Chennai: Around 92 per cent of the total coronavirus-positive cases in Tamil Nadu are linked to Delhi’s Tablighi Jamaat congregation, making it one of the worst-hit by the fallout of the event.
As many as 574 out of the 621 coronavirus-positive patients are Tablighi event attendees.
The state government has found that 1,500 Tamil Muslims had attended the Delhi event in the Nizamuddin mosque in mid-March. The event had seen the participation of over 3,000 people, including foreigners.
According to Tamil Nadu Health Secretary Dr Beela Rajesh, 1,427 attendees of the event have been traced and isolated so far. The state government is also tracing their family members and others they were in touch with, but there is no official communication on these details yet.
Tamil Nadu has also seen attendees of the congregation coming forward and declaring themselves voluntarily.
Tablighis don’t have much impact on Tamil Muslims
Tablighi Jamaat came to Tamil Nadu nearly 50-60 years ago, said a leader of Tamil Nadu Thowheed Jamath (TNTJ), an Islamic organisation and a critic of the Tablighi Jamaat.
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Although Tablighis have been active in the state for several years now, they have very little impact on the Muslims in the state, which account for 5.8 per cent of the population.
Their orthodox preaching never became a way of life, except for a very few.
Political observers in Tamil Nadu say the Tablighi Jamaat never got into any controversy in the state as they do their activities without much show-off. They also do not have the support of a majority of Muslims.
Explaining why Tablighi Jamaat attendees from Tamil Nadu were more inclined to report themselves to the authorities, unlike in other states, where many attendees have gone missing, a political observer offered several reasons.
“Firstly, the government has been talking to the local religious leaders to help them convince the attendees to come forward. Secondly, there is nothing for them to fear, unlike the north Indian states, which are communally charged up. If they come out, they will not be stigmatised in the state and, hence, we saw a good turn out unlike other states,” said the political observer, who doesn’t want to be named.
A Muslim scholar from Tiruchirapalli explained to ThePrint how the religious lifestyle of Tablighi Jamaat followers could potentially aid in the spread of the virus.
“… When these Tablighis, who are very particular about offering prayers five times a day, come together for namaaz, then as a habit, they wipe their face during prayers. They also use mats to kneel down during prayers and these mats are then used by others in the congregation. This essentially risks pathogen transfer,” said the scholar, who didn’t want to be identified.
“They are very minimalist. They use the same plates among themselves to eat. Also, all of them do musafa (holding each other’s hands and then hugging thrice) every time they come across a senior/VIP in the Jamaat. These are also potential ways of virus transfer. All the instructions from the state government to local clerics to avoid such risks came only much later,” the scholar added.
How Tablighis function in Tamil Nadu
Tablighi Jamaat’s primary responsibility is to travel to different places and preach to the Muslim community about Islam.
Dindigul district acts like a headquarters of the Tablighis in the state, said an academic, who has made a documentary on the history and cultural identity of Tamil Muslims.
A member of the Tamil Nadu Thowheed Jamath gave details of how Tablighis function.
“Tablighis move to different towns to interact with and preach to individuals coming for namaaz in mosques. When they go to preach in a town, they find few new people to join them, while some leave the group.
“The group, with the remaining people and the new people, then move to the next city to preach. This chain continues without any break and, hence, (the groups have) a large following.”
According to the leader: “… the chain that was initiated by founder (of Tablighi Jamaat) Muhammed Ilyas is continued even now. Some might have just served (the Jamaat) for a week, some six months and others a few years. People come and go at different points, but the chain (of preaching by moving to different places) continues.”
Giving more details about how their functioning, a Jamaat member from Ooty told ThePrint that they get in touch with people by visiting the local mosques, where they tell them about Islam by quoting the Prophet.
“1,500 is a very usual number for any state attending the (Jamaat) meeting. In Tamil Nadu, it is mostly operational district wise. Every district has a senior person, who leads them,” said the member.
“They preach orthodox practices in Islam. With the changing lifestyle of many within the community, they (Tablighis) still insist on the fundamentals. For example, to pray five times a day, to keep a beard, to read the Prophet, etc.”
Tablighis preach for attaining a “heavenly life” and for that they insist on giving up the worldly pleasures.
“They won’t even have a TV in their house. They won’t take a loan/interest from the bank. Their women are repressed. Their day involves only work and zikr (devotional act over prayer beads),” said a female relative of a Tablighi worker.
The Jamaat member from Ooty quoted above said the Tablighis are “non-intrusive” in most circumstances.
“They do not keep banners/posters like others to show their presence. They get in touch with the people by visiting the local mosques,” he added.
Tablighi congregations happen all over the year, he said, adding they are like “workshops”.
“The silver lining amidst all these is that the attendees can’t go anywhere outside the markaz (headquarters) and mosques or wherever they are put in during the congregations. They are not supposed to eat outside or at their homes. They reside in mosques and talk to people who go there for namaz.”
Tablighi events & fatwas against them
Institutional support from some institutes such as Madrasa Kashiful Huda in Chennai and Anwarul Uloom Arabic College in Tiruchirappalli, has helped and encouraged the Tablighi Jamaat in the state.
An all-India Jamaat congregation had happened in Tiruchirappalli district last year. In 1996, there was a big congregation in Puthalam town in Kanyakumari district.
But, there have always been a lot of unpleasantries between Tablighis and other Islamic organisations in the state.
Many organisations had even issued fatwas against Tablighis, including the Samastha Kerala Jamiyyathul Ulama, a Muslim outfit of scholars and clerics, in 1965 because of their religious activities.
Baqiyat Islamic College in Vellore and Kayalpatnam Mahlarathul Qadriya Arabic College had also issued fatwas against the Tablighis in 1971.
In 2018, there was an appeal to Tamil Nadu Jamathul Ulama from 60 other ulamas in the state to raise voice against the activities of Tablighi Jamaat.
A large section of Muslims in Tamil Nadu are known to follow a syncretic tradition. Syncretism is the combining of different religious beliefs.
Theemithi (walking over the fire), thee satti (holding burning fire pot), which were part of the Mariyamman Hindu festival, were also observed by Muslims on occasions like Muharram. These practices were, however, opposed by the Tablighis.
“There has always been huge criticism of Tablighis within the Islamic community for spending resources on organising summits and meetings instead of utilising them to support educational institutions or economically backward Muslims in the state,” said the academic, who has been quoted in the beginning.
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