Coronavirus outbreak: What is Tablighi Jamaat?

Coronavirus outbreak: What is Tablighi Jamaat?

It attracts devotees from several countries, particularly from Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Nepal, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Kyrgyzstan

Islamic worshippers prepare for their departure to their home from the three-day annual Tablighi Ijtema religious gathering. (AFP Photo)

 A large religious gathering in Delhi has sparked a manhunt across India for suspected coronavirus cases after being linked to dozens of infections and several deaths.

Formed 93 years ago in India, the Tablighi Jamaat or the Society for Spreading Faith is in the headlines after at least nine people who attended its gathering in Delhi in mid-March have died and several others tested positive for COVID-19, prompting a health scare in times of a global pandemic.

For latest updates on coronavirus outbreak, click here

If it invites criticism for organising the gathering during the COVID-19 season, the apolitical evangelical group has been also accused of being regressive while other Muslim organisations find fault with it for its neutral political stand.

The group was founded by Muhammed Ilyas al-Kandhlawi in Mewat with an aim of spiritual reformation of Islam. Started as an offshoot of the Deobandi movement,  the Tablighi Jamaat believes that Muslims are in a constant spiritual Jihad fighting the evil using the weapon of proselytization. They believe the battles are won or lost in the "hearts of men".

Also Read: COVID-19: Over 1,000 shifted for tests in Nizamuddin; Delhi govt wants FIR against Tablighi Jamaat

However, the organisation which is spread across the globe with the vast following, especially in South Asia, has been under Indian security agencies' radar for its "links" with radical outfits but so far nothing has been proved.

The Tablighi Jamaat operates its headquarters from Nizamuddin where it has  Alami Markaz Banglewali Masjid and a six-storeyed dormitory where it can house around 2,000 people.

Also read: Tamil Nadu coronavirus cases rises to 74, Nizamuddin link to a chunk of it surfaces

According to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), devout Muslims from across the country and abroad visit the Markaz for religious purposes while some also move out in groups to different parts of the country for religious activities. This is a continuous process throughout the year.

It attracts devotees from several countries, particularly from Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Nepal, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Kyrgyzstan, visit Nizamuddin headquarters from where they are assigned jobs across the country. According to the Delhi government, 1,548 people who were staying in the headquarters were shifted to hospitals and quarantine facilities after 24 people tested positive for COVID-19 and 447 showed symptoms of virus infection.

It was not in Delhi alone the Tablighi Jamaat held meetings during COVID-19. It's meeting in Kuala Lumpur between February 27 and March 1 has been linked to the spreading of COVID-19 to around 600 people there.

The MHA said as on March 21, there were about 1746 persons staying in the Nizamuddin complex, of which 216 were foreigners. Another 824 foreigners were spread out across the country to carry out the activities of the outfit and intimated state authorities to quarantine them.

On March 28, state police forces were also asked to collect the names of Indian Tabligh Jamaat workers and get them medically screened and quarantine them. So far, about 2137 such persons have been identified in different states. They are being medically examined and quarantined.

According to the MHA, it is estimated that from January 1 onwards this year, around 2,100 foreigners had visited India for Tabligh activities. While approximately 824 of them, as on March 21, were dispersed in different parts of the country, approximately 216 of them were staying at the Nizamuddin campus. "Others might have left the country before the lockdown," it said.