Tablighi Jamaat's contagious connections

Tablighi Jamaats contagious connections

It is not proper and correct to give communal colour to the cause of Covid-19 crisis. Any congregation is in breach of protocol, ethics and law, irrespective of religion involved.

It is not proper and correct to give communal colour to the cause of Covid-19 crisis. Any congregation is in breach of protocol, ethics and law, irrespective of religion involved.

It is unfortunate for the Muslim brethren that their Tablighi Jamaat is now in the centre stage for its role importing and exporting the coronavirus Covid-19.

Its history of congregations in February and March this year showed an element of recklessness in ignoring the danger and causing the super spreading.

Neither TJ nor the governments have learnt from the contagious congregations in Malaysia and other areas. Especially India failed to see the dangerous spreading by those who stayed beyond visas.

India has totally ignored that more than 620 Covid-19 infections from its religious congregation in Kuala Lumpur between February 27 and March 1, 2020 were registered.

It became largest-known centre of transmission of the virus in Southeast Asia, Brunei, where it originated, and countries like Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Philippines.

Not caring the outbreak, TJ organised another international mass conference on 18 March in Gowa Regency in Indonesia, but it had to cancel on directives of the officers.

India did not even care to know why Pakistan has refused permission to TJ gathering that, even after such rejection, their congregation has caused serious disaster in their country.

Tablighi has contemplated another gathering in Raiwind in Pakistan for 1.5 lakh people was also called off in response to officials' requests.

But participants who have already gathered there and have returned the virus with two reported cases in Gaza Strip. Forty of Jamaat were found Covid-19 positive, while 50 more are suspected to be carriers of virus.

Besides Hyderabad in South India, Hyderabad Sindh also had 38 members of Jamaat found infected. Raiwind was locked down and police arrested the organisers of Sindh and Punjab for violating the law. One member stabbed a policeman to escape from isolation, though arrested later.

The meet that could not happen has already caused rise in infections in Pakistan, while its Prime Minister is finding it difficult to get mosques closed, parents quarantining children of congested homes paying in streets.

Indian machinery fails

In spite of this experience or knowledge, their meet happens in India. Why not it be attributed to failure of governance, absence of good governance, or absence of governance?

Unfortunate that our machinery has either failed to gauge Tablighi's activities in Malaysia before its meetings in New Delhi commenced or ignored as they were busy with other activities like Trump visit, communal riots and most importantly the toppling of MP government.

While officers of other countries requested TJ not to proceed with contemplated gatherings, the Indian official machinery did not bother to stop them, watch or take measures to sanitise or isolate or prevent further spread of virus.

Indian Home Ministry or External Affairs Ministry does not know how many are residing in Delhi after expiry of Visas, how many came from China with Covid-19+, where are they put up, what do they do and where do they go.

Complete and absolute failure of machinery, which cost nation heavily, besides taking away lives. It was first Telangana government that noticed reckless mingling by six persons from Indonesia in Nizamabad and other areas.

The government medical teams have saved their lives, but by the time of their quarantining they have infected hundreds. It may not be deliberate, but certainly with recklessness. Reckless spread of disease is considered equally mala fide.

Even after noticing the activities of Tablighi, action was delayed and by the time they were evacuated from their four-floor building on March 30th night, their emissaries spread all over the States of India have distributed infection indiscriminately, either knowingly or negligently.

Transmissions reached Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Karnataka, Jammu and Kashmir and Assam. On that day Nizamuddin West was totally cordoned off and medical camps were set up. Scores of attendees were evacuated, and quarantined.

Like in other countries many of Jamaat followers misbehaved, spat at doctors who were serving them, roamed naked, played vulgar songs, and made lewd gestures, commented at female staff of the hospital, which incidents brought down the image of Tablighi as an peaceful organization with pure religious aspect of pure religion.

Their conduct was so bad that UP government has decided not to employ any female staff to treat Jamaat members using National Security Act. Now the Tablighi in Delhi got notoriety as India's major coronavirus hotspots. Every day and week, numbers are being added up.

The failure of the government machinery in Delhi is quite clear in facilitating the spread, while Maharashtra police could effectively prevent such an event in Mumbai.

There are certain difficulties of the TJ also, who after lockdown came into effect on March 22 could not move their members out of Delhi without permission of police. TJ complained that police did not respond promptly, which also contributed to spread.

Next day, on 31 March, an FIR was filed against Muhammad Saad Kandhlawi and others under Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 and Indian Penal Code Section 269 for negligent act likely to spread infection of disease, 270 for malignant act likely to spread infection of disease, 271 disobedience to quarantine rule, and 120B criminal conspiracy.

Rule of law demands an inquiry into the role of Tablighi Jamaat in spreading the killer contagious disease through their congregations and failure of governance which facilitated it.

Tablighi: Origin

The history of activities of Tablighi Jamaat as an international movement is fraught with both positive and negative reports. While some observers considered it as peaceful and apolitical working to revive traditional Islam, some political commentators and researchers in Europe and other countries found certain of its activities are in liaison with some frontal organisations remotely linked to terror organisations. It is difficult to agree with either of these perceptions, but there is no transparency at all.

The history of Tablighi suggests that it was born in Mewat, Haryana in 1926-27 to counter activities of Arya Samaj which was performing Shuddi (purification) for those who return from Islam religion to which they converted during Moghul rule.

Their proclaimed objective is proselytising and preaching basics of Islam and to make all Muslims to commit steadfast to fundamentals of the Islamic religion. This organisation called TJ - "the Proselytizing Society" has spread into Central Asia after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Banned in some nations, spread in 150

This group is banned in Russia and all Central Asian countries, except for Kyrgyzstan. By 2019, Tablighi Jamaat has spread in 150 countries, and their offices are located in 120 states.

Gilles Kepel is an expert on Middle East politics, chair of Middle East and Mediterranean studies at the Institut d'études de Paris and senior fellow at the IDEAS centre in the London School of Economics and Political Science, and author of 'Beyond Terror and Martyrdom: The Future of the Middle East' and 'War for Muslim Minds, 2004'.

In his book "War for Muslim Minds, 2004", Kepel wrote that Tablighi wants the followers must dress like the Prophet, sleep as he did on the ground on one's right side etc. enter bathrooms leading with the left foot, but put pants on leading with the right foot; do not use a fork when eating, instead use your index finger, middle finger and thumb; men shave their upper lips, but let their beards grow; their pants or robes should be above the ankle "because the prophet said letting clothes drag on the ground is a sign of arrogance". (Second & last part of this article deals with the reports about Tablighi's activities world over)

(To be continued on next Tuesday)

(The writer is former Central Information Commissioner and Professor at Bennett University)

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