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Tablighi Jamaat: Islamophobic Media Targets “Pacifist, Apolitical” Tablighis as Terrorists Based on Vague Tweets of the Saudi Government

Syed Khalique Ahmed

NEW DELHI—Indian media has once again targeted the Tablighi Jamaat, a pan-India Islamic reformist movement, based on some vague tweets by the Saudi government. The xenophobic Indian press has labelled the Tablighi Jamaat a terror organization.

In March 2020, the 95-year-old reformist organization with its headquarters in the Banglewali Masjid in Hazrat Nizamuddin was held responsible by some Islamophobic Indian media for spreading coronavirus. 

While Indian media have attributed its allegations to the Ministry of Islamic Affairs of the Saudi government, none of the three tweets circulated on social media of the Saudi government mention the name Tablighi Jamaat, India, or any other Indian Muslim organization.

The media deduced that the Saudi government had targeted India’s Tablighi Jamaat because one of the tweets used the word “Tablighi” in its text.

Indian media, based on vague tweets, concluded that the Saudi government’s directives are intended for India’s Tablighi Jamaat.

None of the Indian media, including news agencies, tried to verify it from the Saudi government though some of the Indian news agencies have their presence in Arab countries. 

India Tomorrow tried to contact the Saudi Ambassador in India, Dr. Saud Mohammed Alsati, and other Saudi embassy officials in New Delhi to know if the “Tablighi” word used in the Saudi minister’s tweets pertained to India’s Tablighi Jamaat. But all our efforts failed. 

There was also no reply to our text message sent to the ambassador to get an official version of the khutba (sermons) delivered by Islamic preachers and mosque Imams in the Kingdom’s mosques on December 10, Friday. 

Since mosques in Saudi Arabia are under strict government control, mosque imams, who lead prayers and deliver sermons, are provided written copies of sermons by the government. They are not allowed to make speeches or deliver sermons that the government does not issue because Saudi Arabia is not a democracy but a dynasty with tight control on freedom of expression.

Indian media has particularly highlighted the part of the tweet in which the Saudi minister claimed that “the Tablighi and Da’wah group”, called “Al-Ahbab”, is “one of the gates of terrorism, even if they claim otherwise.”

“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 5/6/1443 H to warn against (the Tablighi and Da’wah group) which is called (Al Ahbab),” one of the tweets issued by the Ministry of Islamic Affairs said.

But the tweet is obvious, and nowhere does it mention the name of the Tablighi Jamaat, which is the proper title of the Muslim missionary and reformist organization in India. The tweet also does not say that it is an Indian organization. Therefore, it is not correct to say that the Saudi government means India’s Tablighi Jamaat as referred to by Indian media. So, our media has reported, without verification, in such a sensitive matter.

In another tweet, the Saudi government has directed the mosque preachers and Imams to tell their audience about the “misguidance, deviation and danger of this group” and “mention their prominent mistakes”, perhaps regarding the group’s Islamic belief. However, the tweet also goes on to say that “it (the Tablighi and Da’wah group) is one of the gates of terrorism, even if they claim otherwise.”

Why should the Saudi government level terrorism charges against India’s Tablighi Jamaat when not even a single volunteer of the organization has ever been found involved in any crime or violence related to terrorism despite being a pan-India movement with its presence in every village where there is Muslim population? They neither get involved in any political issue nor hold an opinion on any political subject. They are so much cut off from political issues that Muslims jokingly call it an organization that discusses issues either “above the sky” or “below the earth” because they are primarily interested in personal holiness and renewal of spirituality. Many a time, they have held all-India congregations on the day there is either state or national elections when every Indian citizen is required to cast their vote. The Tablighi volunteers have thus many times missed their chance to vote also.

In the third tweet, the minister has asked the preachers to mention “their danger to society,” and affiliation or association with this group is prohibited and not allowed in Saudi Arabia. However, the tweet does not say there is a ban on the Tablighi Jamaat

Tablighi Jamaat was founded in 1926 to counter Muslims conversion to Hinduism: Pew Research

According to a study conducted by the Pew Research Centre, the Tablighi Jama’at was founded in 1926 in the Mewat region in Haryana and Rajasthan, near Delhi, India, by Maulana Muhammad Ilyas, an Islamic scholar, and teacher. 

“The movement began as an effort to counteract the activities of Hindu revivalists in India, who at the time were attempting to convert Muslims to Hinduism. Worried that existing Islamic educational institutions were not capable of fending off the Hindu challenge, Ilyas envisioned a movement that would send missionaries to villages to instill Muslims with core Islamic values,” says the research that was released in September 2020. 

The members of the groups operate within Muslims only, not among non-Muslims. Therefore, their primary focus is on the character building of the Muslims by persuading them to come to mosques to offer five times regular prayers, observe fasts in the month of Ramzan, give zakat or charity to the poor and perform Haj once in life if one can afford the expenses.

They ask people to keep away from gambling, wine consumption, and sex outside the institution of marriage that is considered evil in most societies in the world, including India. They also insist on maintaining one’s Islamic identity, which is allowed under India’s Constitutional law and other countries of the world. 

Pew research says that the movement is currently active or has its followers in 150 countries, including the Middle East, North Africa, the UK, France, and Spain. It is also a pacifist and apolitical movement. The organization does not have centralized control.

According to the Pew study, the Tablighi Jamaat works within the political system of the respective countries and not against the local system. It was their political will to work with non-Muslim communities that they were able to construct a mosque in Marseille in France in 2007 despite strong opposition from some of the local non-Muslim groups.

However, some US journalists, policymakers, and law enforcement agencies raised concern about the Tablighi Jamaat after the 9/11 attacks because Tablighis subscribed to the Deobandi school of Islamic thought, the religious worldview of the Taliban.

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