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Criticizing the ‘super spreaders’ of Corona Virus in India, The Tablighi Jamaat is not Islamophobia

Author: Ramaharitha Pusarla
Publication: Myind.net
Date:  April 6, 2020
URL:      https://myind.net/Home/viewArticle/criticizing-the-super-spreaders-of-corona-virus-in-india-the-tablighi-jamaat-is-not-islamophobia

Indian government’s audacious measures

Four days into the 21-day lockdown, the spread of Chinese Corona Virus (CCV) infections, in India appeared to have slowed down. This not only injected new confidence but boosted Government’s morale working towards flattening of the curve. Meanwhile, a sudden outburst of orchestrated mass movement of internal migrants, especially in the National Capital Region (NCR) triggered fresh fears of proliferation of infection. A swift evacuation of migrants from the state border after initial bungling, more or less allayed wild fears of a plausible community transmission. By and large, India has been treading on right path mobilising all its resources to contain the dreaded pandemic. Doctors, Innovators, Scientists, Epidemiologists, Health workers, Medical technicians, Sanitation workers and Police have been working round the clock monitoring minute developments to curb the transmission.

Days after reports of Corona infection in China, without waiting for WHO’s emergency measure, India evacuated its citizens from Wuhan and other countries from second week of January. India began thermal screening of inbound passengers and constituted a High-Level Group of Ministers (GoM) to review management of the CCV and held its first meeting on Feb 3rd. Staying ahead of the curve, India averted import of infection from the Corona epicentre, Wuhan. Committed to stem the viral spread, India announced an unprecedented lockdown. Despite concerns of huge economic losses, people from all walks of life cooped and favourably responded to the Government’s plea. WHO and other international agencies hailed India’s audacious and bold measures and extolled the stupendous determination displayed by India in dealing the CCV pandemic. At a time, when the hopes of defeating the pandemic have brightened, there has been a sudden spurt in infected cases.

The sudden rise in CCV positive cases set alarm bells ringing reminding India of the famous patient 31 of South Korea, who accounted for 80% of the infections in the country. The patient who has flown to Seoul attended the Shincheonji Church of Jesus and infected hundreds of parishioners causing dramatic increase of infections in an entire county. Church members avoided testing and didn’t follow any precautions leading to a community spread. However, through meticulous contact tracing and rigorous testing, South Korea managed to control the infectious spread of the virus. Mayor of the Seoul sued the Church and the Church leader tendered an apology for inflicting a “great calamity”. The case of the super spreader of South Korea surfaced as stark reminder for the World to emulate.

Being a densely populated country, as a prophylactic measure, Prime Minister Modi cancelled the Holi Milan on March 4th. Other state governments quickly followed the suit. On March 4th Delhi government ordered the closure of primary schools and by March 12th invoking Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 prohibited all sports gatherings, including IPL matches, conferences and seminars more than 200 people. In subsequent orders, Delhi government cut down the size of gathering to not more than 50. On March 22nd, ordered a complete lockdown.

India announced travel advisories imposing visa bans from China, South Korea, Italy, Iran, South Korea and Japan on March 3rd. On March 11th India imposed ban on all visas (except diplomatic, official, UN organisations, projects and employment) starting from March 13th.

Extending solidarity to the Government’s efforts temples in India announced to close and suspend routine rituals until further notice on March 14th. With pandemic showing no respite, bolstering safeguard measures, Prime Minister Modi launched voluntary self-imposed voluntary, “Janta curfew” reinforcing the need for social distancing on March 22nd. On 23rd first death from Telangana with a connection to a religious congregation was reported. Stepping up preventive measures, Modi declared a 21-day lockdown on Mar 24th.  Country has come to a grinding halt. Poor and lower-middle class, who were the worst effected sections too complied with government’s restrictions. Things started falling place and the infection rates began to plummet.

But from March 30th, there has been sudden spurt in Corona positive cases from 18 states. Till March 24th, North Eastern states remained infection free. All the new infections in Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh are linked to Tablighi meet. Ever since there has been a whopping increase in infections from every corner of the country. All the latest infections are traced to an annual religious congregation of Tabligi Jamaat (TJ) held from March 13th-15th at Banglewali Mosque, Delhi. Precisely, a day after, Delhi government announced ban on gatherings more than 200 people. Some reports claimed that nearly 8000 assembled for the event held in a six-storey building. 275 foreign nationals including 172 from Indonesia,36 from Kyrgyzstan, 21 from Bangladesh, 12 from Malaysia, 7 from Algeria, 2 each from Afghanistan and the US, one each from France, Tunisia, Belgium and Italy 1 entered India on a tourist visa to take part in the annual, Ijtema.

Tablighi Jamaat: Origin

Given the enormous heft and popularity garnered by the TJ it is imperative to fathom its motives and origins. Tablighi, an offshoot of the Deobandi movement has been an Islamic revival movement, more puritanical and worked towards reformation of Islam at grass- root level urging Muslims to practice all the six basic principles of Islam and practice religion the way Prophet Muhammed did. Influenced by the Wahabhi ideology of Saudi Arabia, Muhammed Ilyas al-Khandlawi of the Mewat region in 1926 launched TJ to spread Deobandi Movement. Mewat is dominated by Meos sect of Rajputs who converted to Islam from 12th to 16th century. But practiced some Hindu rituals. TJ was created in response to a surge in Hindu Bhakti Movement that tried to rejuvenate the nativity among the Hindus converted into Muslims. TJ steadily established madrassas across the country reinforcing puritanism. The movement eventually spread to the entire subcontinent, Raiwand in Lahore region of Pakistan has the largest Markuz and Bangladesh second largest. The Banglewali Mosque, known as Nizamuddin Markuz is the international headquarters of the Tablighi Movement.

From 1946 TJ started new branches in the US, Europe and across the Central Asia after the collapse of Soviet Union.  Known to be a pietistic organisation, it sends preachers across the globe to bring back Muslims to the Orthodox ways. With the large-scale funding from Saudi, TJ grew extensively since the 1970s. Tablighi Mosque in Dewsbury, England subsidized by World Muslim League serves as the European headquarters since 1978. TJ operates from Deobandi and Wahhabi Mosques. Annual Ijtemas at Lahore, Dhaka and Delhi are among the largest congregations second to the Hajj.

Terror Links

Kafeel Ahmed, arrested for failed bombing attack on Glasgow airport, Shehzaad Tanveer and Mohammed Siddique Khan associated with 7/7 are known regulars of Tablighi movement. Majority of the European Muslims involved in terrorist activities are found to be involved in the proselytization activities of TJ. According to French authorities nearly 80% of the terror associates are found be associated with TJ.  TJ is also active in North Africa (Algeria, Morocco), East Africa (Sudan, Kenya and Somalia). Dawa wa Tabligh, an offshoot is prosecuted for terrorist attacks in Casablanca synagogue. Morocco authorities in the past have sentenced Tablighi members for terrorist attacks.

TJ is not known to associate with any particular sect. It has close links with Pakistan’s Deobandi Pakistani Jamiat-e-Ulema Islami (JUI), Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and Saudi Arabi Wahabi clerics. TJ has been recruiter and sympathiser of terror activities. It never condemned the violence perpetrated by radical Islam elements. Though TJ’s ideology never professes violence, it provided impetus for joining the extremist Islamist groups and led to proliferation of lone wolves. Fred Burton and Scott Stewart in their article- Tablighi Jamaat: An Indirect line for terrorism, wrote, “At face value, TJ is a peaceful egalitarian and devotional movement that stresses individual faith and overall spiritual development. In a sense, TJ is a widespread training system that urges average Muslims to examine their own lives and become involved in calling their fellow Muslims back to orthodox Islam” 3.

The high and mighty of Pakistan, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s father, Muhammed Rafique Tarar, who served as acting President and Pakistan’s former intelligence chief (DG-ISI) Javed Nasir, mastermind of the 1993 Bombay serial blasts have been active associates of TJ. TJ grew astronomically under the dictatorship of President Zia-ul-Haq. Members involved in the military coup against Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto government were part of Jihad bi-al Saif (Jihad through sword) an offshoot of TJ. TJ served as recruitment centre of Islamist radicals during the Afghan war.

Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HuJI), founded by TJ members, defeated Soviets in Afghanistan, exported jihad to J&K and extended assistance to Osama bin Laden. HuJI terrorists carried out 2006 Varanasi bombings, Delhi high court blasts and its members are also involved in Mecca Masjid bombing. HuJI later transformed into Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM). Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) have branched out from HuJI. Believed to be largely apolitical, TJ announced support to Muthaida Majlis-e-Amal, which formed provincial government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province and implemented Muslim agenda. This led to resurgence of Afghan Taliban and Pakistan Taliban or TTP 4. HuJI, HuM and JeM are internationally proscribed terrorist organisations.

TJ is now slowly taking over the moderate Barelvi mosques. Tablighi leader, Maulana Umarji and his followers are believed to have torched the Sabarmati Express with 58 karsevaks returning from Ayodhya in 2002. Back in 2013, Ajit Doval, then former director of Intelligence Bureau (IB) and current NSA said, “there is a culture of secretism in the organisation (TJ) which develops suspicion” 2. Clearly, people in Tablighi mosques are mostly seen sitting in groups of 4-6 to discuss teachings. Until one is really close, all one could hear is a murmur of whispering voices.

Working as sheep in wolves clothing, TJ would send young people to terrorist camps for training. Hence, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan banned the organisation. It has the reputation of being called, “antechamber of fundamentalism” and “supremacist movement” for facilitating a platform for meeting of extremists. Tablighi doesn’t have formal registration and never keeps record of the individuals associated with it.  TJ made deep inroads into the US reaching out to the immigrant population from South Asia. Tablighi members floated conspiracy theories implicating Jews for the 9/11 terrorist attack. To influence American foreign policy, Tablighis are now on a mission to covert the Afro-American population 5.

TJ spearheaded Islamisation of Sri Lanka. The two other Islamic groups in the country are Jamaat-i-Islami and the Thowheed Jamaat 14. Seminaries of TJ have been instrumental in injecting fundamentalism to the younger generation of Muslims in the island. Mohammed Muhsin Nilam who fled to Syria to join ISIS and got killed in Raqqa was introduced to the neo-fundamentalism at TJ. Nilam worked with Zahran Hashim who carried out Colombo serial blasts on Easter eve. He started Sri Lanka National Thowheed Jamaat Sri Lanka, as franchise of Tamilnadu Thowheed Jamaat 13.

Visa Conduit

Widely known for its missionary activities, terrorists often used TJ to obtain visas and cross borders. Malaysian Analyst Farish Noor in his book, “Islam on Move” wrote- Hamir Mohammed, Sudanese member of Laskhar-e-Toiba (LeT) obtained a visa to Pakistan as member of Tablighi, similarly Somalian Muhammed Sulayman Barre tried to enter Pakistan from India as Tablighi associate, Commander of the Mujahedeen Battalion of Al-Qaeda in Bosnia Herzegovina travelled from Bosnia to Pakistan, Abdul Bukhary, a Saudi national who is on watchlist entered Nizamuddin Markuz claiming to be member of Tablighi, an overt missionary. After 9/11, TJ has come under scanner after it was linked with four high profile terror cases. As per latest Pew Research Centre’s report, Tablighi is operating in over 150 countries with 150 to 200 million affiliated members. While TJ’s complicity in terrorism is beyond any iota of doubt, it smartly evaded scrutiny donning the mantle of proselytization.

Super Spreaders of Corona

After a meteoric increase in the CCV infections, Iran shut down holiest sites and Saudi Arabia imposed banned prayers at Mecca and Medina. Countries like Turkey, UAE, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq closed mosques. But Malaysian TJ held a congregation of over 15,000 from February 27th to March 1st. It was attended by participants from Brunei, the Philippines, Thailand and Singapore. This event accounted for nearly all the infections in Brunei. Singapore reported more cases after the event.

Despite an advisory, Pakistan went ahead with itejma with a congregation of 250,000 which triggered a chain reaction of infection. Pakistan refused to impose a ban on mass gatherings and congregational prayers. Guaranteeing safety of all participants Deobandi cleric claimed that Prophet Mohammed has shared the cure for Corona virus in his dreams.  Infection rates in Pakistan are now spiralled out of control and most of them are rooted to TJ. Participants of Pakistan’s itejma from Palestine and Kyrgyzstan are now tested positive for Corona 6. Subjugation of the civilian administration to the Mullahs and the defiance of the TJ clerics advocating isolationism and religious puritanism has kickstarted an infection chain in the region.

Steeped in a regressive ideology that refuses to fathom the consequences of exponential spread of Corona virus, TJ has gained the notoriety of ‘super spreaders’ of infection. Unlike other countries, India has exercised supreme caution. But the gains accrued by India’s proactive approach are now imperilled by the TJ which has violated government orders of social distancing endangering public health.

Attendees of the TJ congregation who have now spread across the country carried the infection to hinterlands triggering an infection bomb. As of now 960 foreigners linked to TJ, who entered India on a tourist visa to carry out missionary activities are blacklisted. Owing to sudden spurt in infections, people in general are outraged by the cluster of the CCV infection that brewed in TJ congregation. To stem the infection, government appealed participants of Nizamuddin congregation to come forward for testing. But TJ members turned a deaf ear, subsequently, health authorities intensified contact tracing and manhunt. As of today, officials have traced 600 more foreigners hiding in various mosques across the country 7.  Days after the conclusion of the congregations, several thousand remained holed up the mosque. Turning down the requests of the Delhi police, TJ refused to cooperate. Maulana Saad of TJ agreed to vacate Nizamuddin Markuz after NSA Ajit Doval met him. Since then, over 2200 people were evacuated from Nizamuddin Markuz and quarantined.

Overwhelming public outrage, Delhi Crime police lodge a FIR against Maulana Saad and Nizamuddin Markuz Management under Sec 188 of Epidemic Diseases Act 8. The report says that Delhi police apprised Maulana of the contagious Corona virus and directed him to send back foreigners. But he paid no attention. Instead, in a video message, of March 23rd, he asked TJ members to defy social distancing norms and attend religious prayers. Terming this as an attempt to divide, isolate Muslims and prevent them from meeting each other. Instigating them further he added, “If you start listening to doctors and stop doing Namaaz and stop meeting people..yes, so you are sick, then pray to 70,000 angels. Why are you not having faith in angels? How will you be cured by taking medicines from doctors if you cannot be saved by 70,000 angels? This is not time to stay away and be afraid.”

A Corona positive patient who stayed at Markuz for three-weeks revealed that thousand men ate together in batches from single big plate, lived in unhygienic conditions which had poor sanitation and drew water from a small pool for rituals of washing before prayers. Hence it is no surprise they became super spreaders of the infection 9. Evacuated TJ members who were quarantined, breached all norms of civility, paraded semi-naked, passed lewd comments, held group namaaz, spitted on the doctors, police to infect them, demanded special food and refused to cooperate10. According to some sources, an estimated 13,000 people have attended the meet. Of them around 8000 are traced as of now.

Public health workers visiting the minority dominated regions for screening in the wake of the Corona outbreak are attacked by stones. Incidents of stone pelting and attacks were reported from Bangalore, Indore, Madhubani and other areas. In Hyderabad, relatives of patient who died of Corona virus attacked doctors 11. The sickening mentality and unimaginable hostility displayed by the super spreaders at a time when country is battling a health emergency has left country aghast. This abject disregard and brazenness in flouting every rule of government bordering on repugnant hate is creating new suspicions. People are raising valid questions- is this a well-planned conspiracy to sabotage India’s fight against Corona?

Islamophobia

Strengthening these suspicions, the usual suspects who led the anti-CAA protests accusing government of “Islamophobia” are demanding revocation of FIR against Maulana Saad who is on a run. Sharjeel Imam, who advocated secession of North Eastern states from India, Jamia Coordination Committee, Muslim Students of JNU extended solidarity to TJ. Terming the punitive measures of authorities akin to “bigotry and Islamophobic fantasies of the government”, they deliberately gave a communal spin to whole issue.

Faith above everything

Exuding kinship, Islamist organisations quickly jumped to rescue their co-religionists. Recusing them of transgressions, the cabal is playing victimhood card. Not to be left behind, the Western media agencies are fuelling the narrative of Islamophobia.  Instead of pulling up the Maulana for unleashing a health catastrophe, springing to their feet, expressing camaraderie secular brigade joined the chorus in exculpating TJ of the calamitous conspiracy.

Italy paid a heavy price for its “political correctness” and virtue signalling. Scared of being construed a racist, instead of isolating people coming from China, Mayor of Florence launched, “Hug a Chinese”, a day after WHO declared Corona, a Public Health Emergency. TJ wreaked havoc, India’s efforts to contain Corona. Leader of the South Korean fringe church group apologised for the virus spread. Enduring the economic hardships, vulnerable sections of India respected norms of social distancing. A country of 1.3 billion have promised themselves to keep the country healthy. The least, Maulana could have done is tender an unconditional apology for setting off an infection time bomb. Corona Pandemic has thus far unravelled, China’s attempts to inflict social harm on countries. Any attempt by TJ to hide beneath the façade of Islamophobia, would embolden people’s suspicions.

It is time to dump the dubious “Islamophobia” chorus. Eternal victimisation, appeasement, political correctness has emboldened a section of society irrevocably. This section continues to flagrantly violate laws. Exploiting India’s soft state, influential global organisations are flouting all rules. The sense of entitlement of certain section of people and their supporting global organisations must be ended.
 
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