Sat, 09 Dec 2000

Istiqlal offers more than 'buka puasa' meals

By A'an Suryana

JAKARTA (JP): Would you like a different atmosphere for breaking your fast? It is free, and so is the meal.

If so, then spend a day during Ramadhan at the Istiqlal Grand Mosque, one of the city's landmarks that is a few meters away from the presidential palace.

The 39-year-old mosque not only has a scenic view of the National Monument (Monas) with a sunset in the background. With the help of generous donations and kindhearted volunteers, the mosque delights everyone who breaks their fast there with a variety of light snacks and meals.

The food varies from a package of rice and fried chicken to popular traditional cakes, like lemper, nagasari, jongkong and bolu.

According to management, regular donors of meals to break the fast during Ramadhan at the mosque include the family of former president Soeharto, the government and military institutions as well as other wealthy individuals.

Two civilians driving in a minivan belonging to the Army Strategic Reserves Command (Kostrad) dropped off on Wednesday two large plastic bags containing some 30 packages of chicken and rice in the yard of the mosque.

They were received by security officials, who then handed over the food packages to the mosque management.

The free meals for that day also came from the relatives of the late Brig. Gen. Harsono, who was a military adjutant to former president Sukarno.

Dani, the driver for the family, handed over some 100 packages of food he said was for anyone who wanted to break their fast at the mosque, courtesy of the sons and daughters of the late general.

In terms of quantity, however, the most regular and generous donor is the Cendana family, as the former first family is known as, who -- according to mosque volunteers -- deliver some 500 packages of chicken and rice to the mosque every day.

To handle the many food donations and serve the some 1,000 Muslims breaking their fast at the mosque, volunteers start from 1 p.m., shortly after performing their dzuhur (midday prayer).

With several kerosene stoves, about 10 people boil water in at least five 20-liter aluminum buckets.

"By 4:30 p.m. (about one and a half hours before fasting ends), the water served for tea, coffee and milk should be ready," said Tirta, one of the mosque's volunteers.

Purwantoro, a member of the management, said those who come to the mosque consume 25 kilograms of sugar, 20 small cans of milk, 2 kilograms of coffee and one kilogram of tea for buka puasa (breaking of the fast) every day.

"We spend some Rp 250,000 to Rp 350,000 every day on beverages alone.

"We also provide some 1,500 packages of food to people," he said.

At 4.30 p.m, some 20 volunteers at the mosque start to lay mats in the corridors on the ground floor of the mosque. Later, they put hundreds of cups containing hot coffee and milk on the floor near the mats.

The packages of chicken and rice and other snacks are served a few minutes before 6 p.m.

"It is also meant to control the food since some may take more than one package if we don't distribute the packages after everyone has gathered in the corridor," said Ade, another volunteer.

The mosque sees people coming to break their fast at 5 p.m.. Professionals, elderly people, street vendors and beggars all look to find a suitable place to sit.

Children sit in the corner of the mosque corridor.

Everyone sits together, no matter what their social status. Human equality prevails in the corridor, manifested by the Islamic tenet, which says that Islam does not separate people according to their social status, but their devotion to God.

Prior to undergoing the breaking of the fast, some people recite the Koran and listen to a 10-minute religious speech.

Many people believe that Allah approves of those who break their fast together with others, particularly at mosques.

"We'll be blessed by Almighty God," said Muhadjir, a jobless man who regularly breaks his fast at Istiqlal.

Some followers go to the mosque with their own meals.

"We are afraid that there won't be enough food, so we bring our own meals to break the fast," said Mukhaenah, an elderly women who arrived at Istiqlal in a car with two other women the same age as her.

They all carried large plastic bags in their hands.

Mukhaenah is justified in her worry, since the amount of donations is slightly lower this Ramadhan than last year.

During the previous Ramadhan, the Soehartos, for example, distributed some 1,500 to 2,500 meals to the mosque every day, which was over three times as much as they do now.

Coordinated by the former first family's household staff member, Darmadi, the family have donated free meals for Ramadhan at the mosque since the completion of the mosque in 1978.

Darmadi told The Jakarta Post from his home at Jl. Kenanga 8, in the Bermis housing Complex, Kelapa Gading Timur, North Jakarta, that the drop in donations to Istiqlal was due to the fact that most meals were being distributed to the At Tiin Mosque, which the family built last year at Taman Mini Indonesia Indah in East Jakarta.

"We are allocating most of the meals to the At Tiin mosque," Darmadi, who has served the former president since 1966, said.

Darmadi is trusted by the former first family as a caterer for events and charity programs held by the family.

People might have different aims for donating meals to people breaking their fast at Istiqlal, but most are simply seeking Allah's blessings.

"By giving donations, the children of Pak Harsono (the late military general) hope that God will grant peace to their father's soul in heaven," said Dani, the driver for the family.