The Istiqlal mosque in Jakarta is the largest in Southeast Asia. It can host 200,000 Muslims for prayer. The mosque employs 300 people who are especially busy during Ramadan when the mosque attracts a large number of worshipers, tourists and also traders.
During the fasting month, the Istiqlal mosque provides food for visitors. A special Cooperative within the mosque is responsible for cooking and distributing the food. The workers in this Cooperative commence cooking at 8am in the morning and work until 3pm in the afternoon, by which time the heat of the day adds to the heat from the stoves and the atmosphere inside the cooking tent becomes oppressive. The team prepare at least 3000 meal boxes containing vegetables, rice and an egg, a piece of meat, or a piece of fish for buka puasa (breaking the fast together). For the last ten days before the end of Ramadan, however, their shifts will double. Not only will they provide food for buka puasa but also they will also prepare at least 2000 boxes of food for sahur (breakfast). The cooking shift in preparation for sahur is from 7pm in the evening until 2am.
The Istiqlal food Cooperative normally employs 15 people. During fasting month, they hire another 35 workers from nearby Bogor district. The 50 workers are divided into two shifts - the morning and the evening. It is their job to fill boxes of food, wash the cooking equipment, peel the eggs and cut large amounts of vegetables, meat and fish. Their shift will end after the boxes of food are stacked in the mosque at 5pm in the evening or 3am in the early morning.
Irul (not his real name) has been working for the Istiqlal Cooperative for at least 18 years. He is one of the chefs who is responsible for cooking vegetables.
The funding for Istiqlal’s Ramadan kitchen is collected through tromol or donation boxes. There are many of these boxes inside the mosque. Five times a day, the donation boxes will be handed out after prayer and will be handed from person to person. Once a day, after the evening’s last prayer (isha), the total amount of money collected through the donation boxes will be announced. But not all donations are financial. Some people donate food instead of money. For example, one expedition company in Jakarta has donated between 300 and 500 boxes of food since the beginning of Ramadan.
Visitors to the Istiqlal mosque spend their time in different ways. This old man spends his day reading Qur’an, but others sleep. They will be woken up by the mosque security when it is time to pray.
These two old men who have travelled to Istiqlal from outside Jakarta, collect a box of food when it is time to break the fasting. They visit the mosque to participate in ‘i’tikaf’, staying in the mosque to performance religious activities for the final 10 days of the Ramadhan month.
Before breaking the fast, these women pray to God to thank him for their blessings.
During the iftar meal, many people sit together to have dinner in the basement of the mosque. The atmosphere is festive, like a big family having a party. Although many people don’t know each other, when they are breaking the fast together they are treated as equals.
A homeless girl who lives with her mother inside the Istiqlal mosque is sleeping on the basement floor. Together with her mother she sells coffee, cigarettes and plastic bags. During Ramadan they improve their earnings and also receive free food provided by the mosque. Despite government regulations attempting to clear the Istiqlal mosque from homeless people and traders, many traders and homeless people arrive at the mosque for a temporary stay of two or three days before the Idul Fitri celebrations start.
Aip Saifullah <firstname.lastname@example.org> studies political science at IISIP (Institute for Social and Political Science) in Jakarta. He is active in the campus organisation Formasi IISIP (Student Forum) and a member of PRP (Workers Party). Photos in this essay were taken at Istiqlal Mosque, Jakarta, 20-23 July 2014.