I am tabligh, we are all tabligh

On April 4, health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah stated that almost 45% of all Covid-19 cases in Malaysia were linked to the Sri Petaling tabligh gathering cluster.

This gathering was a gathering organised by the Tablighi Jama’at religious group at the Sri Petaling mosque from Feb 27-March 1. It holds the dubious distinction of being the cause of multiple Covid-19 infections in different countries including Singapore and Cambodia.

There have been many criticisms about the event; the most frequently voiced one is that the organisers should have “known better”. To be fair to the organisers, it must be clarified that there was no legal restriction on public gatherings at the time, though the Ministry of Health had already provided advisories to minimise public exposure.

My sorrow about the gathering is that it became an avenue for racist and religious vitriol. There are those on social media who have had a field day criticising this event and those associated with it, worsened by the fact that not all of the attendees, or those in contact, have stepped forward to get tested.

Let’s get one thing cleared right off the bat. For those of you who are actually of the opinion that the tabligh attendees were not bothered about their risk of getting Covid-19, you are wrong. No one is that callous. These people were not as well.

They were both unaware that the disease was spreading that quickly or that they could have contracted it by attending the event. If they knew they faced that kind of risk, they would not have attended. It was not their fault. We must stop ostracising or demonising them for doing so.

Take the case of the really sorrowful tale of the family in Sarawak, where a colleague of one family member came home from Italy, unknowingly having contracted the virus and passed it on. A few in the family passed away from the infection. Do you think that the individual who returned from Italy ever thought that he or she would be infecting the family, causing so much grief? Not for a second, right.

It’s easy when we post on social media to blame others for getting infected, but will we blame ourselves when we start to infect others? That is the million dollar question. Pointing fingers to blame others for spreading the Covid-19 infection is fine, until you find that you are guilty of it yourselves.

We have the most amazing ways of trivialising risk to ourselves, and worse, rationalising it to ourselves. As more and more members of the community begin to get infected, it is really the time to be more careful.

Beginning this week, quite a few Malaysians overseas have begun to make their way home, to undergo quarantine. The estimate of returning Malaysians are about 4,000 per day. Quarantine centres are under tight supervision, but they are definitely not prisons.

We can fully expect that a few people will attempt to pay illegal ‘visits’ to them. I already hear of people who want to “just pass a few things” to someone in a quarantine centre and that they need “only a few minutes lah, I will wear a mask so okay, right?”

It’s similar to those who are supposed to be in self-quarantine but who still walk around their housing estate, go to nearby shops and even play with their nephews and nieces. If they do test positive in two weeks’ time, they would have infected dozens: if one of those subsequently contracts the disease and dies, will you ever be able to live with yourself?

My wife, a government doctor on the frontlines every day, says it’s not your fault when you get the infection, but it is your fault when you ignore advice and pass it on to your family and friends and someone dies.

On another note, there has been the myth of no person of Indian origin seeming to contract the virus in Malaysia. The lack of infections at the mass Hindu gathering in Penang has been taken to be some mark of religious favour. That, and drinking “rasam” (the South Indian soup out of multiple spices). These and other crazy myths are contributing to the fallacy that Indians are unable to get Covid-19.

As a Malaysian of Indian descent, a practising Hindu and a health professional, let me just say: Look at the news from India where multiple deaths are already being reported. Don’t think you are immune. You and I are both susceptible to the virus.

Our index of suspicion on ourselves must be really high at this point of time as the risk of passing the infection to others increases each day.

If you are one of those coming home from overseas, stay in quarantine. If you have family or friends who have come home and are in quarantine, stay away. Keep them and yourselves safe. At this time, we are all at risk of passing on the infection.

I am tabligh. And so are all of us.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.