By Arshad Alam, New Age Islam
01 April 2020
The Tablighi Jamaat (TJ) is again in spotlight for all the wrong reasons. The facts of the case are as follows: during 13-15th March, there was a special program at the Tablighi Jamaat headquarters in Nizamuddin, Delhi. Participants for this special program had come from more than twenty countries, with large batches from Indonesia, Malaysia and Bangladesh. It is now confirmed that some who attended this gathering are coronavirus positive cases. A few have even died due to this illness. The government is currently trying to locate each and every member which participated in the gathering and whomsoever they may have come in contact with.
This is indeed a herculean task given the fact that most have already gone to their homes and in the process, some of them must have infected people who came in contact with them. At special risk are their family members. We can only hope and pray that they remain safe. Till now, it has been confirmed that the groups which returned to Telangana and Kashmir were definitely carrying the virus as there are confirmed fatalities reported from these two places. What is more worrying is that the participants also carried the virus back to the Andamans, home to some of the most endangered tribal communities. However, the Tablighi Jamaat is not just a pan-national but a trans-national movement and therefore the exact spread of the virus and its ramifications will only become clear much later.
I have never appreciated this movement. I think it is a big waste of time, money and resource of the community. I have found members of this movement to be extremely irresponsible when it comes to social and familial commitments. Their views are inanely orthodox and they are conservative to the point of being ridiculous. There are millions of followers of this movement in India and even if a fraction of them show the same kind of commitment towards education or health, the situation of Muslims would be very different from what it is today. Also, the movement says that it eschews politics but certainly that it is not the case. By being ‘apolitical’, the movement cuts out a significant section of Muslims from critically engaging with present day political structures and makes them fatalistic.
This works to the detriment of Muslim political empowerment in India and elsewhere but at the same time is very functional for the ruling powers. Theirs is a worldview where ‘real life’ starts after death. They are not concerned about anything which concerns Muslims in this world: education, health, general well-being, etc. It is not surprising that they are welcome the world over for their views and activities, especially by regimes which do not want Muslims to question the existing political order. For Indian Muslims who are already beset by social and economic backwardness, this movement is designed to keep them in that state for all eternity.
Despite my intense dislike of the movement, I do not believe the current media harangue which is blaming the Tablighi Jamaat for the spread of coronavirus in India. Uninformed about Muslim complexities, it will not take long for the very same players to conflate the Tablighi Jamaat with all Muslims. These nincompoop anchors and their editors do not know that the Tablighi Jamaat is only one of the many sects within Indian Muslims. The majority of Indian Muslims do not follow this order, rather they detest it actively.
Moreover, it is not that this event organised by the Tablighi Jamaat was something new; such events keep getting organised at the headquarters as a matter of routine. And followers from all over the world congregate at Nizamuddin every single day of the year. But in the current political climate when we need a scapegoat for all our problems, it is entirely possible that all Muslims will be made the villain for the fault of one particular group. Already there are hashtags like #coronajihad doing the rounds; who knows in the next few days, we might discover that this was a diabolical pre-planned conspiracy by Muslims to inject the virus in this country. Due to the unplanned lockdown, the country in already on the edge. Blaming Muslims in this situation is playing a very dangerous game, one whose outcome might be very precarious for this country.
This is not to absolve the Tablighi Jamaat of its responsibility. Certainly, by the time of the said event, the world had become aware of the impending impact of the virus. Since it is a transnational movement, they should have immediately cancelled the event and advised its followers not to come to the headquarters. Rather than doing this, they went ahead and in fact only requested the police to escort people out after the lockdown was in effect.
So, certainly they have played a part in disseminating the virus and being irresponsible, but so have a whole host of other players. It must be recalled that during this time, there were no policy restrictions in place. People did assemble for holy celebrations; a chief minister took oath in full public gathering and the parliament was functioning as if there was no health emergency in the country. According to the BBC, one Sikh religious leader might have endangered the lives of thousands in Punjab.
There were similar instances of large gathering organised by other religious groups also. But then, in a country where the very word ‘Muslim’ has become synonymous with problem, it will only be this identity which will be negatively privileged. And that is what is happening with the Tablighi Jamaat right now. Sooner or later the coronavirus will be contained, but the sickness which is at the heart of hatred against Muslims will perhaps never be contained.
Arshad Alam is a columnist with NewAgeIslam.com