COVID-19 Op-ed

Embracing an Unprecedented “New Normal” for Indonesians Living in the Time of COVID-19

Written by admin

Reni JuwitasariResearch
Associate, Asian Research Center for International Development
School of Social Innovation, Mae Fah Luang

Let me first tell you about my family living in a small city
in West Java. My family is like any other family in Indonesian society
traditionally religious, closely knit, and lower middle class. Moreover, just
like any other family, we have parents, siblings and neighbors who smoke. We
are also surrounded by “kepo” (those who mind others’ business) neighbors who
always have something to gossip about. These seemingly rather trivial
realities place these kinds of social units at high risk of Covid-19
infection. Such social structure are deemed to be most affected by the
pandemic and current government policies related to health, safety and
economy.When the Covid-19 outbreak was officially
announced in Indonesia, my family and neighbors did not take it
seriously. “God can solve the problem,” is their usual response to a
catastrophe of such scale. What would be the worst thing happen to our
small-rural living community? But later when it was hitting home, I realized
that impacts are real and that mere divine intervention cannot solve it. In a
heartbeat, this pandemic has forced us to leave behind a normal life.As the
largest Muslim population in the world, Indonesians have been trying to adapt
to new ways of faithful practice during this health crisis. Muslim could not
pray together at the mosque, especially during Friday prayers. This issue
becomes a dilemma of belief and practice especially among male Muslims.
Aggressive action was forcefully expressed in order to enter the mosque. Some
groups even protested mentioning “the government does not support, and forbids
them to do prayer”. Following this, Majelis Ulama
(MUI) or the Indonesian Council of Religious Scholars
declared a Fatwa or Religious Instruction Number 14-2020
related to restricted worship amid covid-19, which calls for people to pray
at home (BBC, 2020). More Ustadz or religious leaders
followed suit. They explained that such practice still allows Muslims to
accomplish five prayers a day. (Tirto, 2020).In just a few days,
Ramadhan, a month-long fasting occasion for Muslims,
will dawn upon us. For Muslims in Indonesia, it is a chance to be with
family, to pray together with others at the mosque and, of course, to gain
more income, especially for people who heavily rely on informal business. The
seasonal income is an opportunity to pay off debts or even to save for
children’s educational future. Young working people have been looking forward
to head back to their hometowns, and observe the month with their families.
Ramadhan month also provides kids to enjoy and receive
gifts from their relatives. Ramadhan is also a chance
for duafa or people living under poverty to benefit from
zakat or alms, which is given on the day of Id Fitri. In
short, Ramadhan is not only a month of praying but also
a month of celebration.However, with COVID-19 in our midst, the way people
view and practice Ramadhan will not be the same any
longer. For the lower middle class, the pandemic has paralyzed any prospects
of getting socially and economically ahead. Furthermore, it has disrupted
ways of how families earn and fend for their needs. The breadwinner, which is
usually the father, have to scramble to earn money in light of unemployment
or closure of business. Furthermore, those living in bigger cities are forced
to return home in order to avoid any additional expenses and burdens.This
Covid-19-induced diaspora has catalyzed a wave of infections in rural areas
throughout the country. In fact, on 26 March 2020, it has been reported that
some of those who returned to my city were detected to have the virus. Some
had already died. Such economic insecurity had led to a much bigger health
threat to local communities. Covid-19 has, indeed, changed the ways rural and
traditional families and communities operate. Before people look forward to
the return of family members. Now it has become the opposite.The “new normal”
brought about fear, and had taken away key aspects of our humanity. This
stems from the increased insecurities of many who, for the longest time, have
been living and earning for survival. One thing is for sure, we must be ready
to sacrifice our old traditions for the sake of beating COVID-19.References:BBC.
(2020). Coronavirus: MUI inaugurated Fatwa on holding of worship amid
Covid-19. Retrieved from:
(2020). A Law of Not Doing Friday Prayer Three Times in Raw amid Novel
Coronavirus. Retrieved from:

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