An American mosque called Masjid Jamaat Al-Mumineen (MJAM) has been openly promoting hatred towards Jews, Christians, and Hindus. The website of this mosque features sanctioning female genital mutilation, death punishments for gays, domestic violence against women, and condemnations of Jews, Christians, and Hindus. It also encourages condemnation of fellow Muslims who do not buy into the same extremism.
One of MJAM texts, Tafsir Ibn Kathir, states: “[B]eware of the Jews, your enemies… [D]o not be deceived by them, for they are liars, treacherous and disbelievers… Allah forbids His believing servants from having Jews and Christians as friends because they are the enemies of Islam and its people, may Allah curse them.”
According to media reports, Izhar Khan, the Pakistani-American imam of Masjid Jamaat Al-Mumineen, faces allegations of terror finance. In May 2011, Izhar Khan and his family members were arrested and charged by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) with funding the Taliban. Khan spent 20 months in a federal detention centre before being released by a sympathetic judge. As stated in the indictment against him, “Izhar is a Pakistani Taliban sympathizer who worked with [his father Hafiz] and others to collect and deliver money for the Pakistani Taliban… Izhar… provided and attempted to provide material support and resources… knowing and intending that they be used in preparation for and in carrying out… a conspiracy to murder, kidnap, and maim persons in a foreign country”.
Another mosque on the South Florida Muslim Federation (SFMF)’s list is the Sunrise-based Islamic Foundation of South Florida (IFSF). IFSF’s former youth director and ex-SFMF social media director, Abdurahman al-Ghani, has used Facebook to refer to Jews as “the children of Satan”, “demonic”, and “the most evil on earth”; the US as the “World’s Number One Terrorist Organization”; and gay Muslims as “stone-cold kaffirs outside the fold of Islam”.
Al-Ghani has also promoted deceased al-Qaeda leader Anwar al-Awlaki, and he has encouraged his followers to violently “wipe out the CIA”. In November 2012, Abdurahman al-Ghani posted the message, “We love u Hamas [referring to Palestinian mega-terror outfit]. U are the real hero”.
In April 2014, the Islamic Foundation of South Florida (IFSF) hosted a talk by Mazen Mokhtar, a former administrator for the now-defunct al-Qaeda recruitment site qoqaz.net and a supporter of suicide bombings. In July 2021, IFSF sponsored a khutbah (prayer) performed by Shafayat Mohamed, a South Florida imam who has been thrown off several county boards for his hostile rhetoric against gays and the former teacher of al-Qaeda operative Jose Padilla. This past September, IFSF hosted MJAM’s, Izhar Khan. And this past November, IFSF sponsored a talk by Siraj Wahhaj, a Brooklyn imam who, according to the US government, was linked to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
Spread of Tablighi Jamaat in the US
Tablighi Jamaat, which is known as the gateway to terrorism and jihad, has been growing and spreading fast in the United States, Britain and other Western nations. In December 2021, Saudi authorities imposed a strict ban on activities of Tablighi Jamaat, on allegations of promoting religious extremism and even helping several jihadist groups in using Tablighi Jamaat as the vessel for recruiting fighters.
United States Institute of Peace has described Tablighi Jamaat as an “Islamic revivalist organization” before noting that, in nations such as UK, France and America, the group “has appeared on the fringes of several terrorism investigations, leading some to speculate that its apolitical stance simply masks’ fertile ground for breeding terrorism.’”
French authorities have claimed that 80 per cent of the radical Islamists they have encountered have had some sort of contact with the Tablighi Jamaat movement. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) statistics dated 2008, there were over 50,000 people associated with Tablighi Jamaat missions, while Tablighi mosques were operating in several US states, including California, Texas and New York. The Al-Falah Mosque in the Corona area of Queens, NY, apparently is the group’s North American headquarters.
During the past 14 years, the number of Tablighi Jamaat controlled mosques have significantly increased in the United States, with the massive presence of Tablighi Jamaat members in Florida, Chicago, Boston etcetera.
There are links between Tablighi Jamaat and the world of jihadism. First, there is evidence of indirect connections between the group and the wider radical/extremist Deobandi nexus composed of anti-Shiite sectarian groups, Kashmiri militants and the Taliban. This link provides a medium through which Tablighis who are disgruntled with the group’s apolitical program could break orbit and join militant organizations.
One apparent manifestation of this nexus was a purported militant offshoot of Tablighi Jamaat, Jihad bi al-Saif (Jihad through the Sword), which was established in Taxila, Pakistan. Members of this group were accused of plotting a coup against former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in 1995. Yet, because of the organization’s extreme secrecy, little is known about it other than that it is believed to have developed in reaction to the TJ’s apolitical, peaceful stance.
The Tablighi Jamaat also serves as a de facto conduit for Islamist extremists and for groups such as al Qaeda and Islamic State to recruit new members. Significantly, the Tablighi recruits do intersect with the world of radical Islamism when they travel to Pakistan to receive their initial training. Once the recruits are in Pakistan, representatives of various radical Islamist groups, such as Lashkar-e-Toiba, Jaish-e-Muhammad, Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, the Taliban and al Qaeda, are said to woo them actively — to the point of offering them military training. And some of them accept the offer. For example, John Walker Lindh — an American who has been serving a prison sentence for aiding the Taliban in Afghanistan — travelled with Tablighi Jamaat preachers to Pakistan in 1998 to further his Islamic studies before joining the Taliban jihadists. Because of the piety and strict belief system of the Tablighis and their focus on calling wayward Muslims back to an austere and orthodox Muslim faith and becoming radical Muslims, the movement has offered a place where jihadist spotters can look for potential recruits. These facilitators often offer enthusiastic new or rededicated Muslims a more active way to live and develop their faith.
Although the Tablighi Jamaat promotes a benign message, the same conservative Islamic values espoused by the Tablighis also are part of jihadist ideology, and so some Muslims attracted to the Tablighi movement are enticed into becoming involved with jihadists. Additionally, because of its apolitical belief system, Tablighi Jamaat seems to leave a gap in the ideological indoctrination of the individual Tablighi because it essentially asks the novice to shun politics and public affairs.
However, the problem in taking this belief system from theory to practice is that some people find they cannot ignore what is happening in the world around them, especially when that world includes wars. This is when some Tablighis become disillusioned with Tablighi Jamaat and start turning to jihadist groups that offer religiously sanctioned prescriptions as to how “good Muslims” should deal with life’s “injustices”. 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. Of course, it also has been shown that a person with friends or relatives who ascribe to radical ideology can more easily be radical.
Examples of people making the jump from Tablighi Jamaat to radical Islam are the two leading members of the cell responsible for the July 7, 2005, London bombings — Mohammed Siddique Khan and Shahzad Tanweer. Both had life-changing experiences through their exposure to Tablighi Jamaat, though by 2001, the men had left the Tablighi mosque they had been attending in the British city of Beeston because they found it to be too apolitical. They apparently were frustrated by the mosque’s elders, who forbid the discussion of politics in the mosque. After Khan and Tanweer left the Tablighi mosque, they began attending the smaller Iqra Learning Center bookstore in Beeston, where they reportedly were exposed to frequent political discussions about places such as Iraq and Kashmir and Chechnya. The store’s proprietors reportedly even produced jihad videos depicting crimes by the West against the Muslim world. Exposed to this environment, the two men eventually became radicalized to the point of travelling to Pakistan to attend a terrorist training camp and then returning to the United Kingdom to plan and execute a suicide attack that resulted in the death of them both. TJ also is used by jihadists as cover both for recruiting activities, as discussed above, and for travel. Like Khan and Tanweer, many jihadists desire to travel to Pakistan for training, while others want to get to Afghanistan, Kashmir or other places to fight jihad.
Today, dozens of Tablighi Jamaat-controlled mosques in the US and other Western nations are encouraging Muslims to become radicalized and join the jihad against Jews, Christians, Hindus and “infidels”. There is also communication among Tablighi Jamaat members through social media and messaging apps such as Telegram.
While the entire world focuses on combating terrorism and jihad, Tablighi Jamaat is silently continuing its notorious activities, focusing on increasing the size of radicalized Muslims, jihadists and lone wolves. Although Tablighi Jamaat poses the gravest threat to global security, most governments in the world are yet to realize the density of threats posed by this dangerous organization. Unless there is a global ban on activities of Tablighi Jamaat, we may not feel safe from threats posed by radical Islam and jihadism.
(The writer is an internationally acclaimed multi-award-winning anti-militancy journalist, writer, research scholar, counterterrorism specialist and editor of Weekly Blitz. Follow him on Twitter @Salah_Shoaib)