Towards the middle of October 2017, I was invited in Singapore to speak at an international conference. I used this opportunity to incorporate a side trip to explore Indonesia together with my wife Mehar.
Although we had passed through Jakarta a couple of times in the past and visited Bali while on a cruise to South East Asia, I did not get an opportunity in the past to really explore Indonesia.
Since both of us have been on a weight loss program during the last few months with strict diet and daily exercise, we decided to use our two-week trip with 10 days in Indonesia and four days in Singapore as a sharia-compliant boot camp with daily early morning visit to the gym followed by swimming in the hotel pool and long walks in the day.
Hotel accommodation in Indonesia is extremely economical almost a quarter of the price you pay in Singapore. We got a special package in the five-star Hotel Chain Aryaduta in three cities namely Jakarta, Bandung, and Medan with well-equipped gyms and 25-30 meter long swimming pools that we utilised very well. While in Acheh, we stayed at a resort in Sabang with its own pool and other facilities.
Flights from Sydney directly to Jakarta are very infrequent and therefore expensive. Hence we had to book our flight to Singapore using Singapore airlines and then flew via Scoot to Jakarta. We used Garuda and Lion airlines for internal travel in Indonesia that were reasonably priced.
We arrived in Jakarta on Tuesday 3 October. Although Jakarta is notoriously infamous for traffic jams, our experience was not too bad and for our movement around the city, we combined walking, used tooktook and taxis that are extremely economical. Another mode of conveyance like Uber is Grab that is half the price of taxi travel and extremely reliable, efficient and free of overcharging.
During my visit to any city, in addition to sightseeing and shopping, We always ensured to offer our salat as much as possible in a mosque, mingle with local people and visit our contacts and make new ones.
In Jakarta, we offered our Juma prayer at the largest mosque in South East Asia, Istiqlal mosque. It was indeed a huge structure with a reputed capacity of 120,000 with six floors on sides and back of the main hall. Its directly opposite to the Jakarta Cathedral and its parking is offered to Christians during Christmas.
We also had the opportunity to meet the staff at the Australian Embassy in Jakarta who have continued to subscribe AMUST for the last three years. We were hosted by Angky Septiana OAM, Media Manager and First Secretary Lydia Trotter and Second Secretary Jenna Hand in an hour-long meeting.
We visited Bandung on Wednesday 4 October travelling by train in comfort in executive class, a journey of almost three hours enjoying the mountainous scenery. We offered our Maghreb prayer at Masjid Raya Bandung that has a huge park with artificial turf for children to play and teenagers to roam around.
On Thursday morning, we visited a unique modern mosque Al Irsyad Mosque with natural climate control and opening towards the Qiblah where the Imam and the congregation are insight of natural greenery surrounded by a pond with goldfish.
On Saturday 7 October, we flew to Banda Acheh and the same evening offered our Maghreb and Isha prayer at the miraculous Masjid Raya BaiturRahman reminding us of Prophet’s (s) mosque at Madinah with its huge umbrellas for protection from sun. This is the mosque in addition to another one in this city, the two structures that remained standing after the tsunami where all other buildings were completely destroyed.
On Sunday, we took the luxurious fast ferry to Sabang, the western most part of Indonesia staying in a peaceful resort, luckily we being the only guests at the time. We performed our Maghreb prayer at the local waterfront mosques mixing with friendly congregation and teachers and students at the evening madrassa operating at the time.
We went for daily swimming and walking as well as snorkeling and fishing where I was lucky to catch two fish that were consumed happily by Mehar at dinner.
On Tuesday 10 October, early morning we sailed back to Banda Aceh and visited the Aceh Tsunami Museum designed by an Indonesian Ridwan Kamil that houses an electronic simulation of the tsunami, photographs of victims and damage done as well as names and flags of countries who came forward to help soon after the disaster.
The same day we flew to Medan, the third largest city in Indonesia on the Island of Sumatra. We performed our Maghreb prayer at Masjid Raya Al Mashun that used to be part of Maimun Palace complex with combined elements of Middle Eastern, Indian and Spanish architecture in an octagonal shape.
On Thursday 12 October, we flew back to Singapore for our conference.
I found Indonesia to be a peaceful relatively clean country with very friendly people. It was great to see that women were represented very well in public life, mosques as well as in business with a healthy relationship between genders.
I found the people in Aceh at peace despite of losing more than 200,000 people during the tsunami disaster, practicing Muslims with women very much visible as part and parcel of the society.
Photos by Zia and Mehar Ahmad.