Many Covid-19 positive cases from Kashmir with travel history to now newsy Nizamuddin Markaz in Delhi fuelled a perception among public peddled by the unbridled social media campaign and now media court martial that Tablighi Jama’at members are the carriers of the Novel Coronavirus in Jammu and Kashmir and elsewhere. This campaign is now at the heart of a new identity crisis for the outfit’s rank and file.
In the middle of the viral pandemic, a fresh-faced Irfan Dar is getting fretful over the raging identity crisis of his beleaguered tribe.
Struggling with his stressful smartphone feeds and living room noisy TV scenes, the young member of Tablighi Jama’at (TJ) says the tag he once wore like a badge of honour has now become an abhorrent name.
“Some lapses might be there on part of our members recently, but do we deserve this toxic hate campaign,” Irfan asked, in his somber voice.
“This relentless campaign is there despite most of us belonging to a Shu’ra faction that strictly followed all the advisories of the WHO or Health Ministry of the Govt of India. Our Ameer, Maulana Amir Ahmed Khan aka Pervez Sahib, based in Baramulla told all his subordinates a week before a positive case of TJ associate [who would later pass away], to suspend all religious gatherings — or face music.”
Mostly, Irfan informed, the members of Nizamuddin faction were found Covid-19 positive till date.
In 2015, TJ, founded by Maulana Ilyas in Mewat in 1927, on the six principles, including ‘Tabligh’ (inviting people to Islam by preaching), got divided into two factions; one lead by Maulana Saad stationed at Nizamuddin Markaz and the other by a few other activists, popularly called Shu’ra, stationed in Faiz Ilahi Mosque at Turkmangate, in old Delhi.
Owing to its huge international base and many of the foreigners coming and going from Nizamuddin Markaz, many critics blame and accuse TJ of being negligent during the pandemic time.
A longtime adherent of TJ’s Nizamuddin faction, Irfan Ahmed, a teacher by profession, reckons that the public anger isn’t entirely misplaced.
“But after the concerted media and political campaign against our Markaz in Delhi, it becomes clear that Muslims have been made as the corona villains,” the teacher in his mid-thirties said.
MHA blacklists 960 foreigners, present in India on tourist visas, for their involvement in #TablighiJamaat activities; Necessary legal action to be taken.#COVID19Pandemic@PMOIndia@HMOIndia@PIB_India
Press Release 👇https://t.co/73zjkU3wqu
— Spokesperson, Ministry of Home Affairs (@PIBHomeAffairs) April 2, 2020
We will post 997 posts till every Tablighi who was at markaz is not found, quarantined and cleared of Covid. This single cluster has resulted in a severe setback to India's efforts in containing the pandemic. We won't be bullied by trolls. Keep counting. https://t.co/6iGyEm10vl
— Smita Prakash (@smitaprakash) April 2, 2020
“All those cases [from Nizamuddin Markaz] testing positive were not TJ associates. Our Markaz followed proper channels and guidelines. Nothing was illegal. It was the duty of administration not to allow people to enter the country if they felt a threat.”
But before Delhi would become a hotbed of corona controversy, Kashmir had braced itself for what appeared as another drawn-out lockdown.
Following suit of the alarmist administration’s viral response in the valley, even the Mirwaiz Umar Farooq-led clerical body, Mutahida Majlis-e-Ulema asked people to avoid congregational prayers.
The call came on the heels of a statement issued by a religious group, asking people not to hold congregational prayers in mosques.
But the statement read as ‘a desperate measure in a desperate time’ curtly drew counter statements from other religious groups, asking people to maintain a status quo on mosque prayers.
One of them even said that it was ‘najayiz’ not to hold prayers in mosques, thus leaving no space of difference of opinion and accommodative approach.
But those who favoured congregational prayers reasoned that Kashmir being a landlocked region with only two entries—Jawahar Tunnel and the Airport—leaves least chances of the outbreak in the region, as the authorities were screening the incoming passengers like ‘hawks’.
However, when many TJ members were detected as Covid-19 positives, the entire community felt “stigmatised” especially on social media where many accused them of being careless and insensitive.
This forced one Maulana Rehmatullah Qasmi Kashmiri, a rector of Dar-ul-Uloom Rahimiya in Bandipora, to come up with a statement: “Lockdown was sudden. No time was left to reschedule the reservation. Govt. didn’t provide any alternative. Amid such a scenario how can people, resting in their home, call these people culprits?”
However, the growing TJ ‘positives’ only fuelled the biting campaign.
Anti-Terror Squad has been given responsibility in different states to locate those have attended #TablighiJamaat Markaz in Delhi. This criminalization and vilification of attendees of Jamaat is not the way India can fight battle of Coronavirus. They are not terrorists!
— Kawalpreet Kaur (@kawalpreetdu) April 2, 2020
After Hyderpora, four outfit members from Bandipora, one from Rajouri and other parts of J&K were tested as the novel coronavirus carriers. It only made the body, what they call as, the ‘soft-targets’.
“The other day when I went out to buy some essentials, I saw a few local boys walking away from me,” said Sajad Mir, a well-known TJ face in his hometown in north Kashmir. “I tried to have a meaningful dialogue with them, but they are swayed by the social media campaign.”
Such stigmatisation, he argued, goes against the basics of one’s belief.
“We were clearly advised by our elders including Maulana sahib to suspend religious activities and follow law and order and advices of doctors,” Sajad Mir continued. “Even then, it only took one case [as a trigger initially] to label us some social outcasts hell-bent to destroy humanity!”
Much of this flak, many say, stems from the outfit’s loose structure. There is an Ameer and rest his followers. He is the final authority.
TJ’s ideological foundations lie in Deoband seminary. Its members have made it necessary for anyone to join them to spend ‘Chillas’ ranging from three days or 40 days or 4 months with them in mosques, so that it would lead to his ‘spiritual upliftment’.
With their presence in about 150 countries across the world, the outfit’s followers believe that they’re not sectarian and anyone belonging to any school of thought can join them.
The organisation is strictly an apolitical one which has made it enlarge its sphere manifold. It may be for the first time that it has come under attack of the government as well as public.
“If I was in place of Hindus, I would’ve done the same [criticising TJ’s actions],” said Uzair Mir, a law student.
“In Nizamuddin Markaz, brimming with foreigners from Indonesia, Malaysia, etc, many Covid-19 positive cases were traced. These godmen should have been extra careful, knowing they’ve people of multiple nationalities and have huge gatherings. The crying victim now is idiotic, to say the least.”
But back home in Kashmir, as the sense of “othering”, as they say it, is “soaring”, most of the TJ members are grappling with harsh realities.
“Ever since that revered member of ours walked in hospital to report his ailing condition, I’m watching an offensive as well as support for our group,” said Ishfaq Yatoo, who introduced himself as a TJ diehard from Sopore.
“Today, even a protected personality like UK Prime Minister Borris Johnson can become Covid-19 positive case. The plague, when it breaks out, doesn’t discriminate. Even the superpower like America is today placing orders for body bags for its coronavirus-consumed citizenry. But life was normal when that gathering was taking place in Nizamuddin Markaz. Who knew some of us would become its oblivious carriers!”
But then, some people argue that TJ members’ reluctance to hide their travel history was the mostly at the centre of infuriating storm — and not their participation in a religious event.
“There’re times when one should think reasonably and act for the community welfare,” said Suraya Hameed, a government teacher, who lately ridiculed the outfit on her social media handle. “Nobody is making villains out of these ‘holy men’, but at least, some situation demands reasonable response. What we saw recently wasn’t reasonable at all!”
To this, Yatoo, a TJ member, replied, “Since it’s highly contagious virus, so it spreads. But there’s no question of carelessness. In countries like US and Italy, whom would you blame? It’s in the hands of Almighty! So, let’s not become people bashers for the heck of it.”
Another TJ associate, Lateef Shah, an academic belonging to the outfit’s Shu’ra faction, said the groups were already in the field before the announcement of lockdown which eventually led to a few positive cases.
“As far as blaming TJ is concerned, one is a crude vent to Islamophobic expression,” Shah said. “Another is our sectarian bias.”
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