India’s anti-virus measures take on sectarian hue

Veiled Muslim women walk near members of Rapid Action Force patrolling a neighborhood during a lockdown in the area in Ahmedabad on Monday. (Reuters)
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Updated 07 April 2020

India’s anti-virus measures take on sectarian hue

  • More than 1,000 coronavirus cases are said to have a TJ link, while 30 infected persons who died have also been linked to the group, leading to the government terming them a “super spreader”

NEW DELHI: Vegetable vendor Imran Siddiq has been scared to enter the Shastri Nagar colony in east Delhi since he was warned by some residents not to go there.
“They told me very clearly Muslims are not allowed here,” Siddiq told Arab News on Monday.
Siddiq’s friend, Mushtaq, shared a similar experience and has stopped going to the residential complex.
When he does, he makes sure not to take his ID card along “lest my identity is revealed.”
“On Saturday, when I went to the Shashtri Nagar area, they asked me my name, and I gave a Hindu name just to avoid my Muslim identity,” Mushtaq, who prior to the incident had sold seasonal fruits there for the past 12 years, told Arab News. “They asked me to come with my identity card next time. I will not go in this area again,” he said.
Siddiq and Mushtaq’s stories are not unusual.
Since the rapid increase in the number of people testing positive for coronavirus — with some tracing it to a congregation of an Islamic missionary group, the Tablighi Jamaat (TJ), in the Nizamuddin area of New Delhi — India is seeing a new surge in anti-Muslim sentiment.
The government said that 2,300 people had been evacuated from the center where the congregation took place, with 1,800 others placed under quarantine.
According to media reports, however, more than 25,000 people related to the missionary group have been quarantined across India.
The government alleges that the TJ — which is more than a century old and promotes Islamic teachings — hosted the gathering of thousands of people from across India and abroad despite the threat of coronavirus.
In the first week of March, hundreds of people from the missionary group went back to their native states and allegedly infected several people.
More than 1,000 coronavirus cases are said to have a TJ link, while 30 infected persons who died have also been linked to the group, leading to the government terming them a “super spreader.”
“More than a 30 percent surge in coronavirus cases in India took place because of the Tablighi Jamaat,” Lav Agrawal, India’s health secretary, told the media on Sunday.
The TJ group, however, refutes the allegations. “Anybody aware of the activities of the Tablighi would know that it is a missionary organization where activities keep on happening throughout the year without a break. People come and go, and there was nothing new this time,” Shahid Alvi, advocate and the spokesperson of the group, told Arab News.
“Those who came from abroad were given visas by the government. Had New Delhi wanted they could have stopped the people at the airport or tested them properly. Why should we be blamed for the fault of the government?“ Alvi said.
However, after the raid on the building of the Islamic organization, a Hindu right-wing group along with a section of the pro-government media started using divisive tactics with headlines such as “Save the country from Corona Jihad” and “Who is the villain of Nizamuddin?” A minister from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cabinet, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, referred to a “Talibani crime.”
Spokesperson for the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), Sudesh Verma, told Arab News: “The entire country felt cheated by the activities of the Tablighi Jamaat that had its congregation from March 1 to 15 despite there being a prohibitory order in place.
“The message that came from the Jamaat and the activities of those who participated raised many eyebrows. They acted against the national interest by endangering the lives of many people,” Verma said.
Meanwhile, Chief of the Delhi Minority Commission Dr. Zafarul-Islam Khan said: “Muslims are being made a scapegoat of the government’s casual management of the pandemic.”
“In the recent Delhi violence against Muslims, the BJP regime turned the Muslim victims through the help of the state machinery into perpetrators of violence. During the current COVID-19 pandemic, Muslims are being made a scapegoat for the government’s failure and mismanagement,” he said.
“Why is the government not getting hyper when hundreds of people have been gathering at the different Hindu festivals when the prohibitory order was in place?” Islam asked.
Hyderabad-based Dr. Afroz Alam, of Maulana Azad National Urdu University, called the turn of events “dangerous.”
“The othering of Muslims is the most dangerous idea that we have ever evolved. Irrationalities are not the sole possession of any specific community. It’s a universal trait,” Alam told Arab News.
Delhi-based political analyst, Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, said that “the negligence of the government” could not be ignored.
“Modi might be fighting the coronavirus, but his primary concern is to secure the BJP’s political permanence beyond the coronavirus episode. Religious communalism is the BJP’s home ground, and it is the turf on which the party plays quite well. This turf has been delivering electoral successes to the BJP, ” Mukhopadhyay said.


Muslims in Italy follow rules while celebrating Eid Al-Fitr

Updated 14 min 36 sec ago

Muslims in Italy follow rules while celebrating Eid Al-Fitr

  • Italian media reported that Muslims gathered to perform Eid prayers in compliance with anti-coronavirus measures

ROME: Italy’s Muslims gathered in parks and public squares to celebrate the end of Ramadan, as many of the country’s mosques remained shut because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Islamic places of worship have been going slow on welcoming back congregations, despite an easing of a months-long lockdown, in order to guarantee social distancing and other preventive steps required under an agreement between Muslim communities and the government.

Mosques and prayer rooms will have to respect the same strict rules which have been imposed on Catholic churches. Halls will have to be sanitized before and after every prayer and a maximum of 200 people will be allowed, even in the biggest places of worship. For outdoor prayers a limit of 1,000 people has been set and each worshipper must be spaced at least one meter apart from the next. Those with a temperature above 37.5 degrees cannot enter.

Italian media reported that Muslims gathered to perform Eid prayers in compliance with anti-coronavirus measures.

“Happy Eid Al-Fitr to all Muslims in Italy as they have two reasons to celebrate,” Yassine Lafram, president of the Union of Islamic Communities in Italy (UCOII), said in a message. 

“This is not the only festivity closing the holy month of Ramadan, it matters even more to us all this year in Italy as it finally marks the return of our faithful to the mosque after several months of lockdown due to coronavirus. The Muslim faithful all over Italy now pray to God to accept the fasts, prayers and every good deed carried out during this holy  month and bring peace and blessing to our homes, so that phase two in the fight against COVID-19 in Italy will start in the best way possible.”

Many Muslims celebrated Eid at home with immediate family members. Those who decided to meet and pray together outside their households did it while “strictly respecting” health protocols and social distancing to avoid risk of infection, UCOII said. The organization asked people to display the same “utmost prudence and responsibility” when entering every place of worship from now on.

At Milan’s Al-Wahid Mosque Imam Yahya Sergio Pallavicini set up spacing for 140 new prayer mats. There are different entry and exit points for men and women, along with dedicated courtyards. 

Sanitization is carried out regularly while detergents, disinfecting gel and personal protective equipment are being offered by city authorities. “We pray for the inner and outer health of believers and Italian people,” Pallavicini said at the start of Eid prayers.

Almost 200 people gathered to pray in Rome’s Piazza Vittorio Emanuele. Muslims arranged their prayer mats and moved about in line with social distancing rules. Posters in Italian and Arabic told people that hugging was not allowed. 

“Even if we are in an outside space, nobody has to get too close,” the imam told his flock before prayers commenced. “It is mandatory and for the sake of everyone’s health.” There were children in the congregation too, and everyone wore face masks.

“I am so happy that I am finally meeting my friends for this prayer, but we have to stay apart,” 13-year-old Samir told Arab News. “We will have time to embrace, to play together in the future, when the virus will be gone.” He said he had missed going to his mosque, near Furio Camillo station, during the lockdown. 

“I prayed with my father, of course we were following prayers on YouTube and on Facebook. But it was not the same. Here I really feel part of a group sharing a faith. And it is great to be together again,” he added.

In Piazza Re di Roma, in the southern part of the city center, 250 Muslims gathered to pray. “We just prayed together, and stayed in the square for an hour only,” 31-year-old Latif told Arab News. “The celebration will be with our families later on.”

An outdoor celebration took place in the Sicilian capital Palermo with Mayor Leoluca Orlando also joining in. “We are happy for this celebration which marks another sign of the return to normality of our communities,” he told Arab News. “Being able to pray together is one of the most important needs for a religion as that improves the sense of community. Now we can do it again together: and that’s a great sign not only for the Muslim community but for the entire population of Palermo.”