Maulana Saad issued highly objectionable and inflammatory messages to his followers by asking them to continue visiting mosques and offering prayers.
According to official figures, more than 40 percent of the total positive Coronavirus cases in India are directly linked to the congregation organized by the Tablighi Jamaat in Delhi during March, which was attended by thousands of Muslims in contravention of orders of the Delhi government that there could be no gathering at one place beyond 10 people, keeping in view the outbreak of the pandemic. It is no wonder that the Jamaat today is being called the country’s chief villain in the fight against the disease. The Jamaat has done a singular disservice to the entire Muslim community because the impression has spread that this religious denomination has wilfully sought to sabotage the nation’s resolve to counter the medical crisis. The truth is that a larger section of this minority community and its clerics have behaved responsibly, shut down mosques and discontinued community prayers.
Why then did the Tablighi Jamaat and it’s chief Maulana Mohammad Saad behave the way they did? As if the congregation was not criminal enough, Maulana Saad issued highly objectionable and inflammatory messages to his followers. He asked them to continue visiting mosques and offering prayers. “This is not the time when you leave your prayers and (stop) meeting people just because doctors are saying it. When Allah has given this disease, then no doctor or medicine can save us.” Not just that, he advised his followers to visit only those doctors who believed in Allah. While the Delhi Police issued him a notice, the Maulana has gone into hiding.
The Tablighi Jamaat was established a little over 90 years ago in the Mewat region of India by one Muhammad Ilyas al-Khandlawi, an Islamic scholar, with the express purpose of spreading Allah’s word across the country.
His followers took his call seriously. Those who were rounded up and taken to hospitals, and others that came on the streets elsewhere across the country, began to indulge in the most despicable acts. They spat on doctors and behaved indecently with the female medical staff. In one hospital, they insisted on offering prayers in groups despite cautioning from the medical authorities. It appears that their agenda is to undo every single valiant effort the government and our Corona Warriors have been involved in, to counter the spread of COVID-19. What these incidents have also done is to bring the media glare on the Jamaat itself — its history, its purpose, and its activities over the decades in India. Meanwhile, and thankfully, several prominent Muslim clerics have condemned the Jamaat and its Maulana, calling their actions un-Islamic. Some of them have even levelled a direct allegation against the cleric of deliberately seeking to undermine the war against the virus.
The Tablighi Jamaat was established a little over 90 years ago in the Mewat region of India by one Muhammad Ilyas al-Khandlawi, an Islamic scholar, with the express purpose of spreading Allah’s word across the country. Naturally, the movement was deeply religious, but it began to border on fundamentalism. The British rulers of that time looked the other way; they were quite happy that a large segment of the Indian population was engaged in activities other than the freedom struggle. The Jamaat was an offshoot of the Deobandi movement in the country and it sought the return of Muslims to the Islamic way of life as it existed during the Prophet’s time. Ilyas later relocated to Nizamuddin in Delhi — the place where the religious congregation recently took place.
Even before independence, the Tablighi Jamaat had begun to spread its tentacles across the world, particularly in Asia. Chapters were established in Pakistan and later in Bangladesh too after Pakistan was split into two. In the seventies and the eighties, the Jamaat began to make its presence felt in the US, Europe and parts of Central Asia. From the beginning, a strain of extremism was evident in its activities and ideology. And, although it claims to be a platform that represents ‘true Muslims’, the Jamaat has virtually no member from the Shia or other sects; it is dominated by Sunni Muslims.
Some WikiLeaks documents had claimed that the Jamaat had sheltered the 9/11 suspects at its Nizamuddin premises years ago.
The Islamic revivalist movement suffered a split two years ago after disagreements arose over Maulana Saad’s high-handed and unilateral style of functioning. While the Saad faction stayed put at Nizamuddin, the other faction was headquartered in Maharashtra, near Mumbai. Incidentally, the second faction had, in the wake of the pandemic, largely supported the efforts of the government in promoting social distancing. The ripple effect of the division was felt in other chapters of the Jamaat; in the UK, for instance, two groups were created, one owing allegiance to Maulana Saad and the other to the rival leaders. In India, the other group is headed by Maulana Ahmed Lad and Ibrahim Deola.
The Jamaat’s links with terror groups are also now being talked about. The original founders of Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM), for example, were members of the Tablighi Jamaat. The HUM was alleged to have been involved in the hijacking of the Indian Airlines flight in 1999. Some WikiLeaks documents had claimed that the Jamaat had sheltered the 9/11 suspects at its Nizamuddin premises years ago. Several Indian security analysts too have drawn attention to the Tablighi Jamaat’s connections with terror groups, and even experts in Pakistan and Bangladesh have written about it.
Notwithstanding these red flags, the Tablighi Jamaat has been working virtually without any constraint in India over the decades. Part of the reason is the appeasement politics that successive central government in New Delhi adopted. This resulted in the other reason for the absence of concrete action against these elements: Lack of actionable evidence.
The big question now is: Will the authorities crack the whip, or will they allow the Maulana Saad-led Tablighi Jamaat, which has Salafist extremism in its blood, off the radar once the Corona pandemic scare is taken care of?
1. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.