A man from Telangana, who has stayed for three weeks at the Markaz Nizamuddin, the Delhi Centre of Tablighi Jamaat, expressed no surprise over the centre emerging as the newest hotspot for the coronavirus outbreak in the country. While talking to the Swarajya Magazine’s Swati Goyal Sharma, he asserted that the practices followed at Jamaat “guaranteed” that the virus would spread to other inmates.
While requesting to be anonymous, the Telangana man who lived for three weeks in November last year at the Markaz building, contended that his organisation, Tablighi Jamaat, teaches its adherents to “model oneself on the life of Muhammad PBUH”. He added that the organisation teaches them to solemnly follow the tenets of the Quran and to lead his life the way Muhammad PBUH lived his. “We follow him in everything we do – the way we eat and drink, and even urinate,” he said.
Johny (name changed), who requested to remain anonymous, was born a Christian but later converted to Islam in June 2019 in order to persuade his girlfriend’s family to accept him. In August, after having done with the mandatory circumcision, he joined the Tablighi Jamaat group, based on a piece of advice given to him by a “doctor”.
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Johny now claims that he shares a strong bond with the organisation and is deeply connected with them. However, he has problems with the way he and other inmates lived at the Markaz. He said that the news that Tablighi Jamaat centre in Delhi had turned out to be a super-spreader of the coronavirus outbreak did not set him back on his heels.
‘We lived together and ate from the utensil. At a time, four of us would sit down together and eat bread, rice and curry in one big plate. We all ate from it together and without using any spoon or cutlery. Once we are done eating, we would leave the plate as it and another batch of four would come and eat in the same plate. This would continue for about 6 to 7 batches,” he said.
Johny also revealed that the lavatory facilities at the centre were not up to the snuff, saying that there were few and common toilets to be shared between a large number of Muslim clerics. He said that there was no fixed count of men residing in the centre, with more than 1000 men living in the Markaz at its peak.
“If you have to use the toilet, you had to wait for at least half-an-hour at any given point in time in the day. That’s how crowded the centre was,” he said. Johny claimed that during his stay at the Markaz, the washrooms with ‘Indian seats’ always reeked of bad odour, given the large number of men who used it. “However, they were washed just once a day by a cleaner,” he added.
Furthermore, Johny said that the members of the organisation drew the water for ‘Wudu’, a purification ritual among Muslims where they wash their faces, hands, arms and feet with water before performing namaz, from the same small swimming pool kind of a water area in the Markaz. “The fact that all of us used the same water for Wudu, the spread of the virus is but natural,” he said.
While he had some issues with the orthodox practices and teachings espoused by the organisation, he claimed that he is profoundly attached to the group because he believes that “they teach him how to live life the right way”.
Talking about the orthodox teachings of the organisation, Johny claimed that the organisation proscribed its adherents from using mobile phones inside the building. “If anyone saw us using our mobile phones inside the centre, they would taunt us-‘what kind of Muslim you are’,” he said.
Johny says that in January, he had a bad bout of cough, cold and fever. “I never took any pill throughout. It subsided in 20-25 days on its own. I wonder if it was the virus. In any case, I am out of it now and there is no point of getting myself checked,” he says.
In addition, Johny disclosed that the preachers at the centre emphasised on “prayers” as a cure to every problem in their sermons. “They taught us that we should place unwavering faith on Allah and abstain from visiting doctors and hospitals,” he said.
However, Johny said that he did agree with every teaching that they taught, admitting that if he gets seriously ill, he would certainly visit a doctor.
“In January, I was down for a few days with cold and flu. I did not take any medicines for it. It eventually receded after 20-25 days. I don’t know if that was the virus. In any case, I am out of it now and there is no point of getting myself checked,” he said.
According to the reports, 13000 people have been estimated to have attended the 10-day Tablighi Jamaat iztema(congregation) in Delhi in mid-March, who are under the scrutiny of authorities. Out of 13000, 8000 have already been identified as high risk who may disseminate the virus in other parts of the country. So far, 647 coronavirus cases linked to the Tablighi Jamaat iztema have been identified across the country. In Delhi, out of the current tally of 293 cases, 182 were evacuated from the Markaz Nizamuddin.