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Understanding Responses to Worship Regulations in the Pandemic Era: Text Data Mining Analysis in the Indonesian Context

Department of Islamic Studies, Universitas Islam Negeri Raden Fatah, Palembang 30126, South Sumatra, Indonesia
Faculty of Human Sciences, Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris, Tanjong Malim 35900, Perak, Malaysia
Authors to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Religions 2023, 14(4), 549;
Submission received: 19 January 2023 / Revised: 12 April 2023 / Accepted: 16 April 2023 / Published: 19 April 2023
(This article belongs to the Section Religions and Health/Psychology/Social Sciences)


This paper aims to examine the critical discourse on responses to worship regulations during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Diverse responses emanated from the media, religious leaders, and civil society organizations in the Indonesian context. The wide range of responses to worship regulations is reflected in continuous debate, demonstrating two primary groups, one in support of the government regulations and the other opposed to limitations on congregational worship activities. This shows the need for the proper messaging of content and dissemination to promote behavioral changes relative to relevant health issues. In order to achieve the main objective, we employed a qualitative method involving a discourse analysis of several leading online news sources’ viewpoints, religious leaders’ viewpoints, and religious organizations’ public statements. This study found two main factors associated with the response to worship regulations in the pandemic era. The main finding involved supportive and contradictive orientations. The supportive path indicated a supportive response, referring to the enhancement of the proper analysis of public worship regulations, while the contradictive one referred to the continuation of life as normal, free of restrictions and regulations. This study suggests that clear details on the reasons for restrictions and regulations are required on all forms of social media in order to provide all parties with a better understanding of the need for these measures.

1. Research Background

Over the past few years, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has seriously impacted the daily lives of people worldwide with the enforced “new normal” arrangements present in various sectors. The wider expansion of the COVID-19 pandemic has led to constant changes in human society with the shifting from physical contact to virtual contact as the new daily norm; hence, the so-called “New Normal” has emerged. In particular, the various impacts of the pandemic have affected the following sectors: economic, social, and religious. In this regard, initiatives involved in formulating various public regulations through government policies were required to govern various approaches to limit social interactions and activities of daily human life (Roziqin et al. 2021). In particular, social distancing was implemented in various activities, including collective prayer at mosques. Given the need to respond to the new normal with the social distancing scenario, the government needed to formulate a proper strategy to implement technical regulations to address emerging issues (Shirvani and Rostamkhani 2020). The main method of monitoring social distancing required the government to form proper regulations to limit physical interactions during the COVID-19 pandemic.
A strategic arrangement to measure clear details relating to the response to worship regulations requires a discourse analysis through a mapping process, as this might provide a value to help enhance the main message achievement (Ramle and Huda 2022). The additional process of reviewing the various methods of mitigation, procedures, and policies needs to continue to ensure the efficiency and effectiveness of the interventions. It is important to note that religious leaders, members of civil society organizations, and the general public have been engaged in various debates about government regulations limiting congregational prayer and other forms of social interaction.
Such debates and responses affect the government’s policies for effectively monitoring and managing public prayer regulations. Relevant to this discourse is the approach of a changing society’s routine social interactions through digital transformation during the pandemic age. This involves the adoption of digital instruments with adaptive skills to facilitate and bridge this process (Huda 2022). In particular, the use of digital media as a means of disseminating government policies might play a strategic role in ensuring the transmission of messages (Sheehan and Fox 2020). It must be pointed out that the main issue associated with social movement control, limiting physical distancing or temporarily closing public areas or the most affected areas, has contributed to the public debate. Moreover, a number of media sources, such as print, electronic, and social platforms, facilitate the dissemination of government regulations, which could influence the public response to sudden changes, particularly those related to congregational prayer activities.
In addition, many countries around the world have implemented regulations to control social activities, particularly in terms of congregational prayer arrangements for all religions. It is important to note that many ASEAN countries, such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Brunei Darussalam, and some parts of Thailand and Cambodia, have either instituted movement controls or closed mosques as a way of managing the COVID-19 pandemic (Fajriah 2020). In the Indonesian context, the dramatic rise in the number of positive cases of COVID-19 and social movement control have become subjects of public discussion. Active debate among various sectors of society has resulted in either closure or the formation of other technical regulations, which may loosen the movement control order. In more detail, the closure of public prayer spaces, such as mosques, to reduce the spread of the pandemic has led to some religious organizations demanding an additional review regarding public prayer regulations (Fatubun 2020). The Indonesian Council of Muslim Scholars issued regulation No. 14 in 2020 to provide congregational prayer guidelines with national health protocols during the pandemic. This is a typical example of supporting the government’s public prayer regulations. However, contrasting statements were issued by other religious organizations such as Persatuan Umat Islam (PUI, the United Islamic People), Front Pembela Islam (FPI, the Islamic Defenders’ Front), and numerous religious leaders, who perceived the statement made by the Indonesian Council of Muslim Scholars to be inappropriate (Junaedi et al. 2020). The aforementioned statement contains two examples of the continued debate on congregational prayer regulation in the Indonesian context, and has created confusion instead of educating society with clear messages (Pabbajah et al. 2020). In view of these conditions, further exploration to understand the response to public worship regulations by various platforms and agencies requires a critical review and discourse analysis to ensure the dissemination of appropriate and clear messages.

Research Gap and Framework

Recent research on religious discourse during the pandemic has presented various perspectives, approaches, elements, and policy initiatives that require critical analysis in relation to contemporary situations. Scholarly attention on the response to public worship regulations creates an urgent need to research the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on activities of society. In relation to previous research conducted in this area, the following areas of study have been engaged with: the first reviewed the pandemic as a major factor limiting public activities (Martin et al. 2009; Shirvani and Rostamkhani 2020). Secondly, there were studies on the trauma associated with the COVID-19 pandemic and the challenges of society in returning to normal life (Nabian et al. 2020; Ohliger et al. 2020; Silver 2020; Waseem et al. 2021; Yeates et al. 2021). The third area of study pointed out the varied aspects of religious responses to local government officials relative to the implementation of public guidelines on social activities (Adler et al. 2021). The fourth study area critically examined aspects of religion and nationalism that facilitate a stable economy and liberty during critical pandemic responses (Perry et al. 2020a). In addition, there was a study that critically assessed the role of religious communities in enhancing awareness among religious groups about pandemic infection (Lee et al. 2021).
In addition, research on the roles of religious behaviors and culture in combating the pandemic through the media of nationalism and religiosity has been carried out with systematic integration of the current situational analysis (Perry et al. 2020b). In particular, there was a study on protecting mental health with the constructive religious principles (Schnabel and Schieman 2021), geared towards shaping the spirit of pandemic recovery (Corcoran et al. 2022). This study was employed with the further enhancement of religion principles relative to worship regulations during the age of the pandemic (Moore and Forman 2022). Although the various studies conducted have examined the strategic role of religion during the pandemic, there has still been a lack of scholarly attention on critically examining and understanding responses to public prayer regulations in the Indonesian context. Moreover, one of the particular features associated with implementing worship regulations is the control of social movement by limiting daily prayer in public spaces such as mosques. In view of this, there is the need to obtain a clear understanding about prayer regulations. Thus, this paper aims to critically examine the various sources and sides of the debate about the responses to public worship regulations.
Furthermore, a critical overview understanding the response to public worship regulations facilitates strategic empowerment, massively promoting government regulations in social media. This is important to provide a common understanding about the importance of social movement control by limiting public activities during the pandemic era with the express purpose of protecting public health. In this regard, the theoretical framework used in this study indicates an urgent need to review the response to public prayer regulations to promote a broader understanding of the scientific and health matters involved. The capacity of the government to implement an appropriate method for mapping public policy regulations would enhance the comprehension of the health issues involved in the COVID-19 pandemic and the behavioral patterns relevant to the new normal life within the scenario of the standard operating procedures (SOPs) provided by the government. As such, the potential value would indirectly affect individual health situations, and the public awareness generated from medical professionals and experts, for instance, would influence the formation of the behavioral patterns of worshipers.

2. Literature Review

2.1. Indonesian Government Policies in the Pandemic Age

Many developing countries around the world, including Somalia and India, have limited social activities and implemented social distancing at schools, tourist sites, and religious gatherings as a way of combating the COVID-19 pandemic (Braam et al. 2021; Campbell and Sheldon 2021; Braam et al. 2021). Campbell and Sheldon (2021) suggested that these policies—particularly those that restrict worship activities—have often been controversial in nature. Several efforts have been made to evaluate these controversies as well as understand the overlapping formal and informal policies and the best means of conducting worship in this situation (Piela and Krotofil 2021; Fu et al. 2021; Sledge and Thomas 2021). Fu et al. (2021) wrote that, as the COVID-19 pandemic spread around the world, countries implemented various policies to restrict social activities. Many such policies and measures have been proven to be controversial, as members of the public have been unable to fulfill their economic, health, and spiritual needs, resulting in a crisis of public trust. Due to the complexity of the issues during the COVID-19 pandemic, various policies have emerged in various forms, such as in relation to health, economic, and religious worship activities (Steen and Brandsen 2020; Halpern et al. 2020; Gereffi 2020). Halpern et al. (2020) wrote that controversies have not been limited to only the pandemic itself but also to the new normal of the post-COVID-19 era. Prabowo et al. (2021) wrote that the strategic policy-making process has continued throughout the COVID-19 era and beyond, as it has become necessary to rehabilitate peoples’ bodies, minds, communicative abilities, and interfaith interactions. The strategic initiative of making decisions through policies implemented in response to the COVID-19 pandemic has not only had economic and health consequences but has also influenced how people interact and communicate during the new normal era. For example, it has become more common to worship at home while public worship, conversely, has become less common (Halim and Hosen 2021; Muhyiddin and Nugroho 2021).
In addition, public policymaking refers to the wider combination of technical knowledge and social reality with the complex political situation in order to provide the best fit and appropriate method of responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. When making a policy, certain standards should be required to reduce the barriers to addressing both scenarios of administration and sociopolitical considerations (Hosen and Hammado 2021). Moreover, the knowledge basis followed by practical orientation are an important aspect to let continue the solving process within the track path (Huda et al. 2016a). The strategic policies of both public and private organizations aim to respond to the issues faced by society in the pandemic era. In this regard, the recommended policies must be able to meet the public’s needs and expectations for accessing continuous health services.
In order to sustain the proper arrangement of organizing policy recommendations, the determination of an appropriate response to the problems associated with the COVID-19 pandemic requires the Indonesian government to provide adequate policy direction regarding the emerging disaster issues. For instance, policies related to Law Number 24, issued in 2007 about the proper management of disasters, and Law Number 6 of 2018, regarding the organization of health quarantines, have been insufficient to address emerging issues about the contemporary pandemic situation. Such learning inquiry process is required to result in a proper response towards the issues currently investigated in the context of contemporary situation (Huda et al. 2016b). As a result, the current issues surrounding the need for a constant response have required the Indonesian government to formulate technical regulation with appropriate responses regarding the handling of the COVID-19 crisis (Sparrow et al. 2020). In view of this, the technical policy recommendations emanating from the stakeholders and public authority should follow a strategic approach to handle the COVID-19 pandemic through the various phases. Those phases include the initial recognition of disease, the quarantine process, and actual treatment with the assistance of the medical service.
In line with the government’s initiative on adopting the proper response to the pandemic crisis, appropriate responsive-based policy recommendations should be developed with the necessary enactment of technical regulations. Through responsive leadership, the Indonesian government has formulated a legal approach with a wide range of policies in an attempt to combat COVID-19. This policy-oriented approach has included four Presidential Decrees, two Presidential Regulations, one Government Regulation, one Presidential Instruction, and one Government Regulation in Law (Roziqin et al. 2021). It is worth noting that these initiatives regulating the technical and policy dimensions within Indonesian society directly and indirectly provide insight into facilitating communication and coordination amid the pandemic crisis, thereby strategically integrating the communication and coordination of the government policy response to COVID-19 (Ramadhan 2022). The critical points associated with determining the technical arrangement of the COVID-19 pandemic include physical distancing and large-scale social restrictions (Kusumaningrum et al. 2022).

2.2. Worship Policies in the Pandemic Age

The COVID-19 pandemic has had far-reaching effects on society that have manifested in policies that have limited public activities and social mobility (Molteni et al. 2021). It must be pointed out that particular emphasis has been placed on utility as well as the need to continue ordinary activities such as congregational worship (Bawidamann et al. 2021; Huygens 2021; Samsuduha 2020). Zahra (2021) stated that, during the COVID-19 pandemic, numerous places of worship have required their congregations to practice masking and social distancing practices, and many places of worship have even closed down. The implementation of movement control coupled with other government policies regarding the limitation of congregational worship have not only been received positively; sections of the population have also responded negatively, showing unwillingness to be limited to worshiping at home (Panuntun and Susanta 2021). For instance, Indonesia, as a large country that implemented a decentralized system, has a variety of institutions and has also implemented diverse local policies. The Indonesian government has issued various policies to handle the spread of COVID-19 cases. The Indonesian government’s initial policy response towards the handling of COVID-19 included Pembatasan Sosial Berskala Besar: PSBB (physical distancing and large-scale social restriction). Additionally, several government policies resulted in socioeconomic impacts that created a social safety net. The clear indication is that some policies made by the Indonesian government have not been effective for suppressing the number of COVID-19 cases, as such policies tend to be top-down approaches. The strength in continuing such oriented practice of handling the issues properly would be the main basis in ensuring the policy recommendation within the track (Fahriana and Huda 2019). As such, the Indonesian community became the target group of various policies, despite these policies being less than acceptable to them. Indeed, the Indonesian community became a determining factor in the success or failure of handling COVID-19.
In Indonesia, the government has implemented diverse policies to restrict worship by recommending that Indonesians worship at home, wear masks, and practice social distancing, thereby creating new social dynamics that still endure today (Regus 2021; Sukamto and Panca Parulian 2021; Wibisono et al. 2021). Sukamto and Panca Parulian (2021) wrote that the worship policies implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic—particularly Article 4 of Government Regulation No. 21 of 2020 and the fatwa (an official statement on related issues) of the Council of Muslim Scholars (MUI) that limits congregational worship—have faced resistance from a small minority of conservative Muslims in Indonesia. At the same time, however, there have been positive responses. Jubba (2021) wrote that, in some quarters, these policies are regarded as necessary to limit the spread of the coronavirus in Indonesia. In this regard, the response of the Indonesian government boosted the implementation pathway throughout the policymaking process associated with large-scale social restrictions (Kusumaningrum et al. 2022). This arrangement aims to control the physical movement of humans to manage the spread of COVID-19 by reducing its potential to expand. The main point refers to give an outstanding lesson with the proper arrangement between controlling and monitoring (Wahyudi and Huda 2019). In view of this, the restrictions and worship regulations indicate that there is a continuous need to control places of worship by monitoring the movement processes among people. Such arrangements aim to reduce the spread of the coronavirus by implementing large-scale social restrictions on mass gatherings.
In addition, the Indonesian Council of Muslim Scholars issued fatwa number 14 in 2020, which relates to the implementation of the technical regulations of worship. The pandemic requires a strategic initiative on instituting pandemic regulations in order to maintain and preserve the public health atmosphere (Huda and Salem 2022; Roziqin et al. 2021). In order to ensure the ongoing process associated with managing the pandemic, strategic efforts have been made to ensure public health security (Sparrow et al. 2020). Muslims have demanded that Jumat (Friday) prayer should be performed (once in a week on Fridays), for instance, at home. It was considered that those located in the most affected areas with high potential for transmission should perform the daily congregational prayer at home (Hosen and Hammado 2021). Moreover, prayer could only be made at public facilities, such as mosques, by adhering to the health protocols arranged by the health authority. The priority of having worship regulations is to ensure that health and security are considered in regard to scale-based location transmission. The main aim of this arrangement is to minimize the potential for spreading COVID-19 worldwide.

2.3. The COVID-19 Pandemic and Health Protocol Regulations

The COVID-19 pandemic has spread widely, having wide-ranging implications resulting from the institutionalized new normal. Commonly known as the novel coronavirus, COVID-19 is transmitted through aerosols and droplets, and its symptoms include fever, acute respiratory distress, headache, cough, ageusia (loss of sense of taste), anosmia (loss of sense of smell), and death (Siegler et al. 2021; Anwar and Al Lawati 2020; Shanshal 2020). First detected in China, COVID-19 spread rapidly around the world, creating simultaneous health, psychological, and social crises (Yin et al. 2020). Abdullah (2020) stated that COVID-19 not only affects physical health but also creates social distress, hysteria, individual violence, and collective violence. Consequently, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 to be more than a health crisis, reaching the tipping point that required its classification as a global pandemic and therefore a global emergency. The WHO also observed that the global pandemic is a crisis of communication and social interactions as individuals seek to avoid contracting COVID-19 (Fetansa et al. 2021; Wong et al. 2020). Philosophical understanding to look at the whole context requires the proper knowledge basis in ensuring the main message of issues to give a lesson (Huda et al. 2016c). The pandemic has caused many issues that may require serious investigation, including the aforementioned limitation of worship activities. One challenging issue was the restriction of public worship, and this has been widely discussed and debated by individuals and civil society organizations.
Given its rapid spread, which was quicker than that of the SARS virus in 2003, the COVID-19 virus has caused health, economic, and socioreligious crises worldwide (Bhat 2020). In response, governments have implemented a series of public policy measures related to social distancing, masking, and testing policies; the prohibition of public gatherings; the promotion of hand washing; and the urging of citizens to spend more time at home. Diverse institutions, both public and private, have collaborated in the fight to stop the spread of the virus (Nanda and Sharma 2021; Hyder et al. 2021; Souliotis et al. 2021). Public discussion of the virus has centered on the need to live cleanly, use disinfectants, provide proper ventilation, and improve public health and maintain essential services. Such orientation is needed to have a mutual line of Divine involvement on each human practice in responding to such issues properly in line with the goal target (Huda et al. 2019). The consequences of the pandemic, including economic, health, and congregational worship, and various recommended solutions have been the main focus of discussions on the pandemic (Hollins and Kiorpes 2020; Sheehan and Fox 2020). For example, it has been stated that COVID-19 has provided humanity with serious warnings and lessons regarding the need for a sustainable economy, healthy living, and spiritual matters, all of which are essential in ensuring the mental and physical health of society during times of crisis.
In addition, the spread of COVID-19 across countries has required stakeholders at both the federal and state levels to implement global health protocol regulations. Such initiatives are important to promote the fight against the spread of pandemic disease and ensure that protocols on social distancing, confinement, and social isolation measures contain the spread of the virus (Adler et al. 2021). The promotion of the COVID-19 vaccination program is also significant for enhancing the ability of people to avoid the virus (Perry et al. 2020a, 2020b). Both vaccination and booster shots have played roles in helping the human body to produce an immune response in which the immune system monitors and identifies the virus, making it manageable and increasing human safety and security. It must be acknowledged that the prevention of health risks is important in facilitating the early detection of coronavirus to avoid serious damage to the human body. This preventative action supports the promotion of health protocols in maintaining self-management protocols to address COVID-19 (Lee et al. 2021).
The wearing of masks, for example, can prevent members of the community from being infected by the invisible virus, and strategic initiatives might minimize the likelihood of getting infected with COVID-19 (Schnabel and Schieman 2021). The strategic cultivation of the dissemination of safety concerns is the main agenda (Corcoran et al. 2022). In view of this, a strategic move would be to promote the cleanliness of human bodies as the first target to provide safety and reduce the likelihood of being infected with the virus. Here, cleanliness refers to a routine of maintaining the body in a hygienic state (Moore and Forman 2022). The institutionalization of health protocols could be enhanced through screening and quarantine processes to promote early detection. Such a move will significantly contribute to reducing the spread of virus. The following recommendation was made by health regulation protocols to assist with the monitoring and proper management of the pandemic.

3. Methodology

3.1. Data Sources

The primary objective of the data collection was to determine the responses to the health protocols relative to their impacts on congregational worship manifested in debates among various sides of the conflict. A qualitative-based approach was used, which covered the main inquiry into public debate regarding worship limitations as well as the policy and legal bases for these restrictions. This study aimed to map out responses of worship regulations in the pandemic age through a text data mining analysis. As a qualitative approach, the primary data were collected through text data mining from several leading online news outlets and public statements from ulama (religious scholars) and religious organizations on the COVID 19 pandemic. In particular, a number of leading online news articles came from the following sources:,,,,, and Moreover, official statements on Islamic matters were issued by religious organizations such as Majlis Ulama Indonesia (MUI, the Council of Muslim Scholars), Lembaga Bahtsul Masail Nahdlatul Ulama: LBMNU (the Council for contemporary issue dialog). It is about the board issuing statements on religious matters and fatwas on Nahdlatul Ulama under Muhammadiyah’s Tajrih Council (Board for religious issue debate), Dewan Masjid Indonesia (Indonesian Mosque Council), and Persatuan Islam: Persis (the Islamic Association). The data-mapping process was analyzed critically with relevant peer-reviewed articles from journal articles and books related to the research topic.

3.2. Data Collection Process

Here, data collection refers to the adopted text data mining process, which began with a critical review of the relevant information. Moreover, this review process identified the key points from each information source (Aggarwal 2015a; Tan 1999). The strategic approach of highlighting similar and dissimilar patterns of knowledge discovery is related to public debates regarding worship restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic. The basis of the interpretative analysis adopted here passes through three stages, namely restatement, description, and interpretation. Restatement involves citing online media that are relevant to the research topic. Related topic-based articles were selected in order to highlight the links between the data and identify patterns. Finally, the thematic analysis was the primary basis for screening similar and related articles in order to reveal the significance of the data, with a particular focus on the social context from which the data were collected. Conclusions were drawn based on the results of this analysis.

3.3. Text Screening Process

Through the text data mining approach, relevant data from the text analysis arrangement and mapping patterns were examined. The next process involved the building of high-quality scenarios to process the text information (Sánchez et al. 2008). Text data mining consists of various arrangements and the discovery of relevant information derived from previously unknown sources. In the subsequent phase, the automatic extraction of relevant information from diverse resources was carried out (Delgado et al. 2000). This involved the strategic arrangement of relevant resources through a wide range of sources including websites, books, emails, reviews, and articles. The subsequent process involved obtaining high-quality information to identify trends and assess statistical patterns, thereby obtaining relevant information to achieve the set objective (Delgado et al. 2000). The process of placing various perspectives of text data mining into three categories involves information extraction, mining data information, and the discovery of knowledge in the database (Hotho et al. 2005).

3.4. Text Analysis Procedure

The process of extracting text from relevant data is an initial tool that can be used to analyze data through several phases including categorizing the text, followed by clustering the text, and also extracting text with similar features and relevance (Aggarwal 2015b). In particular, granular taxonomies are produced and a sentiment analysis is conducted, in which both scenarios can be developed by summarizing the document and modeling the relationships it contains (Hotho et al. 2005). Moreover, the analysis of text data requires an information retrieval procedure, which follows the lexical analysis in examining the frequency of word distributions in order to undergo pattern recognition. In particular, the process of annotation with tagging to extract information refers to the enhancement of data mining techniques (Miner et al. 2012). This strategic approach follows a similar pattern by linking the association analysis with the visualization of the procedure and the predictive analytics (Sánchez et al. 2008). The text data mining procedure is coupled with a data analysis through the application of an ordinary linguistic scenario strategically deployed for typical inclusion through both algorithms and analytical methods (Berry 2004). The strategic pathway of interpreting the information obtained is the significant stage in continuing the process of scanning the relevant documents to be arranged by predictive cataloging. The process of mapping of course requires sufficient research to obtain relevant data on the extracted information. As such, the starting point for examining the text data mining procedure begins with defining the search process for relevant documents to address particular issues associated with textual data. Thus, the collection of types of relevant data represents an attempt to document textual data throughout varied sources.

3.5. Theme Categorization Process

The process of discovering knowledge through data mining and extraction involves a structural process including the analysis of text as well as relevant content from philological structures. This analytical pattern comes from the process of excluding other irrelevant information and replacing it with more appropriate content with subsequent insertion into the database. Similarly, the next process involves the creation of a form of structured data developed through the formation of a pattern relevant to the data (Berry and Kogan 2010). Hence, a strategic evaluation involving the interpretation of the output on the basis of its quality was the mining process used for the data. This included an evaluation and interpretation of the output. Moreover, the main output of the relevant information integrates mutual interest, novelty, and relevance.

4. Results

4.1. Views of Leading Online Media Outlets on Worship Regulations in the Pandemic Age

It goes without saying that the worship restrictions introduced during the COVID-19 pandemic have been widely debated in print, digital, and social media. For instance, on Friday, July 9, 2021, summarized a video and uploaded it to the YouTube channel @das’at Latif to discuss why worship activities had to be undertaken at home while marketplace activities could continue as normal (Tim Hikmah 2020). On July 7, 2021, a similar view was tweeted by Nadhirsyah Hosen â Khazanah GNH (@na_dirs) on his personal Twitter account, as cited by Pikiran Rakyat (People’s mind). This tweet stated that ‘communal worship at the mosque is sunnah (recommended), not wajib (compulsory). Meanwhile, if the markets were closed, people could die of hunger.’1 Similarly, on March 3, 2020,—another online outlet—cited Habib Rizieq Syihab, the founder of FPI (Defender of Islam), urging all Muslims to avoid opening mosque doors in areas affected by COVID-19. Habib Rizieq Syihab further asked Muslims and the Indonesian government to stop communal worship, ta’lim activities, religious discussions, and other mosque activities in areas experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak.
At the same time, however, several religious leaders were cited as rejecting the government’s decision to restrict worship activities. On his YouTube channel, Ustad Abdul Somad criticized the closure of mosques. His view was vocally challenged by Kiai Muannas Alaidit, a politician with the Partai Solidaritas Indonesia (PSI, Indonesian Solidarity Party), who tweeted on July 4, 2021 that Abdul Somad’s true hobby was “provoking [people] using religious issues.”2 Other media outlets, such as and Suara Banten, offered platforms to religious leaders, such as Ustad Adi Hidayat, who stated that no mosques should ever be closed.
Another media outlet,, in its coverage of policies promoting communal prayers for Eid al-Adha (July 20, 2021), cited a YouTube video in which Kiai Sofwan Nizomi was quoted as saying: ‘The greater our fear, the happier the demons, for we no longer realize Allah’s grandeur’3. Likewise, the social media activist Eko Kuntadhi tweeted on Wednesday, July 7, 2021 that Eid al-Adha prayers had to be conducted communally at the mosque. Furthermore, BBC News reported that Edy Permadi (the Director of the Mosque Prosperity Council (Dewan Kemakmuran Masjid) of West Java) and Kiai Cholil Nafis (of the MUI) staunchly opposed the closure of mosques due to emerging pandemic issues. In brief, media discourse regarding worship restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic may be summarized as shown in Table 1 below.
This table shows that the Indonesian government’s decision to restrict worship activities outside the home during the COVID-19 pandemic has stimulated constructive debate with significant support both for and in opposition to these policies.

4.2. Religious Leaders’ Statements on Worship Regulations in the Pandemic Age

Indonesian society has also discussed the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on congregational worship. The debate has centered on two issues, communal worship during compulsory prayers and communal worship during recommended (sunnah) prayers. In Islam, five daily prayers are compulsory, including Friday prayers (Jumaa). Recommended prayers include the tarawih (night prayer during Ramadan), Eid al-Fitr, and Eid al-Adha prayers. Many mosques have been closed in Indonesia due to public worship restrictions, and this has stimulated extensive public debate either in support for or against closure, as indicated in Table 1. Many argued that Friday prayers needed to be held communally at the mosque and thus could not be replaced by domestic worship. It goes without saying that if mosques were closed and communal Friday prayers could not be held, zuhr prayers would be the only possible alternative.
This debate in Indonesian society was instigated, in part, by the decision to restrict public worship during the COVID-19 era through Circulars No. SE.23 of 2020, No. 15 of 2020, No. 17 of 2021, and No. 20 of 2021 of the Ministry of Religion. Additionally, limiting public worship was an instruction issued by the Ministry of Domestic Affairs on July 2, 2021, which urged the governors, regents, and mayors of Indonesia to prohibit all activities that could result in crowding in places of worship. It should be noted that this instruction was challenged by several healthcare professionals. For example, a biochemist from Palembang, Prof. Yuwono, criticized the closure of mosques, arguing that worshipers had a clear and shared purpose and that in comparison markets were attended by people with diverse individual characteristics and often unclear and uncommon goals. Social distancing, Prof. Yuwono argued, should be practiced not with the healthy but with the sick. This instruction was also challenged by Anwar Abbas, the Deputy Chairman of the MUI, who questioned the recommendation to replace communal Friday prayers with zuhr (mid-day) prayers.
Opposition to this policy was also voiced by Habib Rizieq Syihab, who, while in Mecca, urged FPI members not to abandon the mosques. Syihab argued that closing mosques did not mean abandoning them but, rather, they still needed to be maintained. Habib Rizieq Syihab’s statement was inscribed on posters distributed by Munarman, the secretary of the FPI. KH Abdul Manan Ghani, the PBNU’s Director of da’wah and mosques, stated that he personally supported the restriction of congregational worship at mosques. Ghani argued that restrictions had been implemented to protect society from COVID-19 and stop the spread of the virus in line with the principle of tasharruful imam ‘ala al-ra’iyyah manuthun bi al-mashlahah, which means that leaders must ensure the prosperity and well-being of their followers.
A similar view was expressed by Ustad Adi Hidayat (UAH) that when certain areas were declared COVID-19 hotspots, mosque closure would be acceptable as it was in the best interest of Muslims to worship at home. Hidayat stated that such closures were justified by one of the Prophet’s Hadith, transmitted by Abu Hurairah RA: ‘If a Muslim is ill or on a journey or otherwise unable to do their ordinary worship, they may abbreviate their worship and receive the same blessings as when they pray ordinarily’. As an example, Hidayat described that a Muslim who ordinarily attended congregational worship in the mosque but injured his leg would not be compelled to worship at the mosque. The public discourse regarding worship restrictions during the COVID-19 era is summarized in Table 2 below:
This table highlights how public debates regarding the restriction of worship during the COVID-19 pandemic were rooted primarily in the fear that mosques would lose their purpose during the pandemic.

4.3. Public Statement by Religious Organizations in Response to Worship Regulations during the Pandemic

The Indonesian government’s decision to limit congregational worship during the COVID-19 pandemic has triggered serious debate among civil society organizations. Many institutions supported the government’s decisions; for example, the MUI supported the restrictions on congregational worship by issuing Fatwa No. 14 in 2020 in support of the government regulations. In view of the dangers posed by COVID-19, the MUI recommended that congregational worship be replaced with zuhr prayers. The MUI believes that, as the virus spreads most rapidly in crowds, congregational worship could accelerate its transmission. In view of this, as the virus continued to spread, the MUI was compelled to further issue a second fatwa, Fatwa No. 30, in 2020 regarding the Prohibition of Congregational Worship to Prevent the Spread of COVID-19.
It is interesting that the popular Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) supported the MUI’s decision on the pandemic. On March 19, 2020, the Lajnah Bahtsul Masail Nahdlatul Ulama (LBM-NU, a body for religious matters) also issued a statement regarding congregational worship during the COVID-19 pandemic. The LBM-NU supported its position with reference to scripture. This Decree was based on careful consideration of the principles of maslahat (public interest) and mudarat (potential dangers). This Decree was prepared by a team consisting of the Chairman KH Najib Hasan, Secretary KH Sarmidi Husna, and members KH Afifuddin Muhajir, KH Ahmad Ishomuddin, KH Miftah Faqih, KH Abdul Moqsith Ghazali, KH Mahbub Maafi Ramdlan, KH Najib Hasan, KH Sarmidi Husna, KH Azizi Hasbullah, KH Darul Azka, and KH Asnawi Ridwan. According to this statement, Muslims living in COVID-19 hotspots should conduct zuhr worship at home rather than forcing themselves to worship congregationally at the mosque. This position was further supported by local branches of the organization, which issued similar decrees. For example, the Central Java branch of LBMNU issued Decision No. 08/LBM/PWNU JATENG/K/III/2020, dated Rajab 30, 1441H/March 25, 2020CE, regarding the conduct of Friday prayers (iqamat al-jumah) and congregational worship (hudlur al-jumah).
Hudallah Ridwan Naim, the Chairman of PWNU Central Java, explained that Muslims who were not living in hotspots should be allowed to conduct congregational worship while still following all applicable health protocols. This meant that Muslims living in areas with detected cases and local transmission should not be allowed to conduct congregational worship until the area was declared free of the virus. Hudallah Ridwan Naim justified this decision by stating that healthy people were required to attend Friday prayers, while it was recommended that close contacts and persons under supervision should not attend Friday prayers. Similarly, it was recommended that patients being monitored and persons diagnosed with COVID-19 should be forbidden from attending congregational prayers. For Muslims who were not required to attend Friday prayers, the PWNU Central Java organization recommended that they stay at home and conduct zuhr prayers.
A similar statement was issued by the Muhammadiyah group through Circular No. 06/EDR/I.0/E/2020 regarding Worship and Sacrifice during the COVID-19 pandemic. Muhammadiyah recommended that Muslims living in COVID-19 hotspots should conduct their worship at home rather than at the mosque. Meanwhile, on June 21, 2021, the MUI and DMI issued the Joint Decree of the MUI and DMI of the Jakarta Capital Region Nos. B-170/DP-PXI/VI/2021 and 2.1117/SB/DMI-DKI/VI/2021 relating to Rawatib and Friday Prayers during the COVID-19 pandemic. In this joint letter, the organizations highlighted that Muslims should replace their Friday prayers with zuhr prayers between June 22 and July 5, 2021.
Through Chairman Imam Setiawan, the West-Java-based organization Persis urged that mosques should not be closed during the pandemic. Instead, it recommended that health protocols should be observed more closely. Latief stated that, although the COVID-19 pandemic was still ongoing, there was no need to close the country’s mosques. The PUI issued the Decree of the PUI Central Council No. 1 in 2020 regarding the Conduct of Eid al-Adha Prayers and animal sacrifices during the COVID-19 pandemic. Through this decree, the PUI urged its members to conduct their Eid al-Adha prayers congregationally while still adhering to all applicable health protocols. These organizational discourses regarding worship restrictions are summarized in Table 3 below.
From this table, it is evident that civil society organizations generally supported the government’s decision to restrict worship during the COVID-19 pandemic. Organizational discourse, thus, was not as critical of the government as media and public discourse.

5. Analysis and Discussion

The policy response of the Indonesian government to the COVID-19 pandemic reflected in the worship regulations resulted in multiple reactions for various reasons. The general concern was that the restriction of social activity in the public sphere, for instance, through the closure of mosques, would impact various responses, whether they were in support of it or not. It goes without saying that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a rapid and significant shift in the daily lives of the Indonesian people, particularly among Muslims in relation to their daily prayer routine in the mosques (Hosen and Hammado 2021; Ramadhan 2022; Roziqin et al. 2021).
As a result, the sudden reaction among Muslim believers in relation to worship regulations might lead to certain situations as a result of various reactions to essential elements of the debate on the five daily prayers, congregational Friday prayers, Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha prayers. The reactions to the worship regulations of the Indonesian government in terms of restricting public activities particularly attracted the attention of the leading news media outlets, religious leaders, and religious organizations. In view of the aforementioned statements, there were two main groups, one that agreed with the government’s decision, labeled ‘supportive’, and another that declared that the worship restrictions violated the tenets and teachings of their religion, labeled ‘contradictive’. This essential point highlighted the mapping process of the Indonesian government in terms of their policy decisions on worship regulation related to the closure of places of worship to the public. Moreover, there has been a resurgence in resistance in the mindsets of the faithful, who are unwilling to accept any compromise and who reject current government policies as fundamentally incompatible with the teachings of their religion.
In addition, some arguments state that the regulations placed on public worship, such as the closure of mosques, were excessive, as they were detrimental to the condition of Indonesia’s Muslim community (Miftahuddin 2016). Such hardline views have become increasingly common among Indonesia’s conservative Muslims. Hence, this argument refers to an individual’s capacity and tendency to have ‘a sudden reaction’ based on superficial knowledge or with critical neutral thinking. The supporters of regulation have always argued that the congregational prayers are sunnah (recommended), and thus the failure to conduct such prayers has no legal consequence for Muslims. Moreover, they argue that the initiative by the government to restrict social activities, including worship, was based on authoritative advice from health and religious experts. Certain groups have shown large flexibility in this national debate by, for example, suggesting that Friday (Jumaa) prayers should be conducted as a congregation in the mosque, but they have been willing to accept that the COVID-19 pandemic is an exceptional situation so the replacement of Friday congregational worship at the Mosque with zuhr prayers at home is acceptable (Syamsuddin 2020; Nugroho and Hidayat 2021; Qotadah 2020; Sahil 2020; Saputra et al. 2020). In fact, there were divergent views on the contentious COVID-19 issues from various perspectives of Islamic jurisprudence, such as ushul fiqh, deploying ijtihad (individual interpretation) to identify religious laws that are suited to the current trials and conditions of humanity (Faizun 2020). Some Scholars have chosen particular ‘illat, issued by takhrij al-manath, to understand the particular legal concepts contained within the Quranic perspective.
Such restrictions have been accepted and supported by several civil society organizations. Afifuddin Muhajir of LBMNU, for example, stated that the abnormal situation created by the COVID-19 pandemic would be best navigated by following government policies (ulil amri). Muhajir cited the fikh principle of hukmu al-hakim yarfa’u al-khilaf (government policies may eliminate differences) ( 2020). Similarly, Asrorun Niam Sholeh, the Secretary of the MUI Fatwa Commission, identified three types of people who do not conduct congregational prayers, namely people who neglect prayer, lazy people, and ill people, of which only members of the last category would not be declared kafir (unbelievers), no matter how many prayers they missed (Sabara 2020).
However, those who opposed the government’s policies, conversely, stated that congregational prayers are wajib (compulsory) and therefore they rejected the idea that the COVID-19 pandemic was an emergency, instead arguing that it was insufficient to justify the restrictions on congregational worship. Such a statement was made, for example, by Ustad Abdul Somad, who questioned the acceptability of government recommendations, arguing that governments were not allowed to issue fatwas, as this authority is limited to muftis (, March 26, 2020). Similarly, regarding religious matters, the public is more likely to obey the instructions of civil society organizations than those of the government. Given the importance of such organizations, the government must work in conjunction with such stakeholders to improve their ability to respond effectively to ongoing religious issues. Likewise, government policies can only be effective with the support of the public. It is, therefore, necessary for the government to disseminate information on points of government policies to ensure that the public understands their purpose.

6. Limitations, Recommendations, and Future Directions

The ultimate aim of this study was to examine the mapping of the responses to religious worship regulations from the various perspectives of opinion leaders, religious leaders, religious organizations, and leading online news outlets. The limitation of this study is that the use of sources was confined to three core areas to address the objectives. The initial aspect referred to details about the response of online news outlets towards government policies relating to worship regulations in line with health protocols. This was followed by the responses of the representatives of religious leaders. Moreover, the particular value of the mapping process could help to provide a clear understanding of the actual government policies through a consistent, reasonable view (Hosen and Hammado 2021). Worship regulation by the Indonesian government has been in line with the health protocol arrangement aimed at combating the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. On the other hand, the limiting of social movement mainly in terms of restricting worship activities conducted on a collective basis includes an element of discrimination as it strictly prohibits social congregational practices.
The detailed instructions on the strategies of the Indonesian government regarding health protocols and policy decision-making processes vis-a-vis the worship regulations were reflected in the limiting of the size of congregations in communities as well as physical or social distancing (Hanafi et al. 2020). Similarly, these arrangements form part of the movement control of people’s daily social activities, including prayers, amid the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, the strategic engagement involved in creating public awareness about the importance of safety provoked a number of reactions, both positive and negative. Ultimately, the debate over the government policies limiting worship activities should guide people towards a better understanding of each other, and bridging these different perspectives requires a thoughtful approach (Nurmansyah et al. 2022; Syarkun and Huda 2020).
It is natural for different opinions to emerge within a highly diverse society such as Indonesia. As such, civil society and religious organizations should work together to disseminate particular aspects of government policies, where this might involve the civic responsibility arrangement (Zainuri and Huda 2023). In view of this, the leading online media outlets must provide all the necessary information to promote understanding of these policies and their intent. Moreover, the media must also seek to convey the importance of understanding and complying with government policies (Roziqin et al. 2021). The influential aspect of having clear information together with a comprehensive understanding would contribute towards the transformation of society from resistant to regulated to one with a clear understanding and acceptance of the COVID-19 pandemic measures. Giving insight to influence health behavior has the potential to affect individual behavioral change. Public awareness programs provided by medical experts, for instance, would have an influential impact on the behavioral capacity of the worshipers.
In line with projecting the future directions of this topic, the proper arrangement of the mapping process of the government’s worship regulations demonstrates a high-level initiative aimed at promoting the understanding and controlling the spread of the pandemic, hence building a proper response mechanism towards government policy about worship regulation. All of this forms part of a broader scheme of facilitating the understanding of the COVID-19 pandemic and creating a situation to support behavioral change patterns towards the new normal within the scenario of the standard operating procedure (SOP) provided by the government (Kusumaningrum et al. 2022). It is important to note that the policymaking decision process to deal with such issues was conducted meticulously by health experts together with religious scholars of Islam (ulama).
Meanwhile, the debate regarding the need for worship regulations due to health issues should be referred to the health experts initially in order to confirm the basic understanding of this complex and technical matter. The failure to do so might lead to confusion due to disinformation among the general public who have less knowledge about the issue. The recommendations of health and religious experts in regulating worship policy need to be promoted massively in the public sphere as the main method of helping to protect the population from the COVID-19 disease. As such, social distancing together with the closure of elements of the public sphere, such as mosques, could help to combat the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

7. Conclusions

The policies implemented by the Indonesian government in response to the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in diverse responses. For instance, as shown in this study, the decision to restrict public worship activities stimulated significant and intense debate in society. A review of media, public figures, and organizational discourse showed that negative responses to the government’s worship regulations resulted from a failure to look at the issue comprehensively from the expert perspective. Otherwise, the policy regulations made by the government relating to sensitive religious issues would be considered a violation. The positive response towards the government’s worship policies, however, came from the belief that the COVID-19 pandemic had created an abnormal situation that could only be resolved by complying with government policies and following all applicable health protocols. This research was limited by its use of textual data regarding public debate on government policies that restrict public worship activities. The study reviewed online media outlets, which enabled us to gain a better understanding of the ongoing debate regarding government policies that restricted congregational worship activities to stop the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic in Indonesia. Diverse discourse is evident in the online coverage of public responses to the policies issued in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Religious leaders, health care practitioners, civil society organizations, and members of the public have all responded differently to this unprecedented “New Normal”.

Author Contributions

Methodology, M.H.; Investigation, M.A.; Writing—original draft, M.A.; Writing—review & editing, M.H. All authors have read and agreed to the published version of the manuscript.


This research received no external funding.

Data Availability Statement

Not applicable.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest.


Original: “Shalat jamaah di masjid itu sunnah bukan wajib. Jika pasar ditutup, maka masyarakat bisa mati kelaparan”.
Original: Hobi benar provokasi pakai isu agama
Original: “Ini semakin takut kita, iblisnya semakin senang sebab kita tidak lagi menghadirkan kebesaran Allah.”


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Table 1. Media Trends on Worship Restrictions during the COVID-19 Pandemic.
Table 1. Media Trends on Worship Restrictions during the COVID-19 Pandemic.
01Da’sat LatifDetik.comYouTube channel @das’at Latif regarding the closure of mosques Support
02Nadirsyah Hosenpikiran-rakyat.comTweet by â Khazanah GNH (@na_dirs)
Communal worship in the mosque is sunnah
03Habib Rizeq SyihabBisnis.comYouTube video: the closure of mosques is only appropriate during outbreaks Support
04Muannas Alaidit Tweeted by @muannas_alaidid in response to the objections of Ustad Abdul SomadSupport
05Ustad Adi, and suarabanten.comYouTube video: mosques must not be closed Against
06Sofwan Nizomisuara.comYouTube video: mosque closure reduces the veneration of Allah and His grandeurAgainst
07Eko KuntadhiTwitterPersonal Twitter account: Eid al-Adha worship should be conducted communally at the mosque Against
08Edy PermadiBBC NewsDisapproved of mosques being closed Against
Source: Researcher’s Analysis, 2021.
Table 2. Public Discourse regarding Worship Restrictions during the COVID-19 Pandemic.
Table 2. Public Discourse regarding Worship Restrictions during the COVID-19 Pandemic.
No.Speaker ResponseSupport/Against
1Yuwono (academic and health practitioner)Mosques may not be closed; the sick must not go to the mosque Against
2Ustaz Adi Hidayat (UAH)
In emergency conditions such as pandemics, it is unnecessary to worship at the mosque Support
3Habib Rizieq Syihab (ulama)Mosques must not be abandoned during the pandemic Against
4Abdul Mannan
Supported the policy of replacing congregational Friday worship with daily zuhr prayer Support
5Anwar Abbas
Replace congregational Friday worship with zuhr prayerAgainst
Source: Researcher’s Analysis, 2021.
Table 3. Organizational Responses to Worship Restrictions during the COVID-19 Pandemic.
Table 3. Organizational Responses to Worship Restrictions during the COVID-19 Pandemic.
01MUIAreas with high COVID-19 transmission rates may cancel Friday prayers Support
02MuhammadiyahMuslims living in COVID-19 hotspots may replace their Friday prayers with zuhr prayers Support
03NUMuslims not living in COVID-19 hotspots must conduct Friday prayers while adhering to all health protocols
Muslims living in COVID-19 hotspots may replace their Friday prayers with zuhr prayers
04DMIFriday prayers should be replaced with zuhr prayers Support
05PERSISMosques must not close, but all applicable health protocols should be followedAgainst
06PUIMosque activities must continue, but all applicable health protocols should be followedAgainst
Source: Researcher’s Analysis, 2021.
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Adil, M.; Huda, M. Understanding Responses to Worship Regulations in the Pandemic Era: Text Data Mining Analysis in the Indonesian Context. Religions 2023, 14, 549.

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Adil M, Huda M. Understanding Responses to Worship Regulations in the Pandemic Era: Text Data Mining Analysis in the Indonesian Context. Religions. 2023; 14(4):549.

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Adil, Muhammad, and Miftachul Huda. 2023. "Understanding Responses to Worship Regulations in the Pandemic Era: Text Data Mining Analysis in the Indonesian Context" Religions 14, no. 4: 549.

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