How can we remove Islam from India?

Why an Islamic mission network in South Asia is considered a corona superspreader

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One of the largest religious networks in the world hosted mass events in South Asia in March, when the coronavirus had already reached large parts of the planet. Muslims came from all over the world to pray together in a confined space. In Pakistan, according to Bloomberg, around 2,250 of the currently more than 15,000 confirmed infections (as of Thursday) can be traced back to a network event, in Malaysia almost 2,000 of the current 5,900 infections. In India, one in three infections was officially related to an event organized by the organization in Delhi at the beginning of April. At the same time, anti-Muslim agitation rose in the country, partly fueled by high-ranking politicians.

On March 13th, thousands of believers gathered for prayer in the Nizamuddin Mosque in southeast Delhi. They have traveled from all over the world since the beginning of the month to take part in the annual gathering of the Tablighi Jamaat (TJ). The Islamic mission network was founded in the same place almost a hundred years ago. Since then, the Sunni movement has settled in over 150 countries. According to the Pew Research Center, TJ has between twelve and 80 million members. You don't know exactly because the preachers are decentralized. Some groups are accused of being close to radical ideas and terrorist networks such as Al-Qaeda or the Taliban. Most of the members, Pew said, are mainly advocates of a religious lifestyle.

The headquarters is in a five-story house in the middle of the narrow streets of Nizamuddin West. While recommendations on social distancing were already being made in Delhi in mid-March, the preachers lived there in a confined space. The house can accommodate up to 5,000 people. On March 16, the city finally banned gatherings with more than 50 people. In the Nizamuddin Center, many times that number of people were still housed. Among them were believers from Thailand, Kyrgyzstan, Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia and Indonesia.

40,000 preachers quarantined in Pakistan

At around the same time, similar scenes occurred in the northern neighboring state of Pakistan. In the Islamic Republic, a TJ mass meeting in Raiwind, in the south of the country, was on the program from March 10 to 12. Only a few days before that, the organizers canceled the meeting, but more than 100,000 people had already arrived.

In an attempt to contain the spread of the virus, 40,000 preachers were quarantined and Raiwind sealed off. Over 2,000 infections have been detected so far. The guests from China, Indonesia, Nigeria and Afghanistan also carried the virus across national borders. The first infections in the Gaza Strip could be traced back to two participants in the TJ event in Pakistan. The Pakistani head of the organization died of Covid-19 in mid-April.

In Malaysia, too, a TJ event near Kuala Lumpur at the end of February caused an infection cluster. Around 16,000 people took part, almost 2,000 of them contracted Sars-CoV-2. Cases from Singapore and Brunei could also be traced back to the meeting.

Blame on Muslims in India

Especially in India, where Muslims are a minority, the recrimination of guilt boomed. The Indian authorities accuse the organizers in Delhi of having disregarded recommendations and laws on corona containment. TJ counters that he complied with all regulations. The city administration was even asked for help with the evacuation of the center, but to no avail.

The lockdown from March 23rd made everything even more difficult: "We had no choice but to accommodate the stranded guests," said a statement at the end of March. On March 31, the authorities finally closed the center and - according to the city administration - took 2,335 people out of the building and moved them to quarantine facilities.

Criminalization of Covid Patients

The remaining participants were searched across the country in the days that followed. Delhi's Vice-Chief-Minster Manish Sisodia asked them to "surrender". On April 2, authorities announced that they had "found and quarantined" 9,000 people linked to the meeting. The head himself, Emir Maulana Saad, called for cooperation with the authorities.

He was finally arrested in mid-April. The charge is "culpable manslaughter". They are imprisoned for up to ten years. In the state of Maharashtra, too, legal action is being taken against 200 members because they, it is alleged, "helped spread the disease". A professor from Allahabad University was arrested for arranging accommodation in a mosque for Indonesians who attended the event when they were unable to leave the country. A total of around 600 foreign TJ members were detained. Most of them are accused of failing to comply with their tourist visa requirements.

Also many other mass events in India

The tough crackdown on the TJ participants is hotly debated in the media in India. The online platform saw the high number of infections among visitors to TJ events in connection with the fact that they had just been tracked down and tested - in contrast to other religious or political mass events in the same period. Many temple complexes in the country saw a brisk stream of visitors even in the second half of March. Just two weeks ago, thousands gathered for a Hindu parade in Karnataka, despite lockdowns.

The Delhi Minorities Commission also denounced in an open letter earlier this week that TJ members not only have to stay in quarantine for two weeks, but have been detained for almost a month - twice as long as recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO).

From "#CoronaJihad" to "Taliban crimes"

Critics see the procedure as part of an anti-Muslim policy that has intensified under the leadership of the BJP party. As recently as the end of February, violent clashes between Hindus and Muslims in Delhi resulted in over 50 deaths. A BJP politician, whose speech was part of the escalation spiral back then, tweeted that TJ members should be treated like terrorists. The minister for minority rights, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, described the meeting in Delhi as a "Taliban crime": "Such a criminal act cannot be forgiven." Anti-Muslim content under the hashtag #CoronaJihad trended on Twitter for a few days.

"It's nobody's fault to have Covid-19," commented WHO's Mike Ryan on the events in India. "We must not classify Covid-19 according to racist, religious or ethnic criteria," he warned. The TJ organization itself is now trying to get rid of its bad reputation in India by calling on recovered members to donate plasma. (Anna Sawerthal, May 1st, 2020)