The communal aspects of meeting with friends, family, and neighbors for worship is one of the most important factors of religion. Many faiths begin their rituals by greeting fellow worshippers and see this as an essential element of their practices.
The COVID-19 pandemic has temporarily changed how we look at these gatherings. Instead of sharing in a communal experience, we are afraid of sharing the coronavirus. In order to continue age-old traditions, various religions are providing modern solutions to foster a sense of togetherness in this time of isolation and quarantine.
Mosques and churches around the globe have provided live-streams and online platforms to provide a sense of community and allow worshippers to follow their rituals from home.
For many Muslims, this Friday marked the first time in their lives that they did not attend traditional Friday prayers, and Jewish and Christian congregants are preparing for a similar experience on their holy days. In India, authorities canceled ancient Hindu festivities for the first time in history.
As encouraging as these digital solutions are, many are defying public health recommendations and gathering in massive numbers. Reports from Indonesia and Pakistan show large mosques filled with crowds on March 20, and several churches have defied health advice.
The New Life Christian Center in Indiana, USA announced on March 12 that, “Due to the recent outbreak of fear—and the resulting raw, unmitigated stupidity—regarding the perceived threat of the ‘coronavirus,’ etc., tomorrow night, Friday, March 13th, 2020, we WILL be having a church service here at New Life Christian Center in Austin, Indiana. Anyone who is sick, you are welcome to come to church. We will lay hands on the sick, and the sick shall recover.”
In Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim nation, many people defied WHO guidance in order to attend prayers. This follows an earlier religious gathering in Malaysia of 16,000 people from over 30 countries. The event made headlines for spreading the novel coronavirus. Many attendees returned home, where the infection spread further.
In Singapore, the spread of the coronavirus is linked to urban churches. South Korea’s outbreak was similarly attributed to attendance at a mass event of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, according to the New York Times.
With digital solutions at hand, religious authorities of all faiths are encouraging a virtual approach to worship. An infectious disease that could harm the sick and elderly the most is prompting religious groups around the world to spread the message that not attending traditional religious gatherings is in no way evidence of a lack of faith.