In a Muslim World

by Sharon -- August 31, 2010

Fact: Indonesia is the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation.

Fact: Jason and I have spent the last 2 and a half weeks in Padang, Indonesia and a surrounding city called Bukittinggi which are both cities of the island of Sumatra.

A vague “fact”: The population of Muslims in Padang, Indonesia is somewhere in the vicinity of 95%.

In a nutshell, being in West Sumatra, Indonesia (Sumatra is the biggest island in Indonesia) is like stepping into a different world, especially when you were just in Korea for 5 months.  According to Wikipedia, Indonesia has a Muslim population of over 86%.  That’s a huge demographic considering the fact that Indonesia consists of over 200 million people and over 17,000 islands.

That crazy demographic is especially evident in Padang.  Although this may seem obvious, coming from California, I have never seen so much traditional Islamic clothing in one area.  It’s a pretty humbling experience when it is that visually apparent how far from home you really are.  We have traveled to underdeveloped places on this trip that have been completely unfamiliar, but being here has really put our foreignness into perspective.

Of course, it probably doesn’t help that we happened to travel to the most Muslim-populated country in the world during Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting from sunrise to sunset.  Whoops!  Try getting some lunch in Padang when 95% of the people here don’t eat lunch this month.  We have resorted to eating at a fast food restaurant called CFC for lunch twice (believe it or not it stands for California Fried Chicken, how ironic, right?).  Jason refuses to eat there again.

So this whole Ramadan thing in Indonesia has been a real experience.  The people here wake up at about 3am, 4am, 5am, etc. every morning to eat and pray before the sun comes up, then they go back to sleep (some of them do at least).  There are Muslim mosques everywhere you turn here, and can you guess what happens at these mosques every morning at 3am?  They scream at you.  Literally.  They actually have loudspeakers that not only play the same chant and music every morning, but they blast it up so loud that it wakes up everyone in the vicinity.  That’s its true purpose- to wake everyone up to eat and pray before sunrise.  I also notice that at one point, the recording sounds like someone screaming “WAAAAKE UPPPPPP!!!!!!  WAAAKKEE UPPPPP!!!!”  Can you imagine what this is like for us non-Muslim Americans?  Needless to say, we have gotten into an absolute habit of wearing earplugs to bed, even though the chanting is so loud that it still wakes us up every morning.

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7 Responses to “In a Muslim World”

  1. So how does the food taste at CFC? I can only imagine how you’re reacting to something trying to ruin your beauty sleep :) Is sumatra like the coffee or am I thinking of the wrong thing… oranges maybe? no, thats satsuma. Hrmmm.. I’ll have to google it. I actually go and google a lot of the places you guys travel so I can learn more about them too! :)

    5am, thats when I get up now! :)

  2. Makes me wonder what Ramadan is really about, because it surely cannot be about fasting, or maybe if it once was, that definitely seems to have gotten lost.

  3. Wow thats crazy but sounds so interesting! Im so curious to visit a Muslim country. I wanna learn more about it but in an authentic way!

  4. That “screaming” that you’re hearing is probably what Muslims called azan (the Islamic call to prayer). In countries/areas where Islam is the predominant religion, it’s used to indicate prayer times. If that’s what you’re hearing, then it’s not unique to Ramadan…it typically happens at every prayer time during the day (including the wee hours of the morning). You mentioned you think it’s saying “Wake up!”…funny thing is that one of the lines in the morning azan is actually “Prayer is better than sleep” (
    Btw, after awhile, your body might be able to tune out the sound (even without earplugs).

    Regarding the comment left by 1 reader about Ramadan not being about fasting…from reading Sharon’s post, I didn’t get any other indication so not sure what was meant…


  5. Did you guys try a cup of Kopi Luwak? :)

  6. I’m not sure what Kopi Luwak is, but I don’t think we’ve had it. What exactly is it?

    Meliha- Very interesting stuff. We know about the Call to Prayer but I would really love to know what they are specifically shouting, maybe I’ll ask one of our local friends.

    I believe the fasting part of Ramadan is to bring people back to their natural state, cleansing them of their sins, and teaching about self control. I think there are a lot of explanations, but those are some that I found.

  7. lol… Neither did I until I watched “Bucket list” last weekend…

    It is the coffee that is from Sumatra, but you definitely want to read the wiki about it. um… the steps it takes to make it is quite interesting :)

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