Dr. Anoop Singh Tablighi Jamaat, a global Sunni Islamic organisation, having roots in India is one of the most influential Islamic Missionary movement, spread over more than 150 countries in the world. The Tablighi Jamaat came into spotlight globally not for their missionary activities but for being largest known carriers of COVID-19 pandemic in South East Asia including India. The Tablighi Jamaat held its annual congregation at its Nizamuddin headquarters (Markaz) in Delhi, the national capital of India. The Tablighi congregation was in the limelight as it emerged as a hotspot and a cluster of COVID-19 positive cases in India. The reason being that hundreds of participants were foreign nationals who had come to India after attending a big international gathering in Malaysia. After the conclusion of Delhi annual congregation on 15th March, at Nizamuddin Tablighi Markaz, many participants, including foreign nationals, had dispersed and scattered in many parts of the country, while over 2,000 remained stay put in Markaz. Delhi police cordoned off a major area in Nizamuddin where several people showing signs of coronavirus infection, linked to Tablighi religious gathering, were evacuated. According to Delhi police, 2,346 persons residing in Markaz were evacuated out of which 536 ,showing symptoms of COVID-19 infection, were hospitalised and the rest were quarantined and subjected to COVID-19 testing where many of them tested positive. The Nizamuddin Markaz emerged as a new hotspot for COVID-19 epidemic. But the major cause of worry for the authorities was not only number of active COVID-19 cases in Delhi but number of the attendees who had dispersed and scattered in many parts of the country. They are suspected to have carried the virus with them because such congregation participants have been linked to outbreaks elsewhere in India and in many foreign countries too. It has been reported that 30 per cent surge in new COVID-19 positive cases are linked to Nizamuddin Tablighi Markaz congregation. Adding fuel to the fire, seven COVID-19 related deaths were reported from the state of Telangana and one in the state of J&K ,were linked to congregation in Nizamuddin. This raised alarm bells in the entire country. The epidemiologists and the public health experts expressed grave concern and warned the authorities of the possible dangers of huge rise in COVID-19 positive cases and rapid spread of the disease across the country. This new situation presented a huge challenge for the Indian authorities to track and locate the Tablighi attendees, particularly those who do not come forward to reveal their travel history. Rising to the occasion, the authorities swung into action and launched a manhunt to track, trace and quarantine, not only the attendees but also their possible contacts.The timely action taken by the State and Central government authorities has, to a larger extent saved the situation from becoming worse. It is pertinent to note that the tracking and tracing efforts of the public health authorities are continuously strengthened by invoking legal provisions and co-opting security agencies to help public health authorities. When the situation , arising out of such events along with the steadily increasing trajectory of COVID-19 positive cases is thoroughly analysed, it becomes clear that Tablighi Jamat shouldn’t have gone ahead with their programme of holding a big gathering in Nizamuddin amidst restrictions imposed by authorities due to COVID-19 pandemic, particularly at a time when it was expecting hundreds of foreign invitees to participate. Before going ahead with its planned congregation they should have given a serious thought to the fact that their mistake of going ahead with their planned annual congregation could have repercussions of creating a catastrophic situation in the country, which could put the nation back in its ongoing efforts to break COVID-19 infection chain. The tablighi Jamaat is known to have a major chunk of professionals and well educated people and it was expected that better sense should have prevailed and the Jamaat should have demonstrated pragmatism. But, unfortunately, holding the congregation under such adverse circumstances, is nothing but criminal negligence, showing total disregard for law of the land when the precious lives of countrymen are at stake. While the decision of the Tablighi Jamaat to hold the congregation does not seem intentional but surely,it is is grave act of negligence. The anxiety and worries expressed by the society in this regard are extremely justified and in no case could be considered communal because these expressions are out of fear and apprehensions about the capacity of the virus to wreak havoc in the society as a whole. While the reaction of the communal elements to exploit the situation and label Muslims as super spreaders was expected but unfortunately, some prominent TV channels also followed the same narrative and demonized a particular community for spread of infection by coining anew term “Corona Jihad”. Creating such a narrative during a time when the whole society is united in its struggle in combating COVID-19, is in fact, exposes their divisive and communal mindset. This needs to be condemned and such elements named and shamed by all right thinking people. Good sense and sanity must prevail upon them and sooner than later they should realise that by spreading hate at this crucial juncture they are, infact, spreading COVID-19. They should ,instead, utilize their energies in helping public health authorities in feeding needy and ensuring that social distancingis obeyed by all. They must remember that COVID-19 virus infects people irrespective of their religion, caste and creed. Need of the hour is unity in all ranks, not division. After all it is a question of survival when the deadly virus is threatening the survival of human race from the planet. India is a pluralistic state. Our strength lies in our diversity. Nobody should be allowed to break this unity in this hour of crisis. The whole country is under an unprecedented lockdown and every effort is being made to mitigate the outbreak by slowing spread of the virus. The Tablighi Jamaat which has been accused of spreading the virus, in fact, does not represent the Muslim community as a whole. Several leading Muslim organisations in India do not support the activities of Tablighi Jamat. Very often the Tablighis have been criticised for spreading ignorance ( Jahalat) and reverting to orthodoxy. The Tablighi Jamaat could be one of the biggest Islamic missionary movements in south east Asia but certainly not in India. Moreover, they dont have any set constitution and registration system and as such people come and go regularily. Apparently the Jamaat has been non political in its behavour and has never been found involved in anti social or anti national activities. Therefore, it is not in the fitness of things to label it divisive in character. The crime it has committed appears to be out of sheer negligence and blind faith, but it can, in no case, be comprehended as” intentional”. The Tablighi Jamaat should have understood that their faith can not override dangerous impact of the pandemic. The unity and solidarity of 1.3 billion people in India has been tested in a symbolic manner twice by none less than PM of India but let us demonstrate it on ground, by playing our individual role in abiding by the advisories given by the public health authorities, staying in our homes ,practising social distancing and personal hygiene. An attentive and watchful society, a united and compassionate society can definitely save itself from deadly coronavirus epidemic.
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