Tablighi Jamaat and the Role of Religion in the Spread of Coronavirus

Coronavirus

Tablighi Jamaat and the Role of Religion in the Spread of Coronavirus

Illustration: Reynold Mascarenhas

Two days after news broke that several people who attended the Tablighi Jamaat gathering in Delhi had tested positive for the coronavirus, cases tracing back to Nizamuddin Markaz have cropped up all across the country from Kashmir to Tamil Nadu. In the last 24 hours, 328 Covid-19 positive cases have been reported in the country and the spike has been linked to the now controversial mosque event.

Home ministry data shows that 1,051 who attended the gathering in early March have been quarantined and 21 have tested positive. The states of Delhi and Telangana were the worst affected, after 29 of the 32 positive cases recorded in the national capital over the last 24 hours, and three Covid19-related deaths in the southern state were traced back to the congregation.

Several other state governments have been on high alert, including Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Gujarat, and Uttar Pradesh, and have since ramped up efforts to both trace and test people who attended the event. Overall, 10 participants of the conference, including a Filipino national, had succumbed to the coronavirus by Wednesday, PTI reported.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, the Delhi government had announced that 2,361 people had been evacuated from the Nizamuddin Markaz. Of these, 617 were shifted to hospitals in the city while the rest were placed under quarantine, a tweet put out by health minister Manish Sisodia, said. According to the data available with the Centre, nearly 9000 – 7,600 Indians and 1,300 foreigners – have been identified with links to the Islamic sect and face the risk of contracting Covid-19.

The Delhi government has filed an FIR against the Jamaat leaders, including under sections that deal with criminal conspiracy, for not dispersing attendees in time. The police is now tracing the chief of Nizamuddin Markaz, Maulana Saad, who is absconding, according to an India Today report.

The Delhi government has filed an FIR against the Jamaat leaders for not dispersing attendees in time.

The Tablighi Jamaat is a global organisation, founded back in 1926, during the British Raj, that this year saw hundreds of foreigners attend the congregation in Delhi last month. The organisation, which was formed to “promote the ideals of Islam among Muslims”, is headquarted in New Delhi, and is considered “one of the most influential religious movements in 20th century Islam”.

The panic caused by the latest of its conferences has led to several harsh reactions online and raging debates on TV news channels. BJP leader Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said the Nizamuddin gathering wasn’t simply an act of negligence, but a “Talibani act” that was “unpardonable”, while #CoronaJihad, #IslamicCoronaJehad, and #NizamuddinTerrorists have been trending on Twitter since the news broke, exposing how even during a pandemic we don’t let go off our bigoted attitudes.

Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan meanwhile termed a few of these reactions a “purposeful campaign targeting those who attended Nizamuddin Markaz gathering… and their community.”

The case is also a reminder of how religious congregations across the world are giving rise to so-called “super-spreaders”. In South Korea, a woman, now referred to as “Patient 31”, has been accused of creating a rapid spike in cases after attending a congregation hosted by a fringe church group, known locally as “Shincheonji”.

Much like with the Tablighi Jamaat back home, the church has become the focus of public anger in South Korea, after at least half the country’s new surge in cases were traced back to “Patient 31”.

A couple of weeks ago in Punjab, a 70-year-old man who succumbed to the coronavirus, was feared to be India’s first super-spreader. After travelling to both Italy and Germany, Baldev Singh is said to have ignored instructions to self-isolation, and attended Punjab’s Hola Mohalla festival on the day after Holi, putting almost 40,000 people in quarantine.

The case is also a reminder of how religious congregations across the world are giving rise to so-called “super-spreaders”.

Of the state’s 38 confirmed cases at the time, Singh was said to be related to or have come in contact with 26. Following his death, a group of Punjabi singers collaborated to release a song that blames him for spreading coronavirus in the state.

Religious congregations across the world — or any large gatherings for that matter — have been accused of similar negligence. But as Kerala’s Pinarayi Vijayan said, “A virus has no religion.”

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