By Abantika Ghosh
Wikileaks documents on how al Qaeda members used the Tablighi Jamaat in Delhi not only to get shelter but also arrange visas for shady operatives catapulted the little known Islamic organisation into headline news all of this week. TOI-Crest finds out what the largest Muslim group in the world is all about, and why it is as reviled as it is revered.
It went about its work quietly as a raucous world just outside its walls passed by, hardly registering its existence. That's until the Wikileaks reports came out on how the Tablighi Jamaat was used by al Qaeda members to take shelter under its Delhi roof and to organise visas for some of its members.
Strangely, the Jamaat has in the past been accused of being both a frontal organisation for terror groups and a stooge of kaafir (non-Muslim) governments. Recent reports of the Jamaat's links to the al Qaeda, which quoted some of its members in Guantanamo Bay saying as much, is not the first time the organisation has been accused of extremist links. It is on the list of suspicious organisations in Saudi Arabia;the Kyrgyzstan government in 2009 moved a court plea asking for the Jamaat to be labelled an extremist network, and in India their headquarters (markaz) at Nizamuddin, Delhi, is forever on the radar of Indian security agencies.
There are other charges that have been flung at the Jamaat - one, for instance, by some Muslims who blame it for being too "inward looking" to be of any help to the "oppressed millions" within the Islamic fold. They also say the Jamaat does not believe in the doctrine of jihad. In fact, many Islamic organisations that harbour dreams of Islamic rule the world over are opposed to the Jamaat. It is wellknown how the Muslim Brotherhood's opposition to it affected its operations in Egypt, reducing it to a small presence. In most Arab countries, the Jamaat is not as strong as it is elsewhere in the world.
A treatise on the Tablighi Jamaat by the Texas-based Islamic Academy, sometimes also referred to as the Darululoom Azizia, is scathing: "It is not surprising that under the apartheid government in South Africa and under the cruel 'State of Emergency' in which gatherings were restricted and carefully monitored under the vigilant eye of the then police force, the itjimas (Jamaat gatherings) used to draw crowds of thousands of devotees - and there was not a single policeman in sight...With the type of Islam that they portrayed, of being completely subservient to kufaar (non-Muslims ) politics and their rejection of jihad in all its practical aspects, this Jamaat was not even considered a threat. That is their policy throughout the world - do not condemn the kufaar and the kufaar governments. "
It is not without reason that its strongest presence is in Asian countries like India, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Indonesia, China and the erstwhile communist countries of Eastern Europe. Any country where radical Islam is on the rise, the Jamaat, with its low-key functioning and stress on the principle tenets of Islam, is on the peripheries, unconcerned as it is with the notion of seeking justice for Muslims and establishing the rule of Allah.
Yet, the very fact that the world's largest Muslim organisation with crores of followers across the world - its previous gathering in Bangladesh had 5-7 lakh delegates participating in it - functions almost entirely by word of mouth, taking it beyond all surveillance means, is unnerving for the security establishment. There's no letterhead the sleuths can pin or a well-established pecking order they can concentrate on. This, even as the Jamaat is supposed to have reached the smallest of mosques, talking about the ways of Islam and the teachings of Mohammed and his companions (Sahaba). Their work, Jamaat members insist, is always voluntary. The seniors carefully shun publicity and there is hardly any mention of the Jamaat's existence in the media. But the organisation can gather lakhs at very short notices - a security agency's nightmare.
Admittedly, though, the openness of the centres - anybody can walk in for a meal and rest - means the Jamaat can always be misused by terrorists seeking asylum.
"Why is it surprising that three terrorists in Guantanamo Bay claim to have spent time at our centre? They may be 3 out of 300, and the other 297 may have got away. One takes refuge in the house of god, where there is peace - which is exactly what the markaz is. Beyond some basic identification documents required for foreigners, there are no checks. Every day thousands of people come in, “says Urfi Obaid, one of the members of the Jamaat.
It is this lack of screening, says Niaz Farooqui, an official of the Jamiat-ulama-I-Hind, that has often made the Jamaat vulnerable to criticisms of fostering terror ties. "But it has never been proved and I am very well versed with their ideology;there is nothing extremist about them. In fact, with the kind of following they have, if Tablighi Jamaat really had terror ties, the world would have been blasted away by now. " As an indication of its influence, Farooqui says the Jamaat's book, Fazail Amal (Virtues of Good Deeds), is the second most widely read book in the Islamic world after the Koran.
Another reason why Jamaat has often evoked suspicion is its funding. The organisation's stated stand is that it does not take donations. Yet, every day at the Nizamuddin Centre several thousand people eat three meals a day. At any given point of time there are 5, 000-10, 000 people inside the centre. Obaid says, "The rules are very strict. Even during the mandatory days of service, which is three days a month, members are supposed to pay from their own pocket. " There are supporting statements from unexpected quarters too. Abdur Raziq, a Pakistani national who served time in Guantanamo Bay, talks about his "missionary" stint in Afghanistan on behalf of the Jamaat which assigned him work in the troubled region "based on my financial capabilities". Recruits, he says, were responsible for paying for their own upkeep.
For Muslims in general, though, the Jamaat is where they turn to for spiritual and other kinds of healing. "There is a common belief that if there is a boy in the family who has taken to drugs and alcohol and gone astray, 'usko jamaat bhej do (send him to the Jamaat)'. Community service along with a good dose of preaching is supposed to work miracles, people say, though I do not believe in such things, " Farooqui says, adding that he remembers the time a Jamaat group had come to his house with the son of a wealthy Dubai emir as one of its members. The boy had been staying in the Nizamuddin mosque for a month and working for Jamaat.
A SHORT HISTORY
Set up in 1926 by Maulana Ilyas, the original purpose of the organisation was the spiritual upliftment of Meo workers. A story goes that the maulana, pained by the "religious degeneration" of some of his fellow Muslims, paid them to listen to his discourses. Starting from there, it went on to become the biggest Muslim religious movement in the world, dependent on its millions of followers to perpetuate the cause of "pure" Islam - a way of life that was exemplified by the life of the Prophet and his disciples. The word 'Tabligh' means propagator. Tablighi members go on door-to-door drives telling people about the importance of Islam's basic tenets, the need to love fellow Muslims and neighbours, even if they are non-Muslims. Charity is a very important aspect of the Tablighi way of life though the organisation does not receive donations. Each member is expected to meet his own expenses while working for it. The ideological platform is provided by the Fazail Amal written by Maulana Zacchariya, who was a teacher in Saharanpur madarsa.
Source: Times Crest, New Delhi