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Book Review - Virus Manusia dan Tuhan: Refleksi Lintas Iman tentang COVID-19 - by The Ministry of Religious Affairs of The Republic of Indonesia

  September 9th 2021

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After two years, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected almost all aspects of human life. With the death toll already in the millions across the world, the fate of humanity is increasingly uncertain. The uncertainty is not only about health, economic life, politics, and education, but also about religious life which has seen sudden and drastic changes. Religion, as a social system, has been torn apart by this pandemic. Like other disasters or global humanitarian crises, the impact of this pandemic knows no boundaries of religious identity and, thus, becomes a shared challenge that transcends those boundaries. Therefore, many parties, both laypeople and academics, as well as religious leaders and religious scholars are paying great attention to this issue and are trying to do an in-depth look at this difficult situation. Global calamities like this always provoke theological questions, such as: Why did God allow humans to suffer in the face of this deadly virus? Why doesn't God abolish all diseases and sufferings of humans who are called caliphs on this earth? Where is the role of faith in dealing with this epidemic? How do humans deal with the misery they face?

Regarding these questions, it is clear that there may be quite a number of books and writings that reflect the situation of human life in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, The Indonesian Consortium for Religious Studies (ICRS) as an academic organization that focuses on the study of religious issues has published a book entitled Virus Manusia dan Tuhan: Refleksi Lintas Iman tentang COVID-19 (Virus, Man and God: Reflections across Faiths about COVID-19). ICRS wants to contribute to enriching this reflection, across religions and beliefs, as well as across disciplines. This book seeks to stimulate a reflection that is not only theologically nuanced but also strengthens socio-religious reflection and demands humanitarian solidarity for fellow human beings or citizens who struggle with their suffering. Religious scholars, theologians, and those representing religious communities in Indonesia offer a variety of interfaith reflections and perspectives as guidance during these difficult times.

On September 2, 2021, the Center for Research and Development of Religious Community Guidance and Religious Services (Puslitbang Bimas Agama dan Layanan Keagamaan Badan Litbang dan Diklat). The Ministry of Religious Affairs of The Republic of Indonesia held a book review of Virus, Man, and God. In this forum, two authors of chapters in the book, namely Dr. Fatimah Huseni, Associate Director of ICRS, and Prof. Dr. I Ketut Ardhana from Udayana University and Hindu University Indonesia (UNHI), discussed their work. Moreover, as a discussant there was also KH Cholil Nafis, Ph.D. from the Indonesian Ulama Council (MUI), and Supriyadi, Director of Buddhist Affairs and Education (Direktur Urusan dan Pendidikan Agama Buddha), The Ministry of Religious Affairs.

In order to open the discussion, Prof. Dr. M. Adlin Sila, Head of the Center for Research and Development of Community Guidance and Religious Services of The Ministry of Religious Affairs (Kapuslitbang Bimas Agama dan Layanan Keagamaan Kemenag), said that the book presents inter-faith and inter-disciplinary reflections related to the Covid-19 pandemic which has been going on for almost two years and has affected almost all aspects of life, be it health, economy, education, religion. Prof. Dr. M. Adlin Sila argues that there may have been many published articles related to COVID-19 from the point of view of theological, philosophical, and sociological reflection. However, ICRS presents something different. The book, according to Prof. Dr. M. Adlin Sila, presents a new perspective that seeks to see this pandemic event as an opportunity to open meaningful interfaith and interdisciplinary conversations, not just to understand differences or look for similarities, but to face challenges together.

Moreover Dr. Fatimah Husein, as ICRS representative and contributor for the book, argued that the COVID-19 pandemic has reopened tensions between religion and science. According to Husein, on the one hand, there is distrust of some religious people towards viruses, doctors, and scientists. And, on the other hand, there is an assumption from some scientists that religious people are anti-science. Hence, through this book, ICRS wants to offer the results of theological, philosophical, and ethical reflections on the COVID-19 pandemic from various experts in their fields and their faith communities. Husein also explained that the articles in this book are expected to reflect a deeper level from the point of view of theology, philosophy, and ethics or metaphysics. Therefore, the contributors in this book consist of scholars, theologians in their respective fields, and representatives of interfaith communities who are respected and heard by people who imitate them. The authors have a background in Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Confucianism, Buddhism, Balinese Hinduism, Hindu Kaharingan, Baha'i, and Indigenous Religions. Prof. Dr. I Ketut Ardhana, as a contributing author, also said that in seeing and dealing with this COVID-19 pandemic, it takes the will and ability to build inter-religious, inter-ethnic, inter-gender reconciliation, which is not only based on tolerance, but also on the understanding that all groups are vulnerable to COVID-19. Prof. Ardhana also emphasized that in the COVID-19 pandemic situation, cooperation is urgently needed in dealing with the impact of COVID-19, that religions can respect each other with all their limitations.

Finally, in this forum, the discussants also presented their views related to the pandemic situation in terms of the book. KH Cholil Nafis, Ph.D. from the Indonesia Ulama Council (MUI) explained that the COVID-19 pandemic had an impact on changes in the religious landscape in society and the polarization of religious authorities. This can be seen, for example, from the many recitation activities carried out online. Furthermore, according to Nafis, the COVID-19 pandemic has rapidly changed the religiosity of people at the grassroots. This change reflects the theological reinterpretation and religious reasoning not only of the ulama but also of the common people. He argues that grassroots Ijtihad has given birth to a way of religion that was previously unimaginable. This is where the need to develop a constructive attitude towards this pandemic with a cosmotheandric spirituality, that God, the world, and humans are inseparable. Finally, Supriyadi, as Director of Buddhist Affairs and Education, Ministry of Religious Affairs, said that from a Buddhist perspective, the COVID-19 pandemic has actually become an important part of the transformation of understanding about religious values such as compassion and solidarity. The transformation in question is that the context of the COVID-19 pandemic seems to enforce the idea that people who are religious should no longer just master their religious teachings but also bring them into real-life practice.