Tablighi Jamaat and COVID-19

How much of a role did Tablighi Jamaat really play in accelerating the Covid-19 epidemic in India?

Tablighi Jamaat, Until a few weeks ago, the Indian populace was tearing itself apart, primarily on communal lines, with issues like the CAA and NRC becoming a focal point of most living room debates around the country. The COVID-19 epidemic, however, seemed to act as a unifying cause for citizens to rally behind. Religious politics seemed forgotten for a time as everyone made arrangements for keeping life as normal as possible whilst not increasing the risk of propagation of the virus. This was until the fiasco linked to the Islamic Missionary Movement known as Tablighi Jamaat happened. So, what really happened? How monumental were the mistakes made, the growing consequences of which we are still coming to terms with?


The religious group conducted a series of congregations. Near the end of February, members of the Nizamuddin centre (the India headquarters of the Jamaat) visited Sri Petaling Mosque in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, which later emerged as the source of several hundred COVID-19 infections in Southeast Asia, kickstarting the epidemic in Malaysia as well as in Brunei, with cases traced to Cambodia, Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines. They brought a few Malaysian devotees back to India with them to attend a second congregation at the Nizamuddin Markaz. This congregation, now being heralded ‘irresponsible’, took place on 11th, 12th and 13th of March. Here it is interesting to note that on March 13th, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare had declared that COVID-19 was “not a health emergency,” and, along with various other ministries, had advised the populace to go about their lives as normal, without panicking. On March 16, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said that religious, social, cultural and political gatherings, as well as protests comprising more than 50 people, will not be allowed in the national capital till March 31. While a large group of people continued staying at the Markaz premises, no function or special prayer happened after the directive was issued.

Soon after that, a ‘Janata Curfew’ was declared by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the 19th of March, soon after which Delhi was locked down until March 31st by Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. This increased fear and panic amongst Jamaat members, as they were unable to avail for transport to go home. This fear was shared by many labourers and migrant workers in the capital, some of whom even began to desperately attempt to walk home to their native villages. However, the Markaz administration helped around 1500 Jamaat members to avail some form of transport and return home to varied locations around the country, in many cases taking the virus with them. Since then, many cases and outbreaks of coronavirus in states like Telangana, Uttar Pradesh etc. have been linked to the Nizamuddin Markaz, and by extension the Malaysian congregation.


In the time since a case has been registered against the Markaz administration. The community has been vilified and portrayed negatively in mainstream media coverage constantly, with communal elements pouncing at the chance to spread hate. Rash statements by the Jamaat haven’t helped either, with Jamaat chief Maulana Saad calling coronavirus an “azaab” (God’s punishment) and asking his followers to run to the mosques as late as 19th March. (after that he did put out a statement urging supporters to follow government directives, but an argument could be made that the damage had been done by that point.)

The true threads and truths of the story have been forgotten, as more focus is being put on the religious aspect than the mistakes made by all parties involved. Should the government have acknowledged the crisis earlier and restricted travel in and out of the country? Should better testing measures have been employed at airports for international visitors entering the country earlier? Should the Jamaat themselves have acted responsibly and responded sensitively to a generation-defining international epidemic? Should the local administration have taken better steps to take care of the migrant workers in the capital?

Hindsight is 20/20, but we as a country must stay strong and unified in hard times. Yes, all parties should be held accountable, but we cannot let communal narratives and fake news divide us in these trying times.

Leave a Reply

Related Posts