Tablighi Jamaat (TJ) is in the news for being the sole super-spreader of the China-originated Coronavirus. The audio message of Maulana Saad, the main preacher and organiser of the event at Nizamuddin Markaz, shocked many in which he is openly giving a call to defy the lockdown as it is a ploy to lock the mosques. His incitement is open and crude when he invoked the Quranic interpretation that death in the mosque can lead them to Jannat. The disaster we are witnessing today is the outcome of this outrageous and irresponsible behaviour. The attacks on medical professionals, unruly behaviour with the nurses and railway officials was even more shocking and angering for everyone. But what this ‘Jamaat’ is all about and why the people associated are behaving in a peculiar manner. To get the answers of these questions, we need to go into the history, organisational functioning and international pan-Islamist linkages of this purist, religious organisation.
TJ is estimated to have between 150 million to 250 million adherents spreading over as many as 214 countries. Considering this global nature, it becomes all the more important to evaluate the impact that has on its followers and through them on human society as a whole.
TJ (Society for Spreading Faith or the Outreach Society) is a Sunni Islamic missionary movement that preaches fundamentalist and orthodox teachings of Islam by idealising the life of Prophet Mohammed.
This organisation which now has followers across the world was established in India in 1927 by Muhammad Ilyas Al - Kandhalwi in Mewat region of Haryana. It was in response of the decline of Muslim political power under the British rule and backdrop of re-conversion or return of the members Meo, the ethnic Rajput community of Mewat.
Muhammad Ilyas al-Kandhlawi, completed his education at a Deoband madrassa, and while working among the people of Mewat, he often pondered upon the question of reviving Islam by making the Muslim community go back to the basics of Islam as they prevailed 1400 years ago. For which he thought, moving away from the comfort of their homes and preaching the Sunni Islam based on Mohammad’s life and actions amongst other Muslims is essential. After the expansion till 1940s in northern Bharat, activities of TJ increased with the idea of Pakistan. The newly founded religious state called Pakistan became the ground of expansion for the movement with Raiwind town near Lahore as the epicentre. The Pakistan Chapter remained the largest until Bangladesh became independent from Pakistan in 1971. The group reached Southwest and Southeast Asia, Africa, Europe, and North America within two decades of its establishment and now it’s the largest Muslim movement across the globe.
When setting the guidelines for the movement, Muhammad Ilyas sought inspiration from the practices adopted by Muhammad at the dawn of Islam. Muhammad Ilyas put forward the slogan,” O Muslims, become [true] Muslims!”. This expressed the central focus of Tablighi Jamat: their aim to renew Muslims socially by uniting them in embracing the lifestyle of Muhammad.
It was in the wake of some Indian Muslim leaders fearing that Muslims were losing their religious identity and were heedless of Islamic rituals like daily prayers. Therefore, they had to be made true Muslims.
Dawah, the proselytising or preaching of Islam, is one of the key objectives of the Jammat. It encourages everyone to fulfil the Islamic requirement of dawah even if the person falls short of strong religious intellect.
It has to be noted that the TJ doesn’t preach to non-Muslims nor does it allow non-Muslims to participate in preaching of Islam because of the belief that entry of the enemy forces will secularise, pollute and weaken the movement. This view must also be encouraging a feeling of hatred, ‘other’ and alienation of non-Muslims in the minds of the TJ followers in the long run.
For TJ, radicalising the ‘borderline’ Muslims, who have recently converted to Islam as well as Muslims who live in close interaction with the people of other beliefs, is necessary to abstain them from moving away to a less puritan Islamic life. This, they believe, will strengthen the Ummah by de-secularising them. TJ is against any idea of ‘moderation’ and ‘secularisation’ of Islamic practices or teachings by the Muslims. The establishment of Islam as the only religion and Allah as the only true God is fundamental to the Tabilighi thinking.
Naturally, individual discretion and understanding are strictly limited so that jamaat members do not deviate from Sunni Islam. Through sermons, they preach Muslims to adopt and invite for Islamic lifestyle as exemplified by Muhammad in its perfection. These sermons touch every aspect of a Tablighi Muslim’s life from dressing to the position they sleep in.
Asking individuals to blindly succumb to practising these things as a community only reduces the scope of the entire community to develop a rational and personal sense of God, religion, spirituality and life to be ‘a way to please Allah and enter Paradise’ curbs freedom completely. Certain beliefs that the like Earth is flat or children cry at the time of birth because they are touched by Satan are central to the Tablighi thinking, which obviously develops certain superstitions. TJ also believes that women should wear loose clothes and cover their hands and faces. They should not attend even the Jamaat gatherings without a Mahram man.
Inculcation and idealisation of such view of women only make them look subservient and second string to men. Millions of men attending Jamaat are developing the same view of women, life, and slavery.
Defiance of modern science, including medicine and complete rejection of any vaccination, is the outcome of such fundamentalist ideas.
TJ follows an informal organisational structure and keeps a very low-profile institutional profile. The method adopted by Muhammad Ilyas was to organise units called jamaats meaning Assembly of at least ten persons and send them to various villages or neighbourhoods to preach. These outings are called, Dawah tours and are now organised by TJ leaders across the world as well as in each village and localities around them. Most of the foreign preachers who found hiding in mosques all over Bharat, including the Nizamuddin Markaz of Delhi, were on the Dawah tours.
In these tours, the emphasis is laid on “A hadith about virtues of action” (imitating Muhammad). TJ maintains distance from new media and avoids publishing details about its activities and membership. The group also exercises complete abstinence from expressing opinions on political and controversial issues.
Apparently, TJ does not seek donations and is not funded by anyone; in fact, members have to bear their own expenditures. But it has to be observed that its leaders, including the current chief Maualan Saad, are rich and their source of income and wealth seems to be questionable.
Danger Global Terror Linkages
However, an organisation which looks solely academic and religious in nature has been linked to a lot of terrorist activities in the past. This aspect of TJ is often talked about in media very reluctantly. It becomes important to shed light on Tablighi Jamaat’s History of terrorist linkages across the globe.
Beginning from India, TJ led an armed militancy in 1946-47 for the establishment of the Islamic state of ‘Meostan’. It waged anti-Hindu riots and supported Jinnah.
TJ has a long history of links with the Pakistani terrorist group Harakat-ul-Mujahideen. According to the Pakistani security analysts, the founder of HuM and the Masterminds behind the Hijacking of Indian Airlines Flight 814 in 1999 were members of Tablighi Jamaat.
Formed in 1985 as a splinter group of Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HuJI), HuM participated in the jihad backed by Pakistan against Soviet forces to overthrow the USSR-allied regime in Afghanistan. As per intelligence estimates, over 6,000 Tablighis were trained in HuM terror camps in Pakistan. Both HuM and HuJI terror groups operated in Kashmir, killing hundreds of civilians. The HuM cadre eventually joined the Jaish-e-Mohammad terror outfit founded by Masood Azhar, who had been released by India in exchange of IC814 passengers.
TJ was also believed to be involved in burning of 59 Hindu Kar Sevaks in 2002 Godhra train torching incident which subsequently led to communal riots in the state. As per the French intelligence sources, as many as 80 per cent of the Islamist extremists are from the TJ ranks.
Secret US documents released by Wikileaks in 2011 revealed that the TJ was used by the Al-Qaeda to get visas and funds to travel Pakistan. As per these documents, some of the 9/11 al-Qaeda suspects detained by the US in Guantanamo Bay had stayed in the premises of the TJ in Nizamuddin West, New Delhi, several years ago.
Other terrorist plots and attacks in which members of TJ have been connected with include the 7/7 London bombings, 2007 Glasgow, International Airport Attack. The American Foreign Policy council’s reports of TJ stated that Tablighi is a ipso facto passive supporter of Jihadist groups.
Even after being involved in various terrorist activities which have harmed the world and India, Tablighi still functions from its global headquarter in Delhi, our national capital.
TJ and its followers refuse to rationalise and accept the critical analysis of the Islamic lifestyle, which was 1400 years old. In fact, any criticism and questioning are seen as blasphemous, and the punishment for this crime is death in many countries.
The followers are being pushed towards orthodox, unscientific ideas. Their personal judgement is being overshadowed and clouded by the bait of an afterlife with 72 virgins in an imaginary Paradise. In order to achieve a perfect imitation of a life lived 1400 years ago, they forego their sense of judgement and blindly follow anything without ever asking and looking for a rationale or logic behind it.
It does not only push them into a space of self-harm in but also poses a threat to humanity because Muslims are a part of society. When such a large population of human society discards science and rationality not only to follow but also force upon others their idea of God and Life, it evidently gives rise to violence, defying all norms of democracy and Constitutionality.
While pondering over the Markaz incident, it is equally important to reflect upon the fact that the acts of members of Organisations like TJ are not aberrant with time and age. They become programmed by the preaching of radical Islamic fundamentals in a manner that they care more about establishing Islam by killing, harming non-believers even if it kills them in the process.
(The writer is a Delhi University student)