Minority Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi calls Tablighi Jamaat’s conduct surrounding the Nizamuddin congregation and the spread of Covid-19 as “criminal”. In an interview to News18’s Sumit Pande, Naqvi, the Muslim face in the central government, however underlines that the Jamaat does not represent the community and one can neither “punish” nor hold the entire Muslim community “responsible” for the March incident. It is the moral responsibility of every citizen, he says, to follow guidelines issued by the government.
This year the holy month of Ramazan has started under very different circumstances. What is your message to the community in the face of the global pandemic?
This would be the first occasion in the lifespan of three to four generations that we are welcoming the Holy Month of Ramzan under such challenging times. Covid-19 poses a challenge to not only India but to the global community. We can defeat this virus with discipline and patience. In India, all religious leaders, social and religious organisations, and central and state governments are united in their fight against this pandemic. Everyone has decided that even in the month of Ramzan there will be no gathering at masjids, idgah’s. And there would not be any gatherings for Roza Iftaar. Praying with precaution and prevention is something which is being followed the world over. It is our moral obligation to follow guidelines issued by central and state governments and local administration. Everyone must respect and support people, especially doctors and nurses who are at the forefront in this fight against Covid-19.
Prime Minister has said the virus does not discriminate on the basis of caste and religion. Do you think issues like Tablighi Jamaat should have been handled in a different way as stigmatisation of both communities and individuals should be avoided to contain the spread of the disease?
The relief and help being extended by the government is not on the basis of faith or caste; nor has there been any intent. You have seen in January, Indians in the Gulf and pilgrims were stuck in Saudi Arabia and Iran. All of them were brought back and all help was extended. They are isolated in army-run quarantine camps and taken care of. Most of these people were from the minority community.
After that there was this issue related to Tablighi Jamaat. There are no two views about the fact that this ‘crime’ by Jamaat has affected the fight against Covid-19. But we do not consider Jamaat as representative of the Muslims of the country. It represents a very small section of the community. The community, thus, can’t be blamed for what Jamaat has done. Jamaat will be dealt with as per the law of the land. And you would have seen that most of the Muslim organisations have endorsed this view. But you can’t punish the whole community because of that and nor can they be held responsible for it.
Epidemiologists say role of community leaders and even religious leaders as influencers is critical in the face of a pandemic like this. Do you think we should be reaching out to such people to communicate effectively?
We have seen how disciplined people were when we celebrated Shab-e-Baraat recently. Generally, this is one occasion when people take out processions and burst fire-crackers. This time around though, people decided to stay home. From Kashmir to Kanyakumari, Ulemas and religious leaders appealed to the people and it was followed. Waqf Boards also played an important role in communicating and convincing people not to venture out.
There has been a recent controversy in the West-Asia regarding some Islamophobic social media post and comments which raised a lot of hackles. Our ambassador has had to clarify. Do you think there is a lesson here for all, including lawmakers and celebrities, on what they say on social media and otherwise?
Prime Minister Narendra Modi takes decisions for the welfare of all the 130 crore citizens of the country. Unfortunately, some people even in these trying times think about their own political gains over national interest. Some people write letters. They try to weaken our unique culture of unity in diversity. As far secularism is considered, for us it is not a political fashion but a perfect passion for us. And this government is working in consonance with that passion. No one can accuse the Modi government of any social, economic, educational or religious discrimination in the last 5.5 years that we have been in power.
Our motto has been development with dignity and development without discrimination. Some people who are not being able to digest this have tried to malign India’s image abroad and this is unfortunate.