Webinar on “COVID-19 and the Islamic Umma in Indonesia”

In this webinar, Dr Ahmad Najib Burhani and Dr Syafiq Hasyim highlighted how the Muslim community in Indonesia responded to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the interactions of these responses with the government’s efforts to tackle the issue.


Thursday, 21 May 2020 – Dr Ahmad Najib Burhani and Dr Syafiq Hasyim, Visiting Fellows at ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute, spoke at a webinar entitled “COVID-19 and the Islamic Umma in Indonesia”. They discussed the various responses of Indonesian Muslim organisations on COVID-19 as well as the government’s capacity in dealing with it. ISEAS Senior Fellow Dr Norshahril Saat moderated this 90-minute webinar.

Dr Ahmad Najib Burhani and Dr Syafiq Hasyim presented on the diverse responses of the Muslim community in Indonesia to COVID-19, and the interactions of these responses with the government’s efforts to tackle the issue. Dr Norshahril Saat moderated the webinar. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Dr Burhani began the webinar by explaining a common stereotype that religion impedes efforts to tackle the pandemic. The Tablighi Jamaat, for example, was accused of being super-spreader or the largest viral vector of COVID-19 in Indonesia resulting from a mass gathering in Gowa, Sulawesi. The stereotype has also led to the rise of religionphobia in society. Dr Burhani described a spectrum of responses from different Muslim communities, ranging from a passive and fatalistic response, and even spreading of conspiracy theories, to an active humanitarian and welfare-oriented ones.

Dr Burhani argued that religion cannot be seen as a problem that impeded the community’s efforts. He explained that the Muhammadiyah, for instance, believes in the struggle for humanity, contributing to discursive and humanitarian responses. In its discursive response, Muhammadiyah released practical guidelines on social distancing and called for change in Muslims’ religious behaviour. Meanwhile, in its humanitarian response, Dr Burhani highlighted the establishment of Muhammadiyah COVID-19 Command Center (MCCC) and the contribution of Muhammadiyah’s hospital to take care of COVID-19 patients. Therefore, Dr Burhani pointed out the importance of having a balanced perspective of religious communities’ responses to avoid Islamophobia.

Dr Hasyim then shared how pandemics were tackled in Islamic history and how they shaped scholarship. Drawing upon the initial Indonesian Muslim communities’ denials of the seriousness of the virus, he described that this pandemic was shocking for Indonesian Muslims because the community had to adjust its religious practices, including the closure of mosques and cancellation of Eid mass prayers.

Laying out the role of Nahdlatul Ulama in supporting government policies by creating discursive response on the crisis, Dr Hasyim argued that the agenda of umma remained in line with the state’s agenda. Nonetheless, he emphasized that inconsistent government policies remains the challenge for Indonesia which also impact how the Muslims respond to the crisis.

Around 89 participants from over the world attended the webinar. An engaging discussion during the Q&A session revolved around various aspects, such as how Islamic organisations have responded to the crisis, the social aid made available, whether the economic or humanity aspects are emphasized throughout the whole episode, and the role of radical Islamic groups during the outbreak. The discussion also covered the role of media in changing Islamic perception, as well as the incorporation of technology and Islamic rituals among the Indonesian Muslim communities.

Over 80 participants attended the webinar. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)