Indonesian Muslims perform noon prayer at the Istiqlal Mosque in Central Jakarta on March 20, 2020. The government has called on Muslims to refain from joining large gatherings, including the mandatory Friday congregation for male Muslims, to prevent the spread of Covid-19 disease. (B1 Photo/Joanito De Saojoao)

Covid-19 Takes Toll on How People Worship


MARCH 19, 2020

Jakarta. The rapid spread of Covid-19 in Indonesia has forced the Indonesian Ulema Council, or MUI, to issue a fatwa restricting religious gatherings.

Saudi Arabia has already suspended the umrah, or minor pilgrimage, to Mecca, owing to the Covid-19 pandemic, while other religious events in Indonesia have also been canceled. 


On Monday, MUI issued a fatwa for Indonesian Muslims to substitute the Friday prayer – which is usually done collectively at mosques – with dzuhur (afternoon prayer) at home.

"The fatwa should be used as a guideline for Muslims to carry on with their worship and at the same time to contribute to efforts to combat the Covid-19 outbreak," MUI's fatwa commission secretary, Asrorum Niam Saleh, said during a teleconference from the National Disaster Mitigation Agency headquarters in Jakarta on Thursday.

The fatwa, however, does not apply to "green zones" where the risk for contagion is low.

In virus-free zones, healthy Muslims are still obliged to perform the Friday prayer while making sure they are safe from potential transmission.

For instance, they ought to use their own prayer mats and avoid physical contact.

The fatwa is likely to affect the Islamic holy month of Ramadan in April and May, when Muslims are supposed to perform tarawih (evening prayer) at the mosque and the Idul Fitri prayer, which usually takes place on public fields and is attended by thousands.  

The State Intelligence Agency (BIN) predicted the pandemic would reach its peak during Ramadan.

On Wednesday, a tabligh Islamic gathering in Gowa, South Sulawesi, was canceled, but not before around 8,000 pilgrims from across Indonesia and nine countries including Malaysia – where a similar gathering led to a spike in the country's Covid-19 cases in late February – and Saudi Arabia descended to the town.  

The local government said it had isolated the pilgrims for medical inspection before they were allowed to return home.

The MUI fatwa also declared as haram – forbidden for Muslims – panic-induced behaviors including panic buying and spreading hoaxes.

Also according to the fatwa, bathing and enshrouding corpses of people who had died from Covid-19 will be carried out by authorities according to Islamic rules. 

Istiqlal Defiant

Despite the MUI fatwa, Jakarta's Istiqlal Mosque – Southeast Asia's largest mosque – insisted earlier this week it would carry on with its Friday prayer. 

"Grand Imam Nasaruddin Umar has instructed that the Friday prayer should still be held this week. However, worshippers will be asked to leave once the prayer is done. But we will reconsider the order if the situation worsens," the mosque's public relations officer, Abu Hurairah Abdul Salam, said in Jakarta on Wednesday.

To reassure worshippers, disinfectants were sprayed extensively inside the mosque.

Eventually, the Friday prayer was canceled at the last minute after another order issued on Thursday night by Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan banning mosques from holding the Friday prayer for the next two weeks. 

"All religious activities, including the Friday prayer for Muslims and the Sunday Mass for Christians, will have to be canceled in the next two weeks. Celebrations of Nyepi – the Hindu day of silence – will also be canceled," Anies said.

The Friday prayer at Istiqlal was replaced with a normal dzuhur prayer. The mosque's carpet was removed and worshippers were asked to stand further apart from each other in obeyance to the authorities' advice on social distancing.

As of Thursday, Indonesia has reported 309 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and 25 fatalities, 17 of them in Jakarta.