- The Tablighi Jamaat sect headquarters is now a coronavirus hotspot
- Many members attended the gathering disregarding all health warnings
- So far, 128 positive COVID-19 cases have been traced to the gathering
After a religious gathering in Delhi at the headquarters of the Tablighi Jamaat sect has emerged as one of the country's top coronavirus hotspots, its chief cleric Maulana Saad and six others have been charged by the police.
Thousands of Tablighi Jamaat members, including those from other countries, attended the gathering in March, disregarding all coronavirus warnings and precautions. Many then travelled to different states, widening the spread of the highly contagious virus.
Over 2,000 members have been removed from the Markaz Nizamuddin, the Tablighi headquarters, in the past three days.
Sources say Maulana Saad is missing; he was last seen on Saturday, when coronavirus cases started surfacing.
Apart from Maulana Saad, Delhi Police's First Information Report names Zeeshan, Mufti Shehzad, M Saifi, Younus, Mohammad Salman and Mohammed Ashraf.
They have been charged under the Epidemic Disease Act, said Delhi Police Commissioner SN Shrivastava.
The FIR says these seven were responsible for the gathering and they allowed visitors to continue living in the building despite notice issued to them on March 24, the day the country went into a total lockdown to fight the spread of coronavirus.
The Delhi Police Crime Branch is examining an audio recording of a sermon posted on a "Delhi Markaj" YouTube channel, in which the speaker says there is no need to follow social distancing advised by the government. The speaker terms the coronavirus warnings as a "conspiracy to keep Muslims away from fellow Muslims".
"Where will you run from death? Death is in front of you... This is an occasion to seek penance from God. Not an occasion where one comes under the influence of doctors and stops Namaaz, meeting each other... Yes, there is a virus. But 70,000 angels are with me and if they can't save me, who will? This is the time for more such gatherings, not the time to avoid each other... Who says if we meet then disease will spread? The disease will pass, but eating from the same plate, it will benefit us... This is a plan to end amity between Muslims, to alienate them from each other," says the speaker, which, some reports say, is Maulana Saad.
Across the country, 128 people with coronavirus have been traced to the gathering and many more cases are feared.
The police and Delhi government say the sect was warned about the gathering and had been asked to vacate Markaz Nizamuddin because of COVID-19 fears.
But the organisers of the Tablighi gathering told the police, after being issued notice to vacate, that "people came before the lockdown was imposed, and the PM (Narendra Modi) in his speech said jo jahaan hai wahi rahe (all must stay wherever they are)".
The Tablighi Jamaat, an Islamic missionary movement with members across the world, preaches a return to orthodox Muslim ways. As the coronavirus pandemic swept through the world, Tablighi Jamaat continued to organize gatherings that have been linked to coronavirus cases in countries like Malaysia and Pakistan.