One of the terrorists in the attack near the Charlie Hebdo office in Paris in 2020, which seriously injured two named his “guide” as Ilyas Qadri, founder and leader of Dawat-e-Islami, a notorious Barelvi group founded in 1980 in Pakistan.
Dawat-e-Islami is a Sunni Islamic organization based in Pakistan. It has several Islamic educational institutions around the World. In addition to local charity efforts, Dawat-e-Islami also offers online courses in Islamic studies and runs a television station, Madani Channel. It is associated with global Barelvi Islam movement. Dawat-e-Islami was officially founded in Karachi in September 1981 by leading scholars who selected Ilyas Qadri as its main leader.
Arshadul Qaudri and Islamic scholar Shah Ahmad Noorani, since 1973 head of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan (JUP), along with other Pakistani Sunni scholars, selected Ilyas Qadri, who was the then Punjab president of Anjuman Tulaba-ye Islām, JUP´s youth wing, aged 23, as the head of Dawat-e-Islami at Dār-ul ´ulūm Amjadia. DI was established initially to dilute the influence of Tablighi Jamaat.
In addition to mosques, Dawat-e-Islami has also started Dar-ul-Madinah, an Islamic school system that aims to improve conventional academic studies in conformity with Sharia.
Dawat-e-Islami has expanded to the United Kingdom, around 1995 holding its first Ijtima (weekly congregation) in Halifax. As of December 2019, it now has at least 38 properties in the United Kingdom which are used as a network of Masajid, Islamic centers, schools and/or Jamias in order to create future scholars for society. Some buildings have been completed and others are being worked upon. More than 100,000 British Muslims are in some form or the other associated with Dawat-e-Islami in UK.
Dawat-e-Islami operates twelve centers in Greece and seven in Spain. In 2009, a Madrassa was opened in Rotherham, England, for the education of young children and adults. In Athens, it has association with local Sufis and has established four centers.
In Bangladesh, Dawat-e-Islami led Jamia-tul-Madina has produced scholars who are serving in United Kingdom.
Jamia-tul-Madina is a chain of Islamic universities in India, Pakistan and in European and other countries established by Dawat-e-Islami. The Jamia-tul-Madina are also known as Faizan-e-Madina. Dawat-e-Islami has grown its network of Madaris from Pakistan to Europe. In the recent years, Dawat-e-Islami and Jamia-tul-Madina are heavily expanding networks in India.
What is Barelvi?
Barelvi is a revivalist movement following the Sunni Hanafi school of jurisprudence, with over 200 million followers in South Asia and in parts of Europe, America and Africa.
The movement drew inspiration from the Sunni Sufi doctrines of Shah Abdur Rahim (1644-1719) founder of Madrasah-i Rahimiyah, Shah Abdul Aziz (1746 –1824) and Fazl-e-Haq Khairabadi (1796 – 1861) founder of Khairabad School. The movement emphasizes personal devotion to Allah and the prophet of Islam, adherence to Sharia, and Sufi practices such as veneration of saints. Because of this, they are often called Sunni Sufis. Imam Aḥmad Raẓā Khān Barelvi (1856–1921) who was a Sunni Sufi scholar and reformer in north India wrote extensively in defense of the Prophet Muhammad and Sufi practices and became the leader of a movement called “Ahl-i Sunnat wa Jamàat”.
Commenting on Dawat-e-Islami, eminent counterterrorism expert Sam Westrop wrote: South Asian Sunni Islam primarily comprises two leading clerical sects: the Barelvis and the Deobandis. Both were established in the 19th century, combining South Asian Sufi influences with elements of Islamic revivalism. Today, much of Pakistani politics revolves around the violent rivalry between the two sects.
Deobandi Islam is widely regarded as the more extreme, with Dr. Ejaz Hussain at the University of Pennsylvania estimating that although about 20% of Muslims in Pakistan are Deobandi, an astonishing 90% of terrorist operatives are from Deobandi backgrounds. Notorious terrorist groups such as the Taliban, Jaish-e-Muhammad along with organizations implicated in dozens of terror plots such as Talbighi Jamaat, are all from the Deobandi fold.
Consequently, many have looked to Barlevis as the moderate alternative. But this might be a mistake.
Involvement of Dawat-e-Islami in terrorism
According to Sam Westrop, the attempted murders in Paris were not the first acts of violence linked to Dawat-e-Islami. A number of Barelvi leaders have long worked to eradicate those regarded as blasphemers.
The very same Ilyas Qadri has declared that “All Muslim scholars agree that a blasphemer must be killed but it is up to an Islamic govt to execute the punishment. However, if a lover of the Prophet kills a blasphemer extra-judicially, as per Islamic jurisprudence, the killer is not executed”.
In 2011, Punjab Governor Salman Taseer was assassinated by one of his own police officers, a Dawat-e-Islami member who gunned down the reformist politician because of his opposition to a death sentence handed down to a Pakistani Christian convicted of blasphemy.
In fact, it was another leading Barelvi figure in Pakistan, Tahir ul-Qadri, who was responsible for introducing Pakistan’s capital punishment laws for blasphemy. These laws have been cited and applied in the persecution and killing of Pakistan’s minorities – especially Pakistani Christians and members of the minority Ahmadiyyah sect. Qadri recommends that blasphemers should be “murdered and kicked like a dog into hellfire.”
Across Pakistan, in fact, other Barelvi groups have also increasingly embraced violent methods.
Dawat-e-Islami’s own violent influence is not limited to Pakistan, however. Long before the 2020 Paris attack, the man who murdered an Ahmadi Muslim in Britain in 2016 was reportedly a member of Dawat-e-Islami and a group named Khatmey Nubuwwat. In Bangladesh, India and Pakistan, activities of Khatmey Nubuwwat has been increasing, where members of Tablighi Jamaat are also enthusiastically taking part. In the eyes of Dawat-e-Islami, Khatmey Nubuwwat and Tablighi Jamaat, Ahmadis are seen as “non-Muslims”.
Khatmey Nubuwwat is organization solely dedicated to justifying and promoting the eradication of Ahmadi Muslims. It is run jointly by Barelvi and Deobandi activists — amid their otherwise internecine hatreds, it appears, despairingly, that the murder of a minority Muslim group offers common ground.
Heavy presence of Khatmey Nubuwwat and Tablighi Jamaat in the US
Khatme Nubuwwat and Tablighi Jamaat have heavy presence in the United States. In 2017, Khatmey Nubuwwat hosted a conference in Virginia, attended by prominent Barelvi and Deobandi clerics, and supported by half a dozen American mosques tied to the movement, who warned that Ahmadis were conspiring to prevent Muslims from “fighting jihad and committing bloodshed,” and discussed plans to lobby for the criminalization of the Ahmaddiyah faith in America.
Dawat-e-Islami operates its own distinct network in the United States as well, with established mosques all across the country. It is also expanding network with the European nations and Britain. Most importantly, Khatme Nubuwwat and Tablighi Jamaat’e massive expansion in the US and the western nations would pose gravest security threats.
Sam Westrop asks, is the federal government monitoring such lesser-known, dangerous movements? We have not seen any indication that they are. Unless these South Asian Islamists are taken seriously, how long before a member of Dawat-e-Islami, Khatme Nubuwwat or another radical Barelvi group commits murder on the streets of an American city?