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Sunday, April 11, 2021

Tablighi Jamaat, COVID outbreak, and the lessons for all

The Tablighi Jamaat has been at the center of the controversy for spreading the Coronavirus in India after a massive attendance of people attending a religious meet at Delhi’s Nizamuddin. The Jamaat has been accused of negligence for continuing the meet in the wake of a pandemic. Their leader Maulana Saad Kandhlawi has been booked under the Epidemic Diseases Act by the Delhi Police. Nearly one-third of the total Corona cases in India are related to the Markaz.

How did it all happen?

While the Tablighi Jamaat prepared for the grand Markaz at Delhi’s Nizamuddin, the center announced a 21-day lockdown on March 25. Unaware of the impending lockdown, around 2500 worshippers were present in the complex when the authorities came and locked them in without any warning. The Markaz became a fateful event in the corona history of India. The coronavirus spread had seen a significant surge on March 13-14 with the foreign travelers allegedly the carriers of the virus, had entered India with an intention of attending the religious congregation. The ‘carelessness’ exercised by not only the Jamaat members and their highest authorities, but also by the central government has resulted in the majority of the Corona positive cases in the country.

The lethargy exercised by the center was unbelievable. The intelligence agencies and the local police completely forgot that they had given permission for such a meet. How can they permit such an event when the same had been banned by the Maharashtra police? The knowledge that the foreigners coming to attend the Markaz are flying in from COVID – 19 hotspots like Malaysia and Indonesia, did not alert the authorities and their entry was allowed without proper screening at the airports. Random tests could have been carried out for COVID – 19 and those found positive could have been quarantined. But to much despair, the screening began only from March 26. By then the damage was already done.

The Tablighi Jamaat became the Achilles’s heel for India amidst the pandemic.

Who are the Tablighis and what are their beliefs?

Tablighi Jamaat is an Islamic Missionary movement. It was founded in 1926 by Muhammed Ilyas al-Kandhlawi in the Mewat (Haryana) region of India. It is a non-political Sunni Islamic organization. Its prime focus lies on urging the Muslims worldwide to revert to the original Sunni Islamic faith, particularly in the attributes of rituals, attires, and personal behaviors. Kandhlawi has given a new slogan to the organization which captures the essence of its activities, “O Muslims, Be true Muslims.”

The Tablighi Jamaat focuses on six pillars — kalima (belief in the oneness of Allah), salah (daily prayers), ilm and zikr (remembrance of Allah and fellowship), ikraam-e-Muslim (to treat fellow Muslims with respect), tas’hih-i-niyyat (to reform and devote one’s life to Islamic ideals), and dawah (to preach the message of Allah).

They follow a different rigid culture. Tablighi men grow beards and dress in long kurtas and pajamas, ending above the ankles. While women are fully covered when in public, they are generally confined to their homes and family and have a strictly religious life. Their houses have a simple design. They prefer to sit on carpets and cushions instead of plush sofas abstaining from the use of music and television.

The jamaat believes in working at the grass-root level to convert Muslims to Sunni Islams. At the same time, they are not interested in the conversion of Non-muslims.

The International face of the Tablighi Jamaat

The Tablighi Jamaat has tried to maintain a low profile from the day of its establishment with scattered instances of their involvement in terrorist activities across the world. The simultaneous spread of the coronavirus in numerous countries across the world has brought the jamaat under the magnifying lens. The jamaat is severely condemned for its shameless non-acceptance of responsibility in causing threats to so many lives, and no apology or response from their leader. The leader Kandhlawi has, however become untraceable. Many leaders worldwide believe that this is nothing less than ‘Coronajihad,’ which is responsible for claiming thousands of lives. 

“The Tablighi Jamaat operates in every sense as a secret society. Its meetings are held behind closed doors. We don’t know who attends them. How much money it has. It publishes no minutes or accounts. It doesn’t talk about itself. It is extremely difficult to penetrate”— TJ scholar, Dr. Patrick Sukhdeo, the director of the Institute for the Study of Islam and Christianity.

Why was Nizamuddin chosen for Markaz?

The Corona spread in India has put a stigma on the Tablighis. The most important question that emerges is that why in the first place the Markaz was held? The Jamaat held such religious congregations in Malaysia, Indonesia, and Pakistan. In India, they wanted to arrange their program in Vasai, Maharashtra. But in the wake of the COVID -19 outbreak in India, the Maharashtra government and the Maharashtra police put a stop to it. The Delhi government had also issued orders of not holding any significant events or gatherings on March 13. The organization ignored these orders and went to assemble at Delhi’s Nizamuddin, contributing further to the spread of the virus.

NEW DELHI, INDIA. MAY 23,2018: People read prayers in the premises of Hazrat Nizamuddin Dargah Complex, after the Iftar ceremony, the evening meal to break the fast during the holy month of Ramadan.
Representative Image. Shutterstock. People read prayers in the premises of Hazrat Nizamuddin Dargah Complex, after the Iftar ceremony, the evening meal to break the fast during the holy month of Ramadan. Mayank Makhija/shutterstock.com

So far how we managed to control the transmitters?

The Tablighi Markaz has doubled the Coronavirus cases in India. Before the religious congregation, the cases were found in 7.4 days on an average. The meet, however, doubled the instances to be found in 4.1 days. With the number of cases increasing daily in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, and Gujarat, the blame is on the Tablighi worshipers who fled from Delhi and reached other states. Though there was a nation-wide lockdown with no means of transportation, it is an assumption that these people walked hundreds of kilometers towards their destination, transmitting the virus on the way. The worst part of the story is that the Muslims in some cities have barred the authorities from testing them.
However, the local police of every state are on a mission of ‘Trace, track and quarantine’ the virus transmitters. Many areas in various cities have been ‘Red-Zoned.’ There has been a restriction imposed on inter-state entry, along with the sealing of cities like Ahmedabad after an alarming increase in the number of cases.

The Markaz effect on the lockdown

Faizan Mustafa, a constitutional expert, said the Jamaat did not act appropriately and missed the writing on the wall after the Indonesian preachers tested positive in Telangana. The media further stigmatized the Jamaat for its “carelessness,” and went on to blame around 2000 Muslims of the country for spreading the virus that has wiped out more than 70,000 people globally. With many of the political leaders defaming the Markaz as “Corona Terrorism,” which hints at the Islamophobia of the governing party, #Corornajihad had blazed a trail on Twitter and other social media platforms.

21 days lockdown in India
Bharuch, Gujarat / India – April 05 2020: Covid 19 Corona Virus 21 days lockdown in India. Indian police man on duty to stop people from roaming in city. Kunal Mahto/Shutterstock.com

Union Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi labeled the gathering as “Taliban Crime.”  Supporting the lockdown,  “Naqvi said 99% of the people, including minorities, are strongly supportive of the government’s efforts to contain the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic.” As India is still witnessing the uptick in the number of cases spreading, to control the spread further, PM Modi on April 14 has extended the 21 day lock down  to May 3. with more strict vigilance and punitive actions against rule-breakers. 

In the end, there is a lesson for all

This hour rightly calls for insight. Stigma on the Tablighi Jamaat or any other group is indeed a matter of disgrace. Do we need to have such religious gatherings or, for that matter, any such meetings with the on-going COVID-19 pandemic? Can’t we practice restrain and resolve to save all the lives in the world? Shouldn’t we prioritize life over all the other matters? We try to discipline our children, but are we disciplined enough to be exemplary to them?

Social distancing is the only solution to break the chain of the spread of the virus. The lock down has provided us with a lot of time to introspect, finding answers to the questions which are selfishly being ignored by us. India, therefore, needs to be alert and do everything within it’s power to contain the virus.

Remember, if there is life, then there is world. We want both – the life as well as the world.

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