Tablighi Jamaat (Part I): The antechamber of fundamentalism and terrorism, writes Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury

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Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury
During the challenging situation of coronavirus pandemic, when the Indian government has been working hard in saving its huge population from being hit by Covid-19, a notorious nexus of jihadists, under the patronization of Pakistani spy agency Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) have declared #coronajihad, with the notorious agenda of infecting and killing hundreds of millions of Hindus thus finally bringing India under the flag of radical Islam.
Defying country-wide lockdown in India, more than two thousand members of the radical Tablighi Jamaat attended its congregation from March 13-15 at Markaz in Nizamuddin area in the Indian capital New Delhi. During this congregation, leaders of Tablighi Jamaat had called upon the coronavirus infected members of the group to consider coronavirus as a blessing from Allah and use it as a weapon for spreading the virus amongst the ‘infidels’.
Intelligence agencies suspect some of those who had attended the Tablighi Jamaat event had ISIS connections and that the open defiance of the lockdown was a result of the terror organization’s or other Islamic terror groups’ instructions to them to turn into virtual human bombs, which they could do even as carriers of coronavirus.
According to media reports, hundreds of attendees of the TJ congregation have already been tested as coronavirus patients, while an unknown number are already out of the radar of the law enforcing agencies.
Security experts say, these missing TJ men are most likely engaged in spreading Covid-19 amongst the non-Muslim populace in India.
However, #coronajihad started trending on Twitter soon after the death of patients who attended the Tablighi Jamaat congregation. Twitter users said that the congregation was organized, flouting Delhi government’s orders against gatherings.
According to a Twitter user, Corona Jihad is “Infected Muslims want to go and spread Corona to Kafirs (Infidels) so they can die in hundreds of thousands. Their Idea: A few hundred Muslims will die, but they can make up for it by making more children. Use the Corona to kill more Kafirs”.
Unfortunately, a segment of the mainstream media in India is either unwilling of failing yet to understand the gravity of the threat posed by Tablighi Jamaat. Some of the Indian media even are making frantic bids in portraying Tablighi Jamaat as an innocent organization that counters jihad. What those Indian media pundits do not understand is, Tablighi Jamaat has been proved to have links with jihadist outfits in a number of countries.
TJ using currency notes in spreading Coronajihad
At the clear instruction from a few top brasses in the Tablighi Jamaat, coronavirus infected Muslims in India are spreading the virus through licking currency notes as well by wiping nose on it. Coronavirus contaminated currency notes are being circulated into a number of western nations as well as Israel. Pakistani spy agency Inter Service Intelligence (ISI) has been smuggling out coronavirus contaminated currency notes into India through a number of cross-border smuggling rackets.
According to a twitter message from the Nashik Rural Police in India, it has taken actions against a Muslim man whose video of licking and wiping nose with a bunch of currency notes and calling Coronavirus a punishment by Allah was doing rounds on social media.
The video showed a Muslim man taking a bunch of currency notes and licking them with his tongue and wiping his nose with them. He says that the coronavirus has no treatment because it is sent by ‘Allah’, implying that he is going to pass those currency notes around, to spread the disease.
The Muslim man in the video uses few 500 denomination notes to wipe his nose and mouth as he looks into the camera and says: “There is no cure for a disease like corona because it is the punishment of Allah, for you people.”
According to a credible intelligence source, attendees at the Tablighi Jamaat in India were asked by some of the leaders to spread coronavirus amongst the non-Muslim society through currency notes by licking and wiping the nose of the Covid-19 patients. A similar message was passed onto radical Muslims and members of Tablighi Jamaat in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Germany, Spain, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, Australia, Russia, and Israel. Muslims are reportedly contaminating those currency notes with Covid-19 virus by sitting at their homes or the community mosques and later circulating amongst non-Muslims. This trend is at an alarming level in the United Kingdom, in particular, where this “coronajihad” tactic is being followed by the members and supporters of Muslim Brotherhood, Hezbollah, Hamas, and other jihadist outfits.
Pakistani ISI circulating millions of Indian currency notes
Although Pakistani spy agency ISI has been circulating counterfeit Indian currency notes for decades, in recent times it has started circulating real currency notes, which are being contaminated with coronavirus. During the past few weeks, Pakistani spy agency reportedly has circulated more than four billion Indian rupees of various denominations.
Beware of Tablighi Jamaat
Tablighi Jamaat (Conveying Group), a Muslim missionary and revival movement has always been pretending to be an innocent group and for decades, it has very successfully deceived the policymakers around the world, including India. Activities of Tablighi Jamaat (TJ) are not limited within the Deobandi community. Leaders of this group claim that the movement is “strictly non-political in nature, with the main aim of the participants being to work at the grass roots level and reaching out to all Muslims of the world for spiritual development”.
But, in reality, TJ is not any innocent group as been perceived by the Indian and global policymakers. Instead, TJ has already become an active organ of Islamic State, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, Al Shabab, Hamas, Abu Saiyyaf, Lashkar-e-Taiba and other jihadist outfits and it enjoys financial support from Wahhabis in the Middle East and Pakistani spy agency Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI).
The Tablighi Jamaat was founded in the late 1920s by the well-known scholar Maulana Ilyas [Maulana Muhammad Ilyas Kandhelvi] in the Mewat province of India. The inspiration for devoting his life to Islam came to Ilyas during his second pilgrimage to the Hejaz in 1926. Maulana Ilyas put forward the slogan, ´Aye Musalmano! Musalman bano´ [Urdu] which translates ‘Come O Muslims! Be Muslims’ [in English]. This expressed the central focus of Tablighi Jamaat, which has been renewing Muslim society by renewing Muslim practice in those it feels have lost their desire to devote themselves to Allah and the Islamic prophet, Muhammad.
Let us not forget a vital point about TJ. It was formed at a time in India when some Muslim leaders feared that Indian Muslims were losing their Muslim identity to the majority Hindu culture. Later this had turned into one of the major spirits of the members of TJ and all of them have extreme hatred towards India and the Hindus. Ultimate mission Tablighis is to “salvage India” from the “grip of Hindus” and establish “political control of Muslims” in Delhi. Meaning, they are gradually advancing with their silent coup plot against India and its majority Hindu populace.
Tablighis also have the similar agenda in the United State, Britain, Canada, the EU nations and many other “non-Muslim” nations in the world.
In 1978, construction of the Tablighi mosque in Dewsbury, England commenced. Subsequently, the mosque became the European headquarters of Tablighi Jamaat.
Although the movement first established itself in the United States, it established a large presence in Europe during the 1970s and 1980s. It was especially prominent in France during the 1980s. The members of Tablighi Jamaat are also represented in the French Council of the Muslim Faith. Tabligh’s influence has grown, though, in the increasing Pakistani community in France. However, Britain is the current focus of the movement in the West, primarily due to the large South Asian population that began to arrive there in the 1960s and 1970s. By 2007, Tabligh members were situated at 600 of Britain’s 1350 mosques. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the movement made inroads into Central Asia. As of 2007, it was estimated 10,000 Tablighi members could be found in Kyrgyzstan alone. By 2008 it had a presence in nearly 80 countries and had become a leading revivalist movement. However, it maintains a presence in India, where at least 100 of its Jamaats go out from Markaz, the international headquarters, to different parts of India and overseas.
There are many celebrated personalities associated with this movement:
These include the former Presidents of Pakistan, Muhammad Rafiq Tarar and Farooq Leghari [Sardar Farooq Ahmed Khan Leghari], and former President of India, Dr. Zakir Hussain who was also associated with this movement. Major General Ziaur Rahman, former President and Chief of Army Staff of the Bangladesh Army, was a strong supporter and member of Tablighi Jamaat, and popularized it in Bangladesh.
Lieutenant General (R) Javed Nasir of the Pakistan Army and former head of Inter-Services Intelligence along with former Prime Minister of Pakistan, General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq have also been linked with the movement.
Other well-known politicians such as Dr. Arbab Ghulam Rahim the former chief minister of Sindh, and Muhammad Ijaz-ul-Haq, former Pakistani Federal Minister for Religious Affairs have strong ties with the Tablighi activities.
Many well-recognized writers and scholars, such as Dr. Nadir Ali Khan [famous Indian writer] and others are deeply related with TJ.
Among Pakistani cricket professionals, Shahid Afridi, Saqlain Mushtaq, Inzamam-ul-Haq, Mushtaq Ahmed; and the former Pakistani cricketers Saeed Anwar, Saleem Malik are active members. It is also widely believed that Pakistani middle order batsman Mohammad Yousuf embraced Islam with the help of the Tablighi Jamaat. Others include South African batsman Hashim Amla.
TJ: Gateway to terrorism
In Britain, France, and the United States, the Tablighi Jamaat has appeared on the fringes of several terrorism investigations, leading some to speculate that its apolitical stance simply masks “fertile ground for breeding terrorism.” While acknowledging the involvement of the movement’s individuals, Eva Borreguero, visiting Fulbright Scholar at Georgetown University’s Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at the Center for Conflict Analysis and Prevention at the U.S. Institute of Peace, discounted the claims made against the organization itself.
Ms. Borreguero began her assessment by providing an historical overview of this complex movement. Maulana Muhammad Ilyas founded the Tablighi Jamaat in 1925, against the backdrop of the British Empire and a waning Muslim identity in South Asia. Believing that social, political, and economic hardships beset Muslims in India, Ilyas sought a return to a pristine form of Islam from the heterodox variants flourishing in South Asia. For nearly two decades, the Tablighi Jamaat operated mainly within South Asia. With the ascent of Maulana Yusuf, Ilyas´ son, as its second emir (leader), the group began to expand activities in 1946, and within two decades the group reached Southwest and Southeast Asia, Africa, Europe, and North America. Initially it expanded its reach to South Asian diaspora communities, first in Arab countries then in Southeast Asia. Once established, the Tablighi Jamaat began engaging local populations as well. Although the group first established itself in the United States, Britain is the current locus of the group in the West, primarily due to the large South Asian population that began to arrive there in the 1960s and 1970s.
During these tours, the TJ—under the leadership of its emir—stays at a local mosque, which serves as its base for the duration. Four or five members of the group conduct daily ghast, during which they visit neighborhoods [or neighborhoods with large Muslim populations if in a non-Muslim country] and homes, asking the men of the household to attend mosque for Maghrib [sunset] prayers. Those who attend are offered the dawa [invitation] as the Tablighis outline their six principles and encourage attendees to form their own jamaat. Members voluntarily work for the organization and there is no registration process in the group. Participants are free to leave the movement at any time. Consequently, Tablighi Jamaat has a loose, informal recruitment process and attracts members of varying commitment. For example, some members only engage in group activities episodically, while others will do so annually. All of these factors contribute to the uncertainty regarding Tablighi Jamaat’s membership numbers.
Due to this lose rules of joining the Tablighi Jamaat, it is rather very much convenient for the members of jihadist groups to either join TJ or build connection between the members of TJ and the jihadist outfits.
South Asia is by far the most significant region for the group, with Mecca and Medina also serving as important geographical symbols. The organization is diverse and includes persons from nearly every sector of society across the countries of South Asia and beyond. Within South Asia, members of the lower-middle class and the business community have joined the group and some members even hold government posts. In the West, second and third generation Muslim diaspora make up the main pool of Tablighis. This demographic usually has little knowledge of Islam but are also not fully assimilated to culture in the West. According to Eva Borreguero, the Tablighi Jamaat “is a source of re-Islamization that provides an alternative to religious institutions.” These individuals tend to be well-educated, multilingual, and have lived in both the West and a Muslim country. She noted that the Tablighi Jamaat also has some appeal to marginal members of society [petty criminals, drug abusers, and so on] who are looking for a renewed identity that submerges them in a community of piety.
The West’s misreading of Tablighi Jamaat actions and motives has serious implications for the war on terrorism. Tablighi Jamaat has always adopted an extreme interpretation of Sunni Islam, but in the past few decades, it has radicalized to the point where it is now a driving force of Islamic extremism and a major recruiting agency for terrorist causes worldwide. For a majority of young Muslim extremists, joining Tablighi Jamaat is the first step on the road to extremism. Perhaps 80 percent of the Islamist extremists in France come from Tablighi ranks, prompting French intelligence officers to call Tablighi Jamaat the “antechamber of fundamentalism.”
U.S. counterterrorism officials are increasingly adopting the same attitude. “We have a significant presence of Tablighi Jamaat in the United States,” the deputy chief of the FBI’s international terrorism section said in 2003, “and we have found that Al-Qaeda used them for recruiting now and in the past.”
Recruitment methods for young jihadists are almost identical. After joining Tablighi Jamaat groups at a local mosque or 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. Representatives of terrorist organizations approach the students at the Raiwind center and invite them to undertake military training. Most agree to do so.
Tablighi Jamaat has long been directly involved in the sponsorship of terrorist groups. Pakistani and Indian observers believe, for instance, that Tablighi Jamaat was instrumental in founding Harakat ul-Mujahideen. Founded at Raiwind in 1980, almost all of the Harakat ul-Mujahideen’s original members were Tablighis. Famous for the December 1998 hijacking of an Air India passenger jet and the May 8, 2002 murder of a busload of French engineers in Karachi, Harakat members make no secret of their ties. “The two organizations together make up a truly international network of genuine jihadi Muslims,” one senior Harakat ul-Mujahideen official said. More than 6,000 Tablighis have trained in Harakat ul-Mujahideen camps. Many fought in Afghanistan in the 1980s and readily joined Al-Qaeda after the Taliban defeated Afghanistan’s anti-Soviet mujahideen.
Another violent Tablighi Jamaat spin-off is the Harakat ul-Jihad-i Islami. Founded in the aftermath of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, this group has been active not only in 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 northern Africa where it became one of the four groups that founded the Islamic Salvation Front in Algeria. Moroccan authorities are currently prosecuting sixty members of the Moroccan Tablighi offshoot Dawa wa Tabligh in connection with the May 16, 2003 terrorist attack on a Casablanca synagogue. Dutch police are investigating links between the Moroccan cells and the November 2, 2004 murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh.
There are many other cases of individual Tablighis committing acts of terrorism. 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.” 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 riots victimizing both Muslims and Hindus. More recently, 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 say 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 jihadist website commented that Tablighi Jamaat organizational structures can be easily adopted to jihad activities. The Philippine government has accused Tablighi Jamaat, which has an 11,000-member presence in the country, of serving both as a conduit of Saudi 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 fought for Al-Qaeda.
(The writer is an internationally acclaimed multi-award-winning anti-jihadist journalist, counter-terrorism specialist and editor of Blitz. The views expressed are personal.)