Ashgabat, 1 October 2015 (nCa) — As if Saint Bernard of Clairvaux was talking about Kyrgyzstan — The road to hell is paved with good intentions.
The desire of Kyrgyzstan to cultivate democracy led to revolutions full of incredible violence and senseless bloodshed, resulting in fractured society, and smashed economy.
As if that were not enough for the poor country, another cauldron of disasters could be ready to boil over because of the aspiration to practice religious tolerance.
The threat this time is from Tablighi Jamaat, an Islamic proselytization movement with roots in South Asia and some 60-70 million followers worldwide.
And, the presence of the Tablighi Jamaat in Kyrgyzstan is a source of worry for the entire region because Kyrgyzstan is joined at hip with Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, the hip in this case being the Ferghana Valley that zigs and zags haphazardly among these three countries. What is more, Kazakhstan and China have common borders with Kyrgyzstan.
The nature of the threat is quite complicated because the TJ (Tablighi Jamaat) is full of sincere people, many of them highly educated, and it actively shuns violence.
Formed in 1927 in the British India by the Muslim cleric and scholar Maulana Muhammad Ilyas Kandhalawi (1885-1944), the initial objective of TJ was to bring religious awareness to the illiterate Muslims of Mewat, an outskirt of Delhi.
Initially it was named Tehreek-e-Iman (Faith Movement) but slowly it came to be known by its generic name Tablighi Jamaat, which simply means proselytization movement.
Website of Tabighi Jamaat: http://tablighijamaat.org/
TJ advocates simple, peaceful life, basic moral values, and frugality bordering on austerity. Officially, it doesn’t call for overthrow of any government or establishment of Caliphate. Because of its reputation, TJ enjoys respect and freedom of activity in many countries.
Nevertheless, its structure is full of holes. It doesn’t have any declared charter or a registered office. Any group of people can claim to be from the TJ and there is no way to verify their credentials.
The groups of people, usually 10 to 15, who embark on preaching missions under the banner of the TJ are almost invariably ill informed about the context and interpretations of the vast body of Islamic knowledge.
Their main source of knowledge is a single book written by an early leader of the TJ. Their entire stress is on six points i.e. oneness of Allah and Muhammad (PBUH) as the Prophet of Allah, five daily prayers, chanting of the name of Allah (Zikr), respect for the fellow human beings, serving the cause of Allah, and calling other people to Islam.
This creates two subsets of problems: On one hand, the TJ, because of its open structure, is a convenient vehicle for the extremists to use in their travel across the borders and recruitment activities. On the other hand, the TJ creates in its wake the followers who are semi-literate and in their motivated state, vulnerable to the overtures of extremists.
There are many examples to support this contention:
- One of the better known cases is that of John Walker Lindh (American Taliban), who accepted Islam through the TJ missions and traveled with them to Pakistan in 1998. With little knowledge and lots of motivation, he was easy target for the Taliban recruiters.
- Jose Padilla and Richard Reid also graduated to extremist side by first being convinced of the trueness of Islam by the TJ missions.
- In 2008, the Spanish police conducted a series of raids in Barcelona, seizing the bombmaking materials and arresting 14 men who were reportedly planning a terror attack. They had entered the country as members of a TJ mission.
- In the enquiries related to the terror plots in October 2002 in Portland (USA), September 2002 in Lackawanna (USA), and August 2006 in London, there were reasons to believe that the suspects operated under the garb of TJ.
- Similar connections were also suspected in the London Underground bombing (2005) and attempted bombing in London, Glasgow and Scotland (2007).
- Iyman Faris, who plotted to destroy the Brooklyn Bridge, posed as a TJ missionary to get into the U.S.
- The attack at the Hotel Asni in Marrakech in 1994 was executed by the people posing as TJ members.
- Yusef Fikri, the leader of the Moroccan terror organization At-Takfir wal-Hijrah, who masterminded the May 2003 Casablanca bombing, was initially a TJ follower until he turned to radicalism.
These are just some of the examples of how Tablighi Jamaat platform gets abused. Even though there is no reason to blame the TJ for these and other such incidents, there is no denying the fact that the TJ doesn’t have any mechanism to filter out extremist recruiters and motivators from its ranks.
The case of Kyrgyzstan is even more alarming because it has not only allowed the TJ to acts freely in its territory, it has also ignored the fact that some 200 Kyrgyz students have been sent by the TJ for studies in the seminaries in Bangladesh, which is the second largest centre of TJ in the world. Some of them are less than 15 years old. One doesn’t need very active imagination to see as to what kind of negatives influences these kids could be subjected to.
Some analysts think that the ill informed and aggressively motivated people may have played some part in the incidents of April 2010 in Kyrgyzstan. If this is the case, it is an instance of how the TJ motivates people and then leaves them adrift, an easy catch for those who practice violence and extremism.
Kyrgyzstan also needs to register that all kinds of organizations attached with extremism, such as IMU (Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan), the Hizb-ut-Tahrir, Salafis, etc. are close at hand, standing ready to harvest the crop sown by the TJ.
The new reality is that ISIS (Daesh) is raising its ugly head in Afghanistan and the people impressed by TJ could be inclined to sympathize with its objectives and methods. This is a dagger at the heart of Kyrgyzstan, with obvious implications for the rest of the region.
Asanbek Alymkojoyev, the head of the Kyrgyz air force, had already pointed out this threat a year ago.
Kyrgyzstan, for its own sake and for the sake of the entire region, would be well advised to clamp down on Tablighi Jamaat and declare it illegal before it is too late. Time is running out already.
To be continued …