One of the largest congregations of people leading to several Covid-19 infections appeared in Delhi in Nizamuddin West at the headquarters of Tablighi Jamaat last month. Tablighi Jamaat (Group of Preachers) was organized into an Islamic Missionary group to serve the society way back in British India in 1926 with the aim of reviving good old traditions of Islam.
The organization gradually evolved into the present-day Tablighi Jamaat that organizes religious events all over the Muslim countries aiming to go back to the basics of Islam of the days of Prophet Mohammed. The group has its presence in almost 150 countries with a following of over 150 million. In the recent past, it has organized events in Bangladesh, Malaysia, Indonesia, and many other countries. The organization of events has been primarily with religious objectives, but this time, religious congregations by the group have coincided with the Covid–19 outbreak in some countries. In February and March this year, Tablighi Jamaat had organized events in Malaysia and Indonesia. This was the time when Wuhan in China was under lockdown due to the Covid-19 outbreak. Were the respective governments in these countries unaware of the likely impact mass congregations would have? The answer is obvious. Then, why the congregations were permitted remains an unanswered question.
Covid -19 has infected a considerable part of the population in many countries, and lives in hundreds are being lost every day. As responsible global citizens, it is our individual and collective social responsibility to prevent congregating people and organizing any
such event. Governments across the globe and Muslim countries, in particular, should prevent groups from organizing such large gatherings. “Thousands of Muslims from across the Muslim world attended these congregations and prayers in Malaysia”, says Hanna Beech of the New York Times in her report on March 20, 2020. The Tablighi Jamaat was warned and even prevented from organizing such events given the Corona virus outbreak. Nevertheless, a three-day event was organized in the largest mosque in Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur from February 27, 2020, till March 1, 2020. The New York Times, on March 21, 2020, reported that this one event had spread the killer disease to over half a dozen countries. The event was attended by more than 16, 000 people from different nationalities. Six hundred seventy-three people were found to be infected by the Corona virus in Malaysia soon after the event, and it is safe to assume that some of the international participants would have carried the disease with them to their countries, including India.
In Indonesia, the same cult Tablighi Jamaat was reported to have planned another religious prayer over three days during 19-22 March 2020 at Gowa in the Indonesian province of South Sulawesi. It was a day before the event when the Government of Indonesia intervened to ban the event, but by then, almost 10,000 people had arrived in Gowa who stayed, ate, and rested together, besides interacting freely. Despite the event being canceled, some of them carried the disease both within and outside Indonesia. The virus is yet to show its full impact in these countries. However, the graph seems moving in an upward trajectory.
The Times of India reported ten killed and over three hundred hospitalized in the Nizamuddin area of New Delhi as on March 31, 2020, the majority of whom are Muslims, including many foreigners. Over the next few days, the Nizamuddin area in Delhi has been turned into a ‘Hot Spot’. It appears to be the result of the congregation of over seventeen hundred people by Tablighi Jamaat, including two hundred fifty foreign nationals. People from Malaysia and Indonesia are also known to have traveled to India to the headquarters of Tablighi Jamaat after attending events in those countries. Central congregations at Bangla Wali Masjid in Nizamuddin since the beginning of March 2020 have taken a huge toll. People from this area would have interacted with others because of which ‘hot spots’ are now spreading the disease to other parts of the country.
The majority of us are by now fairly acquainted with this invisible enemy, and we also know measures to be taken. The awareness campaign in India has been in full swing by the Centre and the State governments.
Social media has also been used for the information campaign. This has led to a growing awareness among citizens about the disease and its impact on health. Nevertheless, there is something that prevents some of us from following protective measures. Carelessness or just not being bothered about it could be part of the reason. Not only in India but carelessness in adopting preventive behavior has been seen among Americans, Italians, Iranians, Spanish, and many others where the disease was not taken seriously in the beginning. Comparatively, India has taken strict early measures. Clusters like Nizamuddin are likely to throw shorter and faster challenges from unknown locations that are likely to fail sincere efforts by the government. Let us recall the Antonine Plague of 165 AD that killed over five million people in the Roman Empire, including the Roman emperor, Marcus Aurelius, which proved to be one of the likely causes of the decline of the Roman empire.
Organizations like the Tablighi Jamaat and others need to take a conscious call and instantly ban all their congregations for central prayers and religious meetings. Prevention is better than cure. The simple and only answer is: Stay home, stay safe
*** The author is Brigadier in Indian Army and is serving as Group Commander, Group HQ NCC, Gorakhpur (UP) ***