Muslim villagers gather outside their mosque in Terang in West Manggarai district, ignoring restrictions. (Video screengrab)
Muslims in an Indonesian village are defying Covid-19 social distancing restrictions by holding mass gatherings at their local mosque, saying they fear God more than the government.
The leader of the mosque in East Nusa Tenggara province’s West Manggarai district rejected orders from local officials for villagers to stop praying together in a video posted on social media on May 9 that has since gone viral.
The refusal comes despite two people having already tested positive for the virus in the district.
“People who come to the mosque have their own considerations,” the mosque leader said.
He claimed gatherings were not a violation of government protocols but were acts of religious obedience.
"We have no religious responsibility to the government. Our religious responsibility is to God. If the government forbids us to carry out religious activities, we will make thousands of excuses,” he added.
He claimed his village had no infections and was entitled to hold mass worshipping under a fatwa issued by the Indonesian Ulema Council, which said mosques in unaffected areas could still hold mass prayers.
Bonaventura Abunawan, the subdistrict head, told UCA News that despite warnings to obey the government, some Muslims insisted on praying at the mosque during Ramadan.
"We will monitor what happens at the next Friday prayers before deciding what to do next,” he added.
Maria Geong, deputy head of West Manggarai district, said the dispute stems from a lack of understanding about the Covid-19 pandemic and the danger it poses.
"Efforts to communicate with and educate people about the coronavirus have been slower than its spread," she said.
The two people who tested positive in the district were Muslims who had attended a gathering in Gowa, South Sulawesi, in March. Efforts are still being made in West Manggarai district to identify all those who had contact with the two.
At present, 1,500 people were being tested for the virus in the district.
Indonesia has recorded 14,032 Covid-19 cases — 13 in East Nusa Tenggara — and 973 deaths as of May 11.
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