Pakistan: A globally influential Islamic missionary movement is facing mounting pressure to curb its activities in Pakistan after holding a mass gathering last month which has been linked to the spread of coronavirus as far afield as Gaza.
About 250,000 people travelled from around the world to attend Tablighi Jamaat’s annual conference, or Ijtema, in Raiwind, south of Lahore, which went ahead in mid-March despite growing concerns about the dangers posed by the global pandemic.
For three days, attendees from dozens of countries prayed, ate and slept in close quarters before organisers bowed to pressure to cut the event short.
But on Thursday, Pakistani authorities placed the entire town of Raiwind under quarantine, closing shops and preventing people from entering or leaving, after at least 40 Tablighi Jamaat preachers tested positive for the virus.
About 600 people are reported to be currently staying at the group’s centre, or markaz, in Raiwind, with around 300 people who attended the conference still stranded there and unable to return to their home countries since Pakistan halted all international flights.
In a statement, Lahore Deputy Commissioner Danish Afzaal pinned the blame for the outbreak on Tablighi Jamaat.
“The government’s apprehensions stood true as several Tablighi Jamaat activists have tested positive for coronavirus and they caused the spread of it,” Afzaal said.
Tariq Jameel, a popular Islamic television preacher and Tablighi Jamaat member, told Middle East Eye before the lockdown was enforced that the event had gone ahead because many attendees had already arrived in Pakistan and there was no time to cancel it.
“As the time of the conference approached, people had already arranged travel, and some were already present in Lahore,” said Jameel.