A prominent activist of Tablighi Jamaat, who accompanied a leading Kashmiri businessman on an extensive propagation odyssey before he died of the coronavirus infection in Srinagar last week, has revealed to The Quint that over 4,000 members of the organisation, including a large number from overseas, participated in its ‘Mulki Mashwara’ (national congregation) at Nizamuddin Markaz in New Delhi in March 2020.
Haji (name changed), who was from one of Kashmir’s richest business families, was the first of the two fatal casualties of COVID-19 in Jammu and Kashmir where 62 confirmed cases had surfaced till late on Wednesday, 1 April.
On his return journey to Srinagar, Haji had been elected as head of the organisation’s J&K chapter at a state-level congregation at Bari Brahmna (Samba) in Jammu.
Tablighi Jamaat National Meet: ‘Over a 100 J&K Activists Had Planned to Join’ "“I reached the (Nizamuddin) Markaz on 4 March. Haji sahab and some 30 others from J&K joined us in the next 2-3 days. Our national congregation was held from 7-9 March. It was attended by over 4,000 of its activists, and many of them were from foreign countries.”" - Mufti Masroor, Anantnag, Kashmir
“In Jammu, we gathered at Jamia Masjid of Firdausabad, in Sunjwan. Over a hundred J&K activists had planned to join the national congregation that happens once in three months. But the Srinagar-Jammu highway was closed for traffic intermittently and not more than 30 of us were able to reach New Delhi,” he added.
According to Mufti Masroor, 1500-2000 activists of the Tablighi Jamaat were present at the Nizamuddin Markaz every day.
Jamaat Meeting Participants Include Doctors, Engineers, Drivers, Rickshaw-Pullers
“All the incoming and outgoing groups have their arrival and departure at Markaz. These groups of 3 to 10 participants each fan out in different cities and towns across India and in different foreign countries for the propagation of Islam. They carry their holdall beddings and spend their own money. Only food is served to them at the Markaz. Since it was a national congregation, the total number of the participants crossed over 4,000,” Mufti asserted.
According to him, around a hundred of the members act as volunteers and provide a helping hand to the management in conducting everyday activities.
The participants include doctors, engineers, university professors, even pilots and plumbers, electricians, drivers and rickshaw-pullers.
“I was there for all three days. Most of the participants were Indians but there were many from Europe, Africa and America, and a significant number from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Canada. By that time (7-9 March) we had heard about the coronavirus outbreak in China and some (Indian) states like Kerala. But there was no major alarm in Delhi. Our members kept shuttling between different cities and countries, ignorant of the toll coronavirus casualties,” Mufti said.
‘First Infections Might Have Come Via Indonesia’
“We had a number of participants from Indonesia and Malaysia. They stayed at Nizamuddin and kept coming in and going out as per their respective rosters even after we left on 10 March. At no point was the gathering below 2000 people. I believe the first infections came in from Indonesia and spread to many of our members,” Mufti said, and revealed how four activists of a group of seven from J&K, that had returned from Indonesia, had tested positive.
“It was a group of seven Kashmiris. Four have been found positive and two negative. One is still somewhere in Delhi,” said Mufti Masroor.
Mufti revealed that some 30-40 Tablighi activists, including the seven from J&K, had executed different propagation programmes at a network of mosques in Indonesia for 40 days before returning to New Delhi in March.
‘Many Jamaat Members Still Stranded Abroad’
“Some of our groups have returned but many others are stranded abroad. From Kashmir, we currently have one each group in Ethiopia and Tanzania and two in Bangladesh. They got stuck due to suspension of international flight operations. However, our groups from Indonesia and Nigeria have returned. Of the Nigeria group, 5-6 of our members are currently at a quarantine centre at Gulmarg,” Mufti said.
Mufti said that he was himself part of the group of 5 Kashmiri activists who accompanied Haji all the way from Nizamuddin to Deoband to Jammu, while travelling by train.
“We left Nizamuddin on 10 March. On the same day we reached Deoband and stayed at a mohalla mosque, which is not under the control of the Darul Uloom Deoband. Soon, all six of us started showing symptoms of coronavirus. We went to a Kashmiri doctor who runs a clinic there. He prescribed some antibiotic drugs and cough syrups. Our fever and headache receded but I am still coughing. Haji Sahab was doing better than me. None of us imagined that he would die within a few days,” he added.
‘We All Went Into Self-Quarantine’
On 13 March, Haji, Mufti and others of their group reached Jammu by train. Two waiting cars ferried them to a mosque at Bari Brahmna, Samba, where Haji was elected as J&K chief for three months. They stayed there for two days. On 16 March, Haji flew from Jammu to Srinagar by an IndiGo flight and Mufti, with four others, travelled by road.
"“We all put ourselves in self-quarantine. Thank God, our test results are all negative.”" - Mufti Masroor
He clarified that his group did not enter Darul Uloom Deoband “even as we met with a number of the students at a mosque”.
According to Mufti, Darul Uloom Deoband preaches an ideology similar to that of the Tablighi Jamaat’s.
"“But after a split in our organisation last year, Darul Uloom Deoband has banned entry and ‘Tablighi mehnat’ (propagation) of both of our factions in Deoband”. " - Mufti Masroor
The mosque where Mufti and his group stayed in Deoband was fumigated and sealed on Tuesday, 31 March.
Why Iran Tourists & Students From J&K Haven’t All Managed to Go Home Yet
Officials in Srinagar shared with The Quint that of the 1750 persons currently under surveillance or quarantine in J&K, around two hundred were either members of Tablighi Jamaat or associates of their contacts.
Over 35 of the 62 who have tested positive belong to this network. Many of the others under treatment or quarantine, are either the Umrah pilgrims who have returned from Saudi Arabia. However, a number of the positive cases were reportedly recovering.
Of the first two positive cases, one was a woman of Kargil district of Ladakh who lives in Jammu, and had returned from a pilgrimage in Iran.
Officials said she had fully recovered. Almost all the J&K students and pilgrims returning from Iran in March have either got stranded abroad or have been isolated at different facilities of Indian Air Force, Army and Navy in Rajasthan, UP and Maharashtra.
Their first batch completed the mandatory 14-day period on Sunday, 29 March. However, plans to take them home in J&K ran into rough weather as at least 9 of them tested positive, even as they had been reported ‘negative’ at the time of their boarding in Tehran.
(The writer is a Srinagar-based journalist. He can be reached @ahmedalifayyaz.)
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