Tablighi Jamaat is an Islamic missionary movement that focuses on urging Muslims to return to practicing their religion as it was practiced during the lifetime of the Islamic prophet Muhammad and particularly in matters of ritual, dress and personal behaviour. But during the recent coronavirus pandemic in the word, the Tablighi Jamaat attracted public and media attention due to its activities.
The number of Covid-19 cases in India soared over 2,000 on Wednesday, fuelled largely by infections linked to a March event of the Tablighi Jamaat in the heart of Delhi that emerged this week as the biggest domestic source of the disease in the country. In all, 358 confirmed Covid-19 cases across the country have been linked to the markaz.
The Tablighi Jamaat organised an international mass religious gathering at the Sri Petaling Mosque in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Between 27 February and 1 March 2020, which has been linked to more than 600 COVID-19 cases, making it the largest-known center of transmission of the virus in Southeast Asia.
Furthermore, the outfit organised a second international mass gathering on 18 March in Gowa Regency near Makassar in South Sulawesi, Indonesia. Though the organisers were compelled to cancel the gathering due to outbreak of the pandemic.
Yet another gathering was organised in Pakistan near Lahore from 11 to 15 March, for 150,000 people. The event was “called off” in response to the officials’ requests, but the participants had already gathered and communed together. When they returned the virus traveled with them, including two cases in the Gaza strip.
Nizamuddin faction of the Tablighi Jamaat held a religious congregational program in Nizamuddin West, Delhi. There was Ijtema (congregation) in every week of March till March 21 when coronavirus fears, and the guidelines banning mass gatherings were already there.
According to a tally of numbers released by 25 states and union territories, close to 8,500 people have been identified as having been to the Islamic sect’s headquarters in the capital’s Nizamuddin area, prompting authorities to intensify efforts to trace them since they may be carrying the virus and potentially infecting others.
“A total of 536 symptomatic people, out of all those who were brought out of Markaz [headquarters], have been admitted to hospitals. Besides, 1,810 asymptomatic people have been put in quarantine facilities. So, a total of 2,346 have been brought out of Markaz,” said chief minister Arvind Kejriwal. Delhi police found that 281 foreigners had been staying at the mosque since March 8, 2020, inside the Nizamuddin Markaz Mosque.
“These gatherings were also in violation of another order issued by the Office of the Commissioner of Police, New Delhi which was effective from March 18, 2020 wherein assembly of five or more individuals was prohibited.
There were also other violation of rules by foreign speakers including misuse of tourist visa for missionary activities and not taking 14-day home quarantine for travellers from abroad
Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia slammed the organisers of the event saying they had committed a grave crime. “Event’s organisers committed a grave crime. Disaster Act and Contagious Diseases Act were enforced in Delhi,” he said, “No assembly of more than 5 people was allowed.”
Prime Minister Narendra Modi first announced a one-day lockdown which was in force on 22 March. Subsequently, he announced a 21-day lockdown which became effective 24-25 March midnight. At the time of the lockdown, there were still more than a thousand followers holed up in the mosque.
Area sub-divisional magistrate and the police had sent multiple requests to Markaz officials asking them to vacate but, however, authorities met resistance from the Markaz leadership after they refused to vacate the premises.
Union home minister Amit Shah was on 28 March apprised of the situation following which “he asked Ajit Doval to go to the ground and start the evacuation process and quarantine/ isolate those who had symptoms,” a senior central government official said.
“On the intervening night of 28-29 March, Doval went to Nizamuddin to speak to Markaz officials along with the police. The logistics were then put in place to evacuate and seal the area for containment purposes,” the official added.
As of 30 March 2020 the entire Nizamuddin West area was cordoned off by the Police and medical camps were set up. After evacuation from the markaz, of the scores of Jamaat attendees, 167 of them were quarantined in a railway facility in south east Delhi amid concerns over their safety and transmission of the virus.
There were further complications after the staff at the quarantine facility reported the Tablighi Jamaat followers misbehaved with the staff and spit at the doctors looking after them.
On 31 March 2020, FIR was filed against Muhammad Saad Kandhlawi and others by Delhi Police Crime Branch under:
- Section 3 (penalty for offense) of the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897,
- Sections 269 (Negligent act likely to spread infection of disease),
- Section 270 (malignant act likely to spread infection of disease), and
- Section 271 (disobedience to quarantine rule) and 120b (punishment of criminal conspiracy) of the IPC.
It is believed that the sources of infection were preachers from Indonesia. At least 24 of the attendees had tested positive for the virus among 300 who showed symptom by 31 March 2020. Many had returned to their states and also provided refuge to foreign speakers without the knowledge of local governments, and eventually started local transmissions especially in Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Karnataka, Jammu and Kashmir and Assam.
Various state governments have taken notice of the people, who attended the congregation before returning home. Assam government said it had a list of 299 people who were present in and around the hotspot near Nizamuddin Dargah.
“We’ve alerted dist. admins to find out if these people have returned to Assam and strict instructions issued to quarantine them if they are in the state,” Assam Chief Minister Himanta Bisawa Sarma said.
The States were asked to complete the contact tracing a process on a war footing,” the Centre said in a statement, adding that, “it has been found that foreigners who had participated in the Tablighi Jamaat had violated visa conditions.”
During the religious congregational program Maulana Mohammad Saad Kandhalvi, the head of Nizamuddin Markaz had made several speeches which were full of instigating word.
The Delhi Police has started its investigation into the audio clipping of a speech purportedly given by Maulana Mohammad Saad Kandhalvi, the head of Nizamuddin Markaz (centre) of the Tablighi Jamaat. In the audio clip posted on a YouTube channel named Delhi Markaz, the speaker is heard saying during a sermon that there was no need to follow the social distancing rule as advised by the Union government. The speaker termed the pandemic as a “conspiracy to keep Muslims away from following their religion and from fellow Muslims.”
The voice in the clipping says, “Where will you run from death? Death is in front of you. This is the time to seek blessings from the almighty. You cannot waste time visiting doctors. Yes, there is a virus, but 70,000 hoors are with us and if they can’t save us, who will?”
The speaker goes on, “Who says if we meet then the virus will spread? This is a plan to end the brotherhood among Muslims, to keep them away from each other.”
During an interview with a news channel Kerala Governor Arif Mohammad Khan said that he was shocked after hearing instigative words of Maulana Saad. He revealed that there were series of speeches on YouTube and more than 80000 viewers have seen it but nobody took cognizance of it.
“He asked people not to leave the mosque until COVID-19 ends. This is a crime,” said Mr Khan.
As the Jamaat followers went back to their places over time, they carried the virus and spread the infection they had been carrying without being tested. After the evacuation and segregation at the epicentre, the next step will be to trace possible cases that may have directly or indirectly come into contact with them, and test them,” said a senior health ministry official.