Islamic boarding school finds strength in spiritual pursuit, community, and physical distancing

For some, the spirit of communal prayer is irreplaceable, even though they can no longer pray shoulder-to-shoulder like before the pandemic. Photo: Coconuts Media/Agung
For some, the spirit of communal prayer is irreplaceable, even though they can no longer pray shoulder-to-shoulder like before the pandemic. Photo: Coconuts Media/Agung

It had been four months since the santri (Islamic boarding school students) of An Nuqthah in Tangerang, Banten last studied, ate, slept, and lived with each other.

In late June, the school reopened its doors. Its teenage students, with the permission of their parents, began trickling back into their normal lives ⁠— only this time, “normal” isn’t as they knew it.

Reading, reciting, and dissecting the meaning of the Quran are a major part the daily lives of An Nuqthah's students. Photo: Coconuts Media/Agung
Reading, reciting, and dissecting the meaning of the Quran are a major part the daily lives of An Nuqthah’s students. Photo: Coconuts Media/Agung
Muffled but heartfelt: a student reads the Quran at the An Nuqthah Islamic Boarding School in Tangerang, Banten. Photo: Coconuts Media/Agung
Muffled but heartfelt: a student reads the Quran at the An Nuqthah Islamic Boarding School in Tangerang, Banten. Photo: Coconuts Media/Agung
Reading the Quran aloud ⁠— with friends ⁠— creates a strong spiritual bond between students. Photo: Coconuts Media/Agung
Reading the Quran aloud ⁠— with friends ⁠— creates a strong spiritual bond between students. Photo: Coconuts Media/Agung

For one, face masks are now obligatory, even when students read the Quran aloud together. Though their voices are now slightly muffled, the coverings did little to diminish the melodious recital, which reverberated throughout the quiet halls, creating a serene and divine atmosphere.

There’s no academic activity yet ⁠— that will have to wait until the new school year commences in mid-July at the earliest. For now, it’s all about giving students the chance to acclimatize to new health protocols.

A mosque is literally steps away for students of An Nuqthah Islamic Boarding School. Photo: Coconuts Media/Agung
A mosque is literally steps away for students of An Nuqthah Islamic Boarding School. Photo: Coconuts Media/Agung

“Every santri must get permission from parents or guardians [to return to school]. They have to pass the COVID-19 health test from their respective local hospitals. We brought in a doctor to test them before they can come inside the boarding school. They were also asked about their last contact and activities during the past 14 days,” said Syarif, an ustad (teacher) at the school, describing the stringent screening measures for returning students.

“[The school] installed sinks at many points so every student can wash their hands frequently. Students have to sunbath [in the morning] and dry their clothes under the sun many times. They have to keep their distance when in the bedroom, playground, or while reading the Quran and praying in the mosque.

“Physical distancing is very important to slow down the spread of this disease. Islam teaches us that cleanliness is a part of faith. So we must maintain our personal hygiene and the environment as well as possible.”

Their school is their home. Chores, such as cleaning the schoolyard, are an essential learning experience. Photo: Coconuts Media/Agung
Their school is their home. Chores, such as cleaning the schoolyard, are an essential learning experience. Photo: Coconuts Media/Agung
Order is needed more than ever during the pandemic. Even when it comes to students' sandals. Photo: Coconuts Media/Agung
Order is needed more than ever during the pandemic. Even when it comes to students’ sandals. Photo: Coconuts Media/Agung

Though studying hasn’t resumed, the fun certainly has.

Extracurricular activities take the bore out of boarding school. These girls are trying to get in sync during dance practice. Photo: Coconuts Media/Agung
Extracurricular activities take the bore out of boarding school. These girls are trying to get in sync during dance practice. Photo: Coconuts Media/Agung
Another way to swat the bore out of boarding school: playing badminton. Photo: Coconuts Media/Agung
Another way to swat the bore out of boarding school: playing badminton. Photo: Coconuts Media/Agung

The most important thing, for now, is that the students are finding strength in each other and spiritual pursuit amid the terrifying pandemic. God only knows when the pandemic will be over. For now, the students can do nothing but pray and respect their religion’s teachings enough that they take the precautions against COVID-19 seriously.

Students purify themselves with clean water at an ablution station before prayer. Photo: Coconuts Media/Agung
Students purify themselves with clean water at an ablution station before prayer. Photo: Coconuts Media/Agung
Praying for the coronavirus to go away and good health for everyone are staple wishes in students' pleas to God these days. Photo: Coconuts Media/Agung
Praying for the coronavirus to go away and good health for everyone are staple wishes in students’ pleas to God these days. Photo: Coconuts Media/Agung

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