Jakarta Bound is a travelogue about life in one of the largest and most densely populated cities in South East Asia.
I am not a religious person. Although I know it is polite to follow a declaration of this kind with something like; ‘Oh, but I respect other people’s religious beliefs’ – I actually don’t anymore. I simply have no time for the arcane, irrational, rituals and ceremonies and sanctimonious doctrines that religious gangs obsess and argue over.
I am aware this is an antagonistic and divisive attitude, but quite frankly, I don’t really care. Unlike most people’s indoctrination of religious allegiance, I haven’t arrived at my attitude by virtue of the random nature of universal chance placing me in a particular cultural or geographical position at birth; that lottery branded me a catholic. I was raised a catholic and spent my early years practicing that faith. No, it is after many years of soul searching, personal exploration and theological enquiry done in my desire to try to understand the world and our place in it and how it connects with the vagaries of these various forms of social control that I have come to develop my attitude. Now, I simply don’t care for religious institutions. However, I am not an atheist. And I am certainly no believer in a selfish ‘dog eat dog’ society based on the cruel, neo-liberal capitalist ideals of Milton Friedman disciples. We really should have moved on from the ‘survival of the fittest’ ideology. That way leads to tyranny. No, I firmly believe in the concept of a God, I just don’t have the affront and arrogance to believe that I or anyone else have the monopoly on what that universal concept is.
I consider myself a spiritual believer, but I simply don’t believe that wearing a specific hat, collar or gown, or having a specific array of bodily hair and dietary preferences makes you a better person or closer to ‘God’. The Christians state, ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’; the Buddhists state, ‘Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would not find hurtful.’; Judaism – ‘What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow man’; Hinduism – ‘do naught to others if done to thee would cause thee pain.’; Islam – ‘No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself.’; Sikhism – ‘No one is an enemy and no one is a stranger. I get along with everyone.’ These are the simple tenets I take from religion, because they make sense and they engender a fair, peaceful, loving, free society where everyone is treated equally. So, it is with this lengthy preamble by way of explanation of my position on religion that I introduce my perspective on the call to prayer.
If you have been to an Islamic country, you will be aware that the call to prayer rings out from all the mosques five times a day. I have heard this call in Morocco, Egypt and England, and it has been a quite melodic and pleasant sound. This is not the case if you are living within close proximity to the mosques in the Tanjung Duren area of West Jakarta. Here the call is an obnoxiously imposing, caterwaul of misery. It lasts an eternity and is blasted at full strength from a network of minarets as far as the ears can hear.
I understand that the rhythmical sounds of song and melody resonate with the human spirit, and I understand that places of worship use this musical inspiration to invoke a deeper spiritual connection. But the agonising wailing that emits from the mosques around Tanjung Duren sounds like the end of the world is coming. It’s frightening and creepy in the same manner of Gregorian chanting. The multitude of wailing verses coming from the different mosques overlap and compete like a religious soundclash of horror and penetrate the atmosphere like a call of doom and despair. I respect the fact that I am living amongst the largest Muslim community in South East Asia, but do we ALL really need to have this noise thrust upon us five times a day? It’s the 21st century and Lord knows that everyone in Jakarta has a mobile phone – can’t they text or Whatsapp the damn thing? It’s a bit intrusive and inconsiderate to impose this hideous orchestra of agonised devotion upon people when they’re trying to sleep, work or otherwise enjoy life.
It was early September, which marks the Islamic holiday of Eid Al-Adha. Four days of celebration involving sacrifices of sheep and serious wailing. Living in Mallville, the contrast between this fervent adulation of ancient religious faith and the relentless commercial traffic of modern commerce taking place in and around the consumer temples of Mall Taman Angrek and Central Park was a bit bizarre. To be honest, my whole expat life, as short as it had been, was a bit bizarre.