By Syed Kamran Hashmi
February 26, 2016
Through an administrative notification, last month the government of Punjab banned peaceful yet fundamentalist Deobandi organisation, the Tableeghi Jamaat (TJ), from preaching in universities and the volunteers prohibited from staying in hostels. Most political parties of the opposition, including the PTI, to my surprise, did not object to the bold step taken by the PML-N. I thought Imran Khan would dedicate one press conference at least to raise his voice in favour of the Jamaat. After all, he hosts almost 350 of them in a year for everything else. However, he did not. Or perhaps, he did not read the news.
The only well-known figure from a non-religious political party who has stepped up and opposed the initiative is the former Prime Minister (PM) of Pakistan and the leader of the PML-Q, Chaudhry Shujat Hussein, who says the TJ is a peaceful organisation and has no association with terrorists in any form. Implying to the non-Muslim heritage of the former Soviet Union and its recent history of communism, he proclaims there exists no such prohibition on the organisation even in Russia.
So, did the Punjab government make a wise decision in implementing such a ban or has it made yet another mistake? In a heartbeat, I can say that I admire the step taken by Shahbaz Sharif and, at the same time, also appreciate the PTI for not opposing it although I understand it could have created a lot of problems for the Punjab government had the PTI opted to raise its voice. To be honest, this step had to be done at some point as our universities and colleges need to be kept out of the reach of these elusive organisations that pollute the brains of students with hatred and narrow-mindedness in the name of Islam.
Do you not think the TJ is elusive? Ask any common person to name the top five leaders of the organisation. They will not know. Not many people do, not that the leadership does not exist. It does. But it stays behind veils. The reason? It keeps itself out of the reach of critics. Do you know the objectives of the TJ? Their chests expanding with pride, eyes glittering, they will provide you a simple and truthful but vague response: we want to encourage Muslims to follow their religion’s fundamental injunctions and introduce Islam to non-Muslims. But whose Islam would they like Muslims to follow? Like any other great religion of the world, Islam does not come in one package. It exists in different shades; its followers split up into various sects, each one of them differing in matters of faith, the execution of rituals and the application of laws that govern society. In addition, all of them claim to get inspiration from the Quran and Sunnah following the true spirit of its message. Can one group of people then claim to hold the right to represent every colour of the religion alone?
Does the TJ have a political agenda? I do not think so since they want to bring a revolution on an individual level. They believe these individuals, once educated, can transform society. But the organisation does not believe in seizing control of the government to revolutionise the nation. In fact, this has become a point of contention between the TJ and others like the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and Jamiat Ulema Islam (JUI), which not only want to work on individuals but also try to win the elections and ascend to the executive level. These political organisations, in turn, differ from the approach of the Taliban and the Saudi regime that do not believe in the electoral process at all considering it anti Islamic, and grab power through force, war and insurgency, as we know very well from their histories.
In short, even though all three of them may disagree on their modus operandi, the objectives stay the same, their interpretation of Islam similar, the treatment of women is cruel, the rules aare undemocratic and their envisioned society is stifled. From a practical point of view, once they inform you this is how everyone should offer prayers, this is how people should dress up and this is how males should treat females, there is no room left for discussion, no space for argument or reason for differences in opinion. Islam, therefore, is what they say it is. And your job is just to follow it. And if you do not? Well, ask someone in Saudi Arabia or someone who lived in Afghanistan during the reign of the Taliban, if they are still alive.
How do we recognise a person from the TJ? It is real easy. You can spot them by their peculiar outfit, long beards, trimmed moustaches, heads covered with the Taqayyah cap, Shalwar dangling above their ankles. If you still have doubts, please go talk to one of them. Within five minutes, I promise, he will invite you to join his party for a three-day trip, a 10-day tour or a forty-day excursion, all of them to ‘serve’ Islam and protect yourself on the Day of Judgment. If you turn him down then, disappointed he will still ask you to see him after the Maghrib prayers in the mosque where one of his partners will recite the Hadith and interpret it to you. Of course, you know very well what that “interpretation” will look like.
What do members of the TJ think of minorities? Let us say that if asked about the faith of Shias - and I have asked many of them - most Tableeghis will not include the “companions of Ali” within the premises of true religion, disregarding them as blasphemous, heretics or both. Being peaceful, they do not recommend the killing the minorities though. That part is spared for their more aggressive ‘spiritual brothers’, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Sipah-e-Sihaba Pakistan (SSP) or Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), all of whom follow the same school of Deoband.
Syed Kamran Hashmi is a US-based freelance columnist.