New Delhi: Late on Monday evening, news broke that six people, among thousands from India and other parts of the world, who attended a meeting of the Islamic preachers' organisation Tablighi Jamaat in Delhi last month died after testing positive for the Covid-19 infection, prompting alarm across the country.
Amid the 21-day nationwide lockdown, there were murmurs among Muslims, mostly on social media, that the Nizamuddin incident would be used to target the community.
Then, through Monday night, Twitter and other sites were overrun by posts about "corona jihad", and a counter-narrative about how other instances of public gathering had not received much attention from authorities and Muslims were being scapegoated.
A resident of Delhi's Shaheen Bagh locality, who did not wish to be named, said, “The protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act had already built a particular kind of image of Muslims. Now, an esteemed Muslim organisation like the Tablighi Jamaat is being defamed.”
“What the Tablighi Jamaat did was irresponsible. But the government could have at least scanned and stopped foreign delegates (through airport screening) coming from infected countries to join the congregation,” said a 28-year-old, formerly associated with the organisation, who wanted to remain anonymous,
He added, "Despite Tablighi Jamaat explaining their situation to authorities at the time, it now feels like the entire community is being portrayed as those who did not understand the gravity of the situation and defied orders to gather there on purpose.”
WhatsApp statuses carrying messages from Jamaat-e-Islami Hind (JIH) and Students Islamic Organisation of India (SIO) became rampant by Tuesday. They reflected similar sentiments that “polarisation” amid such a severe health crisis was not needed and the government was trying to “hide its own failures”.
The Urdu Daily Inquilab, which carried a quarter-page report on the cover in its March 31 Delhi edition about the identification of positive coronavirus patients linked to the Tablighi Jamaat congregation, went all out with a full-page cover story on the subject in its Wednesday edition. It carried a statement by the union health ministry which emphasised that “it was not the time to find faults”.
Hyderabad-based Urdu daily Siasat, in one of its headlines, blamed media organisations for fanning the incident as communal. While another daily, Kashmir Uzma, carried Tablighi Jamaat’s clarification prominently, stating ”the organisation was in regular touch with the authorities”.
Another Urdu daily from Srinagar, Aftab, also carried a story where Tablighi Jamaat’s “irresponsible” action was condemned by Muslim organisations.
The Jamaat focuses on educating and encouraging Muslims to practise their religion diligently. Its sermons mostly talk about how to prioritise religious activities like offering namaz, etc.
The organisation carries out missionary work in a somewhat 'pyramid sales scheme' pattern. After learning and understanding sermons from the headquarters, based in the Banglewali Masjid in Delhi's Nizamuddin area, the local leaders or imams spread out to various mosques (globally), each leading a team of 10 or more.
On reaching the ground, they further disperse into smaller groups of four or more. Their campaign is always door-to-door and is mostly about inviting people for namaz to the local mosque. Those who choose to follow them may get more sermons and teachings about Islam and later are asked to become volunteers.