Assault on India's well-being
Tablighi Jamaat fiasco must force the leaders of the movement to introspect on whether they wish to continue acting as sources of instability or as responsible citizens
The Tablighi Jamaat episode, the deliberate and pre-meditated behaviour of the Tablighi kingpins and their entire Jamaat in trying to create a roadblock in our collective fight against the Coronavirus, of trying to weaken and dilute it, is nothing short of criminal. For this one act, the number of Coronavirus positive cases has seen a spike and in States like Assam, which are doing very well in holding their ground until now, the first cases of the virus have been announced.
Mullahs kept telling "believers" that the Coronavirus will not afflict Muslims, that it is not contagious and is only meant to afflict the non-believers. This raises the question of whether there was a deliberate plan of trying to puncture India's strategic and valiant battle against the Coronavirus. A number of such venom spewing leaflets are also being distributed in the hinterlands of West Bengal, directing the faithful to flout all lockdown injunctions with impunity.
At a time when Prime Minister Narendra Modi is exhorting, appealing and urging all social and religious leaders, responsible citizens to come forward in a spirit of unity, Tablighi leaders have worked in clear contravention of that spirit and appeal and placed thousands at peril. They have also deliberately put at risk a large number of their faithful. Prime Minister Modi spoke of an immediate need for religious leaders to reach right up to district levels and police stations and to speak to their followers on the need for compliance. Coronavirus, he said, has posed a threat to and attacked our beliefs and faith, the struggle against it should be collective. Meanwhile the Union Home Ministry under Amit Shah, has had to undertake the humungous task of identifying those who had attended the congregation in Nizamuddin. It has successfully identified 9000 of those who had attended it and their contacts, and placed them in quarantine.
Those in the intelligentsia and the media who have come out in support of the Tabligh's calculated callousness must also be held responsible for trying to weaken our collective fight against the Coronavirus. To add to this are incidents surfacing of medical professionals being attacked in particular localities where they had gone to investigate and locate possible cases of infection, of ASHA workers — the most grassroots unit responsible for tracing, locating and alerting those responsible on the spread of the Coronavirus — being gheraoed, heckled and chased away. Across the country, in pockets where they dominate, a section of the minorities are resorting to such intimidation and violence. Some of those who were being led away from Nizamuddin, in buses by health workers and doctors, were seeing spitting on them and while in quarantine being abusive and unruly. Such preposterous behaviour calls for serious introspection among those who profess to lead them to a 'liberating paradise' in the great beyond!
The communists, ultra-leftist radicals, pseudo-seculars who have voiced their support for the Tabligh leadership in their anti-India act must also be designated as anti-nationals. Over the years, elements who have attended Tablighi classes in its branches across the world have also been seen to have been involved in terror strikes. In Bangladesh, for instance, it has inspired greater radicalisation among groups. Professor Gilles Kepel of the Paris based École Normal Supérieure, one of the leading minds on demographic studies, immigration, terrorism, for instance, speaks of the "Lunel Paradigm." How a small town in the south-western part of France, where the Tabligh was active for over three decades, gradually saw its societal temperament altered and its religious divide accentuated.
Kepel documents the case of Houssem and Raphaël, of North African origin, who were taken care-off by the local Tablighi branch in Lunel. Of Raphaël, wrote Kepel, "The Islamic proselytism of the Tabligh movement spoke to him, it gave him an anchor-identity. He slowly gravitated towards jihadism over a four-year period by getting involved in a series of Islamic 'humanitarian organisations' that encouraged him to volunteer abroad and fight for the cause of the Islamic State..." By 2014, Lunel was being spoken off as the 'capital of French jihad'; a tenth of all jihadists who had died in Syria that year came from this town. Over the next two years, "about twenty Lunel residents left for Syria", writes Kepel. If the "Lunel Paradigm" is to become the model for the Tablighi Jamaat, then it is cause for collective anxiety.
Tablighi leaders themselves must take responsibility for such a blatant deviation of lockdown directives, must introspect — if at all they are capable — on how they wish to drive this movement in future. Do they want to keep seeing it emerge as a source of instability in regions in which they operate? Do they feel that they can operate beyond and above the laws and interests of the country from which they operate? Experts and opinion makers, leaders of think tanks, former civil servants and civil society leaders who have their pens and views ready when it comes to berating Modi, should not be silent on such occasions when a national and global crisis is further compounded by such brazen behaviour. The fact that the group calls itself 'Jamaat' should not deter them from engaging and speaking out against such an attitude.
In fact, if patterns were indicators, jihadis and communists have formed a sort of loose entente that seems determined to slow our inching progress against this pandemic. Seven decades and more is also enough for Indian Muslims to introspect, especially those who think that the Tablighi way is the way to salvation, as to what is their actual commitment to India, to Indian nationhood, to Indianness and to our collective future as Indians. Can those who justify the Tablighi approach that the Coronavirus is not for the faithful, can those who violently opposed CAA, pelted stones, threw petrol bombs at our forces, created unrest in the national capital, say that they have behaved as responsible citizens, or that they had India's well-being and national interest in mind? Are they not treating India merely as a 'Sarai khana', a wayside rest house, since their sacred land, the fountain of their faith rests elsewhere? Is it that they believe that the world is a place meant for only one way and faith and that there shall be no place for the others? The questions that the left-liberals and pseudo-seculars ask of the 'Hindutva types' ought to actually be posed to Tablighi leaders, followers and the endorsers — soft and rabid — of their brand of Islam.
Meanwhile, let the Tabligh Jamaat kingpins and ulemas who drive it, clearly instruct and control their adherents to fall in the line of discipline, let them introspect on Prime Minister Modi's earnest appeal. This alone will demonstrate whether they stand for India, or continue to be harbingers of a nebulous and damaging 'umma'.
The writer is the Director of Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation