The world came to a standstill in March as we saw peculiar scenes from around the globe. From Time’s Square to St Peter’s Square and from Las Vegas to Mecca, we witnessed the world fall silent. The world became united on common principles of social distancing, caring for each other and fighting this powerful virus. It seemed almost as if Ronald Reagan’s words about an alien invasion had come true:
I occasionally think how quickly our differences worldwide would vanish if we were facing an alien threat from outside of this world.Ronald Reagan, President of the USA 1981-89
Here in the UK, in a shop I saw a middle-aged white lady serve a Chinese man, only to exclaim once he left the shop “Take your bloody Coronavirus with you”. She said this to me…which left me a feeling a little lost. As a Muslim I was unsure if I should feel proud in this moment because I had finally been given a seat at the table of British racism, or whether I should feel relieved that the focus was off my very Muslim beard, or if I should condemn it as I had been the good little social justice warrior my whole post-9/11 life. I ended up rebuking the lady for her racism.
If prejudice was going to shift from maligning Muslims to maligning Chinese people, the British Media must have missed the memo. They went on to associate news updates on Coronavirus with Muslims, how? Through photographs. See the carousel of images below which shows news updates on Coronavirus from Spain, the UK, Australia, the USA and Europe only to show a Muslim woman in Hijab or a Mosque or Muslims praying. The entire story does not mention anything to do with Muslims but the lead image shows a Muslim (images at the bottom of the article)
India at the forefront of hate, again
Then I saw a few stories emerge in India which were concerning. A Muslim family in India were beaten and removed from their village by Hindu locals who blamed them for spreading Coronavirus. This didn’t shock me too much as India has been a host to some of the world’s most horrific Islamophobic lynchings especially under the extreme right wing Modi government. Narendra Modi himself was banned from ever setting foot in the USA under the “International Religious Freedom Act” which bans anyone who was responsible or “directly carried out, at any time, particularly severe violations of religious freedom” from entering the USA. Modi fit the bill for his role in the 2002 Gujarat massacre of the Muslim minority by Hindu extremists. Reports found Modi, the then Chief Minister of Gujarat, had “allowed” the anti-Muslim riots. When he became Prime Minister the extreme right wing grew stronger, masterminds were granted bail and he himself went on to say he feels no guilt whatsoever. It is under the Modi government we saw lynchings of Muslims for the accusation of eating beef, forcing Muslims to worship Hindu Gods by pronouncing the Hindu chant “Jai Shri Ram” and Hindu temples erected where mosques had been ripped down.
So news like this from India no longer shocks me but the news kept growing. Arnab Goswami blamed Muslims for Coronavirus on his prime time TV show where he has become the mouthpiece of the Hindu right wing and whose shouting racists rants have lead to him being investigated by the Indian Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) for “spreading communal hatred”.
Then Yogi Adityanath, Chief Minister of Uttar Pardesh blamed the Muslim Tableeghi Jamaat for spreading Coronavirus. Yogi Adityanath is no stranger to stoking communcal tension, in 2005 his “purification drive” lead to 1,800 Christians being forced to convert to Hinduism, in 2007 he inspired Hindu mobs to attacks Muslims, in 2011 he told a crowd of right wing Hindu nationalists to “rape and kill Muslim women”, in 2015 he said said if a Muslim were to marry a Hindu girl, Hindus should abduct and kill 100 Muslim girls…the list goes on. Yet in Modi’s India, this man is making winning waves in popularity.
Things look like they will get uglier in India as Coronajihad trends. The blame comes from two sources: The brelawi sufi Nizamuddin Mosque and the Tableeghi Jamaat gatherings. Footage from the sufi Nizamuddin Mosques show attendants taking part in a ritual known to sufis as “zikr” where they move and chant in unison often hundreds of times with movements such as swaying, head movements, swirling, jumping or running. One such video shows people in the Nizamuddin Mosque chanting which the Hindu right wing claimed was Muslims “sneezing” to spread Coronavirus. These claims were debunked but the stories still spread.
The Tableeghi Jamaat, a Muslim organisation whose missionaries travel from city to city preaching Islam, hold large gatherings in mosques. The Indian Covid lockdown began on March 22 and the Tableeghi Jamaat had held a large gathering on 13-15 March, before the lockdown.
The Tableeghi Jamaat were not guilty of breaching any lock down rules, albeit they were as guilty of lacking common sense, as were other religious fanatics who ignored the advice of healthcare professionals. Tableeghi Jamaat leader Maulana Saad said Mosques couldn’t spread viruses, similar attitudes from leaders such as Taqi Usmani in Pakistan saw attendees of Tableeghi Jamaat gatherings in India, Pakistan and Malaysia see spikes in cases.
Was it just Tableeghi Jamaat?
It is not fair to single out Tableeghi Jamaat. On 18-19 March, days after the Tableeghi Jamaat gathering, a Hindu gathering saw over 10,000 worshippers attend. After a Sikh festival 40,000 Sikhs had to be quarantined. In Israel Ultra-orthodox Jewish communities saw the fasted rate of infection as they ignored lock down rules.
Since lock down, no Muslim gather including Tableeghi Jamaat has taken place. However a Hindu festival took place seeing hundreds of Hindus gather to worship which was even allowed by government employees although the officer behind allowing it was suspended.
Ignorance of religious adherents from a Christian South Korean sect actively encouraged followers to spread Coronavirus. It shows that the ignoring of scientific advice by Hindu, Sikh, Muslim, Jewish, Christain sects is an issue which the modern world needs to tackle. But singling out one the religion’s ignorant sects amongst all these scientifically ignorant religious sects would be an injustice.
British Media Leading the Way in Biased Reporting, Again
Then our British and Western media started their subtle campaign against Muslims. I first noticed this when a Coronavirus news report showed a Hijab wearing Muslim woman which struck me as odd as only 2% of the British population consisted of Muslim women and a lot less wore hijab. So why a woman was chosen to be the front cover lead on the spread of Coronavirus when she only made up 1% of the population got me wondering. Then I saw more and more and I began asking myself why are Muslim and minority faces being associated with Coronavirus?
Eid Care from the Government
Then the UK government, along with local government, the BBC along with the Muslim celebrity world, all began asking Muslims to stay at home for Eid. Some Muslims found this a very caring attitude for this government known for its controversial Islamophobic views on Islam.
I found this very peculiar. No Muslim I know, and I know a fair few, had planned to celebrate their Eid out of their homes. Not even my immediate family, let alone wider family, friends or colleagues had even discussed meeting up for Eid. Our Mosque Imams had already told us Eid prayer would not take place and to pray at home which was enough, so why such proclamation, advertisement and (what seemed to be) care?
And then it clicked! I remember I listened to a lecture where the lecturer said “If I said to you ‘please don’t beat your wife when you go home today’, you would reply ‘I wasn’t intending to’ but by the time you have replied that, the entire audience in this lecture hall assumes you are a wife beater because of the presumption in my statement”. By asking us to stay home so much, it was made out to the non-Muslim majority of Britain that we were not staying home and had to be specifically asked to.
Many pointed out the hypocrisy that people had packed out the beaches, VE celebrations (which caused such a spike in cases that hospitals had to close down) had taken place without social distancing and the clapping for the NHS on Thursdays oftentimes broke social distancing rules. Yet none of these occurrences obliged the national and local governments nor the BBC, healthcare professionals or law enforcement agencies to ask people to stay home as they did for Eid.
In the USA Muslims applauded Donald Trump’s speech announcing “we need more prayer” as he opened Churches, Synagogues and Mosques. Muslims felt an almost biblical sense of relief, probably what the Children of Israel felt when Pharoah asked Moses for more prayer to take away the plagues of his times. I, for one, am sceptical. I think this is the prelude to the Trump administration and American right wing media blaming second waves of Coronavirus spread on Muslims.
The extreme right wing leaders such as Katie Hopkins, Gerard Batten and Tommy Robinson have already started sharing fake news stories linking Muslims to Coronavirus spread. The convicted felon Tommy Robinson shared fake news of Muslims praying in “secret mosques” during lock down. West Midlands Police had to clarify was old footage of people leaving a Mosque.
For any Muslim who felt that the rise in Covid racism against Chinese people means the days of Islamophobia are over, think again, I smell more ignorance, more racism and more lies on their way. I hope and pray, though, that we realise that the virus kills us no matter our religion or colour, and the universal concern to protect our loved ones must bring us together not drive us further apart.
In all this negativity, let us finish by mentioning the Muslim granddad who at 100 years old inspired by Tom Moore did 100 laps in his garden to raise $243,000 for the NHS all while fasting.