Several leaders from minority communities have launched an aggressive campaign in Ahmedabad city and other parts of the state appealing to community members to follow lockdown norms and respect Section 144 of Criminal Procedure Code in force due to COVID-19 pandemic. Many mosques in the city have also started announcing precautions people should take to prevent the infection.
The campaign through social media was launched after minority-dominated areas of Ahmedabad city, including Dariapur, Jamalpur and Kalupur, as well as districts of Central Gujarat and Vadodara, emerged as hotspots of coronavirus spread. There were complaints that the lockdown norms were widely flouted in these areas.
In one of the videos that has gone viral, a religious leader from minority community in Ahmedabad is seen appealing to people saying that the concept of lockdown is not new to Islam and that people should adopt it to get rid of coronavirus. The leader also tells people that if they do not follow lockdown norms then “their existence will be wiped out”.
A good part of the campaign is directed at the upcoming Shab-e-Barat (on April 9) when Muslims congregate at burial grounds to pray for their dead.
The minority dominated areas of Dariapur, Jamalpur, Kalpur, Shah-e-Alam, Juhapura and Lal Darwaja in Ahmedabad city have reported 33 positive cases of COVID-19 so far. In Vadodara, three minority community members have tested positive for the disease. One minority community member from Chhota Udepur tested positive and another person from Panchmahal died of the infection.
Eight people who went to the Tablighi Jamaat congregation at Nizamuddin Markaz tested positive for COVID-19 in Gujarat, among the 130 identified to have gone there. Two of them died of the infection, one each in Bhavnagar and Ahmedabad.
According to Mufti Abdul Qayum Mansuri, a prominent religious leader of Gujarat residing at Kalupur area of Ahmedabad, “COVID-19 is a pandemic and the government has asked people to stay away from each other. But I am sorry to say that in our (minority dominated) areas, people get together more than even normal days. They flock the roads when we have stopped going to even mosques for namaz. That is why we are trying to bring awareness among people. We tell them that this is a pandemic and because the roads are empty, it does not mean that they have to assemble there for fun.”
A video from Mansuri, vice-president of Jamiat-Ulama-e-Hind, is among those that have been widely shared on social media. “Being a religious leader, people follow our word… the concept of lockdown is not new to Islam. There are references in this regard in Quran-Hadith. So, whatever preventive instructions the government is giving regarding COVID-19, we give them a religious form so that people understand it easily,” Mansuri said.
According to Mansuri, their campaign has got some impact in the minority-dominated areas. However, there is still a lot of scope of improvement, he added.
The community leaders have started campaigns quoting stories from the Hadith (teachings of Prophet Muhammad, a major source of the religious law and morals for Muslims) to explain the importance of staying at home.
Socio-political activist from Vadodara, Zuber Goplani, who runs the Hanifa School in Borsad, has released a series of infographics on verses from Quran, juxtaposed with advisories related to the pandemic.
“There is a story of a leper in the Hadith and the teachings of the revered Prophet asking people to stay away for their own health and the health of the others. It also has references to personal hygiene as well as the fact that namaz can be offered at home. It is not necessary to gather in a mosque at a time like this when the safety of people is a concern,” he says.
Another senior community leader from Dariapur area in Ahmedabad, Aziz Gandhi, has been appealing to his community to prevent youngsters from stepping out.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Gandhi said, “Many youngsters are immature and they do not follow lockdown norms. We have asked police to be strict with them and asked religious leaders to ask people not to violate lockdown norms. We believe that this will have an impact.”
“Following our request, administrators of many mosques have started announcing awareness messages on COVID-19. Due to the pandemic, community namaz has stopped for many days now, but before customary Azaan, the mosque administrators make awareness announcements for some time. It started in Dariapur and I hope that it will begin soon in other parts of the city as well,” said Gandhi.
Giving reasons behind the community leaders coming out to bring awareness among public, Aziz Gandhi said, “Some people are spreading misinformation that Muslims have spread this disease in our country through the route of (Nizamuddin) Markaz. It has hurt the sentiments of Muslims, prompting us take these efforts…”
Goplani says that the Imams across Gujarat have begun announcing the need to follow government orders and advisories. “The general notion that the government is forcing people to follow the orders has to be done away with. The Imams are playing a positive role in making the community understand that staying indoors is essential by making announcements from the mosques,” he said.
Gyasuddin Shaikh, senior Congress MLA from Dariapur constituency of Ahmedabad, is among the community leaders who is working hard to make people aware of the preventive steps, including social distancing.
“We are doing this campaign to make people of the disease and steps to prevent it. Our community is less educated, so we are trying to convince them in different ways,” says Shaikh.
Another task taken on priority by Shaikh is to get people from different parts of India who are at Dariapur Markaz in Ahmedabad voluntarily checked for COVID-19 infection.
“In the past three days, we have got 157 people from Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh who are at Dariapur Markaz voluntarily checked,” adds Shaikh.
Zahur Ahmed Fakir, a social worker from Sarkhej-Juhapura area of Ahmedabad is dong a campaign to spread awareness about the the disease in the community. Fakir runs a charitable clinic in Juhapura area.
“Even before the lockdown, I had given 26 complaints on the 104 helpline number about steps to be taken against people from my community in the city who were were violating the norms… I am trying to educate people in our community that the steps being taken are in consonance with Islam. Our priority now is to ensure that during the upcoming Shab-e-Barat occasion (April 9), nobody moves out. Our next priority is to ensure that people stay indoors and do not come out for mass prayers during the month of Ramzan, starting from April 28.”
In Ahmedabad, Sunni Muslim Waqf Committee has also appealed people not to congregate at different burial grounds during Shab-e-Barat and asked people to offer prayers from home.
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