A report in this newspaper says that the military has become alerted to a possible danger from the proselytising activities of the religious organisation Dawat-e-Islami, distinguished by the sporting of green turbans by its followers. A Barelvi variant of the Deobandi Tableeghi Jamaat, Dawat also claims to be apolitical. But the intelligence agencies have warned that “its growing influence in the armed forces will have serious implications”. It has never been under strict watch, but it is financially powerful and has its own 24-hour channel that many cable operators provide.
The Tableeghi Jamaat was considered fit for elite support because of its Deobandi orientation and patronage from the Gulf and the Middle East. The Dawat has remained a poor man’s religious organisation, so to speak, divorced from the state’s patronage of jihad. It is surmised that the army has become sensitive to the penetration of its ranks after a policeman decided to kill Salmaan Taseer, earlier this year. Thereafter, the army confirmed that it had detained a senior officer, along with four other military personnel, for links with the banned Hizbut Tahrir. Has the Dawat-e-Islami, too, become a possible threat to the army? An intelligence report says its influence is increasing: over Rs20 million were collected from the Pakistan Air Force for the organisation during this past Ramazan. The organisation was founded by its present charismatic leader Ilyas Qadri, in 1980, when the Deobandis were getting the green light for jihad and the Barelvis were being ignored simply because the training camps — some of them run by al Qaeda — were located in Afghanistan, where the Deobandis hold sway.
The Dawat has grown powerful on its own. In October every year, it holds the biggest congregation in Multan rivalling the one held by the Tableeghi Jamaat in Raiwind near Lahore. As in the case of the Jamaat, special trains are run by the government to transport the devotees to the venue from all over Pakistan. The congregation is usually 500,000 strong or more, according to media reports.
In Multan, the venue is annually converted into a small city with all facilities provided by the Dawat to rival the annual gathering, of the Tableeghi Jamaat outside Lahore. During three days the city of Multan receives a big economic boost because of the visitors who have to eat and drink and buy their other necessities in the market. In Lahore, the biggest mosque of Dawat-e-Islami is situated on the Mall Canal Bridge near the National Institute of Public Administration academy. Often, green turbans are distributed for free to an increasing number of well-to-do devotees who throng the mosque.
Maulana Ilyas Qadri is, in the true Barelvi tradition, a follower of Ghaus-e-Azam Abdul Qadir Jilani of Iraq and Khan Ahmad Raza Khan Barelvi of Bhopal. His magnum opus is the bestselling book titled Faizan-e-Sunnat consisting of 1,326 pages in small print. It is a treasury of Sunni tradition in the Barelvi branch, every page of which is properly sourced to the greatest saints in the Sunni-Barelvi school. In the Barelvi tradition, there are miracles recounted in the shape of dreams seen by the followers of the Dawat, which all true believers must accept. That said, however, it should not be forgotten that Mumtaz Qadri, the policeman who killed the Punjab governor, was also a follower of the Dawat-e-Islami and motivated to do what he did because he was told that it was the right thing to do. Similarly, several Barelvi organisations have sprung up, especially in Punjab, where they aggressively rally the local population in favour of the controversial blasphemy law and against Ahmadis and Christians. One such organisation is currently involved in distributing hate literature against Ahmadis in Faisalabad, after which one Ahmadi was shot dead in the city last week.
The military can take its precautionary steps inside its own structure and it will only be good for Pakistan; but the last time Interior Minister Rehman Malik said Tableeghi Jamaat was a nursery of terrorists, he was roundly condemned by the opposition led by the PML-N’s Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and leader of the PPP’s coalition partner PML-Q, Chaudhry Shujaat. The minister immediately denied that he ever made the statement. Let’s see what happens this time around.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 13th, 2011.
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