From South-East Asia To India And Pakistan, Preachers Of This Controversial Islamic Movement Have Tested Positive For Coronavirus

M R Subramani

Mar 24, 2020, 05:19 PM | Updated 05:17 PM IST

A gathering of the Ijtimak Tabligh in Malaysia. (Wikimedia Commons) 
A gathering of the Ijtimak Tabligh in Malaysia. (Wikimedia Commons) 
  • It is said that the Jamaat is being held responsible for the spread of the coronavirus, particularly after a global gathering of Tablighi Jamaat evangelicals at a mosque in Malaysia, which turned into a hotspot for the spread of the pandemic virus in South-East Asia.
  • On Monday (23 March), Tamil Nadu’s Salem district collector S A Raman ordered the health screening of 11 Indonesian Islamic preachers, who had visited at least four mosques in the area, for coronavirus (Covid-19).

    The preachers, who visited mosques in Kitchipalayam, Ammapet, Shevapet, Ponnammapet and Erumapalayam in the district belong to the Tablighi Jamaat, which was held responsible for the spread of the pandemic virus in South-East Asia.

    During the weekend, two Thai nationals, also belonging to the Tablighi Jamaat and a part of a 13-member group, tested positive for Covid-19 in neighbouring Erode district.

    Nine Indonesian Tablighi Jamaat preachers have also tested positive for Covid-19 in Telangana, while four of their group members are under observation.

    That the Tablighi Jamaat preachers have been found positive for Covid-19 raises an important question.

    There have been more reports this week of the Jamaat being held responsible for the spread of the coronavirus. This is particularly after a global gathering of Tablighi Jamaat evangelicals — Ijtima Asia — at Seri Petaling mosque, Selangor in Malaysia which turned into a hotspot for the spread of the pandemic virus in South-East Asia.

    A total of 1,518 people have tested positive for coronavirus in Malaysia with 800 of them being those who attended the Tablighi Jamaat event in Kuala Lumpur. Over 16,000 took part in the event from 28 February to 2 March.

    Besides Malaysians, people from India, Canada, Nigeria, Australia, Cambodia, China, Brunei, Thailand, Singapore and South Korea were part of the gathering.

    Indonesia had a tough time earlier this week, persuading the cancellation of Ijtima Asia, scheduled to be held near Makassar city in South Sulawesi province after the Malaysian event’s nightmare.

    Reports say that in people from South-East Asian countries such as Cambodia, Vietnam, Brunei and Thailand who attended the Ijtima Asia in Malaysia have tested positive for coronavirus.

    Latest reports from Pakistan suggest that “at least a dozen members of the Tablighi Jamaat were diagnosed with coronavirus on Monday”.

    This leaves us with the question if authorities in India as well as other countries are aware of the Tablighi Jamaat and its activities?

    For the record, the Tablighi Jamaat, known as Jemaah Tabligh in South-East Asia, is a faith-based movement that originated from Mewat in Haryana in 1926.

    Founded by Muhammad Ilyas Kandhlawi, who got the inspiration to form the group during his second visit to Mecca, the Tablighi Jamaat is an offshoot of the Deobandi movement.

    The Tablighi Jamaat, a sect that wants Muslims to follow Quran and return to practising the religion as it was during the Prophet’s time, claims to be apolitical but high-ranking politicians and their relatives in South-East Asia are linked to it.

    The Jamaat began spreading abroad in 1946, first to South Asian regions such as Pakistan and Bangladesh. It spread fast in Indonesia and Malaysia during the 1970s and 1980s especially among industrial workers.

    The Pew Research Center says the Tablighi Jamaat is largely comprised of small groups of itinerant male preachers – usually no more than 10 per group – who travel, eat, sleep, wash and pray together.

    When these groups of lay preachers arrive in a new area – as seen in Telangana and Tamil Nadu, they reach out to Muslims of all social strata in an effort to remind them of the core teachings of Prophet Muhammad, and encourage them to attend mosque prayers and listen to sermons.

    The South-East Asian preachers, who are now in India, are a part of such small groups. They pick the mosques for their teaching through a draw of lots.

    Why should concerns be raised over the Tablighi Jamaat. Well, here are some facts:

    One of the four people who was found guilty in the 2006 liquid explosive plot by setting off blasts at the London Heathrow Airport targeting at least 10,000 people belonged to Tablighi Jamaat.

    The Guardian reported in 2009 that Abdullah Ahmed Ali, a Jamaat follower, worshipped at the Queen's Road mosque in Walthamstow which was run by the sect.

    The Myanmar Frontier, in a two-part series on the Tablighi Jamaat, said that in the 2012 communal violence in Rakhine state, a group of the sect followers were targeted for attack as they had asked the Bengalis in a northern town of the state to build a mosque.

    The report said that the Tablighi Jamaat had in recent decades driven a wedge between Buddhists and Muslims and even within the Muslim community.

    The United States Institute of Peace, in a brief on the Jamaat, said policy committees had depicted the Tablighi Jamaat as a “gateway to terrorism” and it poses numerous security risks.

    A Fullbright scholar, who briefed the institute said that the Tablighi Jamaat figured in several terror-related investigations in United Kingdom, France and the US. Jenny Taylor, in her write-up “Understanding and Engaging with Tablighi Jamaat”, said the sect was a challenge to Christians, though its members shunned political, legal or social engagements.

    The Jamaat’s fundamentalism is misunderstood but Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence hired Tablighi Jamaat followers for the Kashmir campaign against India.

    The Pew Research Center says that some of the Tablighi Jamaat followers have been accused of having links with radical networks, especially since 9/11 terrorist attacks in the US.

    A case in point is “Shoe bomber” Richard Reid, who in 2001 tried to set off a bomb on a commercial aircraft, and another is John Walker Lindh, a US citizen captured by US forces with Taliban soldiers in Afghanistan in 2001, spent time with Tablighi Jamaat.

    Some of the Jamaat leaders in South Asia are reportedly linked to the network of Taliban scholars, who get a worldview of their religion from the Deobandi movement, of which the Tablighi Jamaat is an offshoot.

    M.R. Subramani is Executive Editor, Swarajya. He tweets @mrsubramani

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