Every year during the fasting month of the Ramadan, the Indonesian tutor Ahmad Winardi has taught a special type of course to the students inside the world's biggest Muslim-majority nation for deepening their knowledge of Islam.
But this year the deadly novel coronavirus or COVID-19 has brought a Ramadan that was never before, with the mosques being locked down and the physical distancing restrictions forcing Winardi to move the studies online.
One consequence is that the courses, previously held only in cities on the islands of Java and Sumatra, have this year attracted a wider range of students in the archipelago, including from Indonesian Borneo. "Due to COVID-19, we're restricted from activities outside our houses so we started the online Islamic course," said Gemia Indria, one of the organisers.
Coronavirus in the time of Ramadan
"And it turns out online teaching removes geographical barriers, so we can reach out to more participants." Known as "Pesantran Kilat", which loosely translates as "intensive Islamic boarding school", the course teaches students about Islam, as well as creative ways to recite the Koran, such as through hand gestures. The gestures, Winardi explained, can act as fun prompts to help primary school students, most aged from 6 to 12 years old, recall religious verses.
"The chemistry is absolutely different as we don't meet in person," Winardi said of the online lessons. "But we try some ice-breaking activities, such as shouting 'God is greatest'. Hopefully it encourages them to memorise the Koran." Joining the class from the capital, Jakarta, alongside classmates from South Sumatra and West Java, Muhammad Umar Abdurrahman, 11, said he enjoyed the lesson, although his father saw room for improvement, such as more comprehensive course material.
Most residents of Jakarta have been staying home since March 20 as part of social distancing measures, which have seen schools and businesses close, and gatherings of more than five people banned until May 22. Indonesia, which has the highest coronavirus death toll in East Asia outside China, has reported more than 12,000 coronavirus cases and 872 deaths, as of on Tuesday.
(With agency inputs)