Tablighi Jamaat: Why FBI finds it a “recruiting ground” for Al Qaeda?

1st April 2020

1st April 2020

Tablighi Jammat members leaving its Nizamuddin Markaz (right) on Monday.

Tablighi Jamaat hates attention from the world. They prefer secrecy. But once Corona Vurs patients narrated their travel history from around India, the Nizamuddin headquarters of Tablighi Jamaat kept popping up. It blew the cover off on Monday.

Why Tablighi wishes to slip under the radar? How is it even possible with 80 million members, spread over 150 countries (Figures Pew Research Center) ? How it has evaded discourse in public when its’ nearly 100 years since it was born? More so when, its’ essence is to proselytize Islamic tenets?

Well, some did take notice all this while. A clutch of Central Asian countries—Uzbekistan, Tajikstan, Kazakhstan—have banned it.  Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in the United States feels its’ breeding ground for Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. A WikiLeaks document released in 2011 claimed that Al Qaeda operatives used its’ Nizamuddin headquarters to obtain travel documents and shelter.

Kafeel Ahmed, a part of this movement, was arrested for the failed attack on Glasgow airport in 2007. A series of coordinated terrorist suicide attacks in London on July 7, 2005,  known as 7/7, which targeted commuters in the city’s public transport system, were carried out by Shehzad Tanveer and Mohammed Saddique Khan who used to pray at a Tablighi masque in Dewsbury, England.

Still Tablighi evades attention. And that’s because its goals appear innocuous. It wants to recreate lives of Muslims in the image of the Prophet Muhammad. The beard has to be of certain length; teeth-cleaning ought to be done with miswak (twig) and not toothbrush.  It professes to be apolitical. Women are segregated; often they sit in one room while a Tabligh elder shouts a lecture from behind a closed door.  It discourages worldly activities, ostensibly to prepare them for the Judgment Day,  From mosque to mosque, cities to cities, states to states, countries to countries, its missionary bands knock at doors, preaching a return to “pure” Islamic values. The lure seems pretty harmless: Why don’t you join us for a few days on the road and see for yourself?

Such promises often attract youth, angry or lacking identity. Men who want things in black and white, and nothing in gray. The other-worldliness holds attraction. The society around loses its lustre. “People are tutored that you don’t fit in, modern world is an aberration, an offense, some form of blasphemy,” says Khaled Abou El Fadl, an Islamic professor in US, “By preparing people in this fashion, you are preparing them to be in a state of warfare against the world.”

This detachment perfectly suits terror groups like Al Qaeda. Those with intense zealousness in Islam are kept in eye. Al Qaeda fish in the Tablighi pond of alienated and escapist youths. ''We have a significant presence of Tablighi Jamaat in the United States, and we have found that Al Qaeda used them for recruiting, now and in the past,'' said Michael J. Heimbach, the deputy chief of the F.B.I.'s international terrorism section.

A chilling analogy is drawn: Tablighi Jamaat is like electricians who set up poles and draw up lines. Till one day the mayor comes and switches on the lights.

Tablighi Jamaat, an Arabic word, means the “group that propagates the faith.” It’s hierarchical. There is an Ameer who dispenses advice to everyone.  Full-time members are usually elders. They make up the Shura or the Council. Younger members of course make up the missionary band. There is a daily mashoora (gathering).

In its Nizamuddin headquarters, Indian Muslims occupy the first floor. Arabs, Algerians, Tunisians, Indonesians, Malayasian etc devouts are spread on different floors. There is a room for communal lunch: people squat on the floor and eat on plastic sheets. There is little time spent on food or sleep. But for a brief siesta, most of the day is spent in Quranic recitation.

Malaysian political scientist, Farish Noor, says in his book Islam on the Move: “Saudi national Abdul Bukhary who was on the watch-list of numerous countries had managed to get himself into the Tablighi markaz (Centre) in Nizamuddin while claiming to be a Tablighi too.” FBI is on record that it has found Al Qaeda was using Tablighi Jamaat for recruiting new terrorists.

How is it funded? No one knows for sure. But the numbers are big. Nizamuddin markaz affords massive accommodation with accompanying food etc. An analyst, Alex Alexiev, wrote way back in 2005: “There is no doubt that some of the vast sums spent by Saudi organizations such as the World Muslim League on proselytism benefit Tablighi Jamaat.” For instance, the Tablighi headquarters of Europe, built in England, was funded by World Muslim League way back in 1978.

Tablighi Jamaat originated in Mewat region (now part of Haryana and Rajasthan) in 1926. The local muslims, known as Meos, shared Hindu traditions, like pheras (going around the sacred fire) in marriage; and celebrated Hindu festivals as they did their own, Eid etc.  In due course, local Muslims, to hold on to their identity, began Tablighi Jamaat.  Islamic scholar Maulana Muhammad Ilyas is said to have begun it.

The last word must belong to Mushirul Hasan, former vice-chancellor of Jamia Millia Islamia. “Tablighi Jamaat claims to be totally apolitical. It’s a very convenient statement. No movement is apolitical. Every moment has an objective.”

In the present Corona tremor induced by Tablighi Jamaat, AAP MLA Amanatullah Khan says that this congregation couldn’t disperse because of the nationwide lockdown on March 24.  But he won’t tell that on March 16 itself, no more than 50 were allowed to gather in Delhi.  On March 19, all institutions had been ordered close. On March 22, the Delhi government had announced a lockdown in the Capital. Lawyer Prashant Bhushan too has rushed to the defence of Tablighi Jamaat. He said in a tweet: “it’s unfair to blame them.”

Indeed, a series of incidents, such as ones in Shaheen Bagh, Jamia, Jaffrabad, Seelampur point towards an “Islamic insurrection of sorts  which has come to the surface in the wake of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA)”, tweets Amit Malviya, head of the BJP IT cell. Thousands of preachers from abroad were in the town, concealing their purpose of visit. It’s as good a reason as any to press ahead with CAA-NPR-NRC exercise. India needs to find out the enemies who are illegally residing within its borders.

(This article is heavily based on pieces in New York Times and Live Mint. Of course references to Tablighi Jamaat as recruiting ground for terrorist networks such as Al Qaeda won’t be mentioned in our corrupt Lutyens Media). 

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