New Delhi, April 21 (IANS) Maulana Saad Kandhalvi heads the Sunni missionary religious sect Tablighi Jamaat which is caught in a maelstrom of epic proportions for holding a massive congregation at Nizamuddin Markaz, the global headquarters of the Jamaat, despite prohibitory orders, even as the police have registered cases against the Maulana Sahab and his close associates for violating the law. The case is being investigated by the Crime Branch of Delhi police. The role of the massive congregation at the Markaz in spreading the deadly coronavirus is now under the scanner.
Tablighi Jamaat, which started in 1926-27, has never interacted with the media and this is arguably the first ever interview of a TJ Chief to any media house in 92 years of its work as a religious movement which is spread over 150 countries. The interview has been done with Maulana Saad Kandhalvi through his lawyer Fuzail Ahmed Ayyubi, Advocate on Record, Supreme Court.
Excerpts from an IANS Global Exclusive:
Q. Since news of the Markaz issue came into public domain, it is being alleged that you have hidden yourself from the law enforcement agencies and have been avoiding them from March 28 and that is why the crime branch has added a new section 304 to the charges against you.
A: It is wrong to say that I am hiding from anyone. As per advice of my doctors, I was in quarantine, here in Delhi. Law enforcement agencies are fully aware of this. That's why even during this period two notices from IO were served, and they have been responded to already. IO also asked me to get tested for Covid- 19, which is in process and the results will be available soon. Finally, my house was also searched in the presence of my son who was not in quarantine. How would this have happened if I was in hiding?
Q: Is this correct that Markaz has told the local Police Stations and the SDM concerned that since March 23, people were stuck in the compound due to Janata Curfew and then the lockdown?
A: Yes, on March 24, a team of six people from the Markaz went to see the SHO, Hazrat Nizamuddin Police Station, to brief him about the situation at Markaz and to seek further guidance on how the remaining participants stranded at Markaz who were from outside Delhi could be moved back to their native states. Later, a letter giving details of the situation was submitted to the authorities with acknowledgement. As a practice, local authorities are kept informed of the programs that take place in Markaz. Everything in Markaz is open and accessible, for anyone to come and see. People are welcome to visit and participate in our discourses.
Q: Is this a laxity from the administration that they did not evacuate the Markaz people and then the blame is put on the Markaz?
A: We don't want to blame anyone, since it's an unprecedented situation, neither us nor the authorities had complete knowledge regarding the steps to be taken in a situation like this. Of course, we made repeated requests to the administration for permission to ferry the participants back home or to other locations so that Markaz could be vacated, but didn't receive their consent, this is on record. We even arranged our own transport and shared the details with SDM but the permission was not granted. Health officials visited the Markaz only on March 25 to ascertain the situation and then came on a daily basis. If this step was taken earlier, the situation could have been handled much better.
Q: There have been doubts on the activities and exact role of the Markaz in public. Could you explain the work activities of the organization?
A: Markaz is the world headquarters of Tabligh, which is a purely socio-religious movement. We are not aligned with any political group across the world and also do not associate with any government or private enterprise. This work has been going on since 1926 and is focused entirely on the Muslim community. It started as a response to the moral degeneration of Muslims and seeks spiritual learning and reforms so that Muslims can live a life of honesty and high moral character. Participants from across the world visit Markaz to learn about the basics of religion and bring them into practice. They learn to do prayers regularly, seek knowledge, and bring honesty and truthfulness in their affairs.
Tabligh has innumerable followers and this is perhaps the largest social reform movement in the world. Markaz does not seek any publicity or recognition, our work is dedicated to purifying human soul and we seek our reward from Allah alone.
Q: An audio is doing the rounds where you allegedly say that if you have to die then the best place is a mosque. Due to this many Tablighis hid in mosques…
A: Yes, that audio clip has been extracted from a longer bayan (sermon) that I delivered a few weeks ago. As any religious leader, it is my duty to educate our masses in the light of religious text. Now when the pandemic and its devastating impact is visible on mankind, Islam provides for safeguard and measures to deal with the same. Assuming if I were to die, I would choose a mosque, the house of Almighty as the place of my last breath, but that does not mean that I am inviting people to congregate and die in Masjid.
Presence of merely 3-4 people is good enough for a Masjid without any congregation. This was said not as a rule, but to avoid panic and instill confidence during these hard times. People who attended this congregation know this very well. While at the same time I have also said in my messages that we should follow the advice from healthcare workers and governments who are working hard to eliminate the pandemic. I have heard that media outlets have ignored the context and derived their own meaning from it.
Q: Despite a virtual declaration of a health emergency and prohibitory orders, why did the Markaz controversially choose to hold the congregation from March 13 to 15?
A: On any given day, you can have more than 2,000 people in Markaz who come from far-off places in India and abroad. They come with their pre-determined travel plans and tickets. If we had received any orders from the authorities to evacuate the Markaz or to culminate the programme, we would have done so immediately. We discontinued all proceedings of Markaz on March 23, a day before the nationwide lockdown was announced.
Q: There are papers in public domain implicating TJ in terror activities globally. What do you have to you say on this?
A: Firstly, this question is misplaced, and second you are doubting the capability of our security agencies. We have a history of around hundred years behind us and agencies across the world know the work we are doing. A movement that has millions of followers cannot organize itself without scrutiny from agencies, if we had anything to do with terrorism, authorities would have acted swiftly and ensured timely investigation. Tabligh and violence are antitheses to each other. Our volunteers don't even participate in any political or civil movement. We strive to follow the example of Prophets and our message is of compassion for all humanity. Security agencies are fully aware of this reality and respect the Markaz for its untainted reputation. Papers and media can report whatever they want.
Q: Why did the Jamaat not contradict these papers and articles which knowingly or unknowingly targeted the Jamaat?
A: Throughout our history, we have never engaged with the media, and we do not seek any publicity, that's why most people outside the Muslim community are not familiar with our work. We do not endorse what gets published or communicated, and neither have we ever responded to criticism. We have always cooperated with agencies whenever they have asked for any assistance, that's been our approach to dealing with issues. Writers and commentators are free to hold their views, but I believe history will generously acknowledge our contribution to the moral upliftment of the society.
Q: When will you present yourself to the police for investigations?
A: I have already sent a letter to the Crime Branch reiterating my full assistance and cooperation to them as they investigate the matter. We will proceed as we hear from them.
Q: Do you think media hasn't reported all the facts properly or has been biased against the Markaz?
A: As already mentioned, Markaz doesn't engage with the media and we don't even have any social media presence. Though I have heard that a lot of fake and unverified reports have been published lately. We aren't perturbed by what is published. If some sections of the media misinform, it will hurt their own credibility. It is the responsibility of state administrators to ensure media reports fairly and in the light of facts.
Tabligh lays a strong emphasis on abiding by the law and authorities are aware of this reality. The accusations that have been leveled by the media, be it on social media platforms, or through newsrooms, do not have any authority of law and they may pass judgments, in their own courtrooms. This is not in our control, neither am I affected by it, for we abide by the law of the land.
Q: Your people are saying that the Markaz believes in a free and fierce media, did TJ authorise Prime Law agency Bengaluru, and a person called Mubin Farooqui in Malerkotla, Sangrur, to sue media houses for writing stories on based on facts?
A: No, we have nominated only a team of four lawyers who will represent our case.
Q: Do you believe there is some conspiracy against TJ or you?
A: I am not sure whether this can be called a conspiracy. There has been more than one instance in the past where a person has been put to trial and proclaimed guilty by the media only later to be exonerated by the courts after appreciating the correct and relevant facts.
Q: Do you have any message for your followers?
A: We believe in the judicial system of our country and I am sure truth shall prevail. The only message which is ever propounded by Markaz Nizamuddin is of love, peace and brotherhood.
Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to convey to the masses (although health experts would be best suited to assess the viability of this) that I am informed that in some cases, where patients who had tested positive for COVID-19, and have recovered, if they donate their plasma for treatment to other patients the same shall be very helpful in early recovery of such patients. Therefore, I urge my friends from TJ who have been successfully treated by doctors and have now tested negative to come-forward and donate their plasma so that other patients, of any caste or religion, who are still fighting this disease may benefit from us. We are all the children of Adam.