My Truth About Living in a Muslim Country
With all that is happening in the world regarding politics, religious conflict, cultural prejudices, racism, and discrimination, I have been inspired to share my experience of living in a Muslim country for the past three months. I see what is being portrayed by the media regarding global affairs–specifically in relation to religion, beliefs, and culture–and I have to say that I am not having an experience like any of the propaganda I am reading or hearing. I don’t even feel the negativity from the news circulating about Muslim countries and people because my experience is actually the opposite.
I have been having a beautiful experience living in Indonesia. The people are kind, genuine, friendly, and open to different cultural and religious beliefs. They even blend religious beliefs themselves, practicing traditional and ancient beliefs with Hinduism, Islamic beliefs, and Buddhism. I have spent time in local villages and was even invited by the chief of the village and the spiritual leader to sit next to them during their ceremony. I was fortunate to have a local friend who spoke English and Bahasa Indonesia, allowing him to personally interpret what was being said. It was incredible.
The ceremony was called a ‘thanks giving”. The people thanked the land for providing water, which in turn provided food, livelihood, and happiness. The chief spoke about the importance of conserving water and protecting the water sources by keeping them clean. Everyone started to pray and give thanks and moments later, it rained!
The ceremony was led by the chief of the village who was a mix of Hindu and Muslim, and the spiritual leader who was also Hindu and Muslim, and also incorporated some Buddhist beliefs. There were maybe 200 people present, all dressed in their traditional clothing, mostly men, some women and children. I was nervous when I was invited to go to the top of the space and sit up high with the chief and spiritual leader, but I did it, and I am so pleased that I did.
The ceremony was called a ‘thanks giving”. The people thanked the land for providing water, which in turn provided food, livelihood, and happiness. The chief spoke about the importance of conserving water and protecting the water sources by keeping them clean. Everyone started to pray and give thanks and moments later, it rained. And I mean, a real downpour! It was absolutely magical. We then shared food, which was a combination of offerings from the locals, who would then exchange with one another. Everything was wrapped in dark green palm and banana leaves. The locals had brought home-cooked specialties, such as rice, sweets, and also packaged food that could be brought home and shared in the following days. I was served first, before the chief and spiritual leader, which was an honor. This experience of ‘thanks giving’ in East Java gave me a new appreciation for Indonesian culture and religion.
Its Ramadan now, so Islamic practices and ceremonies are dictating the lifestyle of the Muslim people here. This of course has an impact on tourism and on a traveler’s experience. Mosques are highly active, with the ‘Adhan’ (call to prayer, pronounced ‘azan’ in Indonesian and many other countries) playing all through the night at times, and starting sometimes at three or four in the morning. People are fasting, alcohol is prohibited, business hours have changed, but it doesn’t matter to me. It doesn’t disrupt my life too much. I chose to be in a Muslim country during Ramadan, so even though my sleep gets disrupted, it’s a valuable cultural experience for me.
It’s not religion or culture that is causing these present conflicts: it’s hate. Hate is being spread in the wrong direction and to the wrong people.
I’m due to return to Europe in a few days, after eighteen months in Southeast Asia. I know I’ll see negative messages in the media about Islamic and Islamic societies, and I hope this feeling I have now after witnessing cultural and religious harmony will live on strongly, and help me to feel peace. It’s not religion or culture that is causing these present conflicts: it’s hate. Hate is being spread in the wrong direction and to the wrong people.
I’m unbelievably grateful to have had this experience to turn my pre-judgments and fears of living in a Muslim country on their head, while feeling more peace than I have in many other countries. My perspective has changed deeply, and I can only hope that I keep this with me in the face of the propaganda, news, media, and dreaded racism and prejudice that I may be subjected to upon my return to the Western world.