How the Tablighi Jamaat Gathering in Delhi Became a COVID-19 Super-Spreader

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In 1926, an Islamic scholar called Muhammad Ilyas al-Kandhlawi created a society called Tablighi Jamaat. The meaning of this is the Society of Preachers, with the aim of reviving ‘true’ Islam. It opposes the syncretic nature of Sufism. And, preaches living like the Prophet did. He lived wearing robes or trousers above the ankle, shaving the upper lip, and keeping a long beard. It also focuses on ‘purifying’ Islam and not converting people.

Divided into different smaller societies across the world, called Jamaats. The current Emir, or leader of the organization is Maulana Saad Kandhalwi, who is the great grandson of Muhammad Ilyas al-Kandhalwi.

It has denounced violence and has declared themselves not to be of a political nature. The Jamaat has been banned in countries like Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. This is due to its activities being considered extremist in these countries.

Tablighi Jamaat Gathering at Delhi and COVID breakout

In the March of 2020, the Tablighi Jamaat held a religious congregation or a Markaz at the Nizamuddin Mosque in Delhi. Over 3400 people gathered there on March 13. On March 16, Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal prohibited religious, social, cultural, and political gatherings until March 31. However, this did not give way to any change the gathering at the mosque.

Just after PM Narendra Modi declared the Janta curfew, a nationwide lockdown on March 22 and March 23, 1500 people vacated the Mosque. With the deaths of 5 Indonesian attendees of the gathering caused by COVID-19 in Telangana. There were 23 cases in the capital itself. Several parts of Nizamuddin West sealed off with barricades and police lookouts on March 24. Another Jamaat attendee was found dead of COVID-19 in Srinagar.

Backlash on attendees

By the start of April, the Ministry of Home Affairs blacklisted 960 people. There were the ones who came to the Markaz from other countries. They cancelled their tourist visas. The MHA also issued 1507 lookout circulars to the attendees on e-visa. This helps the authorities from preventing a proclaimed offender or an accused who is on the run from fleeing outside India. The Delhi government and police evacuated the mosque, quarantined 1810 of the attendees, and hospitalized 536.

The foreign Jamaatis urged the SC to quash the order of the MHA. At this, the SC directed them to file a petition. After hearing the matter on 29 June, the SC sought explanation from the MHA for the blacklisting.

Following this, the MHA filed an affidavit in the SC. It stated that the foreign Tablighi Jamaat members “breached visa conditions and committed criminal offences”. Issuance of visa does not constitute a fundamental right, but a privilege, and hence, the cancellation of 2679 visas (as of 4 June), was valid. These people need to be under trial for offences under the Foreigners Act, NDMA Act, and the Epidemic Diseases Act. The Home Ministry refused to deport them.

What is the way forward?

The problem that this has led to is that it has increased the already tense atmosphere around communal disturbance in the national capital. This occurred so soon after the riots that took place in the city. Alongside, led to the exponential propagation of COVID-19 in India. The important step right now is not to focus only on punishment of the guilty, but also on the effective control of the spread of the disease and its treatment. Seeing as some of the COVID positive attendees have died already, the approach taken towards the situation is clearly flawed.

The first and foremost step must be the treatment and containment of these people. This does not mean that punitive measures should not be taken. These people have violated our laws, endangered themselves, and those around them. They need to be held guilty of their offenses. But that cannot be the priority. Accountability, while important, is not more important than the value of human life.


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