The Jakarta Post
Hundreds of thousands of Muslims across East Java attended a Nisfu Syaban mass prayer on Wednesday through their smartphones and televisions, making the event one of the largest online religious gatherings to be held amid the COVID-19 outbreak.
Nisfu Syaban refers to the 15th day of the Syaban month, the eighth month on the Islamic calendar, which falls before the holy fasting month of Ramadan. Most Muslims, especially followers of the country’s largest Muslim organization Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), believe that God will answer people’s prayers on that day.
The one-hour mass prayer was led by 19 clerics from the East Java branch of NU in Surabaya as well as Lirboyo Islamic boarding school in Kediri. The number 19 was chosen to symbolize the outbreak of COVID-19.
They prayed to God for the outbreak to end soon.
According to the event organizer, more than 100,000 people across the province joined the live streaming of the event, which was dubbed the first-ever online mass prayer to be held by the NU, on the organization’s official YouTube and Instagram accounts.
The figure does not include thousands of others watching the event via the social media accounts of the East Java administration as well as Lirboyo boarding school.
The mass prayer, sponsored by the East Java administration, was also aired by 14 local television channels.
“This is how we try to hold religious activities during the outbreak. We have told our followers across the province to attend the event from their respective homes,” the head of NU's East Java branch, Marzuki Mustamar, said.
East Java Governor Khofifah Indar Parawansa, who attended the mass prayer from her office at Grahadi Building in Surabaya, called on Muslims in East Java to pray together for the country amid the outbreak.
"May God lift the pandemic from this country. When a prayer is chanted by thousands or even millions, we hope God will soon answer our prayer," she said.
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NU advisory body had Miftahul Akhyar said Muslims could obey the government’s instruction on physical distancing without abandoning religious activities thanks to the live streaming of mass prayer.
He also urged the government to reveal a more detailed map of the disease’s spread and announce confirmed and suspected COVID-19 cases more transparently.
The way the government handled the outbreak, Mifathul said, had created confusion and uncertainty among Muslims, as health authorities classified a regency with at least one confirmed case as a COVID-19 red zone.
“Therefore, people in a village can decide whether it’s safe for them to hold mass prayer at mosques. We believe it’s haram [forbidden] for us to hold mass prayer if it can harm other lives,” he went on to say. (kuk)