Coronavirus pandemic has once again brought the Tablighi Jamaat into focal point of the media and the counterterrorism experts. Most possibly, this is for the first time, Indian policymakers have at least realized the potential threats posed by this notorious group, which already was known to the counterterrorism community in the world as a serious challenge to the global peace.
During every winter, over a million almost identically dressed, bearded Muslim men from around the world descend on the small Pakistani town of Raiwind for a three-day celebration of faith. Similar gatherings take place every year in Tongi industrial district in Bangladesh and Bhopal in India. The annual congregation of Tablighis in Bangladesh although have been held for consecutive three days for years, since 2018, it has started holding two consecutive congregations – each for three days – which is held with a pause of seven days. Meaning, the number of attendees in the Tablighi Jamaat in Bangladesh has been on rise. Actually, the number is increasing everywhere in the world, wherever Tablighis are having its existence.
Tablighi Jamaat is no more an organization operating only within South Asia. Rather, it has already expanded networks within all the continents with heavy presence in the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, Germany, France, the United States and Canada. In London, for example, due to influence of Tablighi Jamaat, Muslim women are forced to wear burqa and hijab while they are enforcing Sharia rule within the Muslim communities in Britain. Their influence has grown to such an unimaginable way that Muslims in the United Kingdom and most of the western nations are already establishing Sharia courts under the garb of sharia soliciting centers or Muslim marriage bureaus.
There is no doubt about Tablighi Jamaat’s active role in the spread of radical Islam and jihadism in every country around the world.
Inside Tablighi Jamaat
The devotees or attendees of Tablighi Jamaat are no ordinary Muslims, though; they belong to a movement called Tablighi Jamaat (“Proselytizing Group”). They are trained missionaries who have dedicated much of their lives to spreading Islam across the globe. The largest group of religious proselytizers of any faith, they are part of the reason for the explosive growth of Islamic religious fervor and conversion. They also have the ambition of bringing all the “non-Muslim” nations under the flag of Islam. And most importantly, Tablighi Jamaat has actively contributed towards Islamic jihad and terrorism by operating as the recruitment front-desk of Al Qaeda, Islamic State etcetera.
Despite its size, worldwide presence, and tremendous importance, Tablighi Jamaat remains largely unknown outside the Muslim community, even to many scholars of Islam. This is no coincidence. Tablighi Jamaat officials work to remain outside of both media and governmental notice. Tablighi Jamaat neither has formal organizational structure nor does it publish details about the scope of its activities, its membership, or its finances. By eschewing open discussion of politics and portraying itself only as a pietistic movement, Tablighi Jamaat works to project a non-threatening image. Because of the movement’s secrecy, scholars often have no choice but to rely on explanations from Tablighi Jamaat acolytes.
As a result, academics tend to describe the group as an apolitical devotional movement stressing individual faith, introspection, and spiritual development. The austere and egalitarian lifestyle of Tablighi missionaries and their principled stands against social ills leads many outside observers to assume that the group has a positive influence on society. Even individuals like Graham Fuller, a former CIA official and expert on Islam, for example, characterized Tablighi Jamaat as a “peaceful and apolitical preaching-to-the-people movement”. Similarly, Barbara Metcalf, a University of California scholar of South Asian Islam, called Tablighi Jamaat “an apolitical, quietist movement of internal grassroots missionary renewal” and compares its activities to the efforts to reshape individual lives by Alcoholics Anonymous.
Olivier Roy, a prominent authority on Islam at Paris’s prestigious Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, described Tablighi Jamaat as “completely apolitical and law-abiding”.
Governments normally intolerant of independent movements often make an exception for Tablighi Jamaat. The Bangladeshi top political leadership, many of whom are Islamists and antisemitic, regularly attend the annual congregation of Tablighi Jamaat.
Tablighi Jamaat in Pakistan
Pakistani top politicians and most of its military officers allow Tablighi missionaries to preach radical Islam and jihad. It should be mentioned here that, members of the Pakistani military establishment are inclined towards radical Islam, antisemitism and jihad.
Yet, the Pakistani experience strips the patina from Tablighi Jamaat’s façade. Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif (1990-93; 1997-99), whose father was a prominent Tablighi member and funder, helped Tablighi members take prominent positions. For example, in 1998, Muhammad Rafique Tarar took the ceremonial presidency while, in 1990, Javed Nasir assumed the powerful director-generalship of the Inter-Services Intelligence, Pakistan’s chief intelligence agency.
When Benazir Bhutto, a less sympathetic to Islamist causes, returned to the premiership in 1993, Tablighis, with the help of Pakistani military establishment, conspired to overthrow her government. In 1995, the Pakistani army thwarted a coup attempt by several dozen high-ranking military officers and civilians, all of whom were members of the Tablighi Jamaat and some of whom also held membership in Harakat ul-Mujahideen (HuM), a US State Department-defined terrorist organization. Some of the confusion over Tablighi Jamaat’s apolitical characterization derives from the fact that the movement does not consider individual states to be legitimate. They may not become actively involved in internal politics or disputes over local issues, but, from a philosophical and transnational perspective, the Tablighi Jamaat’s millenarian philosophy is very political indeed. According to the French Tablighi expert Marc Gaborieau, its ultimate objective is nothing short of a “planned conquest of the world” in the spirit of jihad.
In plain words, Tablighi Jamaat’s ambition is to bring the entire world under the flag of radical Islam and Sharia rule.
The poisonous seed
A prominent cleric from Deoband, Maulana Muhammad Ilyas Kandhalawi (1885-1944) launched Tablighi Jamaat in 1927 in Mewat, India. From it very inception, the extremist attitudes that characterize Deobandism permeated Tablighi philosophy. Maulana Ilyas’s followers were intolerant of other Muslims and especially Shi’ites, let alone adherents of other faiths. Indeed, part of Ilyas’s impetus for founding Tablighi Jamaat was to counter the inroads being made by Hindu missionaries. They rejected modernity as antithetical to Islam, excluded women, and preached that Islam must subsume all other religions. The creed grew in importance after Pakistani military dictator Zia ul-Haq encouraged Deobandis to Islamize Pakistan.
The Tablighi Jamaat canon is bare-boned. Apart from the Qu’ran, the only literature Tablighis are required to read are the Tablighi Nisab, seven essays penned by a companion of Ilyas in the 1920s. Tablighi Jamaat is not a monolith: one subsection believes they should pursue jihad through conscience (jihad bin nafs) while a more radical wing advocates jihad through the sword (jihad bin saif). But, in practice, all Tablighis preach a creed that is hardly distinguishable from the radical Wahhabi-Salafi jihadist ideology that so many terrorists share.
Part of the reason why the Tablighi Jamaat leadership can maintain such strict secrecy is its dynastic flavor. All Tablighi Jamaat leaders since Ilyas have been related to him by either blood or marriage. Upon Ilyas’ 1944 death, his son, Maulana Muhammad Yusuf (1917-65), assumed leadership of the movement, dramatically expanding its reach and influence. Following the partition of India, Tablighi Jamaat spread rapidly in the new Muslim nation of Pakistan. Yusuf and his successor, Inamul Hassan (1965-95), transformed Tablighi Jamaat into a truly transnational movement with a renewed emphasis targeting conversion of non-Muslims, a mission the movement continues to the present day.
The Tablighi penetration
While few details are known about the group’s structure, at the top sits the emir who, according to some observers, presides over a shura (council), which plays an advisory role. Further down are individual country organizations. By the late 1960s, Tablighi Jamaat had not only established itself in Western Europe and North America but even claimed adherents in countries like Japan, which has no significant Muslim population.
The movement’s rapid penetration into non-Muslim regions began in the 1970s and coincides with the establishment of a synergistic relationship between Saudi Wahhabis and South Asian Deobandis. While Wahhabis are dismissive of other Islamic schools, they singled out Tablighi Jamaat for praise, even if they disagree with some of its practices, such as willingness to pray in mosques housing graves.
While Tablighi Jamaat in theory requires its missionaries to cover their own expenses during their trips, in practice, Saudi money subsidizes transportation costs for thousands of poor missionaries. While Tablighi Jamaat’s financial activities are shrouded in secrecy, there is no doubt that some of the vast sums spent by Saudi organizations such as the World Muslim League on proselytism benefit Tablighi Jamaat. As early as 1978, the World Muslim League subsidized the building of the Tablighi mosque in Dewsbury, England, which has since become the headquarters of Tablighi Jamaat in all of Europe. Wahhabi sources have paid Tablighi missionaries in Africa salaries higher than the European Union pays teachers in Zanzibar. In both Western Europe and the United States, Tablighis operate interchangeably out of Deobandi and Wahhabi controlled mosques and Islamic centers.
For the past few years, Qatar, a country promoting and patronizing radical Islam has also been providing fund to Tablighi Jamaat and its missionary activities through various ways and means.
West in dark about Tablighi Jamaat
For decades Western policymakers and even counter-terrorism experts were in dark about the ultimate agenda of Tablighi Jamaat. Such misreading of Tablighi Jamaat actions and motives has serious implications for the war on terrorism. One of the most vital points about the Tablighi Jamaat is, it has always adopted and followed the extreme interpretation of Sunni Islam, but in the past two-plus decades, it has radicalized to the point where it is now one of the key driving forces of radical Islam and jihad and a major recruiting agency for the jihadist causes worldwide. For many years, I have tried to alert the international community, especially the anti-jihadist forces around the world about the potential danger posed by Tablighi Jamaat. While in my book titled Inside Madrassa, I have provided a detailed description of how these Koranic schools are playing the role of the breeding grounds of jihad and also in a number of my articles, including my book titled Injustice & Jihad, I have provided detailed description on the activities of Tablighi Jamaat, which has become the first step to radical Islam and jihad to the majority of the young Muslims.
In the western nations, Tablighi Jamaat is continuing its activities from inside the mosques and Muslim community centers. I have witnessed, how hundreds of Muslims have been mesmerized towards radical Islam and jihad by the Tablighi preachers in the mosques and Muslim community centers in the United States, Italy, Britain and a number of western countries.
For the past one plus decade, activities of Tablighi Jamaat in the western nations have dramatically increased. These activities are getting financial patronization from a number of Muslim nations, including Qatar, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. While, sitting in India, a notorious Islamist preacher named Dr. Zakir Naik was spreading venom of radical Islam and jihad around the world through his television channels and publications, and his activities were clearly patronized and funded by a number of Arab nations, Tablighi Jamaat has also been spreading the poisonous seeds of religious extremism and hatred and conspires of eliminating the Hindus from India, again by using Indian soil as the headquarters of its notorious activities.
From Tablighi Jamaat to jihadist front
Recruitment methods for young jihadists are almost identical. After joining Tablighi Jamaat groups at a local mosque or Muslim community center of Islamic center and doing a few local dawa (proselytism) missions, Tablighi officials invite star recruits to the Tablighi center in Raiwind, Pakistan, for four months of additional missionary training. At the special enthusiasm and funding of the Pakistani spy agency Inter Service Intelligence (ISI), representatives from Islamist terrorist groups and jihadist outfits approach the students at the Raiwind center and invite them to undertake military training. These participants are brainwashed and finally turned into wolves, seeking blood of the non-Muslims. During the days of orientation and brainwashing in Pakistan, young members of the Tablighi congregation are taught to hate Jews, Christians and Hindus and asked to kill them and destroy their properties and livelihood, as per the directives of Koran.
Members of the Tablighi Jamaat have been directly involved into jihadist notoriety such as founding Harkat ul Mujahedin, which was founded at Raiwind in Pakistan in 1980. All the members of Harkatul ul Mujahedin are from Tablighi Jamaat. Tablighi Jamaat men were behind December 1998 hijacking of an Air India passenger jet and the May 8, 2002 murder of a busload of French engineers in Karachi. They have also been behind the deadly Mumbai massacre.
In my opinion, Tablighi Jamaat and Harkat ul Mujahedin together make up a truly international network of genuine, cruel and notorious jihadist Muslims. More than 6,000 Tablighi men were trained in Harakat ul-Mujahideen camps. Many fought in Afghanistan in the 1980s and readily joined Al-Qaeda.
Another violent Tablighi Jamaat spin-off is the Harakat-ul-Jihad-al- Islami (Huji), a dangerous terrorist outfit. Founded in the aftermath of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, this group has been active not only in the Indian provinces of Jammu and Kashmir but also in the state of Gujarat, where Tablighi Jamaat extremists have taken over perhaps 80 percent of the mosques previously run by the moderate Barelvi Muslims. The Tablighi movement is also very active in a number of provinces, cities and towns in India, such as Kerala, West Bengal, Punjab, Bihar etcetera and it is gradually expanding network into many other provinces and towns.
Tablighi Jamaat members were behind the formation of Islamic Salvation Front in Algeria, Dawa-wa-Tabligh (involved in May 16, 2003, terrorist attack on a Casablanca synagogue) in Morocco and a number of jihadist outfits in the African continent including Boko Haram, Al Shabab, etc.
In the Philippines, Tablighi Jamaat plays key-role in radicalization of Muslims and later recruiting them for a number of jihadist groups including Abu Sayyaf. Due to the continuous activities of the Tablighi Jamaat, the Muslim population in Mindanao province in the Philippines is increasingly becoming radicalized and a large portion of these radical Muslims are joining Islamic militancy. Despite strict measures taken by the Philippines authorities, Mindanao in particular is fast becoming an Asian hub for the ultra-radical Islamist terror groups.
A Philippines intelligence source said, since 2015, a number of foreign jihadists are entering the country under disguise and joining local jihadist groups, either as the fighters or trainers. The Philippines authorities have already identified several foreigners in the local jihadist outfits. They included Pakistani, Indonesian, Malaysian, Chechen, Yemeni, Syrian, Indian, Turkish, Moroccan, Egyptian, Palestinian and Nigerian passport holders. Ever since Islamic State (ISIS) started shrinking in Iraq and Syria, a large number of jihadists from this group have already melted into other parts of Asia, the Middle East, and the Western nations.
Mindanao has been roiled for decades by bandits, local insurgencies and separatist movements. But officials have long warned that the poverty, lawlessness and porous borders of Mindanao’s predominantly Muslim areas mean it could become a base for radicals from Southeast Asia and beyond, especially as Islamic State fighters are driven out of Iraq and Syria.
Let us remember, Mindanao is a province roughly the size of South Korea with a population of around 26 million.
Terror links of the Tablighi members
There are many cases of individual Tablighi Jamaat members committing acts of terrorism around the world. Indian investigators suspect influential Tablighi leader, Maulana Umarji, and a group of his followers in the February 27, 2002 firebombing of a train carrying Hindu nationalists in Gujarat, India. The incident sparked a wave of communal riots.
French Tablighi members, for example, have helped organize and execute attacks not only in Paris but also at the Hotel Asni in Marrakech in 1994. Kazakh authorities expelled a number of Tablighi missionaries because they had been organizing networks advancing extremist propaganda and recruitment.
Moroccan authorities sentenced Yusef Fikri, a Tablighi member and leader of the Moroccan terrorist organization At-Takfir wal-Hijrah, to death for his role in masterminding the May 2003 Casablanca terrorist bombings that claimed more than forty lives.
Tablighi Jamaat has also facilitated other terrorists’ missions. The group has provided logistical support and helped procure travel documents. Many take advantage of Tablighi Jamaat’s benign reputation.
Moroccan authorities said that leaflets circulated by the terrorist group Al-Salafiyah al-Jihadiyah urged their members to join Islamic organizations that operate openly, such as Tablighi Jamaat, in order “to hide their identity on the one hand and influence these groups and their policies on the other”. In a similar vein, a Pakistani jihadi website commented that Tablighi Jamaat organizational structures can be easily adapted to jihad activities. The Philippine government had accused Tablighi Jamaat, which has a 25,000+ member presence in the country, of serving both as a conduit of Saudi-Qatari money to the Islamic terrorists in the south and as a cover for Pakistani jihad volunteers.
There is also evidence that Tablighi Jamaat directly recruits for terrorist organizations. As early as the 1980s, the movement sponsored military training for 900 recruits annually in Pakistan and Algeria while, in 1999, Uzbek authorities accused Tablighi Jamaat of sending 400 Uzbeks to terrorist training camps. The West is not immune. British counterterrorism authorities estimate that at least 2,000 British nationals had gone to Pakistan for jihad training by 1998, and the French secret services report that between 80 and 100 French nationals, who were members of Tablighi Jamaat had fought for Al-Qaeda.
For a country like India, for example, which has a huge segment of the Muslim population, allowing Tablighi Jamaat to continue its activities under various disguises would ultimately put the national security of the country at stake. Indian policymakers and security experts need to realize – Tablighi Jamaat totally denounces and demonizes any other religion but Islam. To them, Hinduism is a religion of the “infidels”, similarly as Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism etc. To the Tablighi members, Islam is the only “divine religion”.
Young Muslim males are lured by the preachers about the unending pleasures and luxuries in the heaven, especially waiting for the “martyrs”. Most of the Muslim youths, who join jihad or become suicide attackers are hypnotized by the sensual description of rewards in heaven. The Islamic heaven is described in a great sensual detail in the Koran, for instance, Koran sura 56 verses 12 -40; sura 55 verses 54-56; sura 76 verses 12-22. I shall quote the celebrated Penguin translation by NJ Dawood of sura 56 verses 12- 39: “They shall recline on jeweled couches face to face, and there shall wait on them immortal youths with bowls and ewers and a cup of purest wine (that will neither pain their heads nor take away their reason); with fruits of their own choice and flesh of fowls that they relish. And theirs shall be the dark-eyed houris (virgins), chaste as hidden pearls: a guerdon for their deeds… We created the houris and made them virgins, loving companions for those on the right hand…”
Tablighi Jamaat and those Islamist terror outfits are not only luring people towards jihad, Tablighi Jamaat also assigns its members to “convince and influence” the non-Muslims and “bring them under the umbrella of Islam”.
In India, the key mission of Tablighi Jamaat is to transform the country into a “Muslim nation”. Due to such a notorious agenda, Tablighis and the radical Muslims in India are participating in #coronajihad, #lovejihad and even #rapejihad.