April 2, 2020 MEMRI Daily Brief No. 212

Indian Officials: Delhi Meetings Of Islamic Revivalist 'Tablighi Jamaat' Group May Be Source Of Coronavirus Spread Countrywide

April 2, 2020 | By Tufail Ahmad*
MEMRI Daily Brief No. 212


Tablighi Jamaat, a revivalist Islamic group with its international headquarters at Nizamuddin in Delhi, has stirred controversy after it was reported that scores of people who attended its gatherings in the Indian capital might be infected with the Coronavirus.[1] It has also been reported that the followers of Tablighi Jamaat from many countries, including Malaysia, Indonesia, and Saudi Arabia, and from different states in India had attended its gatherings on or around March 10, 12-13, and 18, 2020.[2]

On March 31, there were reports of people who had attended the gatherings testing positive for Coronavirus. According to media reports, at least nine people who attended the Tablighi Jamaat meetings died; the governments of various Indian states identified more than 2,100 followers who had returned from Delhi who were to be quarantined; around 1,000 followers from the Telangana state alone had attended the gatherings.[3] According to a March 30 report, people from Nizamuddin, where the Tablighi Jamaat is headquartered, were taken for Coronavirus tests after seven tested positive.[4]

Tablighi Jamaat was established by Islamic cleric Maulana Muhammad Ilyas Al-Kandhlawi (1884-1944) in Mewat, a region near Delhi, in the early 1920s. The movement, active in more than 150 countries, has a large presence in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. It seeks to invite Muslims to imbibe simple Islamic practices such as prayer, piety, fasting, and preaching. Its followers sometimes go door to door inviting Muslims to come to prayer. Those who show interest are urged to go for three-day trips to nearby places for the same purposes, while those who show deep interest go for week-long trips and chillas, which are 40-day tours.

Social Distancing Norms Not Followed Before Lockdown

On March 13, the Government of Delhi issued an order prohibiting gatherings of more than 200 people at seminars, sporting events, and conferences in the Indian capital.[5] Although media outlets were publishing reports about the Coronavirus epidemic spreading around the world, the need for social distancing norms did not yet sink in for Indians generally or the Tablighi Jamaat. Despite the global concern about Coronavirus, Indian President Kovind hosted a breakfast meeting on March 18 in which nearly 50 people can be seen in official photographs.[6]

The Indian government was also unprepared. It was only on March 19 that Prime Minister Narendra Modi appeared on television, calling for one-day Janata Curfew ("public curfew") from 7:00 am to 9:00 pm on March 22.[7] His message for social distancing norms during the curfew was broken by common people and officials whom he urged to clap and bang utensils from their balconies and doors to express support for health emergency workers.

On March 23, two days before a 21-day nationwide lockdown that began on March 25 after another call from Prime Minister Modi, an official of the Delhi Police called a team of the Tablighi Jamaat leaders and issued a formal warning on video.[8] The prime minister's call for a nationwide lockdown gave Indians just four hours to prepare. As a result, there was an exodus of hundreds of thousands of migrant workers from Delhi and other cities walking to homes hundreds of miles away in different states, while the Tablighi Jamaat followers, who had defied police advisories, got locked in the headquarters.

Fears Over Countrywide Spread Of Coronavirus

There are serious fears that the Tablighi Jamaat followers, who went to various Indian states, are spreading the Coronavirus. According to a report, the Ministry of Home Affairs noted on March 21 that among the Tablighi Jamaat foreigners who fanned out across India, most (125) went to Tamil Nadu, followed by Uttar Pradesh (122), Haryana and Maharashtra (115 each), and Telangana (82).[9] The Ministry noted on March 28 that about 2,000 foreigners belonging to Tablighi Jamaat from 70 countries were in different parts of India on tourist visas valid for six months, with most of them from Bangladesh (493), Indonesia (472), Malaysia (150), and Thailand (142).[10]

In addition to the foreign members of the Tablighi Jamaat who may or may not have attended the gatherings in Delhi, hundreds of followers returned to various Indian states after attending the congregation in the Indian capital. Officials in different states began a countrywide search for anyone who had attended the Tablighi Jamaat congregations in Delhi, as they were to be quarantined and tested for Coronavirus.[11] On April 1, the Tablighi Jamaat's headquarters at Nizamuddin were also disinfected and sanitized, while the entire area of Nizamuddin was placed under a cordon to be sanitized and its residents were to be tested.[12]

On April 1, there were reports of a nationwide contact tracing[13] of Tablighi Jamaat followers. Seven attendees of the Tablighi Jamaat who were located in Kathua district of Jammu & Kashmir were quarantined.[14] Six Tablighi Jamaat followers were traced in the Indian federal territory of Puducherry and were tested.[15] Six people from Telangana state who had attended the congregation died.[16] Twenty-two people from the Mallapuram district of the southern Kerala state who had attended the meeting were quarantined.[17]

In Delhi, 173 of 713 people who attended the gathering were quarantined, and 26 of them from the northern state of Uttarakhand.[18] At least 18 residents of Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh state who had attended the event were yet to return, while 24 foreigners who had attended the gathering and returned to Lucknow were hospitalized.[19] At least 342 people from Karnataka state had attended the congregation and 200 of them were traced and quarantined.[20] Ten people who arrived from the Nizamuddin congregation in Poonch district of Jammu & Kashmir were quarantined.[21] There were similar reports from Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Assam, and other states.

The Tablighi Jamaat Denies Wrongdoing

The government of Delhi registered First Information Reports, which are necessary to launch a police case, against Tablighi Jamaat officials including Maulana Saad, Mohammad Ahshraf, Dr. Zeeshan, Mufti Shehzad, M. Saifi, Younus, and Mohd. Salman.[22] The Tablighi Jamaat leadership issued a statement denying wrongdoing and insisted that it was following the orders.

The Tablighi Jamaat's press statement noted: "When the prime minister [i.e., Modi] announced the Janata Curfew for March 22, the ongoing program in the markaz [i.e., headquarters] was discontinued immediately. However, due to the sudden cancellation of rail services across the country on March 21, a large group of visitors got stuck in the Markaz premises. Before the Janata Curfew could be lifted, the Chief Minister of Delhi [Arvind Kejriwal] announced a lockdown of Delhi, beginning at 6 am on March 23."[23]

It added: "On the evening of March 23 [sic; March 24], a further nationwide lockdown was announced by the prime minister [starting March 25] with a clear message for people to stay put wherever they were. Under such compelling circumstances there was no option for the Markaz but to accommodate the stranded visitors with prescribed medical precautions until the situation became conducive for their movement or arrangements were made by the authorities."[24]

*Tufail Ahmad is Senior Fellow for the MEMRI Islamism and Counter-Radicalization Initiative.


[1] Roznama Hindustan Express (India), April 1, 2020.

[2] Roznama Sahafat (India), April 1, 2020 gave the date of March 12-13; (India), March 30, 2020, gave the date of March 10; and, March 31, 2020, gave the date of March 18.

[3] Roznama Sahafat (India), April 1, 2020.

[4] (India), March 30, 2020.

[5] (India), March 13, 2020.

[6], March 18, 2020.

[7] (India), March 21, 2020.

[8], March 31, 2020.

[9] (India), April 1, 2020.

[10] (India), April 1, 2020.

[11] Roznama Hindustan Express (India), April 1, 2020.

[12], April 1, 2020.

[13] Contract tracing is the process of identifying those who may have come in contact with an infected person.

[14], April 1, 2020.

[15], April 1, 2020.

[16], April 1, 2020.

[17], April 1, 2020.

[18], April 1, 2020.

[19], April 1, 2020.

[20], April 1, 2020.

[21], April 1, 2020.

[22], April 1, 2020.

[23] (India), March 31, 2020.

[24] (India), March 31, 2020.


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