By ENDY BAYUNI
Executive Director of the International Association of Religion Journalists (IARJ)
In the current COVID-19 global pandemic, religion both unites and divides nations and communities. Some faithful are complying with the standard health protocols, and others are defying them. Both sides invoke their faith for their actions. In short, religions have played both positive and negative roles in the current struggle against the virus.
The International Association of Religion Journalists (IARJ) is launching a series of dialogues on how the COVID-19 is impacting faith communities in different parts of the world. We bring together journalists from different regions to share their stories and also the challenges they face in reporting them.
This discussion series aims to showcase the breadth and expertise of IARJ resources in understanding the impact of this once-in-a-lifetime pandemic across different belief systems and regions of the world.
In the following days, we are holding dialogues for various world regions, including Asia, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, North America, Northern and Central Europe, and Southern Europe and the Mediterranean. The events will be live-streamed and videos will be posted on the IARJ website www.theiarj.org.
As journalists around the world have reported, some COVID-19 policies have affected the way people practice their faith. As places of worship closed during lockdowns, people are turning to the internet to join mass prayers and hear sermons. Some simply are defying the ban and restrictions.
Already, major religious observances—including Christians’ Easter, Muslims’ Ramadan and the Jewish week of Passover—have occurred during the peak of the pandemic. With each passing month, more religious holidays and festivals are having to adapt to COVID-19 restrictions. In many communities around the world, the pandemic adaptations that have emerged are changing the ways communities connect with each other and their faith traditions.
In some parts of the world, there also is fierce debate pitting science against religion in trying to understand the pandemic and finding ways to fight it. COVID-19 has also had some impacts, both good and bad, in terms of freedom of religion and interfaith relations across the world.