Tablighi Jamaat (TIJ) is currently grabbing the headlines for getting banned by Saudi Arabia. Saudi government official statement called Jamaat as 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 prominent 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 the Kingdom of 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 countries including Iran, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.
Its worth noting that Saudis who themselves 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 TIJ. 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. Deobandi tradition 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. 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 its operational totality.
The US government has been closely monitoring the Tablighi Jamaat since 9/11. According to the U.S. officials, the teachings and beliefs of the TIJ have been a starting point for pushing their members to join the radical Muslim organizations. Also, the Russian authorities have warned about the dangers of the Tablighi Jamaat as well. In February last year, it cracked down on the centers run by the Jamaat. TIJ is an offshoot of the fundamentalist and hardline Deobandi sect of Islam. 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, TIJ 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, TIJ has radicalized entire communities across the globe. Also, many Western jihadists have some involvement with Tablighi Jamaat at some point in their radicalization. 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 as also Jose Padilla a US Citizen convicted in 2007 for conspiring to commit murder and fund terrorism once were members of TIJ. 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.
TIJ claims that their only aim is to guide fellow Muslims to be a good and dedicated believer and they refrain from any political activity. But that is true as well that the movement has offered a place where jihadist spotters can look for potential recruits. These facilitators often offer enthusiastic new or rededicated Muslims or who have shown interest in political Islam and also in 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 center 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-Toeiba (LET)and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM) regularly attend the Tablighi Jamaat’s congregation in Raiwind, Pakistan, which is the headquarter of TIJ in Pakistan where they hand out recruitment pamphlets. Also, TIJ members have taken initiative themselves in creating or actively facilitating the Jihadi groups. Like Harakatul-Mujahideen (HUM), a Kashmir-based terrorist organization best known for its hijacking of an Air India passenger jet in 1998 and murdering a busload of French engineers in Karachi in 2002is believed to be the exclusive creation of TIJ 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, and a large number of 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 in order to gain cover for obtaining visas and traveling abroad as TIJ don’t keep records of its member and doesn’t carry out any background checks. Also, latent networks like TIJ allow terrorist organizations to outsource key aspects of their operations, allowing the group to utilize the network only when needed and without having to exert time and resources to maintain it, or participating in activity likely to increase the risk of its detection. Tabligh propagates a very exclusive and conservative form of Islam which by its very idea suggests intolerance for other religions.
Though Jamaat cannot be called a terror group in itself. But it’s true as well that it functions as a catalyst, gateway, springboard, or antechamber for an extreme and militant interpretation of Islam that is indoctrinating Muslims into Jihadists.