‘Daane daane pe likha hai, khane wale ka naam!’ (Our birth and death date is predestined.)Abdul Latheef*, Civil Engineer
Abdul Lateef* (name changed), 45, sitting in a COVD-19 special ward in a government hospital in Coimbatore, believes that with love, hope and faith, humanity can overcome this pandemic. He was one of the 1,480 persons from Tamil Nadu who had visited New Delhi for the event organised by Tablighi Jamaat.
The gathering led to a spike in the number of coronavirus cases in India. As per the data from Tamil Nadu's health department, 1,058 people out of a total of 1,173 COVID-19 positive cases are linked to this event, as of on 13 April.
The Quint spoke to a patient about what the gathering was all about, if there was fault on their part, and how the fake news and discrimination has taken a toll on their everyday lives.
How It All Began
The civil engineer flew to Delhi on 19 March along with three other friends. They were joined by several who had traveled from various districts in the state via train, flight and bus.
This religious gathering, which is held every two years, has specific dates allocated for every state. The schedule was prepared over six months ago, he said.
“We were watching on Facebook and WhatsApp that coronavirus was in Wuhan, China. We didn’t know this would snowball into such a pandemic,” he said.
Nizamuddin markaz, where the gathering was held, is located in the heart of the national capital. At any time, there are thousands of people there. Latheef said that, given the seriousness of the pandemic, the authorities could have alerted them because the area is always buzzing with people.
“How humane should a human be? This is what the Quran teaches and that is what was discussed at the meeting. I am a 45-year-old male, who reads the Quran, but I went as a student to talk to these experts, to understand how we should lead our life,” he added.
He said many like him were unaware of how grave the situation was, but he was told that a few superiors were informed. They were supposed to send out individual letters to intimate the participants, but ‘that didn’t happen.’
‘No Intent to Impose Our Religious Values’
Jamaat has remained an apolitical organisation since the beginning in 1926 and works to encourage Muslims to practise Islam the way it is believed to have been practised at the time of the Prophet Mohammed.
The Tabligh is the largest Islamic movement in the world and has never been accused of encouraging terrorism or violence.
However, the group was vilified by mainstream media for its ‘carelessness’, and thousands on social media have been condemning the community. Latheef, however, said that the purpose of the gathering was noble and beyond all worldly desires.
“We were taught what is written in Quran, reflecting upon our own lives. We want to just understand our religion better and explain it to our families. We have no intent to impose our religious values on to other communities,” he told The Quint.
“We don’t even intend to discuss political issues like CAA, NRC. We only want to understand – Where did man come from? How is he leading his life? What is the purpose of his life?”Abdul Latheef*, Civil Engineer
On 31 March, Tamil Nadu had managed to identify only around 515 individuals who attended the Nizamuddin event, and there were many who are yet to be traced. The Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami then issued an appeal to the Tablighi Jamaat members: “We request those who travelled to New Delhi to come forward on their own, as we do not have their details. We assure that the best of treatments will be given to them.”
The appeal worked and more than 1,103 persons voluntarily showed up in hospitals for testing.
The state government has emphasised several times that those who have tested positive for coronavirus, or even for the mere reason that they are Muslims, should not be stigmatised.
The Tamil Nadu Health Department even altered their daily press bulletins. The words ‘Delhi conference’ or ‘Tablighi Jamaat’ were replaced with ‘single source event.’
However, Latheef said that several Muslims living in rented houses have been asked to vacate. “During this lockdown, where will they go? How can they manage?” he asked.
The Dindugal-native has been watching all the memes, forwards, pictures and even news bulletins condemning Muslims for ‘deliberately spreading the virus,’ but maintains absolute calm while talking.
“Oruthan kal eduthu naya adithaan, evanum andha kallai paathu koraika maatan (If a man throws a stone at a dog, nobody barks at the stone,” he explains.
“What media has to say, the discrimination, the pictures and memes on WhatsApp and Facebook, are all like stones being thrown at me by God. Why did he throw ? Quran explains. To test us, to see how we fare under pressure.”Abdul Latheef*, Civil Engineer
“You are playing the role of a reporter, I, a civil engineer, and there is a doctor lying down next to me in this COVID-19 ward. God is watching how we are playing our roles. The ones who play their part exceedingly well, are rewarded heaven and the others are punished in hell,” he added.
“I am being tested by God now. My society is being tested. How are we handling this? Are we blaming the government or the people spreading rumours? It starts with me accepting I was responsible because I was a part of this problem,” he said.
“Saans tab tak rahe, jab tak chance hain (We have a chance at life only until we are alive).“Abdul Latheef*, Civil Engineer
‘If There Is No Coronavirus, You Still Can’t Escape Death’
Latheef had gone to Delhi on 19 March and returned to Coimbatore on 24 March. The very next day, he said, he went to the hospital and even took his wife along. “They checked my temperature and stamped on our hands and told us to go. Then we got calls from CID, health department and the corporation. And we immediately came to the hospital again, got tested and the result was positive for me. I said, ‘No problem’ and got admitted here.”
The health facilities, he assured, were adequate and there was no discrimination that any of them faced in the COVID-19 wards. He is on his 14-day hospital quarantine, and is recovering well.
Latheef wanted to also debunk the myth that, testing positive for coronavirus was a path to death.
“If there was no coronavirus or you had escaped from this pandemic, is there no other thing that could kill you? A young doctor Sethuraman passed away all of a sudden at the age of 35. Corona didn’t kill him but he still had to face death.”Abdul Latheef*, Civil Engineer
“Corona is not something to be afraid of. With a lot of goodness and strength, and believing in God, we should just face it,” he added.