Several COVID-19 cases in the country have been traced to a religious gathering that took place in New Delhi’s Nizamuddin West mid-March. In fact, the Nizamuddin area has been identified as one of the 10 “hotspots” where “unusual” transmission of coronavirus has been detected.
The six people who tested positive are part of an outfit called the Tablighi Jamaat. Authorities in various states are now appealing to people who attended that gathering to come forward and get themselves checked.
Explained: What is Tablighi Jamaat?
The Tablighi Jamaat is a conservative Muslim organisation set up in 1926 by Maulana Muhammad Ilyas in Mewat (in present-day Haryana), and aims to spread religious knowledge among Muslims.
According to the Pew Research Centre (PRC), the Tablighi Jamaat, which translates to “society for spreading faith”, is a global educational and missionary movement whose “primary purpose” is to encourage Muslims the world over to be religiously more observant. According to the PRC, it is currently operating in over 150 countries, including countries in Western Europe.
According to a report published in Stratfor, the movement is believed to have stemmed from the Deobandi brand (most commonly practised form of Islam in South Asia) of Hanafi Sunni school of jurisprudence.
According to Alex Alexiev who wrote in the Middle East Quarterly in 2005, the organisation is relatively unknown outside the Muslim world, since the members consciously work to remain away from the gaze of the media.
They also don’t publish the scope of their activities, their membership or source of their finances, though it is believed they do not rely on donations and are largely financed by their senior members. As per Alexiev, the reason the organisation is able to operate in near secrecy is because the leaders of Tablighi Jamaat, since Ilyas, have been related to him by blood or marriage.
From what is known about the group, it is headed by an emir, who presides over a council that plays the role of an advisory. “By the late 1960s, Tablighi Jamaat had not only established itself in Western Europe and North America but even claimed adherents in countries like Japan, which has no significant Muslim population,” Alexiev has written.
Tablighi Jamaat: Who are the followers?
According to the Stratfor report, most of the followers are of South Asian origin, “though there are Tablighis from many different ethnic and national backgrounds”. It is estimated that the organisation has somewhere between 70-80 million followers across the world, which makes it the biggest Muslim movement in the world. In fact, outside of the Hajj, it is believed that its annual meetings in countries, including Pakistan, Bangladesh and India, bring together the largest congregations of Muslims.
As per the PRC, while the scope of the organisation seems to be limited to spreading the Muslim faith, the group has at times been accused of having ties to radical outfits, who, as per some observers, could take advantage of its loose organisational structure.
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