25 07 2014

‘Mudik’ trigger for a better life

There is a long-held, unique tradition among Indonesian Muslims who have left their hometowns for work or other 

They always return home to celebrate Idul Fitri, an annual ritual popularly known as mudik, or return to one’s roots. 

Observing the post-Ramadhan festival is incomplete without struggling along the congested roads between their places of residence and hometowns, or jostling with each other for train, bus or ship tickets. 

Those who can afford to fly home care little about airfares that skyrocket as the festival approaches.

For those opting to reach their hometowns by car or bus, this year’s mudik is expected to be beset by many constraints due to infrastructure problems. (Suara Merdeka, July 30).

German sociologist Andre Moller, in his book Ramadan in Java (2002), says that the tradition of mudik is a distinctive and unique phenomenon that occurs in all parts of Indonesia ahead of the Idul Fitri celebration. 

Mudik can also be regarded as a form of local wisdom. It is not limited to certain groups. Rich and poor, young and old, and Muslims and non-Muslims practice this tradition.Keep in mind that mudik is not a new social trend in Indonesia.

Historically, the habit dates back in the prehistoric age. Indonesian people trace their roots to ethnic Melanesians who came from Yunnan in today’s China. This tribe was famous as nomadic people.

This orientation toward odyssey is the search for a better livelihood. After finding a suitable area to develop agriculture and livestock, they settled but like all human beings, they also had a sense of longing toward their family. 

So at a certain moment, they returned to their homeland. Often sacred activities, such as the worship of ancestral spirits, were used as an excuse to return home. 

When Islam arrived in the archipelago, mudik underwent a modification. The adjustment included changes in the motives and momentum. Now, mudik is considered an excellent way to retain ties with family and friends and share the happiness together. 

Once the reason for mudik was to make ritual offerings to the ancestors, but now its purpose is to observe the sacred festival of Idul Fitri. Many feel the tradition is in line with the human nature. 

Muslim scholar Komaruddin Hidayat, the rector of Jakarta State Islamic University, refers to humans as homo festivus or festival man. 

Festivals have a three-pronged mission. First, remembering the old culture and traditions. 

Second, introducing these traditions to the younger generations. Third, strengthening the culture for tomorrow.

Therefore, mudik can be regarded as an effort to commemorate the traditions of the past, introduce the traditions to children and preserve the value of the traditions for the future. Further, the phenomenon has become an integral part of Indonesian culture on two counts. 

First, returning home has emerged as an annual primary need of urban society. Second, it has developed into a universal tradition. Although it has a strong affiliation with Islam, in its development it also involves the whole society, including non-Muslims.

Mudik also contains nuances of social romanticism. Holiday revelers raised in a village will seek nostalgia in their native place. They return home to rediscover the warmth of togetherness and simplicity that is difficult to find in their place of residence. 

Such romanticism is increasingly felt when they gather with relatives whom they have not seen for a long time.

Most importantly, the tradition cannot be separated from Idul Fitri, which means a return to the purity of nature. Hence, both mudik and Idul Fitri have a basic meaning of “return”. The difference is, mudik is a physical return, while Idul Fitri is a spiritual return.

Holiday revelers should not reduce mudik to its simple physicality as this will only lead to financial costs and exhaustion. The tradition needs a spiritual emphasis so as to trigger a better life for those who practice it.

If mudik truly results in our spiritual recovery, we may expect to no longer find corruption, intolerance, acts of violence and other vices.

Hopefully, this year’s mudik will bring wisdom to the Muslim community in particular and the nation in general. Have a nice homeward journey and take care.




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