COVID-19 in Indonesia: How It Turns into a Religious Matter Pandemic

Aisyah Putri Rahvy (Research Assistant, ACeHAP RG)

Credit: The Jakarta Post, 2020

For the last four months, many countries have been struggling to tackle COVID-19 pandemic. Most of countries are applying lockdown to assure physical distancing and minimize contact between people. Policies and regulations made to end the pandemic indeed are not easy for the citizens, including Indonesian. Although Indonesian government does not apply full lockdown which includes no activity in and out in every sector, Indonesia’s version of lockdown also requires people to limit their activities outside their houses unless for some essential sectors ruled in Minister of Health’s regulation about PSBB (Pembatasan Sosial Berskala Besar, Large-scale Social Limitation). In this policy, it is also stated that citizens should limit any kind of large-scale religious activities. Question arose after PSBB applied is more likely: How far Indonesians obey this regulation when it comes to religious matters?

Indonesia is famous of its reputation as country with the largest Muslim population in the world, while globalreligiousfutures data shows that 87.6% population in Indonesia are muslims. In Indonesia, muslims are actually have some types of devotion those performed in groups, such as Shalat Jum’ah which performed every Friday for all males, Tarawih that used to be done in Ramadhan, and so on. This also happens in other religions, like the way Christians go to church every Sunday, and many more. But with social limitation regulation applied by the government, many of these devotion forms are not being able to be performed. The first issue came out about this is that there are still differences in some groups of Muslims in Indonesia about how to perform those prayers in this pandemic period.

At glance, different beliefs between people related to this issue is not something problematic. But it does become as problematic as possible while breaking news is flooding in social media, stating that there are 10 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Banyumas caused by a carrier with no symptoms who regularly prays in mosque. This became a new cluster of COVID-19 cases, with government tries to track each and every person who has physical contact and interaction with those who are confirmed positive. This is not the first ever case which also indicates how religious matter affects the spread of SARS-CoV-2. Over twenties of people in a village at Bogor, West Java are classified as those under surveillance after attending ‘tahlilan’, a ceremony held to pray for a person who just died, of their neighbor who is confirmed as SARS-CoV-2 positive a week later. This is also something odd, especially when government has made certain regulations about social limitation.

Reason why this is happened is not because there’s no Ulama’ defines and tells people about how to perform prayers while in pandemic. MUI (Majelis Ulama’ Indonesia), an institution with authority and competence to give fatwa over Islamic religious matters such as halal haram and of course ways muslims should pray in this pandemic period, has made a fatwa which talks only about performing prayers (especially those performed in group) in pandemic. It is stated clearly that there are some condition in which muslims are suggested to pray at home, or even prohibited to pray together in mosques. Observing the condition of many areas which classified as ‘red zone’, Muslims should be able to decide whether it is safe or not to pray in mosques. Furthermore, government and ulama’ must work together to educate people about why praying together in mosques is prohibited temporarily. It is in vain when government and ulama’ have declared some regulations and fatwa related to COVID-19, but there is not much of proper education for Indonesian muslims about this. All religious organizations and figures are in charge to educate their people. It is all people’s responsibility to educate, and it is also an obligation for everyone to open their mind and listen to what others say. Well, I assume nobody will ever want to make religion and its devotion as one tragic reason why COVID-19 cases are increasing rapidly in Indonesia.