As many as 300 foreigners from 16 countries had attended the Tablighi Jamaat event in Delhi in March (representational image) | Photo : Suraj Singh Bisht | ThePrint
Nearly 4,000, including foreigners, had attended the Tablighi Jamaat event in Delhi (representational image) | Photo : Suraj Singh Bisht | ThePrint
Text Size:

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s seminal work, Death and Dying, describes the five distinct stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. While the Swiss-American psychiatrist was speaking about the series of emotions terminally ill patients go through, the first of the five stages that she postulated possibly holds true for a section of India’s people when the country was trying to come to terms with COVID-19 in the initial days of the pandemic.

The spread of the virus in the early months had then exposed the country’s second-largest religious group to a vulnerability born out of denial. Indiscretion and reckless behaviour by members of the Tablighi Jamaat had purportedly led to a spurt in coronavirus-positive cases, not only in Delhi but also in many other parts of the country.

An international gathering of Tablighis — preachers or a society to spread the faith —had taken place in New Delhi’s Nizamuddin area in March 2020, drawing hundreds of foreign nationals from Thailand, Nepal, Myanmar, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Kyrgyzstan. Despite a government order prohibiting large gatherings, more than 4,500 people had assembled at the Tablighi Jamaat Markaz (headquarters).

Media reports had quoted government sources as saying that since 1 January 2020, over 2,000 foreigners from 70 countries had arrived in India to participate in Jamaat activities. As the Covid-19 lockdown came into force on 25 March 2020, over 1,000 were left stranded in Nizamuddin.

Within days, a state of panic had set in as reports of Covid-19 deaths and positive cases started coming in from various parts of the country. By early April, private television news channels had begun insisting that over 30 per cent of the corona-positive cases had the “Tablighi Virus.”

Political factors were at play too. The country was already in ferment over the Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizens.

The Tablighis’ state of alleged ignorance was dubbed a “Himalayan” blunder as a heavy dose of media onslaught, Islamophobia and blame game followed. As Najmul Hoda, a Chennai-based IPS officer, lamented on his Facebook wall, Covid-19 looked like a common cold in comparison to the plague of communal hatred.

We are deeply grateful to our readers & viewers for their time, trust and subscriptions.

Quality journalism is expensive and needs readers to pay for it. Your support will define our work and ThePrint’s future.

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Tablighi virus, Corona Jihad, stories of discrimination, Quran, divine injunction, Muslim society, deadly virus, Covid-19, Muslim clergy, Indian Muslims, social distancing, community prayers, letter of appreciation

Political factors were at play too. The country was already in ferment over the Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizens. Shaheen Bagh and its women protesters were making international headlines and the February 2020 riots in Delhi had deepened the sectarian divide, exacerbating religious tensions. It was in this situation that the Tablighi Jamaat held its congregation. According to data shared by Equality Labs (a digital human rights group) with TIME magazine, the hashtag ‘Corona Jihad’ appeared nearly 300,000 times.

The online attack became more and more vicious as reports of people leaving for different parts of the country from the Markaz poured in. For days, “Tablighi virus” and “Corona Jihad” trended on Twitter. Our entire focus shifted from fighting and containing COVID-19 to fighting the Tablighis and the Muslims, who the general population started equating as one and the same. Those were the initial days of our COVID-stricken lives, unsure of what awaited us and we were quick to blame the Markaz for all our misery.

The usual practice of portraying Muslims as the other came into play, as did indulging in victimhood.


Also read: Indians who made Covid ‘Muslim virus’ after Tablighi Jamaat are cheering Odisha’s Rath Yatra


In the midst of this Islamophobic onslaught, many articles and tweets expressed fears of a Muslim apartheid. The usual practice of portraying Muslims as the other came into play, as did indulging in victimhood.

“Social media, as ever, remained truculent and toxic. Generally speaking, Muslims continue to use social media space to indulge in their victimhood addiction,” observed Najmul Hoda.

While the community needed to address the elephant in the room and could not be absolved of its responsibility for wrongful acts by the Tablighis, the polarised discourse that was unleashed in mainstream media impacted the psyche of the general population. Most Muslims came out against the Jamaat, but the entire community was still clubbed together and labelled the “Superspreader”.

But the way the Tablighi Jamaat’s role and, by extension, of the entire Muslim population’s involvement in the spread of the virus was covered by the mainstream media, it suddenly felt that Covid-19 had a religion.

The Tablighis were guilty for sure for the congregation of thousands of people despite the prohibitory orders, and of not reporting cases, but the wave of hatred failed to see that the Tablighi Jamaat is not the sole representative of India’s 170 million Muslims and its actions should not be linked with the larger community. It is also pertinent to note that the Tablighi Jamaat preaches a narrow interpretation of Islam to some sections of Muslim society.

But the way the Tablighi Jamaat’s role and, by extension, of the entire Muslim population’s involvement in the spread of the virus was covered by the mainstream media, it suddenly felt that COVID-19 had a religion.

Soon, stories of discrimination against the poorer sections among Muslims started coming out. NDTV reported how vendors in Mahoba district of Uttar Pradesh were allegedly targeted and stopped from selling vegetables by people who accused them of being members of the Tablighi Jamaat and of spreading the coronavirus.

Old sociological problems, such as overcrowded ghettos, lack of hygiene and low levels of awareness, became handy tools again to stigmatise the community.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MLA from Deoria in Uttar Pradesh, Suresh Tiwari, warned people against buying vegetables from Muslims. The defiant leader was later asked to explain his comment by his party chief.

A video shared widely on Facebook and on Twitter purportedly showed Muslims intentionally sneezing on each other. It was later debunked by the fact-checking website AltNews.

Tablighi virus, Corona Jihad, stories of discrimination, Quran, divine injunction, Muslim society, deadly virus, Covid-19, Muslim clergy, Indian Muslims, social distancing, community prayers, letter of appreciation

Several video clips purportedly showing COVID-positive members of the Tablighi Jamaat misbehaving with hospital staff and other patients found space on prime-time debates. Old sociological problems, such as overcrowded ghettos, lack of hygiene and low levels of awareness, became handy tools again to stigmatise the community.

The reaction from the community was at times defiant, while some took to social media to counter the hate being peddled with tweets that were either equally toxic or full of self-pity.

A closer look at the role the Muslim clergy played reveals a far more constructive engagement than what has been projected by the mainstream media.


Also read: ‘They aren’t criminals’: Madras HC gives bail to 31 foreigners who took part in Tablighi event


It was at this point that the Muslim clergy, intellectuals and other community leaders stepped in. On 2 April, seven signatories — Dr. Zafarul Islam Khan, Chairman, Delhi Minorities Commission; Prof. Akhtarul Wasey, President, Maulana Azad University, Jodhpur; Prof. Mohsin Usmani Nadwi, President, Human Welfare Society; Prof. A.R. Kidwai, Director, K.A. Nizami Center for Quranic studies, AMU; Masoom Moradabadi, Secretary, All India Urdu Editors Conference; Zaheeruddin Ali Khan, Managing Editor, Daily Siasat, Hyderabad, and Prof. Iqtedar Mohd. Khan, Deptt. Islamic Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia, Delhi — issued an appeal to the government to take into consideration the “genuine constraints faced by certain people.” They argued that it was not a time to find fault. “Any attempt to give it a sectarian twist would weaken our battle against the deadly virus,” they said.

A closer look at the role the Muslim clergy played reveals a far more constructive engagement than what has been projected by the mainstream media. As early as 6 March, Maulana Khalid Rasheed Firangimahli, Lucknow-based Imam, Eidgah, had asked mosque-going Muslims to take preventive measures against Covid-19, and told them to avoid congregations and coughing and sneezing in public.

Firangimahli was among many religious heads across the country who issued fatwas saying that the fight against the coronavirus was a religious obligation.

A broad consensus that was worked out decided against special Eid prayers at Eidgahs and at mosques, etc. Islamic seminaries, such as the Darul Uloom, Nadwa and Deoband, issued fatwas asking the faithful to offer Eid prayers at home.

A major challenge came during the month-long period of Ramadan — that began in the last week of April — in terms of enforcing social distancing and avoiding guests at the breaking of fast (iftar) and at community prayers (tarahwih), etc. But enforcing a sense of discipline among 170 million people sharply divided on sectarian and linguistic lines was done with remarkable ease and voluntary compliance.

As Ramadan is closely followed by Eid, suspension of the customary Eid prayer posed another hurdle. However, a broad consensus that was worked out decided against special Eid prayers at Eidgahs (where special Eid prayers are held) and at mosques, etc. Islamic seminaries, such as the Darul Uloom, Nadwa and Deoband, issued fatwas asking the faithful to offer Eid prayers at home.

The results were so good that Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath called up Firangimahli in Lucknow and congratulated him, saying that Eid prayers throughout the state had been observed without any incident of the virus spreading. The state government also issued a letter of appreciation.

Those members of the Tablighi Jamaat who had tested positive for the virus, and have since been cured, came forward in huge numbers to donate their blood plasma — containing anti-viral antibodies — and helped cure many affected people.

Eid ul-Fitr 2020 saw the largest ever participation of women in family prayers. That prompted Najmul Huda, the IPS officer, to say “thanks” to the virus for bringing gender equality to every Muslim home. “May it get institutionalised. Corona, I can’t really say thank you to you, but it’s thanks to you,” he wrote.

There were other positives too. Charity acted as a great succor as appeals were issued to channelise Ramadan and Eid shopping for the needy. Maulana Naeem Ur Rahman Siddiqui, secretary of the Islamic Centre of India, claims that zakat — or charity — saw a rise of over 50 per cent as compared to the previous year.

Not to forget, the redemption and acknowledgement that came after all those days of hate. If the members of the Tablighi Jamaat were guilty of ignorance in the initial phase of the pandemic, they turned adversity they had wrought upon themselves into opportunity in the form of penance. Those who had tested positive for the virus, and have since been cured, came forward in huge numbers to donate their blood plasma — containing anti-viral antibodies — and helped cure many affected people.

Some say it was in keeping with what the Quran teaches — that divine injunction is not for returning evil with good, but with the best. It says: “Good and evil are not equal. Repel (evil) with what is best, and you will see that the one you had mutual enmity with, will become the closest of friends.” (41:34)

Rasheed Kidwai is Visiting Fellow at Observer Research Foundation (ORF). He tracks politics and governance in India. Naghma is Senior Fellow at ORF. She tracks India’s neighbourhood — Pakistan and China — alongside other geopolitical developments in the region. Views are personal.

This article was first published by ORF.


Also read: How Made-in-India Tablighi Jamaat became the largest organisation in Pakistan


 

Subscribe to our channels on YouTube & Telegram

News media is in a crisis & only you can fix it

You are reading this because you value good, intelligent and objective journalism. We thank you for your time and your trust.

You also know that the news media is facing an unprecedented crisis. It is likely that you are also hearing of the brutal layoffs and pay-cuts hitting the industry. There are many reasons why the media’s economics is broken. But a big one is that good people are not yet paying enough for good journalism.

We have a newsroom filled with talented young reporters. We also have the country’s most robust editing and fact-checking team, finest news photographers and video professionals. We are building India’s most ambitious and energetic news platform. And we aren’t even three yet.

At ThePrint, we invest in quality journalists. We pay them fairly and on time even in this difficult period. As you may have noticed, we do not flinch from spending whatever it takes to make sure our reporters reach where the story is. Our stellar coronavirus coverage is a good example. You can check some of it here.

This comes with a sizable cost. For us to continue bringing quality journalism, we need readers like you to pay for it. Because the advertising market is broken too.

If you think we deserve your support, do join us in this endeavour to strengthen fair, free, courageous, and questioning journalism, please click on the link below. Your support will define our journalism, and ThePrint’s future. It will take just a few seconds of your time.

Support Our Journalism

11 Comments Share Your Views

11 COMMENTS

  1. Everything against Tablighi jmat proved to be fack but the media who highlighted the negative trial was quiet against the real story and as usual tried to benefit the ruling govt politcally and divert the issue in wrong direction but the judiciary of India stood firmly with truth and justice and made everyone proud to be Indian through just and fair judiciary

  2. Repetitions in many places where the same sentence is used in two paragraphs in succession. Just wanted to let you know for future checks.

  3. Bhai itna lamba article likh kar kitna kamaya
    Aur insaniyat ke dushmano ke comments bhi aayenge
    sara kachra dil se nikalege

  4. As all the efforts failed by PM Modi to contain Covid-19 by lockdowns, ringing bells, ghanti bajao, lighting lamps and candles, it is time for him to seriously address the nation soon as the Virus infected nearly a million. Therefore, PM Modi, better late than never, must start worshiping only One God and address the people of all religions to worship only One God who is the Creator of all and can eradicate this deadly virus. PM Modi must also ask the people to stop worshiping idols, creatures, humans, trinity which are against the religious scriptures of all religions and invite the wrath of God. In this age of information and knowledge explosion no one has an excuse to against their own religion which their forefathers did in the past in ignorance. All the major religions in the world today, like Hinduism, Christianity, Islam and Judaism clearly state and make necessary for everyone to worship only One God as per the most sacred scriptures, “There is only One God, worship Him, Ekam Evadvitiyam, He is One only without a Second, There is no deity but God. The Lord our God is One”. The scriptures also say in Bhagwad Gita 7:20 “Those whose intelligence has been stolen by material desires surrender unto demigods and follow the particular rules and regulations of worship according to their own natures.” The Gita states that people who are materialistic worship demigods i.e. ‘gods’ besides One True God”. Hope all the Hindus, Christians, jews and Muslims start worshiping only One God and repent for the sins of joining partners and creatures to One God so that One Almighty God with his mercy eradicate this deadly virus soon.

  5. This 20 percent population is a ticking time bomb.

    Almost all of them had voted for creation of Pakistan but did not go their after its creation.

    Razakars fought against the majority community and the Indian state.

    Markaz was trailer of this mindset.

    This mindset will fight against the idea of bharat, its culture, its heritage, its constitution, its law, its civic responsibility and its people.

    They are just following the fundamentals as prescribed in a their scripture.

    It is the rest of the population which is dreaming good from these fundamentalists.

  6. If a community is continually praying and during sermons constantly being told that anybody not believing in their GOD will burn in hell. Is obiviously going to be angry and suspicious. What such a community needs is scientific education and a education that there are other ways to reach GOD. That there a billions of galaxies and trillions is stars and trillions of planets like earth. So live in present not 1000 years back.

  7. Let’s talk about how Muslims all over India indulged in stone pelting, misinformation campaign and all kinds of misbehaviour against government authories including health workers during pandemic.
    So stop playing your minority victim card. It will only widen the gap.

    • You might as well talk about all the misinformation that was spread (including what you mentioned). When clarity about Muslims is given, it’s playing victim card, when “Hindu Khatre Mai hai” take up arms ey?

    • Most of the incidents reported in social media proved to be fake.. But for whatever reason you want to still believe them it is your choice.

    • Fake news by paid Twitter trolls. It has all been debunked. Stop spreading fake news again even if some one pays 20 rupees or a packet of cigarette or free Netflix subscription for it. Please stop this hate.

    • Let’s talk about the majority who accuses the minority for the things that the majority had done. Stone pelting was done by everyone not a single community. So stop playing your majority victim card and stop watching Godi media.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here