With the rising challenge of militancy in the country, it has now become imperative to study all religious organizations that have remained directly or indirectly linked to militancy. In this regard, even though the Tablighi Jamaat (TJ) has remained a non-violent proselytizing movement, its platform has often been misused by the militants. The TJ, since its beginning, stayed away from making political statements, however during the rise of terrorism in Pakistan, it also avoided giving any clear statements against terrorism and suicide attacks. This also put a question mark on the role of the TJ. With the death of its Emir Haji Abdul Wahab, the TJ is again in discussions with questions being raised whether this organization is purely concentrating on proselytizing or helping militants?
Roots of TJ:
The roots of Tablighi Jamaat (TJ) are deeply connected with Deobandi movement which took birth 10 years after the 1857 armed struggle of Wahabi clerics against the then rising British power. Deobandi movement started in a small town of Deoband in Northern Indian state of Uttar Pardesh in 1867. In year 1926, on the issue of proselytizing masses, a prominent cleric of that time Maulana Mohammad Ilyas parted ways with Deobandi movement and formally established the TJ. Since then, its center is in India, however this organization is working around the world.
TJ in India Pakistan and elsewhere follow the six point simple ideology.
- Ilm and Dhikr (Knowledge and remembrances)
- Hadith (Following path and preaching of Prophet Mohammad PBUH)
- Ikram I Muslim (treating fellow Muslims with honor)
- Ikhlas I Niyat and Tafrigh I Waqt (Reforming life with good will and spending time based on faith).
The TJ commonly depends on a loose structure. Its Emir (or head) is always very low profile and less known in the media. The organization has declared its Markaz (Centers) at divisional level across the country from where 3 to 12 member teams are formed for proselytizing in across Pakistan and abroad.
These centers take part in the annual congregation of the TJ regularly being held in Raiwind, Lahore.
Since there is no formal membership for becoming part of the TJ so as yet there is no figure about the exact numbers of its followers in Pakistan. However its annual congregation is attended by a huge number of its followers.
The followers of the TJ are not bound to give any donation for the organization, however those who have the means contribute in the organization. In proselytizing tours, all the participants are bound to pay their expenses. In some cases participants are also supported by the rich who can afford.
TJ’s Pakistan and terror link
TJ Pakistan is an extension of India’s TJ, however the difference between the two is environment of extremism under which TJ’s Pakistan chapter is working.
During late 1990’s and since the beginning of American-led war on terror, there were many occasions when militants used TJ as a shield either to hide themselves or to continue their militant agenda under the garb of proselytizing. However, there is not a single occasion where any local or international intelligence agency accused TJ administration to be directly involved in militancy or its propagation.
Back in 1997/98, during the then PML-N government in center and Punjab, Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) of the country’s most populated province got intelligence information that Riaz Basra, the then head of Sipah Sihaba Pakistan (SSP); a sectarian militant organization which later joined Al-Qaeda, was present in the annual congregation of the TJ in Raiwind, Lahore.
CTD was all set to launch an operation to arrest Riaz Basra, who at that time was known as a killing machine for minority Shia sect followers in Pakistan and also wanted by the Police in number of terrorism cases. Short before a final decision by the top hierarchy of the province for the operation, Basra slipped from the congregation.
It was not only Basra who would often attended the TJ’s proselytizing sessions, rather militants like Akram Lahori, Amjad Farooqi and SSP’s activists who would often use the TJ as a platform to meet each other. This fact is now being accepted by senior police officers of that time too.
“This is true that we would often hear that SSP militants use TJ as platform to meet each other however we did not find any proof that TJ or its administration is involved in any kind of militant activity,” says Tariq Pervez, a founding chief of National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA), who has also worked as head of CTD, Punjab in 1990’s.
The matter of fact is that during the rise of sectarianism in Punjab in the 1990’s, militants would often mask themselves as TJ proselytizers. They would also use this platform for going in hibernation after committing activities of terrorism.
After the 9/11 attacks in America and during the initial years of war on terror, the TJ again remained under surveillance by the media and probably intelligence agencies too, as there were reports that top Taliban commanders attended the congregation of the group.
“When Taliban took over Afghanistan, Mullah Mohammad Umar the founding head of Taliban, had secretly visited TJ’s annual congregation twice sometime in 1990’s however we did not hear any such thing after the American invasion. This is true that some Taliban commanders remained frequent visitors of TJ’s congregation as both are ideologically aligned, “says Mujhaid Hussain a senior journalist and author of, “Punjabi Taliban,”.
Although there is no evidence that the TJ or any of its administrators was ever found part of any terrorist activity, it ideologically it remained close to Jamaat e Islami (JI) and factions of Jamiat e Ulema e Islam (JUI).
“I don’t recall any clear role of TJ in militancy however I have seen TJ leaning towards religo-political parties during elections,” says Ehsan Ghani, a recently retired Chief of National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA).
Ehsan Ghani also recalled that during the elections of October 2002, the TJ had silently supported the Mutthida Majlis e Amal (MMA), an alliance of religious political parties, however there was no public announcement for the support of political parties.
The TJ is silently doing her business and apparently giving no harm to anyone in the country, however the appointment of its new Emir after the death of Haji Wahab might introduce new means and policies for professing its agenda to the masses.
The negotiations between Afghan Taliban and America and the possible rise of militant groups from the North may result into the misuse of the TJ’s platform again the very way which was adopted by the SSP in 1990’s.
The author is a CRSS Research Fellow.