Intended for healthcare professionals


Religious discrimination is hindering the covid-19 response

BMJ 2020; 369 doi: (Published 29 June 2020) Cite this as: BMJ 2020;369:m2280

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  1. Sonia Sarkar, freelance journalist
  1. New Delhi, India
  1. 26.sarkar{at}

As covid-19 takes hold worldwide, fear is fuelling already entrenched religious hatred—and hindering public health, writes Sonia Sarkar

Mohammad Ibrahim, a resident of the lower middle class Mangolpuri area of New Delhi, has never contracted covid-19 but was forced to spend 41 days in quarantine.

Ibrahim is a member of the Tablighi Jamaat, an Islamic missionary movement that has at times been eyed with suspicion by Indian authorities. On 31 March, Ibrahim voluntarily informed police about the arrival of seven Indonesians at his local mosque. “The police accused me of bringing in people from different countries to spread the infection in India,” he says.

Over 3000 members of the Tablighi Jamaat subsequently spent more than 40 days in quarantine with government authorities refusing to discharge them.1 The Indian government levelled charges of culpable homicide at Tablighi Jamaat chief Muhammad Saad Kandhalvi when at least six of the group died of the infection after attending an event in March, before the countrywide lockdown.2

India’s 201 million Muslim citizens now find themselves blamed for the country’s covid-19 outbreak. In the southern Indian state of Karnataka, two Muslim men were reportedly beaten and made to kneel and apologise for “spreading the virus.”3 In the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, Muslim vegetable vendors were allegedly stopped from selling their goods by locals, who accused them of being members of the Tablighi Jamaat.4 In another northern state, Himachal Pradesh, a Muslim meat seller committed suicide after returning from quarantine to a social boycott by his neighbours. He had tested negative for coronavirus.5

In press briefings, Lav Agarwal, joint secretary of India’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, has highlighted the Tablighi Jamaat’s role …

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