A video is massively viral on social media with the claim that people mass sneezed in Delhi’s Hazrat Nizamuddin mosque to spread coronavirus infection. Below is a Facebook post by one Anita Saxena which has drawn 24,000 views and 1,700 shares.
The same clip has also been shared on Twitter.
Unrelated video of a ritual in Sufism
Alt News found that the video was earlier circulating in the Pakistani social media ecosystem with the coronavirus claim. This tweet is from January 30. A YouTube channel from Pakistan uploaded it a day earlier on January 29. It’s likely that the video is older because Alt News was unable to trace the original. The first case of coronavirus in India was reported on January 30.
A further reverse-image search of keyframes of the video led us to a March 4 tweet in Urdu. The English translation of the text revealed the words “Sufi madness”.
During our research, we made certain observations about the clip:
1. It is unlikely that people can voluntarily sneeze together so rapidly in coordination.
2. It looks like they are loudly inhaling and exhaling air.
Based on this and the above tweet, we performed a Google search with the keywords ‘Sufi breathing’ which led us to several videos mentioning the word ‘Zikr’.
The website of Sufi organisation Ansari Qadiri Rifai Tariqa defines ‘zikr’ as a practice where devotees remember God in unison. It can be performed in several ways including “a traditional order in which Allah’s Names are mentioned in zikr, and each one is repeated several, often hundreds of times in unison by the group. Certain movements, such as swaying back and forth or turning from right to left, are incorporated into the activity during the intonations, and are likewise performed in unison. In some tariqas a prayerful rotation of the whole body, arms extended while pivoting on one foot, is traditional.”
Below is a video where people can be seen bending back and forth in a similar manner as in the viral video while chanting ‘Allah’.
Similarly, in the video viral on social media, people are repeatedly taking Allah’s name. Readers are advised to wear earphones and listen to the audio in loops, especially post the first 40 seconds.
Speaking with Alt News, Dr Hamid Akbar, a professor of Urdu at KBN University in Karnataka’s Gulbarga said, “In the main four silsila (orders) of Sufism such zikr is performed but it’s more sophisticated than this [viral video]. The sound you hear, is saas ka zikr or zikr e-anfas which basically means taking Allah’s name with your breath. If you listen closely, you can hear that they are chanting ‘Allahu’ [in the video].”
Mosque in the viral video is neither Nizamuddin mosque nor the Nizamuddin Dargah
Dr Akbar added that he has never seen any ritual, as witnessed in the viral video, practised in Tablighi Jamaat congregations which focus mainly on the importance of namaz (Islamic prayers) and roja (fasting). The Tablighi Jamaat meet is organised in Nizamuddin mosque which is also known as Tablighi Markaz or Bangle Wali Masjid.
Qawwalis (Sufi devotional music) are sung in the courtyard of Nizamuddin Dargah which is about half a kilometre away from the mosque. However, the Dargah had earlier distanced itself from Tablighi Jamaat when Aaj Tak had falsely claimed that 33 people sent for quarantine attended a program at the Dargah. “It is clarified that the News is about Nizamuddin Tablighi Markaz and not of Dargah,” read the tweet.
Below is a picture of the dargah where qawwali singers can be spotted sitting in the courtyard.
Therefore, a video of people practising a ritual in Sufism was falsely shared as intentional sneezing inside Delh’s Nizamuddin mosque to spread the coronavirus infection. Earlier, a video of Bohra Muslims practising the ritual of licking utensils to not waste leftover food was also shared with the same claim.
Nizamuddin has been identified as a coronavirus hotspot after several preachers of Tablighi Jamaat tested positive in three different locations across the country. The organisation led a congregation at its headquarters (Markaz) Banglewali Masjid in Delhi’s Nizamuddin area in mid-March, for which the Delhi government has now filed an FIR against a mosque preacher. Tablighi Jamaat maintains that its gathering was not illegal because it was held before Prime Minister Modi announced the first lockdown (Janata curfew) on March 22. However, the Delhi government claims that its order banning large gatherings, issued on March 13, was violated. Ironically, this was the same day when the Union Health Ministry declared that COVID-19 was not a health emergency. The March 13 order, however, did not extend to religious gatherings and only a subsequent order passed on March 16 did. If reports are to be believed, the congregation was held between March 8 to 15.
Note: The number of positive cases of the novel coronavirus in India is over 1,700 and more than 50 deaths have so far been reported. The government has imposed a complete restriction on movement apart from essential services to tackle the pandemic. Globally, more than 8 lakh confirmed cases and over to 44,000 deaths have been reported. There is a growing sense of panic among citizens, causing them to fall for a variety of online misinformation – misleading images and videos rousing fear or medical misinformation promoting pseudoscience and invalid treatments. While your intentions may be pure, misinformation, spread especially during a pandemic, can take lives. We request our readers to practice caution and not forward unverified messages on WhatsApp and other social media platforms.