The arrests last week of six American Muslims have implicated the actions of the Tablighi Jamaat, a relatively unknown group (even among Muslims) that has its followers in the United States fearing a crackdown on its activities and members. Some of the six arrested men have admitted travelling to Pakistan (and later Afghanistan) to study with the groups followers. “As soon as I heard Lackawanna, I knew Tabligh Jamaat would come up,” notes one Indian Muslim in New York. “There is nothing else for Muslims living there.” The group, founded in 1927 by Maulana Mohammed Ilyas, an Indian Muslim scholar, emphasizes the spiritual and moral correction of oneself and one’s community. It has spread from its base in South Asia as far as the US, Japan and Africa. The (mostly male) adherents believe that tabligh (prostelytizing) was encouraged by the Prophet Mohammed and usually talk to less observant Muslims in order to strengthen their faith. Critics (Muslim ones) liken the group to Jehovahs Witnesses and feel they may have misinterpreted a hadith to support their actions. While most Muslims feel they are dedicated and sincere (and harmless), others feel they are intrusive and judgemental (since a visit from them means they have branded you a weak believer). But despite the purely religious intent of their activities, prosecutors’ accusations of political subversion have a precedent in India in multiple cases. And because of the loose organization of the group, the lack of a formal spokesman, and a traditional shunning of the media, clarification of any Al Qaeda-Tablighi Jamaat connection may be difficult to find. “The elders will never talk about it,” said a Tabligh member in New York. “They will just say, make dua, make dua (prayer).”
Zahed Amanullah is associate editor of altmuslim.com. He is based in London, England.