The body continually adjusts to an 11-hour time difference but something resembling normality takes hold after a day or two or three. Even so, the days start very early and before sun comes up over Jakarta’s eastern horizon, there are voices. A single call to prayer begins faintly, barely audible over the trickle of traffic outside the hotel. Before that trickle slowly but surely becomes an unceasing rush, another voice forms a small, lilting chorus in the distance.
It’s early morning in the world’s most populous Muslim nation, and, in fact, this isn’t just any morning. The 7th day of Ramadan has nearly dawned (July 27, for the record), and the non-Muslim traveler steps back in reflection at the fascinating brand of Islam that has been fashioned here in Indonesia, a country that has no interest in closing itself off from the world.
Golf holiday-making and the practice of Islam (80 percent of Indonesians consider themselves followers) may seem incongruous to citizens of non-practicing nations, be they Asian, European or North American. But the impact is minimal. Indeed, you need help finding it, even during the holiest month on the Muslim calendar (Ramadan ended Aug. 18, for the record).
In one clubhouse during my July visit, there was the usual staff of young, attractive women in short skirts and form-fitting golf shirts. Yet those skirts are apparently a bit longer during Ramadan. Caddies here, as they are everywhere in Asia, are clad in full trousers and long-sleeved shirts — not out of modesty but in the interest of maintaining the lightest possible skin tone, a sign of female beauty and class status across the region. When you offer to buy one a soda or sports-energy drink, as is customary, they prefer water to maintain the day’s fasting, which ends at sundown.
Some drinking establishments in Jakarta close down during Ramadan, but this is rare. More common is the practice at many hotels, where the bar does not open until sundown on specified days. But, again, just during the week — not on a Friday or Saturday.
Standing in the gloaming outside my hotel, wide awake (against my will), I met a fellow from America’s Deep South, Mississippi to be exact. He’s in town for a single night before heading out onto an oil rig where he will spend the next 28 days mining a portion of Indonesia’s extraordinary natural resources from deep below the sea bed. He’s not a Muslim either but he’s a veteran traveler to Indonesia. He nods in agreement when we chat about the balance of church, state, commerce and tourism, which may seem complicated to outsiders but proceeds here as a matter of course. The calls to prayer no longer seem foreign to my new friend; apparently they can be heard each and every morning, out on the rig.