The Controversy over the Hadith on Martyrs in the Context of ...

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Abstract

The interpretation of the hadith on martyrs due to death by plague had sparked controversy. According to the fatwā (legal advice) of Indonesian Council of Ulama (MUI), Muslims who had died of COVID-19 were considered martyrs. While major Islamic organizations such as the Muhammadiyah and Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) supported the fatwā, others argued that not all Muslim COVID-19 victims could be easily given the special status of martyrs. This different understanding of the hadith had complicated efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19 in Indonesia. This qualitative research aimed to delineate the debate between two opposing positions in society over how the hadith should be understood, as well as to elucidate the grounds behind the disagreement. The data in this article was derived from interviews, taking into account the respondents’ characteristics, with the Muhammadiyah and NU with differing opinions on the hadith. This research found that a gap in understanding between religious groups and social classes in society has become a significant factor in determining how the hadith on martyrs was understood. Local religious leaders had a significant influence on people’s refusal to handle corpses under COVID-19 protocols. In addition, textual interpretation of fiqh (Islamic laws) had created uncertainty when it came to managing the dead bodies of COVID-19 victims, particularly among traditionalist Muslims. This article suggests that a region-based comprehension of the hadith on martyrs was necessary in order to formulate effective policies in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.