Indonesia’s Muslims switch to online services for annual sacrifice ritual

Under the Qurbani-saving program, each participating household is given a choice of animal, a cow or bull, with price ranging between $1,000 and $15,000, depending on its weight and breed. (AFP)
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Updated 27 July 2020

Indonesia’s Muslims switch to online services for annual sacrifice ritual

  • Government calls to avoid mass gatherings during Eid Al-Adha to contain COVID-19

JAKARTA: A few weeks before Eid Al-Adha is usually a busy time for Dudi Rustandi, an employee of a private information technology firm based in Indonesia’s capital city of Jakarta. 

For the past 20 years, Rustandi has volunteered at his local mosque in South Tangerang, south of Jakarta, to organize the Qurbani, or annual sacrifice ritual, held on the holiday to mark the end of the Hajj season.

With fellow members of the mosque’s management board, Rustandi coordinates a Qurbani-saving program, by which a household can save between Rp200,000 ($13.7) and Rp500,000 ($34.3) per month. 

Ahead of Eid, the board informs each participating household of their savings balance and confirms their choice of animal for the Qurbani. A cow or bull is sold for a price ranging between $1,000 and $15,000, depending on its weight and breed. Later, the board purchases the animals accordingly before slaughtering them at the mosque complex. 

“Residents of the complex sacrifice at least five cattle in total during Eid Al-Adha every year,” Rustandi told Arab News in a phone interview. 

However, the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) this year has changed the process for Rustandi, his neighbors, and a majority of Muslims in the country. 

Following a quiet celebration of Eid Al-Fitr in May and the cancellation of plans to send a Hajj contingent to Saudi Arabia in June, the Indonesian government has now called on the public to avoid mass gatherings during Eid Al-Adha to limit the spread of the deadly disease.

Rustandi said members of the management board decided to abide by the government’s recommendation, and while three out of 10 members earlier insisted on performing the Qurbani as usual, eventually everyone agreed that the risk involved was far higher than the benefits.

“Anyone can be a carrier of the virus. We cannot guarantee strict physical distancing if we hold the Qurbani at the mosque,” Rustandi said, adding that an insistence on doing so may also propagate fitna (defamation) over an unfounded accusation should anyone involved in the ritual become infected with the virus.

Instead of being performed at the mosque’s complex, the Qurbani will now be held at the Al-Kautsar Mosque, a larger mosque in the area, Rustandi said. 

There are concerns, however, that the mosque’s management will be overwhelmed with a sudden increase in Qurbani animals.

Therefore, Rustandi and his colleagues devised an alternative option to hold the Qurbani online by using services provided by various zakat (charity) organizing bodies.

“Personally, I have conducted Qurbani through the online platform since 2017. It’s easy; I just have to transfer a certain amount of money and let the agency do its job,” he said. 

Rustandi added that now was not the time to launch into a debate “over the principle of correctness or fiqh in committing the ritual,” before stressing the importance of “working together to reduce the risk of a wider transmission.”

Indonesia continues to see more than 1,000 new COVID-19 cases daily, while the total number of confirmed cases stood at more than 97,286 as of Sunday, the highest in East Asia. As many as 4,714 fatalities have been recorded. 

Qurban poses a huge risk for infection as the ritual attracts crowds in the thousands in the country with the world’s largest Muslim population.

According to the Indonesian Agriculture Ministry’s 2019 data, there are 30,359 Qurban sites in 26 out of 34 provinces across the country. An average of 56 people work at each location, slaughtering up to 1.87 million cattle, sheep and goats nationwide.

To avoid a spike in infection numbers, the ministry and the government-backed National Zakat Agency (Baznas) have urged Muslims to conduct the Qurban through an online platform this year. 

Most zakat organizing institutions, as well as major e-commerce players such as Tokopedia and Bukalapak, are now offering online Qurban services for Indonesian Muslims, based on the official recommendation.

Irvan Nugraha, chief marketing officer of Rumah Zakat, a Bandung, West Java-based zakat institution, told Arab News that there is an increase in demand for the agency’s online Qurban services. Rumah Zakat offers two online Qurban options — SuperQurban and Desaku Berqurban — in addition to the standard Qurban services.

Last year, about 85 percent of Rumah Zakat’s 13,000 clients performed Qurban online, said Nugraha. This year, he said that the agency aimed to serve 25,000 clients. Nearly 9,000 customers have been registered as of July 22. “Around 90 percent of them chose our online services,” he said.

During a webinar hosted by Tokopedia on July 22, EcoQurban CEO Zaenal Arifin said that a majority of Muslims have become more confident in performing the sacrifice through online platforms. This is partially due to improved credibility of organizing agencies as they provide customers with comprehensive reports about the ritual and the meat distribution afterwards, he said.

Arifin said that online Qurban services provide ease for the Muslim community over the ongoing social restrictions amid the COVID-19 outbreak. 

As usual, the meat from the slaughtered animals will be distributed to people in need this year, with the addition of those who are affected by the pandemic, Arifin added.


S. Korean Christians facing ‘unprecedented challenge’ over virus spread claims: Church cleric

Updated 24 September 2020

S. Korean Christians facing ‘unprecedented challenge’ over virus spread claims: Church cleric

  • South Korean churches have been accused of ‘deliberately hampering’ COVID-19 response while groups say they are being made ‘scapegoats’

SEOUL: South Korean church leader, Rev. Lee Byung-seok, has become battle-weary over the country’s fight against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

The cleric, who preaches at a small church in Suwon, in northwestern Gyeonggi province, has faced a tough time fending off claims that Christians were the main culprits for spreading the deadly virus.

Since the first case of COVID-19 was reported in February, the religious community has been in the firing line for allegedly propagating the disease in the east Asian country which has to date recorded 23,216 cases and 388 deaths.

“The Christian sect in South Korea faces an unprecedented challenge,” the pastor told Arab News on Wednesday.

“Imagine police bursting into the chapel where prayers are at church, and the officer saying he’s responding to a call from a citizen who disbelievingly reported the church’s breach of a ban on gatherings. This happens at many churches. Except for a few churches, most have been observing health rules despite emotional and financial losses. Enforcing these restrictions upon all churches is too far,” he said.

Gatherings at churches have been tightly controlled by the South Korean government to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Under updated quarantine rules adopted on Sept. 20, up to 50 worshippers are allowed to attend churches with a seating capacity of 300 or more. Smaller churches can only take a maximum congregation of 20.

The Sarang Jeil Church, in the capital Seoul, has been at the center of the controversy over claims that Christians were to blame for spreading COVID-19 in South Korea after hundreds of cases were linked to the religious group and the church’s pastor, Jun Kwang-hoon, led a massive anti-government rally on Aug. 15, the country’s Liberation Day.

“The Sarang Jeil Church does not represent the sentiment of the Christian sect here, and the church has been already politicalized to affect other churches,” Lee said.

Health authorities said that the protests in central Seoul, where tens of thousands of Jun’s followers had converged, triggered a second wave of COVID-19 resulting in nearly 1,200 infections in the capital area.

A conservative pastor, believed to be popular among opposition politicians, Jun was accused of “defying health rules” to hold services and anti-government protests, while some of his churchgoers were criticized for refusing to take part in COVID-19 testing.

The situation led to President Moon Jae-in vowing to hold churches accountable for impeding government efforts to contain the disease.

“Certain churches have refused the government’s quarantine guidelines and hindered efforts to tackle the virus spread,” he said during a meeting with representatives of 16 churches and related groups on Aug. 27.

“Prayers or services may bring peace of mind but cannot protect people from the virus. The quarantine is not the domain of God but that of science and medicine,” he added. Jun tested positive for the virus two days after the Aug. 15 demonstration and was jailed after his bail was revoked.

The cleric was also detained earlier this year on charges of violating election laws after he called the president a “North Korean spy.” He was later released on conditional bail which included a ban on him attending political rallies or protests.

On Sept. 18, the Seoul city government sued Jun and his Sarang Jeil Church for nearly $3.9 million in damages related to the COVID-19 cluster “connected to its adherents.”

The city said in a statement that Jun had deliberately hampered its response to the virus outbreak by “refusing to observe health rules and submitting fake records.”

Meanwhile, statistics from the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) showed that at least 1,168 positive patients had been traced to the church cluster.

The numbers were second only to those linked to the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, often regarded as a nationwide cult organization, whose 5,200 cases were at the center of the country’s first wave of infections in February.

“We will take all possible measures to prove the damages incurred by Rev. Jun’s illegal activities that caused damages to the ordinary citizens,” Hwang In-shik, spokesman for the Seoul city government, told Arab News on Wednesday.

He said citizens had faced many difficulties due to the introduction of enhanced social distancing measures following a recent resurgence of cases, as well as the negative impact of the outbreak on the national economy.

“This is a matter of quarantine for the sake of people’s health, not oppressing a certain religion nor a church,” he added.

However, the Presbyterian church has remained defiant, arguing that the left-leaning Moon administration had made it a “scapegoat” for political reasons.

“A key reason why the Moon administration oppresses us is that Jun and his followers have taken the lead in striking Moon’s communist policies,” Kang Yeon-jae, a spokeswoman for Jun, told Arab News.

“We advocate the liberal democracy, which is not a path Moon takes. In this ideological conflict of a free world versus communism, our church is taking the bullet when few stand against Moon’s political blunders and pro-North Korean policies.”

South Korean Protestant churches have deep roots with the US, as American missionaries brought the religion to Korea.

Many of the megachurches in South Korea were founded by Protestants who fled communist persecution in North Korea before the 1950-53 Korean War and benefited from postwar aid from Americans.