Tablighi Jamaat is currently grabbing the headlines for getting banned by Saudi Arabia. Saudi Government official statement called Jamaat a danger to society and one of the gates of terrorism. In a tweet on December 6, the country’s Ministry of Islamic Affairs said, His Excellency the Minister of Islamic Affairs, Dr Abdullatif Al Alsheikh, directed the mosques preachers and the mosques that held Friday prayer temporary to allocate the next Friday sermon to warn against the Tablighi and Da’wah group. The statement issued by the Ministry mentioned that the Minister has directed that the sermon delivered in the mosques should cover topics including the declaration of misguidance, deviation and that it is one of the gates of terrorism, even if they claim otherwise. And to mention their major mistakes and how they are dangerous to society. The Islamic scholars delivering the religious sermons were instructed to mention that affiliation with partisan groups, including the Tablighi Jamaat, is prohibited in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is not the only country to ban TIJ. In 2013, Kazakhstan banned the Tablighi Jamaat and designated it as an extremist group. The movement is also prohibited in Iran, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.
It is worth noting that Saudis who follow Wahhabism, an ultra-conservative form of Islam and which is also the official state-sponsored form of Sunni Islam in Saudi Arabia, have been forced to ban Tablighi Jamaat. The Jamaat is a Sunni Islamic missionary movement that was launched in the Mewat region of North India in 1927. By the Islamic scholar and teacher Maulana Muhammad Ilyas, who coined the slogan “Oh Muslims! Become Muslims”. The roots of this movement which is believed to be active in more than 150 countries and is the largest Islamic missionary movement today, can be traced back to the Deobandi tradition, which originated from the Darul Uloom Deoband a renowned Islamic Seminary in the Uttar Pradesh state of India. TIJ claims that their sole objective is to focus on fellow Muslims, who have been distracted by worldly affairs. And they are a peaceful, non-political, egalitarian, and devotional movement that stresses individual faith and the overall spiritual development of Muslims. That might be the case if we see the movement in its face value and not in toto.
The United States (US) Government has been closely monitoring the Tablighi Jamaat since 9/11. According to the US officials, the teachings and beliefs of the Tablighi Jamaat have been a starting point for pushing their members to join the radical Muslim organisations. Also, the Russian authorities have warned about the dangers of the Tablighi Jamaat as well. In February last year, it cracked down on the centres run by the Jamaat. Tablighi Jamaat is an offshoot of Islam’s fundamentalist and hardline Deobandi sect. Deobandis teach and practice a fundamentalist, exclusivist form of Islam, which blends easily with extremism and terror. Thus, laying a fertile ground for the spread of radical ideology. In the West, Tablighi Jamaat has been carefully watched by law enforcement and intelligence agencies. Jamaat’s vague recruitment processes and secret and dubious financial practices make it particularly challenging for agencies and financial watchdogs to track its activities. But there is also no doubt that, even without the direct terror links, Tablighi Jamaat has radicalised entire communities across the globe. Also, many Western jihadists have some involvement with Tablighi Jamaat at some point in their radicalisation. For instance, the “Shoe bomber” Richard Reid, who in 2001 tried to set off a bomb on a commercial aircraft, and John Walker Lindh, the American citizen captured by US forces with Taliban soldiers in Afghanistan in 2001. And Jose Padilla, a US Citizen convicted in 2007 for conspiring to commit murder and fund terrorism. Once were members of Tablighi Jamaat. In Europe and North Africa, a large number of terrorists arrested for the Casablanca blasts of 2003 were also found to have connections with the local chapters of the Tabligh.
Tablighi Jamaat claims their only aim is to guide fellow Muslims to be good and dedicated believers and refrain from any political activity. But that is true as well that movement has offered a place where jihadist spotters can look for potential recruits. These facilitators often offer enthusiastic new or rededicated Muslims who have shown interest in political Islam and Jihad in their private conversation a more active way to live and develop their faith. Once a facilitator identifies such candidates, he often will segregate them from the main congregation in the mosque or community centre and put them into small prayer circles or study groups where they can be more easily exposed to jihadist ideology. Also, it is reported that members of terrorist groups Like- Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT)and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) regularly attend the Tablighi Jamaat’s congregation in Raiwind, which is the headquarter of Tablighi Jamaat in Pakistan, where they hand out recruitment pamphlets. Also, Tablighi Jamaat members have taken the initiative to create or actively facilitate the Jihadi groups. Like Harakat ul-Mujahideen (HuM), a Kashmir-based terrorist organisation best known for hijacking an Air India passenger jet in 1998 and murdering a busload of French engineers in Karachi in 2002. It is believed to be the exclusive creation of Tablighi Jamaat members with the assistance of Pakistani intelligence services. Also, when the Taliban fought its way across Afghanistan in the 1990s. Support from Deobandi madrassas in Pakistan was invaluable. Many Tablighi students were likely among the volunteers sent across the border to aid Mullah Omar’s jihad against Afghanistan’s warlords.
In addition to this, it’s easy for the Jihadi groups to infiltrate the Tablighi Jamaat to gain cover for obtaining visas and travelling abroad as Tablighi Jamaat doesn’t keep records of its members and doesn’t carry out any background checks. Also, latent networks like Tablighi Jamaat allow terrorist organisations to outsource key aspects of their operations, allowing the group to utilise the network only when needed and without exerting time and resources to maintain it or participate in activity likely to increase the risk of its detection. Tabligh propagates a very exclusive and conservative form of Islam, which suggests intolerance for other religions by its very idea.
Though Jamaat cannot be called a terror group in itself, it indeed functions as a catalyst, gateway, springboard, or antechamber for an extreme and militant interpretation of Islam that is indoctrinating Muslims into Jihadists.