The Tablighi Jamaat and the Spread of Coronavirus: Lessons for the Future

By Debalina Ghoshal

One of the most disastrous events in the Coronavirus crisis has been the spread of the virus from a prayer meeting in a mosque in Malaysia across South East Asia.

The meeting was organised by the group called Tablighi Jamaat.

The event resulted in the conservative Islamic community coming under strict international scrutiny.

Reportedly, more than six hundred cases that came up in Malaysia had links with the meeting attended in Sri Petaling mosque.

However, the Government is searching for more number of cases that are probably hiding and not coming forward for the tests.

According to the Defence Minister, Ismail Sabri Yaakob, “there are four thousands of them yet to be identified.”

The lackadaisical attitude of the members who attended the meeting can out the entire country at risk.

Followers believe that God will protect them, “None of us have a fear of Corona Virus,…we are afraid of God.” “All sickness and health is from God. Whatever happens to us is God’s will.”

What is even more of a concern is that this meeting attracted followers of this missionary from across South East Asia– the Phillipines, Indonesia, Brunei, Singapore, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam- who have carried the virus with them back to their respective countries.

Pakistan too has become a victim of virus spread by the Tablighi Jamaat members.

Some eighty preachers attended a meeting in Pakistan from across the world.

Some of them who reached Pakistan have then been carriers of the virus to their home countries thereby infecting many more.

India too has witnessed the same crisis- a meeting organised by the group in New Delhi that led to the further exacerbation of the spread of the virus.

While stern steps have been taken to track down the followers who attended the meeting, a lackadaisical attitude of the followers to come forward for testing makes it difficult.

A further difficultly is the problem of understanding the grave effects of the virus.

Doctors who have visited certain localities for testing these followers have been meted out with violence.

The cause of concern for the spread of virus by Tablighi Jamaat is because the organisation in the past had held terror links.

The movement was started by a Deobandi called Maulana Ilyas Khandalawi who was himself a Deobandi cleric. This school of thought are intolerant towards liberal Islamic beliefs as well as towards Shias and also towards people of other religions.

Their preachings can hardly be distinguished from that of the teachings of Wahabism and Salafism-two radical schools of thought in Islam.

Hence, there is a fear that the organisation could have used this virus as a bio weapon to spread the disease to different countries.

This is even more of a concern considering that the organisation in the past has had ties with terrorist organisations and also it was one of the motivation towards the forming of the terrorist organisation- Harakat-ul-Mujahideen.

Indeed, Maulana Saad called this virus a punishment of God or “azaab”.

Writes Baladas Ghoshal, a strategic analyst arguing against the organisation being apolitical, “no movement of such magnitude can be called apolitical. Every movement has an objective.”

He further writes, “Its conservatism and teaching of puritanical Islam has often led many of its adherents to radical and extremist path. 

Kafeel Ahmed, one of the suspects from India arrested for the failed attack on Glasgow airport, happened to be associated with the movement. Two of the 7/7 bombers, Shehzad Tanveer and Mohammed Siddique Khan, had also prayed at a Tablighi mosque in Dewsbury, which in no way proved that the Tablighi Jamaat was involved, but added to the suspicion.

So is the involvement of Abu Bakar Ba’asyir and Abdullah Sungkar in various cases of radicalism in Indonesia.

Both of them had participated in the early movement of Tablighi Jamaat in Solo.

All these suggest that while the Jamaat may not be avowedly political, but the consequences of their teachings and their activities bore political inference and implications.”

This raises a serious prospect of concern going forward: Could such organizations be used as bio weapons to jeopardize a country’s stability,  both economic and political?

Featured photo: Men, who according to Indian officials visited three Muslim missionary gatherings including in New Delhi’s Nizamuddin area, sit in an ambulance that will take them to a quarantine facility, on April 3 [Amit Dave/Reuters]