New Delhi: Under attack for having allowed the Tablighi Jamaat’s central premises in Nizamuddin to remain crowded with upwards of 2,000 people despite growing national and global concerns about the coronavirus, the sect’s head issued an audio appeal to all followers who visited its headquarters in March event to cooperate with the government.
The TJ also released a video appeal from its lawyer urging all members across India to follow the government’s lockdown order strictly and turn themselves in so that they can be tested and quarantined.
On March 31, Maulana Mohammad Saad Kandhalvi, the chief of the Islamic sect who has had an FIR filed against him under the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 for violating government orders to refrain from organising gatherings of over 50 people, released an audio clip for TJ members. He said that the global pandemic is a “result of mankind’s sins”, and it is necessary for everyone to be their respective houses and eat and study well during this period.
“This is the only way to placate Allah’s anger against us. We should all take adequate precautions, and follow doctors’ instructions. We should all cooperate with our government in fighting the pandemic,” he said.
He urged the Jamaat’s followers to refrain from organising or attending any gathering.
“This is also a time to extend all help to our government in their efforts,” he said, adding that most individuals who stayed in the Markaz (the Tablighi Jamaat’s headquarters) have self-quarantined themselves, according to doctors’ instructions.
“We are not against medical prescriptions, and it is very important for all of us to follow their directives. In whichever part our Jamaat is active, they should all follow quarantine decrees according to the government’s wishes,” he said, adding that he has self-quarantined himself.
This advice was in stark contrast to his earlier sermons in which he said Muslims should not listen to those saying it was not safe to pray in mosques because of the coronavirus.
On April 1, the TJ also released a video message to the public. from Saad’s advocate, Musharraf Ali Khan.
He said that because of the crowds at the Markaz in March, a lot of rumours have been floating against the Tablighi Jamaat, but this was not the time to address or debate the issue.
“In these troubling times, I want to send a message to one and all. Coronavirus pandemic has affected the whole world. Our country, India, has also not remained untouched by the deadly virus. We need to take it very seriously,” Khan said.
“What is needed right now is a united fight against it. I request everyone, every Indian – Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, and Christian – should join this fight without discriminating against each other on the basis of caste and faith. Our Central and state governments, all departments, and police are engaged in this struggle against the virus, and I urge all members to extend all possible help to them,” he said.
He asked the Tablighi Jamaat’s followers to “help each other and also help the needy get treatment” and requested everyone to refrain from going to temples and mosques.
At the same time, he asked followers to desist from debating on the “rumours” about the Tablighi Jamaat.
“All Jamaat members should help the government and that will allay people’s fears about us. Do not misbehave and argue with government officials,” Khan said.
While requesting all who attended the TJ event, he said “those who spent some days at Markaz should volunteer to report to police and health officials about their stay here.”
“If you want, write a detailed note about your stay and give it to government officials. Make yourself available for tests and quarantine, so that all of you stay healthy and fine,” he added.
“Whatever instructions it is giving is for our own benefit. If we get infected, then not only will our life be in danger but all those who will come into contact with you will also be put in danger. Do not take the virus casually. To follow government instructions is our duty today,” he said.
Khan said whether TJ could be faulted for the spread of the pandemic in India is a “different question”, but told followers that an FIR has been lodged against Maulana Saad and that he will be responding to the police officials soon.
“No Jamaat member should get into a debate with people on the FIR. We are doing the needful, and cooperating with the police on the case,” he said.
He rubbished the rumour that Maulana Saad has been absconding, and said that Saad received the government notice against him in person.
He finished his message by urging everyone, irrespective of faith, to pray to God so that the world is rid of the deadly virus soon.
Dismissive of virus threat in early days
If the message by Tablighi Jamaat leaders indicates a clear willingness to comply, it also perhaps represents a change in their thinking. In an undated audio clip which the group has not questioned the authenticity of so far, a man described by some TV channels as Maulana Saad is heard being dismissive of the enormity of the pandemic.
“If you think you will die if you assemble in a masjid, let me tell you, there is no better place to die,” he is heard as saying.
“This is not the time when you leave your prayers or meet people just because doctors are saying. When Allah has given this disease, then no doctor or medicine can save us,” he says.
“This is the time when mosques should be populated. I feel pity for those who are saying that this is a time when people should not go or stay in mosques. This is not the time when we scatter and leave mosques. If we gather inside mosques then Allah will create peace in the world,” he allegedly further says in the leaked audio clip that surfaced a few days ago.
The police are also investigating a sermon that he gave on March 23. He is alleged to have said in the sermon that social distancing warnings were a conspiracy to keep Muslims away from each other.
“Where will you run from death? Death is in front of you…This is an occasion to seek penance from God. Not an occasion where one comes under the influence of doctors and stops Namaaz, meeting each other…Yes, there is a virus. But 70,000 angels are with me and if they can’t save me, who will? This is the time for more such gatherings, not the time to avoid each other…,” he allegedly says in the sermon.
The Tablighi Jamaat is an international Islamic evangelical organisation that has thousands of followers across the globe, the maximum being in South Asia. It organises annual religious gathering in many countries. One such gathering was planned from March 13 onwards at its New Delhi headquarters which thousands of its followers attended.
It appears to have acted irresponsibly and casually by continuing the event despite a ban on religious gathering. Since many foreign nationals from countries like Indonesia, Thailand, Saudi Arabia etc, too attended the event, it is believed many followers contracted the virus there. Many Indian followers have been at the centre of government’s attention as they appear to have infected many others once they returned to their respective states. Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and Assam are some of the states which have reported a few COVID-19 positive cases who attended the event.
The Indian right-wing and a large section of the Indian media has since then been running an Islamophobhic campaign against the Tablighi Jamaat, although it appears that the casual attitude of the governments is also partly responsible for the spread of the virus through the organisation’s office.