Have you heard the one about the Muslim who walks into a bar? Ok, just kidding.
A cab driver in Yogya told us a joke. There was a very respected Muslim man walking into a hotel one day when a reporter stopped him and said, “Sir, which religion is the closest to God?”
“Christians,” the Muslim answered.
“What?!” said the reporter. “How can that be?”
“Well, to Christians, God is their Father or their Son,” said the man.
“All right, then which religion is the second closest to God?”
The man answered, “Judaism, because God is their Uncle.”
The reporter was very confused, and he said, “But sir, where do Muslims stand?”
The man laughed. “Muslims are the furthest from God because we need a loudspeaker to reach him.”
I think a few months ago I wouldn’t even have understood the joke, but it’s a reference to the “azan,” or call to prayer, which plays loudly (I mean LOUDLY) to remind Muslims it’s time to pray. It starts at around 4am.
So in the effort of understanding, and therefore caring, here’s a very brief Islam 101 with Professor Katie:
The legend is that in the biblical story of Sarah and Abraham, Sarah was worried she wouldn’t be able to conceive. She told her husband to sleep with their servant Hagar. She got pregnant and gave birth to Ishmael. Later, Sarah got pregnant like God had promised her, and she had Isaac. Sarah then ordered Hagar and Ishmael to leave, because she wanted her son to be the heir. Jews, and then Christians, descended from Isaac, and Arabs descended from Ishmael.
Islam is based on the Five Pillars: a profession of faith, praying five times a day (as reminded to by that delightful loudspeaker), giving money and food to the poor, fasting during Ramadhan, and making a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in their lifetime.
(When I go to the travel agency to book my tickets, it always surprises me to see special “Hajj” fares. For some reason I feel like the pilgrimage should be some sort of spiritual hike or exhausting journey, but most of them buy plane tickets and take taxis like any of us would. And apparently, there are some good deals.)
The area of Aceh in North Sumatra adopted Islam centuries before the rest of the island, and it’s the strictest today; that’s where they were trying to pass the adultery stoning law and where two American English teachers were targeting in a shooting last week.
You know that much of the conflict in Iraq surrounds the Sunni and Shiite branches of Islam. Sunnis are in the majority around the world, and Sunnis are the heavy majority in Indonesia.
Muslim women wear a head covering in daily life because they choose to; the scripture only says they have to cover their heads during prayer. Indonesians Muslim boys must be circumcised, and it’s usually done between the ages of 6 and 11. I won’t be too disappointed if I miss one of those ceremonies. Muslim men are allowed to have two wives, with permission from the first, but polygamy here is very rare, and I haven’t met anyone who practices it.
This Muslim holiday takes place 70 days after the end of Ramadhan. It commemorates the story where God ordered Abraham to sacrifice his son.
I have never liked this story. Mostly, I blame my Sunday School teacher who asked, probably with innocent intentions, “Do you think your parents love God enough to kill you?” I remember saying, at maybe seven years old, “My mom would never kill me. She wouldn’t do that.” And the teacher said, “She would if she loved God and he asked her to.” Shudder.
Anyway, in the story, God can see Abraham’s devotion, so he spares his son and Abraham sacrifices a ram instead. Can you see where this is going? All over Indonesia, people sacrifice rams, goats, and cows. There's some discrepancy about who God ordered Abraham to sacrifice, though. Genesis says it was Isaac, but the Koran says it was Ishmael.
It’s difficult to get a straight answer out of most people here, but here’s what I’ve been able to learn about Idul Adha:
The animals are expensive. An average teacher at my school makes $150 a month, and a goat is about $120 in Palembang. They sell them on the side of the road for about a week before Idul Adha. Each goat “counts” for one person; same with a ram. A cow “counts” for seven people, but cows are very expensive.
You don’t have to have any religious position or title to do the sacrificing, but you have to read some passages aloud from the Koran first. There’s also some correct way to slaughter the animal, but you’re getting outside my realm of expertise now.
Some families, like Yana’s, sacrifice one goat a year and dedicate to a different family member. This year was Yana’s year. They don’t eat the meat themselves; they give it to their mosque, which distributes it among the poor.
Since I was in Yogyakarta, I wasn’t able to participate in the festivities here. Oftentimes schools will sacrifice animals, too. Christine’s school killed a whole slew of animals on the basketball courts.
As with everythingggggg in Indonesia, no one really had a concrete time that the sultan’s sacrifice would be taking place. First they said Thursday at 9am, but when we got there they said it was the next day. That night, people told us we’d missed it and it was actually that morning at 10 right after we’d left. Then they said it was at 5am on Friday (the actual holiday). It turns out, the sultan’s two cows were sacrificed at 9am on Friday, and we got there at about 9:15am.
At first I was disappointed we’d missed the climax of the ceremony, but I got over that pretty quickly. The cows were still twitching and trying to get up, and their heads were just barely held on. I expected the whole ceremony to be a lot more… holy somehow, and less like someone had just cut off a cow’s head in a parking lot.
Later that night, at the beauty shop getting our manicures, one of the beautician’s husbands came in and sat down. He knew a little English, so he was excited to talk to us. We told him about the sacrifice. He said he’s Muslim, but he thinks “sacrifice is bullshit.”
Well, yeah, I can understand feeling that way.
“It’s just killing an animal.”
Then he started asking us about religion and it’s very important for everyone to believe in God “in case Titanic happens again.” I think I understand what he was saying.
Then he said that George Bush was a Christian, and he didn’t like George Bush, and that made it hard for him to like Christians. I don’t like George Bush either, but for some reason, that really upset me. Here I am, spending nine months in the largest Muslim country in the world, and he doesn’t like Christians because of what George Bush did? What if I said I didn’t like Muslims because of September 11? That would be ignorant. No, maybe stupid. I think that would be stupid of me.
Then he said he liked Obama but was waiting for him to actually start making some changes.
“President Obama is a Christian, too,” I said.
“Yeah, but he’s from Indonesia.”
No, he’s not from Indonesia. Sigh.
My class really liked my Thanksgiving lesson! It was an especially fun week to teach. We played “Thanksgiving BINGO,” watched clips of the Macy’s parade, listened to “Over the River and Through the Woods,” and looked at pictures of my family’s Thanksgiving feast from last year. I think the message was important, too. They really see Americans as fast-paced, greedy people (not that they think that’s bad necessarily), and I liked saying “See? Sometimes we slow down and say ‘thank you.’” And the older classes thought it was hilarious that the President pardons a turkey every year.
I had them list some verbs and adjectives to describe the nouns food, family, and football. I let them use their dictionaries, and most of the higher-level classes did a really good job learning new words. When I got to adjectives for families, though, one boy kept shouting out from the back, “Broken! Broken! Brooooo-kennnn.”
I tried to ignore him, because he knows that’s impolite, but I finally looked at him. “Your family is broken,” he said.
“Your face is going to be broken,” I said. I thought maybe that was going a little far, but the whole class erupted into laughs. Even the boy clapped with delight. Who knew?
At the end of the lesson, I handed out big pictures of turkeys, and the students had to write a reason they were thankful of each of the six feather.
The results ranged from “I am thankful for my father because he pays my tuition” to “I am thankful for my mother because she taught me devotion and love.” Every single student wrote that he or she was thankful for God.
I taught them the phrase “keeps me company” when I said I was thankful for my princess cat Callie, and that appeared pretty often. It’s funny which phrases they really like and which they don’t care about.
One boy who messes up his pronouns wrote, “I am thankful for my god because she give to me everything and I accept her, whatever she is.” That’s not what he meant exactly, and we took some time rewording it, but I liked his original better.
One girl wrote, “I am thankful for my second boyfriend [she meant ex-boyfriend], because he was my whole world and my every happiness until he broke my heart into pieces.”
I said, “Maybe you could be thankful that you can now meet a cuter, nicer boy who won’t break your heart into pieces?”
“No, thank you,” she said.
My favorites, of course, were the ones that said, “I am thankful for Miss Catty [that’s me!] because she gives us fun games to learn English and always tries to make us laugh.”
I’m thankful I’m having an adventure, however exasperating it can be.