Four days from now, on the April 9, is Shab-e-Barat. For Muslims, this is a somber occasion, a night of forgiveness during which the faithful visit the graves of family members to pray for the forgiveness of sins. For the past few years, many youngsters from the community have used the occasion to indulge in stunts on motorbikes and set off fire crackers. Even in normal times, this kind of boisterous behaviour does not behove the occasion but in the current circumstances, when the world is battling the Corona pandemic, such behaviour would rank as downright criminal.
One hopes that community leaders and family elders will assert themselves and proactively persuade everybody to stay indoors and offer prayers from the confines of their respective homes. This would be perfectly acceptable from the religious perspective and there is no reason for anybody to use the occasion as a pretext to move out of homes, flouting the government's directive of maintaining social distancing.
The whole country is, by and large, observing the government's directive and we owe it to ourselves, to our near and dear ones, to society, and to the country, to do the same. Failure to do so could be fatal to our family members and to fellow citizens. Staying cooped up indoors has its own problems but that is a small price to pay in order to save ourselves and everybody around from falling prey to the Coronavirus.
People of all faiths today are indeed avoiding congregation at places of worship and Muslims must do the same. History has many precedents when congregational worship has not been held. All over the world now, places of congregational worship like Mecca, Medina, Karbala, and the Vatican have been closed to the public to protect people from the coronavirus. True worship should not place anyone in a position of life-threatening infection and this holds true for all of us, specially maulvis who might be reckless enough to announce something to the contrary.
A case in point being the head of the Tablighi Jamaat. Apart from being liable under law, he was also guilty of dereliction of duty as the head of his congregation tasked with their welfare. He used the bully pulpit of the mosque to exhort his followers to ignore health warnings and defy the directives of the state disallowing gathering of more than 50 people. Through his reckless and irresponsible behaviour, he has imperilled not only the health and safety of his followers but also all those who have come in touch with them. Apart from the health hazard, this man has left the entire Muslim community open to all kinds of insinuations and charges.
There can be no defense or explanation for such reckless behaviour. Those citing the example of similar gatherings at Bhopal, Ayodhya or Tirupati are unwittingly doing a huge disservice. By all means, oppose the ruling dispensation and its ideological fellow travellers but in doing so, do not end up shielding or defending the indefensible. It was downright irresponsible and wrong to flout the government's directives on social distancing in these place and the same is true of what happened at the Markaz in Nizamuddin. Let's not offer excuses or try and cover up for what is wrong. One of the reasons why some people continue to break rules with impunity in this country is because few of them are called out or held accountable. This has to end now. Criminal, reckless, irresponsible acts that endanger peoples lives need to be not only condemned but those responsible for such acts must be held accountable, irrespective of their religious or political affiliations.
Failure to do so would mean not only encouraging people to act irresponsibly but also provide fodder to those intent on giving the issue a communal twist by spinning out conspiracy theories. I've had well-meaning friends allude to what happened at Nizamuddin as being a part of a large conspiracy to undermine and harm the country through bio-Jihad. I have been a part of the media for over three decades and it shames me that a section of my fraternity has fanned this cult of animosity by constantly peddling conspiracy theories. There has been no attempt on their part to verify facts, to check and cross check what is made available to them; the result is that a section of the media is also feeding into these vicious cycle of divisiveness and animosity.
Be that as it may, there are some important lessons which the Muslim community can ignore only at its own peril. We can no longer afford to exist in isolation. The way forward is integration and assimilation with social responsibility. The community cannot be at odds with the rest of the country. If Muslims want equal opportunities, they need to be equal participants in the national effort. As Muslims, we cannot and must not be seen as obstructionists who are perennially at odds with the system. What is good for the country is good for everybody, including Muslims.
(The writer is a senior journalist and political analyst.)
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