The Jakarta Post
Jakarta, the first epicenter of the COVID-19 epidemic in Indonesia, is claiming a reduction in the rate of infections and welcomes a period of fewer restrictions, including the reopening of houses of worship, beginning on Friday.
“Activities at houses of worship may resume [...] but only for routine activities, and [attendees] must follow health protocols,” Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan said on Thursday.
Houses of worship include mosques, mushola (Muslim prayer rooms), churches, viharas, temples and klenteng (Chinese temples), Anies said during a live-streamed press conference announcing the extended but relaxed large-scale social restrictions (PSBB).
Among several rules governing religious rites at places of worship, attendees are required to maintain a safe distance of 1 meter from others and clean up before and after their prayers.
Room capacity will be halved, and opening hours will be restricted to activities considered routine.
For the city’s many mosques and mushola, attendees must bring their own prayer mat and bag for footwear storage, as the usual cubbyhole services are still suspended.
The move comes as the Jakarta administration extended its PSBB status with additional provisions to gradually ease restrictions throughout the month of June. During this transition period, Anies vowed, the city would undo the reopening of various places should case numbers surge again.
Munahar Muchtar, the chairman of the Indonesian Ulema Council’s (MUI) Jakarta chapter, said Muslims in the capital would be allowed again to observe mass Friday prayers, with the exceptions of areas declared as infection “red zones”.
“In the community units [RW] declared as red zones, we don’t recommend any resumption of activities at mosques to prevent contagion,” Muhahar said in a press conference on Thursday.
The Jakarta administration has revealed that 66 RW, or 2.48 percent of the city’s total number of community units, are considered red zones due to the growing number of cases.
Aside from the capital, Jakarta’s satellite cities also have plans to reopen houses of worship.
The Banten administration has issued a decree detailing a transitional phase of the PSBB that ushers in the so-called “new normal” for the municipalities of South Tangerang and Tangerang as well as Tangerang regency.
The decree stipulates that places of worship may resume their activities, although details of the protocol would be prescribed in separate regulations.
Other regions, particularly in agglomeration areas spilling into West Java, such as Depok, Bekasi and Bogor, have also hinted at a gradual reopening of places of worship in select areas.
The move follows the issuance of Religious Affairs Ministry guidelines for reopening places of worship last Friday.
“Houses of worship must set the best example on curbing the spread of COVID-19,” Minister Fachrul Razi said recently.
In largely conservative Indonesia, where religion plays a significant role in the fabric of society, worshipers have had to refrain from mass religious gatherings to curb the spread of the disease.
Places of worship have proven to be a fertile breeding ground for COVID-19. A recent report from the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict found that the lack of an early response to ban mass religious gatherings had contributed to the emergence of infection clusters in South Sulawesi and West Java.
The city of Brebes in Central Java was designated a COVID-19 red zone early last month after 16 of its residents had tested positive for the disease upon returning from an Islamic event in Gowa, South Sulawesi, while 127 people were infected at a church seminar in Lembang, West Java.
Indonesians have since turned to virtual congregations as the outbreak temporarily shuttered various houses of worship, even though a government ban on public congregations did little to stop people from observing mass Idul Fitri prayers last month.
But the government’s plan to gradually reopen places of worship has also drawn mixed responses from the general public, with many insisting that any possible easing of curbs anywhere should be contingent on low risk of transmission.
Religious groups have urged local administrations and the public as a whole to enforce health protocols during mass prayers.
Robikin Emhas, chairman of the country’s largest grassroots Muslim organization, Nahdlatul Ulama, said health protocols should be observed as a part of ikhtiar (religious effort) to maintain ones’ health and safety.
“That is also God’s commandment,” he told The Jakarta Post.
The chairman of the nation’s second-largest Muslim group, Muhammadiyah, Haedar Nashir, said the group had called for Muslims in red zones to continue observing prayers at home.
In green zones that are considered "safe" from infection, sunnah (optional) and fardhu kifayah (collective obligations) prayers may also be observed at home if the other rites had been completed, Haedar said.
“[Muslims] should prioritize their health, weigh the benefits [of their actions] and account for safety and security considerations […] to prevent mafasadat [harm] and to curb COVID-19 transmission,” he said in a circular distributed on Thursday.
Concerns about the transitional policy are not limited to the nation’s Muslim majority.
Jandi Mukianto, the vice chairman of the Council of Buddhist Communities (Walubi), stressed that regions with plans to reopen houses of worship had to be able to guarantee that health protocols were implemented.
"[Local administrations and the public] should also be prepared to close them again should cases surge again," he told the Post.
Indonesian Communion of Churches (PGI) chairman Gomar Gultom has urged church administrators not to resume activities without first implementing the necessary health protocols.
“There is no guarantee that people who go to church are free from COVID-19,” he said.