet (ﷺ) in his morality, his neatness, and his social life,” he says.

Another priest quotes the Quranic verse: “You will surely be able to give guidance of a straight path.”

The lecturer then tells the story of the life of the Prophet (ﷺ) that he says, should be imitated by all Muslims. After that, at almost midnight, one by one the mosque’s worshipers return to their homes.

“Attending a sacred event like this helps my soul find peace,” says a worshiper.

The Uswatun Hasanah Mosque asks for voluntary funding from local residents. “Early in the morning before the event, I donated money to the committee for organising this event,” says Anugerah, a young boy and a resident of the area.

The portrait of Muslim life at the grassroots of Indonesia, details how the religion penetrated while preserving local tradition.

The life here is colored with cultural differences between the locals and the Muslims from the Arab region from which Islam originated, while it brought social change, it used different ways to appeal to the local conscience.

Indonesia today is the most populous Muslim country in the world.

Arpan Rachman is a freelance journalist in Indonesia. Alumna of English for Journalism by Coursera, University of Pennsylvania, Rachman is a winner of Indonesia Stock Exchange writing award, a fellow for Southeast Asian Press Alliance, Annual Journalism Fellowship, and an ardent football lover. 

Views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position and policy of the Free Press Kashmir.

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