The Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) Pakistan is deliberating a strategy to expand its cadre among minority religious groups in the country.
For the first time in the party’s 74-year history, non-Muslims were invited to its ijtema in November last year. A separate enclosure was set up at the Minar-e-Pakistan grounds for Christians, Hindus and Sikhs in attendance at the three-day congregation.
“Minorities’ wings in the Jamaat have been functional at sub-national levels since the 80s. However, there had not been a concerted effort at integrating minority communities into the party’s organisation before the ijtema,” says Ameerul Azim, JI’s central information secretary.
Azim says non-Muslims were allowed to display their own [religious] literature at the ijtema. He adds that engagement with people from minority religious communities [for whom he uses the new amir’s preferred term ‘Pakistani biraderi’] is needed because they are part of the national electorate.
Unlike mainstream parties, Jamaat’s membership is not open to all. Routine recruitment is done through relationship building or what Azim calls “man-to-man contact”. Recruits enter the party organisation at the beginner sympathiser [ibtadai mutafiq] level. “They are engaged with various Jamaat affiliates or the main party at the district level. Their dedication to the party’s activities determines if they will or will not graduate to the status of a member (rukn),” he says. District shuras decide whether or not someone qualifies to become a member, he adds. Members form the electoral college for both the executive and legislative offices at the district, provincial and the central-levels.
The JI central shura has formed a committee headed by Asadullah Bhutto, a deputy amir, to devise a programme of action for expansion of the party cadre among minority communities. Bhutto, a JI rukn from Sukkur, says that among other things, the committee is considering whether or not non-Muslims should be included in the electoral college for the party’s highest executive and legislative offices as well as considered for decision making positions in the organisation. Both decisions will require amendments in the party’s constitution. He says the matter has been referred to the constitutional committee. “It should not be a problem if they join the Jamaat in agreement with its manifesto.”
Bhutto recalls that he had started working with non-Muslim groups when he was the Sukkur district amir in the early 80s. “In 1997, minorities were invited to join the party as its sympathisers. A minorities’ wing was formed in Sindh in 2001-02.”
“Our objective of imposition of Shari’a law in the country has never been a concern for non-Muslims I have worked with. They tell me the system in place in the country is far from their scriptures. It won’t be much of a difference for them if it is replaced with one based on Islamic scriptures,” he adds. Bhutto explains the principle for engagement with non-Muslims as “we won’t abandon our beliefs, we won’t ask others to abandon theirs”.
Rashid Naseem, another deputy amir who also oversees the party’s training department, says he doesn’t think there should be any reservations over missionary work by non-Muslim sympathisers.
Expansion of general membership
At the conclusion of the November ijtema, the new JI amir, Sirajul Haq, had directed his 30,000-strong cadre to expand the party’s membership across the country. Azim says each member [rukan] was asked to seek 100 new supporters [ibtadai mutafiqs] for the party. “The new amir took the decision in view of the large number of people at the ijtema. Later on, it was endorsed by the shura council as well,” Naseem explains.
Revision of training programme
With the possibility of expansion of membership and induction of people from minority communities as members with voting rights, the central shura council (decision making body) has sought a revamp of the party’s training programme.
Currently, the party’s training department arranges at least one 5-day training session at the Mansoora headquarters every month. “The session is open to all and is the forum at which most sympathisers drawn towards the party are briefed about its message,” says Naseem. Alongside, the department organises an annual three-day session for the party leadership at all three levels.
In a concept paper prepared in a shura meeting following the ijtema, the department devised an action plan for revamp of its training programme. Naseem says besides a review of training methods used by other Islamic movements (amongst whom he names Tanzeem-e-Islami and Jamaatud Dawa of Pakistan and Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt), the plan draws upon consultations with Jamaat sympathisers in the country’s corporate and development sector as well. On use of terminologies and inclusion of topics commonly associated with the corporate or development sectors, Naseem says the party sees no harm in borrowing from modern knowledge and practices.
The paper says that a reading list, revised every year, will be mailed to the members (arakeen) twice a year. Besides chapters on religious scriptures, the list covers topics on understanding of Pakistani state and society, brief history of Pakistan movement and political and constitutional history of Pakistan, modern literature, understanding of other civilizations, contemporary Islamic struggles, communication skills, project planning and implementation, and teamwork, leadership and team-building. Performance in exams held bi-annually will determine progress to the next list.
The paper also proposes workshops for the leadership on topics, including effective communication in dawa, art of concise and effective speech, use of social media for dawa, analysis of English media and strategy for effective response, and parliamentary politics.
Naseem says one such workshop was held recently on the topic of change management (change management is a widely used term in corporate and development sector firms for an approach to transitioning individuals, teams, and organisations to a desired future state). He says Jamaat sympathisers in the academia and research institutes, in Pakistan as well as abroad, will be consulted for such workshops and for designing of the syllabus.
The paper further says that 15-day educational and recreational camps will be held for the youth and sets a target of 1,000 graduates in the first three years.
It mentions family, educational (schools and colleges), economic (markets), political (assemblies), and religious (seminaries and mosques) institutions as the five fora other than the party where training should be expanded.
For the family, it proposes 3-4 workshops a year where 100 Jamaat members from across the country will be equipped with counseling skills. On completion of training, these personnel will be responsible for mediating between families, if needed, in their neighbourhoods. For the educational institutes, the paper proposes ideological training of school and college faculty. No specific plans have been devised for other fora identified in the paper.
Naseem says the department is also looking into preparation of a training programme catering to the needs of members from minority religious groups in consultation with their representatives.
Central executive council reduces powers of amir
In its last meeting, the shura decided to strip the amir of his power to appoint the central executive council of the party (majlis amla) from among shura members. The meeting decided that while the amir can appoint people to half of the executive council offices, the rest will be elected by the shura. Rashid Naseem, a deputy amir, says the decision is meant to promote the culture of collectivism in the party.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 11th, 2015.