Interview with Febri Ramdani: Author of “300 Days in the Land of Syam” – Part 1

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Hello everyone, my name is Febri and I am of mixed heritage, Madura and Minangkabau. My father was formerly employed in a State-owned Enterprise (SOE, BUMN), more specifically a government-owned bank in Jakarta prior to his retirement in 2016/2017. My mother had worked for almost 20 years in a government ministry before her resignation / early retirement due to several reasons. One of which is the rampant occurrences of corruption, collusion, and nepotism (KKN) in her office.

Through the years, my parent’s marriage became rocky, eventually culminating in their separation in 2005. Upon their separation, my elder sister and I not only chose to live with our mother but also decided to cut ties with our father.

Mental Pressure from Home-schooling

Amidst this personal turmoil begins my journey to the Middle East. Upon graduating from high school (SMP), my mother advised me to an alternative, less popular route for pre-tertiary education (SMA), namely home-schooling. This was because my parents were concerned that I would get involved in delinquencies by associating with peers particularly in Jakarta. Though initially hesitant, I reluctantly agreed to my parent’s appeal.

One of the “privileges” of home-schooling is that I completed my studies in just one year. The focus of each subject was only on what was deemed essential and geared towards preparation for the final examinations. This privilege, however, did not make me happy. Instead, I was depressed. Apart from not being able to appreciate the knowledge obtained in that one year, I was robbed of the three years of socializing with peers if I had enrolled in a school.

Towards the end of our home-schooling was when my sister and I begin studying the holy Qur’an at home. Unfortunately, we were unequipped to adequately understand the Qur’an, making us susceptible to be misguided. Prior to studying the Qur’an, my heart was not at ease. I felt constrained as I was unable to socialize freely, spending most of the day cooped up at home. I began feeling inadequate as a person as I cannot study “normally” like peers of my age. I was also not very religious at that time which adds to my lack of enthusiasm to studying about Islam. This mental pressure lasted for about four years which strained my relationship with my sister.

Loneliness from Family’s Sudden Departure to Syria

2014 was a particularly eventful year for me. First, throughout 2014, my sister and I avoided all communications with each other even though we lived in the same house due to our strained relationship. In that year, my family’s financial standing declined drastically as one of our family businesses collapsed. This collapse was due to a failed project as a business partner was arrested for being involved in corruption. Our family’s situation became more complicated when we learnt that several of our family members were unwell. One of whom was my sister who suffered from a rare disease, namely bone tuberculosis. At that time, the national insurance and social security schemes (BPJS) which would have helped with treatment was still relatively unknown by many including my family.

Coincidentally in 2014, a terrorist organization called the Islamic State (IS) declared that it had established a caliphate in parts of Syria and Iraq. The extensive coverage on this group by international media included the truth, hoaxes and those in-between. My family began taking into IS’ propaganda that divulge the “beautiful” life they could live if they resided in a country that “properly” enforces Islamic law. They bought into IS’ administration of health facilities, work, education, and the peace of life that was like the time of Prophet Muhammad. My family was too taken in by the propaganda that their grave mistake was not looking for other sources of information.

It was akin to those blinded by love; not caring about other’s views. Unfortunately, such blindness is usually temporary, and things fall apart upon their marriage where all the advises others have warned about get exposed. That is also when regret sets in.

In their “love blindness”, my family gathered all their resources and departed for Syria without inviting me, let alone informing me. They were so smitten with IS that they stopped listening to secular media as they deemed them to only spread lies about the group. At that time, my conflict with my family made me to strongly reject their perspective of IS. Despite this, their departure, especially in such a large group, shocked me as I did not think they would actually leave Indonesia.

Their departure led me to leave home and lived alone in a room in a cheap boarding house near Universitas Indonesia. I sold whatever I could find at home to survive for about a year. Surviving that one year took a toll on my health. I lost a lot of weight and became more depressed as I was succumbed by my inner thoughts. As a result, I was often sick.

Yearning to Reunite with Family in Raqqah

Despite the many days of complete emptiness, I did not have any intention to visit my father or his extended family who were still in Indonesia. Instead, I began developing ill feelings towards those who worked or supported the government. It was very clear to me that those caught in the rampant acts of corruption do not get fair and proper punishments. As my father and his family generally worked in government or government-owned organizations, I perceived that their incomes were from ill-gotten gains. I feel that this was the turning point for my indoctrination.

I started referring to IS propaganda online which I believe was an attempt to find solace. I convinced myself that the propaganda was true through advises from my family prior to their departure. These advises that were deeply ingrained in me included the secular media were simply vilifying IS for their own self-interests. In addition to being convinced that I was being “blinded” by secular media, I was also drawn by the many promises by IS, namely: 1) opportunity to continue my education, 2) job prospects, 3) no obligation to participate in armed conflict, and 4) being able to live akin to the times of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).

As personally experienced, I believe that ideological factors are not the sole determinant that makes an individual want to join a terrorist organization. For myself, I felt that IS propaganda played a small part in my decision to head to Syria.

Eventually in September 2016, I departed for Syria to be with my family. The biggest push for me was that I missed my mother. And before my last meeting with her in Indonesia, I felt that I had not done a lot of things that was asked of me by my mother.

With the help of a relative, my preparations to Syria went smoothly including passport and document applications. So was the direct flight from Jakarta to Istanbul, Turkey.

At Istanbul began my long journey to Syria. I was first detained for a month by another extremist group, Jabhat al-Nusra. I next had to wait for a further five months to receive information about Idlib and Hama. Eventually, I was reconnected with my mother and several of my family members and relatives in Raqqah.

I spent the five months in Idlib and Hama under increasingly chaotic circumstances. Bombings and missile strikes grew increasingly frequent. I remained relatively safe until one day in December 2016 when a missile came within a kilometre of my residence in Idlib. I remembered the strong vibrations that I felt from the impact. The smoke, fire and destruction accompanied the ensuing panic. We were eventually helped by personnel of the White Helmets (Syria Civil Defence).

Part 2: Interview with Febri Ramdani

The views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of STRAT.O.SPHERE CONSULTING PTE LTD.

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  • Febri Ramdani is an active advocate for peace and tolerance in Indonesia. In addition to authoring “300 Days in the Land of Syam”, he is also an avid writer at

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