In March 2020 the Tablighi Jamaat group was granted permission to host a religious event in Delhi. The gathering was attended by over 3,000 members and allowed the virus to spread rapidly amongst attendees. The group included 800 foreign preachers who had entered India illegally on tourist visas. This violation of the law has posed many problems for authorities in tracing attendees and their movements. This is a crucial obstacle in containing the spread.
Many Indians now blame the group for infecting the Indian capital and beyond. Thousands of cases across 17 Indian states have now been traced back to the Tablighi Jamaat gathering. This has led to religiously motivated calls for the group to be banned. As K Natwar Singh writes in India's Sunday Guardian, "These fanatics spread the pandemic in various parts of the country, by not observing the guidelines laid down by the Central government—social distancing, no shaking hands and above all stay “at home”. These Jamaat fanatics flouted each of these instructions. Maulana Saad Kandhalvi recently told his followers not to worry as the coronavirus would not touch the Muslims. He further asserted that the mosque was the best place to die if anyone was infected by the virus. Every member of Jamaat, when apprehended, should be severely punished and their communal organisation banned." The actions of this minority group is now being used to blame all Muslims for the virus. This finger pointing is proving increasingly dangerous and leading to disproportionate outrage. It is also obscuring failures of the government in their initial response and poor lockdown measures. Instead, the focus is now clear in the upsurge in dangerous, anti-Muslim rhetoric.
The sect is not being blamed for the spread of the virus. Rather, critics are alarmed by the dangerous advice touted by its leadership, and point out just how irresponsible it was to encourage a large-scale gathering. This is not Islamophobia, it is common sense. Moreover, its members do now pose a risk to others. Pakistan, a Muslim nation, has also held adherents in quarantine. The motivation is therefore public health, not sectarian agitations.