Social distancing is crucial in breaking the cycle of transmission of COVID-19. However, many religions require the faithful to congregate. In Malaysia, the number of COVID-19 cases spiked up from below 30 in February 2020 to more than a thousand a month later. The sudden increase was mostly linked to a large Islamic gathering attended by 16,000 near the capital, Kuala Lumpur. Another large COVID-19 cluster was from a church gathering in Kuching, Sarawak. Within a few weeks, Malaysia became the worst hit country by COVID-19 in Southeast Asia. While religious leaders have advised social distancing among their congregants, the belief that “God is our shield” is often cited for gathering. There is a need to promote sound decision-making among religious adherents so that they will not prioritize their loyalty to the subjective interpretation of religion over evidence-based medicine. Malaysia, a multi-cultural and multi-faith country, is an example of how religious beliefs could strongly influence health behaviours at individual and community levels. In this article, we detail the religious aspects of COVID-19 prevention and control in Malaysia and discuss the possible role of religious organizations in encouraging sound decision-making among religious adherents in mitigating this crisis. We make recommendations on how to promote a partnership between the healthcare system and religious organizations, and how religion and faith could be integrated into health promotion channels and resources in the response of COVID-19 and future communicable diseases.

This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (