The Hidden Agenda of the Party of Preachers


Lahore,Pakistan– The Tableeghi Jamaat (TJ) or the Party of Preachers, a non-militant organization of practicing Muslims that claims to have never indulged in any militant or political activities as a matter of principle, is an Islamic missionary and revival movement founded in British India, as a response to Christian evangelists working among poor and poorly educated Muslims in British India. However, in recent years, concerns have risen about how much the organization has been infiltrated by jehadi elements belonging to banned militant and sectarian organizations which might be involved in using the TJ platform as a cover to promote their extremist agenda.

The Tableeghi Jamaat that can also be translated as the Society for Spreading Faith, came into existence to spread the message of the Holy Quran with two main objectives: to ensure that Muslims strengthen their faith and to carry out humanitarian work. It was founded in the British India in the late 1920s by a Deobandi cleric Maulana Muhammad Ilyas Kandhalawi (1885-1944) in Mewat province of India. ‘Tableegh’ in Arabic means ‘to deliver (the message)’ and the Tableeghi Jamaat (or the Proselytizing Group) claims to revive this duty, which they consider as a primary responsibility of Muslims. Maulana Mohammad Ilyas Kandhalawi put forward the slogan, Aye Musalmano! Musalman bano (O Muslims! Be Muslims) to spread the message of the Holy Quran to ensure that Muslims strengthen their faith.

The Tableeghi Jamaat grew out the Deobandi School of Islamic thought which emerged under British rule in the Delhi region of northern India. In pre-colonial India, Islamic scholars learned informally, by traveling with their teachers. But in the 19th century, inspired by European educational practices, Muslim clerics in India established geographically fixed institutions, known as madrassas, with sequential curriculum, organized classes, and paid faculty. The madrassas were actually founded by specialists in the “hadith”— the narratives that constitute the Prophet Mohammad’s sayings and practices, which guide all aspects of moral behavior in Islam. These specialists or Ulemas issued advisory opinions to guide followers on how to adhere to the hadith. The Deobandi Muslims emerged from the madrassas as a movement centered on the Ulema.

Deobanidis considered themselves reformists, proscribing adherence to a pristine text (the Quran) as a solution to worldly powerlessness. They opposed various contemporary Islamic practices, including excessive rituals at tombs, elaborate lifestyle celebrations and Shia-influenced practices. Following British repression of North Indian Muslims during the Mutiny of 1857, the Deobandi leadership adopted an avowedly apolitical stance. But as the Indian nationalist movement rose after World War I, the movement grew political, supporting the Indian National Congress against the British. Deobandi scholar Maulana Muhammad Ilyas Kandhalawi formed Tableeghi Jamaat in Mewat, India in 1927. He intended the group to be an antidote to the Hindu conversion efforts that targeted Muslim peasants. The Tableeghis took the dissemination of Islamic teachings out of the madrassa, deemphasizing the importance of clerics and encouraging lay Muslims to undertake proselytizing missions. Maulana Ilyas believed this practice would enhance the faith of both the proselytizers and those they approached. Tableeghis also clung to the original Deobandi rejection of any explicit political program and to remaining apolitical.

After Maulana Mohammad Ilyas died in 1944, his son, Maulana Muhammad Yusuf (1917-1995) took over the TJ and expanded its reach. The movement grew after the partition of India, gaining importance when during the 11 year military rule of Pakistan’s fourth dictator President General Ziaul Haq. Maulana Yusuf and his successor Maulana Inamul Hassan began the movement’s targeting of non-Muslims, rather than just lapsed believers. In the 1970s, the Tableeghi Jamaat missions moved into non-Muslim regions, coinciding with the establishment of a synergistic relationship between Saudi Wahabis and South Asian Deobandis, which eventually led to the Saudi financing of the Jamaat.” The TJ’s lack of formal bureaucratic structure makes its growth hard to quantify, but in recent years, millions of adherents have congregated annually at three-day TJ congregations in Raiwind in Pakistan.

Every year, over a million Muslims from around the world descend on the small town of Raiwind near Lahore, the capital of the Punjab province for a three-day celebration of faith, comprising perhaps the second largest gathering of Muslims anywhere in the world after the Hajj in Saudi Arabia. Similar gatherings also take place annually outside Dhaka in Bangladesh and Bhopal in India. The Tableeghi pilgrims are trained missionaries who have dedicated much of their lives to spread 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. Despite its huge size and tremendous value, the Tableeghi Jamaat remains largely unknown outside the Muslim community, even to many scholars of Islam. This is no coincidence. The TJ officials work to remain outside of both media and governmental notice. They usually limit its activities to within the Muslim community itself, since its main aim is to bring spiritual awakening to the world’s Muslims.

However, it does not solicit or receive donations; rather it is self funded by its members and operates on a very efficient model where administrative expenses are almost absent or taken care of by donations from senior members. The TJ movement, which has spread to 150 countries, has over a million members worldwide and its headquarters for South Asia are located in India. They were originally set up for humanitarian work and have not thus far evidenced any extremist views. In sharp contrast, however, TJ’s Pakistan branch has now for quite some time been found to be involved in making clandestine efforts to aid jehadi elements and to promote their agenda. And the ISI connection of the Pakistan branch of Tableeghi Jamaat is already an open secret now. The 2007 three day annual congregation of the so-called party of preachers was attended by at least four former heads of the all powerful Inter Services Intelligence including Lt. Gen. (retd) Hameed Gul, Lt. Gen. (retd) Javed Nasir, Lt. Gen. (retd) Naseem Rana and Lt Gen Mahmood Ahmed.

As the media highlighted their presence at the Raiwind annual congregation, the organisers of maintained that the participation of four ex ISI chiefs was an integral part of the ijtema for years now, adding that all of them had been attending the event since the days they were in uniform. “Their presence in the ijtema and their speeches especially that of Lt Gen Hameed Gul, helped motivate and inspire others to attend the congregation”, a spokesman of the TJ had observed. However, there are those who maintain that the presence of ex ISI chiefs in the TJ congregation simply showed the exact picture of a well-designed, well-controlled and well-managed strategy to organize combatants who are ready to wage jehad in the name of Allah against infidels, who are painted at the ijtema as enemies of Islam.

Since the Pakistani law treats the Tableeghi Jamaat as a humanitarian group and not as a religio-political party, there is no ban on the government servants, members of the armed forces and the nuclear and missile scientific community joining the party [even as members]to work for the same during the off-duty hours. Therefore, many Pakistani government servants, military officers and scientists devote at least part of their annual leave to do voluntary work for the Tableeghi Jamaat. Interestingly, after his appointment as the DG ISI by Prime Minister Sharif, Lt. Gen. Nasir continued to function simultaneously as adviser to the TJ and, after his removal from the ISI under US pressure in 1993, he took over as the full-time leader of the TJ.

It was during Lt. Gen. Javed Nasir’s tenure as the DG ISI that the Mumbai serial blasts of 1993 were carried out and plans were chalked out for the revival of Islam in the Central Asian States, Chechnya and Dagestan in Russia and Xinjiang in China with the help of the TJ workers and funds from Saudi Arabia. Similarly, Lt Gen Hameed Gul and Lt Gen Mahmood Ahmed, who had served under the commands of two military dictators General Zia and General Musharraf, had been vocal supporters of the Afghan Mujahideen who later formed the Taliban militia in Afghanistan. Both the Hameed and Mahmood were removed from their slots prematurely and sent home because of their extremist views and unblemished support for the jehadi elements.

Reputed to be the richest religious organization in Pakistan, it recruits hundreds of students in other countries and brings them to Pakistan at its own expense for studies in the religious seminaries. Growing out of the Deobandi school of Islam, the Tableeghi Jamaat stresses traditional Islamic practices linked to worship, dress and behavior as a path to personal improvement. Thus, it easily attracts troubled, impressionable young men and instills them with extreme religious conviction. While the Tableeghi Jamaat is nonviolent, the zealotry of its recruits might be proving easy for violent jehadi organizations to manipulate. Its missionary work, moreover, demands the TJ members to travel throughout the world, including between Pakistan and Western countries. Therefore, there is every possibility of some militant groups using it as a cover to travel.

According to western media reports based on the findings of their agencies, the Tableeghi Jamaat advocates an extreme interpretation of the Deobandi Islam, just like the Taliban and that many militant groups have infiltrated the Jamaat to gain a cover for obtaining visas and traveling abroad. Because of its being a relatively relaxed organisation, it is not difficult for militant organisations to infiltrate the TJ. Therefore, the western agencies believe it has radicalized to the point where it has emerged as a driving force of Islamic extremism and a major recruiting agency for the jehadi causes world wide. Following the 9/11 attacks, the Jamaat has increasingly attracted the interest of the US intelligence agencies which even describe it as the mother of all the major Pakistan-based jehadi organisations active not only in Central Asian Republics, Chechnya and Dagestan, but also in other parts of the world.

According to the findings of the US agencies, as reported in the Western media, among the foreign nationals who fought in Afghanistan against the Northern Alliance troops and US-led forces as members of the Pakistan-based jehadi outfits were American Muslims (mostly Afro-Americans), nationals of the West European countries, Thai’s, Malaysians, Singaporeans who projected themselves as Malays from Malaysia, and Indonesians. These reports claim that Harkatul Mujahideen, Lashkar-e-Toiba and Harkatul Jehadul Islami teams that used to visit these countries as preachers had recruited them all. Before the 9/11 attacks, these jehadi groups used to bring hundreds of Muslim youth to Pakistan who were then educated at the religious seminaries before being eventually taken to Afghanistan for jehadi indoctrination and training.

According to intelligence findings, HuM, LeT and HUJI enjoy close links with the Tableeghi Jamaat and recruit their cadres in Pakistan as well as abroad through the TJ. Often, to avoid attracting the adverse notice of foreign intelligence agencies, recruiting teams of HuM, LeT and HJI go abroad under the guise of TJ preachers. According to American intelligence findings, reported in the international media, Osama too had used HuM, LeT and HJI teams going abroad under the garb of TJ preachers to communicate instructions to his network of non-Arab organizations in different countries. Tableeghi Jamaat has further been accused of recruiting in the United States through Jamaat-ul-Fuqra, a violent, isolationist organization led by Pakistani Sheikh Mubarik Ali Gilani, with whom American journalist Daniel Pearl had fixed a meeting in Karachi the day he was abducted and eventually beheaded in January 2002. Daniel was on his way to interview Sheikh Gilani when he was abducted. Pearl wanted to interview him regarding a suspected connection between Gilani and the American Shoe Bomber Richard Reid. The Gilani-Pearl meeting was fixed by Sheikh Ahmed Omar Saeed, already convicted by a Pakistani court for the abduction and the subsequent murder of the American journalist. Gilani was questioned by the Pakistani authorities after the murder but subsequently released.

Comments are closed.


Discover more from Middle East Transparent

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading