The movement has served as a fertile breeding ground for radical Islamic militancy in numerous countries.
Is the ongoing media coverage and focus of the controversy over the Tabligh Jamaat (Society for spreading faith) Markaz (meaning conference) critical to follow and understand or is there a need to carry out an in depth review of its activities that may provide leads into Islamist radical conspiracy?
To understand and appreciate the issue defined, one needs to recall the origins of Tablighi Jamaat (TJ) origins and its “primary purpose or end objective”.
De facto, TJ is a conservative global educational and missionary movement set up in 1926 by Maulana Muhammad Ilyas in Mewat (in present-day Haryana) and the grandfather of Amir Maulana Saad, its present head. TJ is able to operate in near secrecy because the leaders since Ilyas, have been related to him by blood or marriage.
Ab initio, TJ “primary purpose” is to urging Muslims to return to practicing their religion as it was practiced during the lifetime of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, and particularly in matters of ritual, dress and personal behavior. It traces its roots the Deoband brand (most commonly practiced form of Islam in South Asia) of Hanafi Sunni School of jurisprudence. The movement aims for the spiritual reformation of Islam by working at the grassroots level.
TJ is the biggest Muslim movement in the world what with 150 million to 250 million adherents with presence in somewhere between 180 and 200 countries. Most of its followers are of South Asian origin, “though there are Tablighis from many different ethnic and national backgrounds”. It has been deemed as one of the most influential religious movements in 20th century Islam.
Next, the meaning of MARKAZ is simple – CONFERENCE. Outside of the Hajj, it is believed that its annual meetings, MARKAZ in countries, including Pakistan, Bangladesh and India, bring together the largest congregations of Muslims.
TJ denies any affiliation in politics and fiqh (jurisprudence), focusing instead on the Quran and Hadith. It states that it rejects violence as a means for evangelism. Many outside observers have described the group as "apolitical" at least in part because it avoids media and government notice, operates largely in secrecy, and has missionaries that lead austere lifestyles with principled stands against social ills.
In reality, the movement has served as a fertile breeding ground for radical Islamic militancy in numerous countries. As per the American Foreign Policy Council's report on TJ “the available data today indicates that TJ, at least in the preponderance of locations around the World where it is found, can be considered ipso facto a passive supporter of jihadist groups via its reinforcement of strict Islamic norms, intolerance of other religious traditions and unwavering commitment to Islamizing the entire planet. However, its eschewal of politics (at least publicly) has enabled TJ, in most venues, to escape suppression by wary government organs.
According to French Tabligh expert Marc Gaborieau, its philosophy and transnational goals include the "planned conquest of the World".
In France, as many as "80% percent of the Islamist extremists have come from TJ ranks prompting French intelligence officers to call TJ the antechamber of fundamentalism." Among those who have been members of TJ in France are Zacarias Moussaoui (the only person to be charged in the United States in 11 September attacks), Hervé Djamel Loiseau, a young Frenchman who died fleeing the 2001 American bombardment of Tora Bora in Afghanistan, and Djamel Beghal, an Algerian-born Frenchman and admitted member of Al Qaeda who was convicted in 2005 of plotting to blow up the U.S. Embassy in Paris.
In a foiled January 2008 bombing plot in Barcelona, Spain, "some media reports" stated that a Muslim leader in the city stated that the fourteen suspects arrested by police in a series of raids (where bomb-making materials were seized) were members of TJ.
Other terrorist plots and attacks on civilians that members of TJ have been connected with include the Portland Seven, the Lackawanna Six, the 2006 transatlantic aircraft plot, the 7/7 London bombings, the 2007 London car bombs, and 2007 Glasgow International Airport attack.
Former Department of Homeland Security employee Philip Haney described TJ as part of a "trans-national Islamist network" that was also affiliated with the Dar Al Uloom al Islamiyah mosque in San Bernardino, which terrorist Syed Rizwan Farook attended frequently. Assistant FBI Director Michael Heimbach said "We have a significant presence of TJ in the United States and we have found that al Qaeda used them for recruiting."
Most important, TJ members have been involved in politics in Pakistan, and in the West, a number of young men have passed through the group on their way to an extreme, militant interpretation of the religion.
Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (whose father was a prominent Tabligh member and financier) helped Tabligh members take prominent political positions. For example, in 1998, Muhammad Rafique Tarar, a Tabligh sympathizer, took the ceremonial presidency while, in 1990, Lt. Gen. Javed Nasir assumed the powerful director-generalship of the Inter-Services Intelligence, Pakistan's chief intelligence agency. Former Lieutenant General and head of Inter-Services Intelligence, General Mahmud Ahmed of the Pakistan Army also became a member of TJ during his service.
In 1995, after Benazir Bhutto, who was less sympathetic to Islamist causes, returned to the premiership, the Pakistani army thwarted a coup attempt by several dozen high-ranking military officers and civilians, some of whom were members of the Tabligh Jamaat and some of whom also held membership in Harkat-ul-Mujahedeen, a U.S. State Department-defined terrorist organization.
In January 2016, in what was "probably the first time that any restriction has been placed on TJ" in Pakistan, the Punjab government banned preaching on university campuses, and banned TJ (and other non-students) from preaching and staying in campus hostels.
Viewed in the background information available about TJ members terrorist activities, the MARKAZ organized at it campus in Nizamuddin Dargah, none can rule the possibility of conspiracy hatched during the even to further destabilize the Modi-led BJP government through spreading protests against CAA, NPR and NRC and plunging the nation into crisis.
Had 2019–20 Coronavirus pandemic not attracted significant public and media attention, all alike would have believed its purpose as the one oriented to the real purpose of the “Conference” to urge Muslim Maulvi to preach reverting Islam to its conservative ethos.
Let me also highlight the religious fathering that preceded the one at Nizamuddin in Delhi. Between 27 February and 1 March 2020, the movement organized an international mass religious gathering at the Sri Petaling Mosque in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, which has been linked to more than 600 COVID-19 cases, making it the largest-known centre of transmission of the virus in Southeast Asia.
Despite the outbreak, TJ organized a second international mass gathering on 18 March in Gowa Regency near Makassar in South Sulawesi, Indonesia. Though the organizers initially rebuffed official directives to cancel the gathering, they subsequently complied and cancelled the gathering.
Yet another gathering was organized in Pakistan near Lahore, for 150,000 people. The event was "called off" in response to the officials' requests, but the participants had already gathered and communed together. When they returned the virus travelled with them, including two cases in the Gaza strip.
The Nizamuddin faction of the TJ held a religious congregational program in Nizamuddin West, Delhi. There was Ijtema (congregation) every week of March till March 21. There were also other violations of rules by foreign speakers including misuse of tourist visas for missionary activities and not taking 14-day home quarantine for travelers from abroad. It is suspected that some of these speakers were infected by the Coronavirus which later spread to the congregants.
Many had returned to their states and also provided refuge to foreign speakers without the knowledge of local governments and eventually started local transmissions especially in Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Karnataka, Jammu and Kashmir and Assam.
There are many TJ members who are on the missing list. Given the affiliations of its members, their speeches, the link between the TJ activists and Shaheen Bagh protest organizers cannot be ruled out.
Delhi government has ordered an FIR against Muhammad Saad Kandhlawi, the head of Nizamuddin faction of the TJ for disobeying quarantine rule and conspiracy.
On 16 March 2020, Delhi Government ordered that no religious, social, political gatherings of over 50 will be allowed in Delhi till 31 March 2020. As of 30 March 2020 the entire Nizamuddin West area has been cordoned off by the Police and medical camps have been set up.
Administration of TJ had said they are willing to dispatch hundreds of missionaries to their respective nations & states but as the lockdown is in place they are helpless.
Now, Delhi government has ordered an FIR against Muhammad Saad Kandhlawi, the head of Nizamuddin faction of the TJ. On 31 March 2020, FIR was filed against Muhammad Saad Kandhlawi and others by Delhi Police Crime Branch under Section 3 (penalty for offence) of the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 and Sections 269 (Negligent act likely to spread infection of disease), 270 (malignant act likely to spread infection of disease), 271 (disobedience to quarantine rule) and 120b (punishment of criminal conspiracy) of the IPC.
The TJ has no membership lists or formal procedures for membership which makes it difficult to quantify and verify affiliations. Viewed in the record of members' terrorist affiliations, record of Conferences and vituperative speeches, none can rule out the possibility of terror conspiracies behind the scenes. Can the linkage between the TJ activists and Shaheen Bagh protest organizers be ruled out?
Next, as per media reports there are over 40 TJ members who are on the ‘missing’ list. Who are they and where are they? Are they terrorists hiding in the TJ campus and now hiding in Mosques elsewhere? More important, where is Amir Maulana Muhammad Saad hiding? How has he escaped and where has he gone. His trail would also reveal a lot of intelligence.
Yet another key indicator that would reveal the activities of TJ is its finances to include receipt and disbursements.
Surely, the NIA must take over the investigations and obtain all recordings of speeches, particularly speeches made by foreign preachers during their visits in Telangana, Tamil Nadu and all other states.
Of course, politics of blame game will only further obfuscate the real conspiracy behind the TJ activities. Arvind Kejriwal hogging limelight daily on the TV screens (Press briefing) is following the script to hide his government’s failure and shifting the blame to the whipping boy – Delhi Police.
Arvind Kejriwal, Satyendar Kumar Jain (Home and Health Minister) and the AAP MLA of Jangpura constituency are all squarely responsible and accountable for the failure to monitor the activities of the Nizamuddin Dargah and the happenings behind the scenes of MARKAZ (Conference). Otherwise, political leaders go around in convoys accompanied by followers during poll campaigns and victory parades. But, they hide behind in AC Rooms and appear before TV screens boasting about announcements. Surely, effective leaders must lead from the front.
Kudos to Yogi Adityanath who has gone around Gautam Budh Nagar and adjoining districts and monitoring and reviewing developments and passing clear directions to the official machinery to act and deliver. High time for all CMs, Ministers and MLAs to be on the roads visiting Mohallas, Slums, Relief Camps, Hospitals and other facilities to monitor effective delivery of services.
In sum, TJ of Nizamuddin is an Islamic radical terrorist hub or time bomb in being and making. The controversy and blame games over COVID-19 spread apart, there is a need to investigate the conspiracy hatched during the Markaz.