On 10th March 2020, two Islamic preachers from Thailand travel from New Delhi to Erode in the Millennium Express after attending a large gathering of Sunni Islamists in Nizamuddin located in South Delhi. During the course of their travel, they bustle through crowds coming in contact with large number of people knowingly and unknowingly. Over the next few days, they visit three mosques in Erode making contact with several people over the period.
On March 21, the two Thai preachers test positive for the Chinese virus. A few days later, on March 25, a 54 year old man from Madurai who had met the Thai preachers in Delhi succumbed to COVID-19 due to his co-morbidities. Three of his family members contract the disease and have been housed in isolation wards. Before dying, the patient from Madurai is said to have visited a mosque and attended a family function possibly infecting people whoever he came in contact with.
Meanwhile in Salem, four out of eleven persons, all of them Indonesian Sunni Islamic preachers test positive for COVID-19 along with a local tour guide who took them around the city. In the next few days, positive cases show up in Coimbatore, Thanjavur, Chennai, Vellore, Kanchipuram and other parts of the state. It is said that Tamil Nadu had the highest number of people participating in the Jamaat. The state saw a steep increase in just a single day (1st April) with 110 cases turning out COVID-19 positive taking the overall count in the state to 234 with majority of the cases having a common thread – the Tablighi Jamaat congregation.
A tragedy that was waiting to happen
Around the first week of March, more than 250 foreign nationals from countries like Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia arrive in Delhi to attend a congregation organized by the Tablighi Jamaat, a Sunni Islamic missionary group. The Hindu reported that close to 8000 people from across the country attended this gathering held during March 13-15 at the Alami Markaz Banglewali Masjid also known as the Nizamuddin Markaz, the international headquarters of the Tablighi Jamaat situated in the Nizamuddin area of south Delhi.
From there, many foreign Islamic preachers along with their Indian friends travelled to different states across India by road, rail and air to stay in different mosques and deliver sermons. These are gross violations of the tourist visa conditions. All this is happening as the Chinese virus stretches its tentacles across the world. The following two weeks saw Telangana, Kashmir, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Karnataka, Andaman, Tamil Nadu and Delhi reporting cases of COVID-19 who have a travel history to Delhi. In Delhi, among the 97 cases, 24 are from the Nizamuddin Markaz. With rising number of such cases, it is becoming quite clear that the Nizamuddin Markaz is the hot spot of the Chinese virus.
Currently it is estimated that around 1500 from Tamil Nadu, 1030 from Telangana, around 700 from Andhra Pradesh, atleast a 300 from Kerala and nearly 1500 from Karnataka attended the gathering in Delhi. It is to be noted that not all of them returned to their native states. Some of them are probably in other states staying in different mosques. So far, Tamil Nadu has been able to trace and quarantine only 1103 of the 1500 people. Many people from Andhra remain untraced.
Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal on Tuesday mentioned that 1548 people have been evacuated from the premises of 441 have been hospitalised after they showed symptoms of COVID while the rest 1107 have been quarantined. Other states are grappling with their resources to trace the Tablighi Jamaat attenders. The Prime Minister in his meeting with the state CMs has asked them to trace, test, isolate and quarantine.
In a video released by the Delhi Markaz’s Youtube channel, a Maulana urges Muslims to defy orders calling the corona virus a ‘conspiracy’ to separate Muslims. He says “If Muslims believe in these things, the disease will end and so will our brotherhood. They say don't sit next to each other, don't eat from one plate. This is a scheme to destroy Muslim unity, separate Muslim from Muslim and bring in untouchability among us.” However, he further adds that there is nothing wrong about quarantining those with symptoms but calls it oppression to not let Muslims meet with each other and pray.
The Delhi Police on Tuesday released a video in which the Station House Officer (SHO) can be seen issuing a notice to the Jamaat organizers and warning the Sunni Muslim clerics for repeatedly violating the ban on mass gatherings. He said “there are clear instructions that all religious places should be shut and no place should have more than 5 people but despite warnings, there are always 1500-2000 people gathered at the Markaz. This is for your own safety. If there anymore violations, I will be forced to take action.” The clerics can be seen agreeing and telling the SHO that 1000 people from outside Delhi are stuck and want to go back but are not able because of the lockdown. The SHO suggests them contact SDM regarding the stranded people’s travel and offers to provide the officers number.
This violation for government directions and orders on safety measures keeps continuing. A video going viral on social media shows a person in Tamil Nadu suspected to have COVID-19 failing to cooperate with health officials to get tested for the disease. Raising his voice against the officials the man says “Go check Modi first. He has visited 153 countries. Will you go check him? Why bother me? I am telling you. EPS and OPS have corona. Go check them first.” In Indore, health officials were pelted with stones when they went for testing. An ASHA worker in Bengaluru was heckled while collecting data about on the health conditions of a Muslim locality. Other such incidents are being reported across the country.
Chief Secretary of Tamil Nadu K. Shanmugam while addressing the press mentioned that some of those who had returned from the Jamaat had switched off their phones or left for some other locations. He categorically stated that further spread in Tamil Nadu can be prevented only if the group that attended the Jamaat are isolated and cordoned off.
Some serious questions that need answers
The Delhi police have registered a case against Maulana Saad and others from the Tablighi Jamaat under Section 3 of the Epidemic Diseases Act 1897 along with charges under Sections 269, 270, 271 and 120-B of the Indian Penal Code. The Home Ministry has set in motion the process to blacklist more than 800 foreign Tablighi members who came here on a tourist visa. Just as I write this article, reports have come that the National Security Adviser Ajit Doval intervened to get Maulana Saad to vacate the premises. But these are actions that have come in a little late. This whole episode has given rise to some pertinent questions.
- Why are foreign Islamic preachers being given any visa in India?
- How did the Sunni Islamic preachers from China, Thailand, Indonesia and other countries get through at the airport when in fact Government of India started screening all passengers from these nations as early as February 1st week? (Note: Thermal screening of passengers was extended to Thailand on February 6. Indonesia and Malaysia were added on February 23. China was added much earlier).
- Who gave permission to conduct a mass gathering of 8000 people when the threat of the Chinese virus was looming?
- What is the need for an NSA to go out of his way to convince the Maulana?
- Lastly, why is a rabid Islamic proselytizing group even functional in India?
These questions demand answers. If the answers cannot be made open, then appropriate actions need to be taken behind the screens so that no foreign element is allowed a free pass in this country.
Tablighi Jamaat and terrorism
A paper published by the think-tank Middle Eastern Forum states that the Tablighi Jamaat is “part of the reason for the explosive growth of Islamic religious fervour”. The hijacking of Indian Airline flight IC 814 in December 1998 and the murder of French engineers in Karachi was carried out by Tablighis. The suspects arrested in the January 2008 bombing plot in Barcelona, Spain were Tablighis. The July 7, 2005 bombings that shook London was also done by the Tablighis. The paper goes on to mention that 80% of Islamic extremists in France come from Tablighi ranks that has made the French intelligence officers to call the Tablighi Jamat as the “antechamber of fundamentalism”.
The disturbing tenets of the Tablighi Jamaat
What started as an offshoot of the Deobandi movement (another fundamentalist puritan Islamic revivalist movement), the Tablighi Jamat has turned out to be one of the largest missionary outfits in the world with its footprints in more than 150 countries. A majority of its followers fall in the South Asian region. Its stated objective is to urge the Muslim community to return to primary Sunni Islamic lifestyle that involves observing certain dress code and personal habits. It seeks to reach out to Muslims across the socio-economic spectra to make them fall in line with the Sunni practices. Thus, these Tablighis are not just a threat to other religions and cultures but are a threat to the Muslim community themselves.
There is one more thing to be noted about the Tablighis. There are two sections of them: one section believes that they should pursue jihad through conscience (jihad bin nafs) while the other advocates jihad through sword (jihad bin saif). However, all Tablighis subscribe to something that is almost indistinguishable from the radical Wahhabi-Salafi jihadist ideology that so many terrorists share.
It is high time the government cracks the whip on these radical Islamist groups that are hell bent on breaking India. India cannot afford to live in denial under the pretence of an alien construct called secularism and sit on a ticking time bomb. Not at this moment.