In the past 20 days, we have seen exponential spread of Covid-19 in India. This growth in reported cases has happened despite the nationwide lockdown in place since 22 March.
One shudders to think the extent of the pandemic we would be facing today had Prime Minister Narendra Modi not declared a 21-day curfew on 24 March.
According to one estimate by the government of India, we could’ve had more than 8,00,000 cases by now. and more than 32,000 deaths, assuming a conservative figure of four per cent mortality.
The Tablighi Jamaat event held in March in New Delhi’s Nizamuddin Markaz has emerged as the biggest vector responsible for the spread of the novel coronavirus.
As per rough estimates, a significant number of the cases (in Tamil Nadu, over 80 percent) can be linked to the Jamaat event and the members who attended it.
Had it not been for the Jamaat, and those members of the larger Muslim community who are shielding and supporting this irresponsible lot in hotspots like Mumbai, Indore, and Ahmedabad, India would have been well placed to restart the economy earlier than is now considered possible.
But that won’t be possible for another month in some areas, thanks to the single largest source of the infection’s spread.
Nonetheless, one of the positive side-effects of the mess created by Tablighi Jamaat has been the revelation of hundreds of foreign Islamic preachers who come to India on tourist visa and indulge in proselytising activities in gross violation of the law of the land.
The Ministry of Home Affairs has blacklisted more than 1,700 such people and those who are in India will likely face penal action.
But it has also revealed the global Ummah network in all its glory. It raises serious questions about whether Muslims, who number around 200 million, should still get preferential treatment under India’s “minority-first” laws.
India’s secular jamaat (community) argues that minority rights are important to protect, preserve and promote the unique culture, tradition, language and scripts of minorities in India from “majoritarian” Hindu impulses.
But the global nature of the Tablighi Jamaat network proves once again that there is nothing “minority” about Islam in India and that its culture, tradition, language and script is not so unique as to need protection.
In fact, Islam (like Christianity as a religion) is truly global in every meaningful aspect and way more unified in traditions and culture (despite internal schisms) than fragmented Hindu society (with its numerous sampradayas) which is wrongly treated as a monolithic majority by the Indian secular state.
Given this reality, treating Islam as a minority religion, when its followers from Africa to the Americas have more uniformity in culture and traditions than two Hindus living in neighbouring states who are classified as a majority, is a travesty. And it applies to Christianity, another, bigger global majoritarian religion, as well.
In the past one week, as the gross violations of law by the Jamaat became clear, many influential Muslims rushed to defend the organisation, accusing anyone criticising the Tablighis as Islamophobic. This is a dubious term invented to prevent any constructive criticism of Islam or Islamism.
The Jamaat has invited strong rebuke from Muslims in Malaysia and Pakistan which are also paying for its transgressions, but in Dar al-Harb India, influential members of the Sunni community seem united in deflecting blame from the Tablighis despite ideological differences with the Jamaat. This suggests that when it comes to religion, separate approaches do not matter.
Some Indians living in West Asia are becoming victims of Indian Islamists who are hell bent on punishing any criticism of the “Mullah-Gardi” (a term popularised in Pakistan for the rogue Jamaatis spreading Covid-19).
These Indian Muslims are complaining about their compatriots working in West Asia and getting them fired or having court cases filed against them for alleged blasphemy against Islam. Some Indian Muslims are coordinating with their religious brethren in these Islamic countries to punish their fellow countrymen.
To those who often ask why the loyalties of Muslims in India are questioned time and again, here is one indicative answer. They are endangering the jobs of fellow Indians abroad. To those whose loyalties are to the religious brotherhood rather than fellow Indians, one can pose the question of divided loyalties. This is Islam 101 that is getting exposed by the Tablighi Jamaat issue.
Here is a better red pill for those who are still confused. “Mullah Ko Jo Hai Hind Mein Sajde Ki Ijazat , Nadan Ye Samajhta Hai Ke Islam Hai Azad!”, said Muhammad Iqbal (Because the Mullah has permission to prostrate in prayer in India, he assumes that Islam itself enjoys freedom).
Perhaps, no one has captured the essence of Islam more brilliantly in so few words. Many Muslims may never be satisfied by mere freedom to practice their religion. They want that freedom to be so absolute that all other liberties are subservient to it.
So, some Indian Muslims hunting down Indians working in West Asia by approaching those governments shouldn’t surprise anyone. But it should guide India in how to frame its minority policies in a post-Covid-19 world.
If an Indian Muslim can coordinate so effortlessly with Muslims in Islamic states to take down their non-Muslim opponents, the whole concept of minority-majority goes for a toss.
In a globalised world connected by seamless technology, this is indeed the reality.
What it means, as far as public policy is concerned, is that Muslims (or Christians) cannot be given minority certificates in India and certainly shouldn’t be given more rights in practicing religion or running education institutions.
Nor should they get preferential treatment while receiving subsidies either in form of scholarships to students or handouts to Imams of mosques, which is the norm in many states.
If there is one lesson that we learn from the Tablighi Jamaat fiasco and some obnoxious Indian co-religionists putting lives and livelihoods of Hindus in Islamic countries at risk, it is this: special minority rights for members of global majorities like Islam and Christianity should be junked.