New Delhi: Tablighi Jamaat, a non-political global Sunni Islamic evangelical movement of Indian origin, has emerged as the “largest known viral vector” of the novel coronavirus in South Asia. Its religious congregations are said to be the source of hundreds of positive cases of the disease in the region.
In India, the Ministry of Home Affairs is in touch with various states to identify the over 3,000 people, among them foreigners from other Southeast Asian countries including Covid-19 hotspot Malaysia, who had taken part in a Tablighi Jamaat gathering in the national capital’s Nizamuddin area in early March, sources told ThePrint.
The sources said many have been identified and steps are being taken to test and isolate them.
Immigration Bureau sources told ThePrint that a list of all those who came from abroad has already been sent to the state governments along with the known addresses.
They said the list is an overall one and does not identify the Tablighi Jamaat people per se since they did not come to India on a missionary visa.
At least 10 people who took part in the Nizamuddin gathering, including Tablighi Jamaat’s Kashmir head, have succumbed to the disease in India.
In Telangana, the government has identified six such deaths.
Six people from Telangana who attended a religious congregation at Markaz in Nizamuddin area of New Delhi from 13-15 March succumbed after they contracted #Coronavirus. Two died in Gandhi Hospital while one each died in Apollo Hospital, Global Hospital, Nizamabad and Gadwal
— Telangana CMO (@TelanganaCMO) March 30, 2020
In Kashmir, the police has prepared a list of those who attended the event and also appealed to the public to come forward and identify themselves.
“We are working proactively to identify those who took part in the meeting,” a senior officer involved in the operation in Kashmir told ThePrint.
Of the 37 confirmed cases in Kashmir alone, at least 18 attended the Nizamuddin event or came in contact with those who attended, the officer said.
Six persons who had attended the Delhi gathering have tested positive in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, and cases have also been reported from Tamil Nadu.
The Malaysia connection
It was in February when about 16,000 Tablighis gathered at a mosque in Malaysia from across the region.
The New York Times reported that the participants in the 16,000-strong gathering of the world’s biggest Islamic missionary movement had spread the coronavirus to half a dozen nations, creating the “largest known viral vector in Southeast Asia”.
“More than 620 people connected to the four-day conclave have tested positive in Malaysia, prompting the country to seal its borders until the end of the month. Most of the 73 coronavirus cases in Brunei are tied to the gathering, as are 10 cases in Thailand,” the daily reported.
On 18 March, Al Jazeera, quoting Malaysian Health Minister Dr Adham Baba, reported that only half of the Malaysian participants who attended have come forward for tests, raising fears that the outbreak from the mosque could be more far-reaching.
Even in Pakistan, 27 members of Tablighi Jamaat, out of the 35 screened at their headquarters in Raiwind, tested positive for coronavirus Sunday.
What is Tablighi Jamaat
Tablighi Jamaat (Society for spreading faith) is a non-political global Sunni Islamic missionary movement that focuses on urging Muslims to return to primary Sunni Islam, particularly in matters of rituals, attires, and personal behaviour.
Started in 1927 by Muhammad Ilyas al-Kandhlawi in Mewat, India, it has been called “one of the most influential religious movements in 20th century Islam”.