How Countries and Communities in Indonesia, the United Kingdom, and Pakistan Ensure a Safe Ramadan amidst the Pandemic
“I think religious leaders can play a very good role. If I talk about Christianity and Islam, these big and giant religions in the world consisting more than 50% of the total world population, so religious leaders like (these) from the 1000 Abrahamic Circles Project can spread a message to the whole community. They can come together and give a very valid message to the whole world that this is a time to practice your faith. This is a time to save humanity with love and religious values. we can save the world and we can give a very positive message to the world to give hope to the world that we are all together in this difficult time.”
Faisal Ilyas, Peace Hope Pakistan
On May 16, the 1000 Abrahamic Circles project under the Foreign Policy Community of Indonesia conducted its second series of public discussion under the theme “Ramadan during COVID-19: How Countries and Communities in Indonesia, the United Kingdom, and Pakistan Ensure a Safe Ramadan amidst the Pandemic.” The discussion featured Drs. Bambang Gunawan, M.Si, Director of Information and Communication of Politics, Law, and Security, Ministry of Communication and Informatics of the Republic of Indonesia, Drs. Agus Samsudin, MM, Chairman of Muhammadiyah COVID-19 Command Center, Paul Salahuddin Armstrong, Managing Director of the Association of British Muslims and Faisal Ilyas, Executive Director at Peace Hope Pakistan.
Drs. Bambang Gunawan opened the discussion by talking about the current challenges that Indonesian Muslims face during this year’s Ramadan and some of the efforts that have been done by the Ministry of Communication and Informatics of the Republic of Indonesia in ensuring safe and efficient information dissemination amidst the rising number fake news and misinformation during this time of the pandemic. He also explained about digital demography in Indonesia, such as the number of internet users. Even though the number reaches only 45% of the population, it still contributed to the current situation where people are using online alternatives to conduct meetings and other activities in supporting social distancing measures.
The discussion then followed by the presentation from Drs. Agus Samsudin where he talked about the role of Muhammadiyah COVID-19 Command Center (MCCC) in handling the COVID-19 pandemic in Indonesia. MCCC deals with medical services, public health campaigns, fundraisings, and many more. As one of the largest religious organizations in Indonesia, MCCC also gives religious practice guidelines during COVID-19, to set a proper example for its congregants on how to stay devoted to their religious practices while also obeying the safety measures. In regards to the upcoming Eid Fitr, Muhammadiyah along with the Indonesian government discourage all Muslims from doing mudik (exodus) to prevent further spread of the virus. Drs. Agus Samsudin also mentioned how the Muslim hardliner who earlier used to disregard social distancing and other safety measures, have begun to obey the regulations as they have seen people around them got infected by the virus. Fortunately, they are still keen on helping each other.
Paul Armstrong continued the discussion by first describing the situation faced by British Muslims as a religious minority in Britain. In March, its national representative, the Muslim Council of Britain, with all other Muslim organizations, religious leaders and organizations from other religions came together and encouraged their congregants to pray at home. It represents the strong interfaith relations amongst different religious communities in the United Kingdom. Muslim communities in Britain have also been strictly following the safety guidance and fatwas, as they have all shut the mosques and conduct prayers at home. The mosques, however, are still open for funeral service but still ensuring that safety measures and social distancing are being followed in place. He also highlighted the fact that a quarter of people who have died from COVID-19 came from the diaspora communities like the British Pakistani community. The fact is, the British National Health Service (NHS) is the largest employer of Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) staff in the UK with 40.1 percent of medical workers from BME backgrounds including those who are Muslims, working as front liners during this pandemic.
In Pakistan, the government and religious clerics have issued a 20-point action plan of precautionary measures that should be followed by worshippers who wish to conduct congregational prayers in mosques. Faisal Ilyas explained that even though the country has been in lockdown since 14 March, there have been a couple of relaxation on the lockdown due to the pressure from the poor and the daily wage workers as they are unable to sustain their life by just staying at home. The pressure also came from Muslim hardliners who wish to conduct prayers at mosques, especially during Ramadan. At the same time, these compromises have been heavily criticized by the medical experts, saying that the government is putting aside the safety of its citizens.
The topic of mental health was also brought up during the discussion. Paul Armstrong mentioned that the NHS has been very open to treat patients in all other aspects, aside from the coronavirus. This was possible due to the high involvement of Her Majesty’s Armed Forces in helping the NHS fight the virus. MCCC has also explained their response to patients with mental health issues by running a hotline with 42 psychologist standby to treat patients through phone calls. Other speakers have also touched upon other raising social issues due to lockdown such as child abuse, divorce, and domestic violence and how law enforcer has become more alert in tackling those problems.
In regards to the upcoming days, the speakers agreed that people will need to adapt to the new normal and follow the safety regulations as we most likely will still have to live with the virus for another year or two. Furthermore, they emphasized the role of international organizations to pay more attention to giving help and advising developing countries due to the overlapping issues with the spread of the virus. Perhaps most importantly is the matter of how governments can ensure that their citizens are not dying out of starvation, because when people are starving then any safety regulations would be ineffective to be put in place.
During this time of crisis, it is important to promote economic and social solidarity. Religious leaders especially play a big role due to their unique position of leadership during this time of crisis. As mentioned by each speaker, governments, and religious organizations in their countries have been actively contributing in providing some sort of relief to people who needed help. From a number of mosques in the UK that provided food banks and distributed them to the local communities, to fundraising cooperation that was initiated by Muhammadiyah with one of Indonesian biggest startups, Gojek. These efforts in the name of solidarity for humanity have been conducted across the world. In Indonesia, Pakistan, and the United Kingdom, religious leaders and organizations have played a crucial role in spreading the message of hope in the name of faith and setting a good example to their congregants.