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Being a Muslim in Macau: Indonesian community holds triple celebration

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The local Indonesian community had a triple reason to celebrate yesterday: For Indonesian Muslims, Eid-ul-Fitr, the Muslim holiday that marks the end of the annual fasting month of Ramadan, was one of them. At the same time, Indonesian migrants celebrated the 67th Indonesian Independence Day that falls on August 17, and the third anniversary of the Peduli Indonesian Migrant Workers Concern Group. “I want every body to be happy”, said Peduli president Cindry Purnasari, during the festivities that lasted all day.
On the occasion of the special celebration the mostly Muslim Peduli members explained to MDT how it feels to be a Muslim in Macau. According to the Islamic Union of Hong Kong, there are around 5,000 Muslims living in Macau, many of them from Indonesia, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh.
Yuli, aged 34 is one of them. The Indonesian woman says: “Of course there are problems (about being Muslim), we are a minority.” Especially when it comes to praying during working hours, the woman who works as a shop assistant notices the difference between her country and her adopted home. She thinks, “Maybe the government should consider this, because if I work eight hours, I should pray two times. But the company lets us have half an hour break, so how can I pray?” She then I prays after finishing work. Yuli goes to the mosque in Macau together with other Indonesians. This experience is also “very different to the one in Indonesia.” The mosque is smaller and “the facilities are not so good”, says the woman. She explains “we have to clean ourselves before praying. Especially on days like today, when every Muslim goes, the facilities are not enough.”
Apart from these disadvantages however, Yuli was never confronted with negative attitudes towards her religion in Macau. The reactions from others mostly consist in saying: “So, you don’t eat pork, right?” She laughs. Some coworkers may say: “Oh, you will die”, when she is fasting. But Yuli appeases them, explaining “we’ve been doing this since our childhood, no problem.”
Jami is 36, and like most of the women that gathered at the event yesterday, a veil covers her hair. Jami helps in leading the prayers at Peduli, every Friday night. The woman who works as domestic helper says she is working for a very nice family now. “I can pray, my employers are Christian, but they understand me. They take me everywhere, and I can wear the scarf.” This was not the case for her first employers who were “always angry when I prayed.” Jami thinks it’s “not so difficult to be a Muslim in Macau. It’s better than in Hong Kong.” Here “some domestic helpers don’t need to live with their employers and can pray at home.” For her the only disadvantage of being a Muslim and living in Macau is: “I cannot celebrate with my family.”
Contrary to Jami and Yuli, Cindry Purnasari sees more problems for Muslims in Macau: “Some may think we are terrorists, especially when we wear the veil.” And “they don’t really understand, that we can’t eat pork.” But the Peduli president knows: “We also must also understand that in Macau people like to eat pork.” For her the time of Ramadan is very difficult: “We have to wake up early before the sun rises and eat. We have less power to work. In the evening we need to eat before the employer, around 7:15 pm, they eat around 8 pm.”

 Yuli was never confronted with negative attitudes towards her religion in Macau

In the beginning it was very difficult with her own employers. “They sometimes thought, I could die”, remembers Ms Purnasari. “But after a while, they understood.” There is another matter, where Chinese and Indonesian Muslim culture gets in each other’s way: “We like to wear a white veil, because for us it’s clean color, but for the Chinese white is the symbol of death.” Thus, her employer told her: “I cannot go out with you, when you wear a veil. You can wear it whenever you like, but if you go out with me please don’t.” The problem was easily solved: “I just take it off and use the normal long clothes.”
Peduli means “concern group” in Indonesian. And that’s what the group stands for: “Concern about migrant workers”, explains Ms Purnasari. “To help them understand the immigration laws.” Some of the services that Peduli provides regularly are to “explain the migration laws to other migrants”, and to “help them in translating their papers.” One of the concerns that the organization continues to deal with is the six-month ban for non-resident workers introduced in 2010 as part of the new law on imported labor. “It is much better than when we didn’t have the law, but many things only work in theory”, says Ms Purnasari.
According to the legislation, if a worker quits their job to accept a better job offer without the employer’s agreement, he or she is required to leave Macau for six months, and only after that will they be granted a new work permit.
In contrast, if the worker is dismissed by the employer without just cause, he or she will be free to find a new job without any legal constraints. By the end of 2011, the government was planning changes to the six-month ban, but the regulation still includes that if the employer terminates the contract with just cause, the non-resident must leave Macau for six months before being granted a new work permit. The same happens if the worker terminates the contract without just cause.
“In the beginning, we were scared about the six-month ban”, explains Ms Purnasari. “But then we understood, that if both sides are ok with the ending of the contract, no ban will be applied.” She adds: “Still most employers use the regulation to scare us. So, we will not change job, even if the situation is not good. That’s especially bad for the people who don’t know the law.” The migrant workers’ concern group therefore had its latest meeting with the Labor Affairs Bureau (DSAL) in June. “They say they respect our opinion, and they are also thankful when we help them to translate into documents to Bahasa and they say they will help us when we hold any forum concerning the migration law.”
The organization meanwhile totals more than 350 members, including a few men, “maybe four or five”. The president explains there are basically more Indonesian women in Macau, (around 4,000) as “for women it’s easy to get a job as domestic helper, but not for men.”
The group offers English classes, computer courses and undertakes many activities such as visits to elderly homes, AIDS campaigns, hip-hop competitions and gatherings with Caritas. On the occasion of yesterday’s three celebrations in one, the colorfully dressed community prayed together, sang the national anthem and performed the traditional Indonesian horse dance.

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