By S. Arshad, New Age Islam
01 April 2020
Islamic proselitysation group Tablighi Jama'at's international centre called Markaz at Nizamuddin West in New Delhi is in the eye of a storm after 24 of its participants from different towns of India were found to be Covid-19 positive. According to a government report, more than 6 participants died after returning from Markaz. They belonged to Kashmir, Karnataka and Telangana. The government has said that the Markaz did not heed the notices issued to them while the Markaz has said that it had responded to the notice and had talked to the SHO and the SDM about evacuating the centre. They had even given the administration the list of 17 vehicles with the names of drivers and details of their licences to be used for evacuation. But the administration had said that the permission for such a large number of vehicles could not be given during the lockdown. They said that since the lockdown was imposed suddenly, the participants got stuck in the Markaz. They had evacuated most of the participants before the announcement of the lockdown but those who returned from different towns on 23rd of March got stuck in the Markaz. This is one of the consequences of the sudden and unplanned lockdown.
However, there is one question which the Markaz authorities need to answer. When the Delhi government had issued the order on 16th March that more than fifty people cannot assemble at any place, why didn't the Markaz evacuate all the participants on 17th? The reason may be that the Markaz authorities did not take the order seriously as the Central government itself did not take Corona virus seriously. On 13th March, Health Ministry Joint Secretary Lav Agarwal had said that Corona Virus was not a health emergency and that there was no need to panic though till 14th March, 81 Covid-19 cases had been found in India among which 16 were Italians and one was a Canadian.
The Central government woke up to the threat only on 19 March when it suspended inbound international flights because it realised that foreign nationals were spreading Corona in the country. But it was too late. Between February and March 18, 94000 NRIs returned to India from Covid-19 infected countries like China, Italy, Britain, France, Norway, Spain, Germany and the US. Out of those 94 thousand NRIs, 90 thousand belong to the Punjab alone. One infected person who had come to the Punjab from Germany via Italy died a few days after reaching home in Nawanshahr. He alone had transmitted the virus to 21 people before dying. After that the Punjab government quarantined 30000 NRIs and 18000 local people. The police were trying to locate other returnees. A curfew was clamped in the state. All this information was given by the Chief Minister of Punjab, Captain Amrinder Singh. Among the other 4000 persons who came to India from abroad during this period were the singer Kanika Kapoor who tested Positive the fourth time and might have infected many in Mumbai, Lucknow and Kanpur. 280 participants of the Markaz from China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Kyrgyzstan, Sri Lanka were among those foreign nationals who came to India in the first week of March when everything was hunky dory in India.
Another alarming report of Covid-19 cases emerged from Noida where 18 persons of a single company were found Corona positive. They contracted the virus from a British orator who had addressed the employees.
All these instances were presented to make it clear that the government first permitted foreign nationals from Covid-19 infected countries to travel to India who spread the disease here. And the number of such people was about 100,000. Many of them were Corona positive. So only a single group or a particular community cannot be blamed for it.
However, the Markaz is also responsible and can be blamed for ignoring the government instructions initially though the larger Muslim community of India had complied with the rules of lockdown. They had suspended collective prayers and the religious leaders and imams of mosques had advised them to stay at home, observe social distancing, avoid handshake and meeting people unnecessarily. They also suspended Jalsas, Meelads and other religious gathering for the time being. But the leader of the Tablighi Jama'at did not believe in social distancing and expressed his views openly during his sermons during the period. The parts of audio recordings purportedly of his sermons posted on YouTube between 24th and 26th March show that he has conservative ideas. He openly says that the virus does not spread through hand shake and social distancing and other prohibitor measures are part of a plan to create differences among Muslims and to make Muslims treat each other like untouchables. Here are some excerpts:
"This idea is totally false that the disease will spread through gathering in mosques."(23rd March)
"If your mind tells you to take precautions, there is nothing wrong in it but never allow the thought in your heart that if you shake hands with others, the disease will infect you because the diseases infect only with the 'Amr' (decree) of God." (24th March)
"This is the time to venture out on the path of God and call the ummah towards repentance and reminding the ummah of their duty towards God. This is the time to hold fast on to the mosque, and not to leave mosques." ((24th March)
"The Quran and Hadith enjoin in Muslims to hold on to mosques to avoid fitna (calamities) but people of this age think that leaving the mosques is the cure for this malady."(24th March)
"Actually, this is all a plan to create rifts among the Muslims. This is a means to turn Muslims into untouchables.............How have we come to believe that if we will meet each other the disease will spread. ."(26th March)
No one has the belief that diseases spread from mosques or temples. People were told not to gather in huge number at any place, be it a market or a place of worship because there may be some infected people in the crowd or among the devotees and the virus may spread to others. Therefore, it is clear from the excerpts of his speeches that he did not believe in the rules of social distancing in mosques or in society.
Another fact should be mentioned here. In Tablighi Jama'at, the general rule of eating from separate plates is not followed. 8 or ten people eat together from a big plate. It is not known from any of his speeches that he asked the members of the Jama'at not to eat together and eat individually and drink water from separate glasses as a precaution. It seems that the members of the Jama'at had been eating and drinking collectively and using the same plates and glasses because the leader of the Jama'at did not believe in social distancing rules. This may be the major cause of the spread of infections among the participants.
This rigid attitude of the leaders of the Jama'at and the conservative and outdated religious outlook promoted by the Jama'at has not only put it in the thick of a controversy but has also undone all the efforts of the Muslim community to fight the epidemic together with other communities and with the government. They have provided their critics and critics of Muslims an opportunity to vilify them and to present them as obscurantist and irresponsible community.
S. Arshad is a regular columnist for NewAgeIslam.com