Indonesians urged to pray at home as coronavirus spreads

Council of clerics issued edict that allows Muslims to abandon mass Friday prayers at mosques.

JAKARTA: With the coronavirus infection in Indonesia surging in the past week, Islamic groups in the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation urged worshippers to refrain from praying at mosques and shun all public religious activities.

Nahdlatul Ulama, the world’s largest Islamic group with around 140 million members, ordered mosque administrators across the archipelago to ensure the hygiene of the facilities by spraying disinfectant at least once a day and to provide soap and hand sanitisers for worshippers.

The country’s council of clerics has also issued a similar edict that allows Muslims in the worst affected areas to abandon mass Friday prayers at mosques and replace it with midday prayer at home to avoid people’s contacts, Kompas.com reported Monday.

Indonesia is stepping up efforts to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus by shutting schools, advising people to work from home and to limit public activities.

The number of positive cases surged to 172 on Tuesday from only about 34 a week earlier, data from the health ministry showed.

The disease has killed five people and those infected include the nation’s transport minister.

The calls to limit public prayer comes as neighbouring Malaysia battles a surge in positive cases after a religious gathering, prompting authorities in other Southeast Asian nations to restrict people’s movement.

Other Muslim-populated countries have also taken steps to prevent the spread of the virus which has now killed more than 7,000 people and infected about 174,000 people.

Saudi Arabia banned pilgrimage to Mecca earlier this month while Turkey has suspended mosque prayers.