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Borneo Day 5: Tuesday, July 25, 2017

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The pool at the Swiss Belhotel Banjarmasin

We were back at the hotel early enough that I got a chance to rest and relax at the pool. The Swiss Belhotel Banjarmasin has a very nice pool with a patterned blue tile bottom that is quite inviting. Craig was already enjoying the pool when I arrived, and we were the only two in the pool until about 5:30 when others started coming out of their hotel rooms. I swam a few laps and exercised my legs, which needed stretching.

Right at sunset the call to prayers began, and the buildings reflected the sound of the muezzins of several mosques as they recited the adhan and read sections from the Quran. One mosque in particular seemed loudest or most nearby, but it was hard to tell which based on the reflection of the sound. As the sunset progressed, the clouds shaded from white to yellow to orange to pink. They were morphing and transforming as they moved slowly across the sky, and swallows wheeled about searching for mosquitoes to eat.

There were small kites flying high in the air, and occasionally we would see one flying and tumbling through the sky without a string. This happened several times, and I asked Nazar about it later. He said the kites are flown for fun, but that the kids who fly them like to have kite wars. They fly near others and try to break their strings. That explains why several kites seemed to be zooming around each other.

Sunset

Sunset over Banjarmasin. Small kites are flown near the river, and the children who fly them often have kite wars. We saw several kites with their strings broken tumbling through the air.

As sunset faded into twilight the prayer call from the nearby mosque continued quite a bit longer than any others. Craig went inside but I stayed and listened and watched. The swallows headed home to their nests and were replaced by bats fluttering in the air, also looking for mosquitoes. Darkness came and the stars shone out. I walked to the parking lot again and looked at the Southern Cross and Alpha Centauri as the prayer continued. It was an interesting experience, looking at unfamiliar stars with the unfamiliar sound of the muezzin rising and falling in the sky.

I also asked Nazar questions about the call to prayers and how it is done in Indonesia the next morning. I know some things based on my World Religions class many years ago at Brigham Young University, but Nazar explained more and how it is practiced in Indonesia. Islam requires five acts of faith, called the Five Pillars. One is a submission of will to Allah as the One God and Muhammad as His prophet (the Kalimah). This is done through the salat, or call to prayers, that all believers need to do, bowing to Mecca five times per day. The phraseology depends on which sect of Islam one practices (Sunni, Shi’a, or Zaidiyyah) and is called the adhan, so a muezzin is also called a Mu’adhan, or One Who Recites the Adhan.

Silver tower mosque

A mosque near our hotel that has an especially powerful loudspeaker system.

The exact timing of the calls depend on the phases of the moon and the lunar calendar, but generally the first prayer is early in the morning between 4:30 and 5:30 (we heard this call as we floated up the river on Sunday). There is a late morning prayer, noon time prayer, afternoon prayer, and evening prayer at sunset. Friday afternoons are a special prayer, with longer length, where all believers are expected to attend a mosque.

If people cannot go to a mosque to pray, the muezzin’s call acts as a reminder to pray wherever you are. All that is required is purity before God, symbolized by washing of the feet, hands, head, and other parts of the body. This is why there is a small pool near the school’s mosque (or taps for water near the junior high mosque). Friday evening prayers are especially important; all people are expected to attend a mosque for this, as it starts the Saturday Sabbath observance. The prayer call can be of various lengths depending on what section of the Quran the Imam chooses to have read.

The position of muezzin is important at each mosque (or masjid) as the people around rely on him to know the specified times for prayer, which can change depending on the time of year and phase of the moon. Evening prayer begins at sunset, so the muezzin must know when it sets even on a cloudy day. They are chosen for their character and the quality and loudness of their voices. Before the age of microphones, the calls were done from the top of the mosque’s minaret so everyone could hear. Now they are broadcast via microphone and loudspeaker. In some cities, it is possible to hear several muezzins calling at the same time, in different melodies, from different mosques, in stereophonic sound.

Central mosque 4

The modern styling of the Sabilal Muhtadin mosque in Banjarmasin. The towers near mosques are minarets, from which the muezzins would traditionally call people to prayers.

Another of the Five Pillars is the Haji, or pilgrimage to Mecca expected of all Muslims at least once during their lifetimes. Nazar said that it is difficult either for money or for time for all people to go, but when the desire comes you must obey that wish and go. Those who do go are given a higher status in their community and are considered to be especially devout. The final pillar is the month long daytime fast during Ramadan.

I expressed how many similarities Islam has to my own religion. I am impressed by Islam’s focus on purity of thought and modesty of dress, and on the type of devotion and dedication it takes to follow all of the daily and lifetime expectations and observances. My own religious requirements as a Latter Day Saint (Mormon) seem pretty simple by comparison.

We talked about how religion is practiced in the United States as we drove to school, before the topic turned to other matters. I was glad to understand more of how religion affects the daily lives of the teachers and students and people of Kalimantan. I wish all Americans could get the chance to meet these people; perhaps they would learn not to fear, as knowledge and faith will always replace fear.

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