Radicals' Use of Islamic Charities Continues in South Asia
by Irfan Al-Alawi
While Islamist radicalism in the Arab countries and Iran occupies a greater part of the world's attention, Muslim extremists continue to seek further expansion in South Asia's Muslim-majority states – Pakistan and Bangladesh – as well as in India, where Muslims are the largest religious minority, with 13.4% of the population, according to the CIA World Factbook. They have also sought ideological penetration among Muslims in Britain and the U.S.
In Britain, this was pointed out by expert Douglas Murray in an article entitled, "Preventing the Next Mumbai," in The Wall Street Journal of October 5, 2010. Murray described the United Kingdom as "the Western center of jihad." A 2010 study by the Centre for Social Cohesion (CSC), "Radical Islam on U.K. Campuses," stated "Muslim students in the UK are increasingly being exposed to an intolerant, politicized, and in some cases violent, interpretation of their faith." Another 2010 CSC report, "Islamist Terrorism: The British Connection," declares, "Al-Qaeda and al-Qaeda inspired terrorism remains the biggest threat to the UK's national security."
In their appeal to Muslims in South Asia and their diaspora in the West, as noted by the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations, Islamists demand the whole of Kashmir (now partitioned by India and Pakistan) as an element of their program for an Islamic state. Their argument is based on Kashmir's Muslim majority, noted by international media, including the British Broadcasting Corporation.
In the UK, census figures count people of South Asian background as a two-thirds majority of Muslims; in American Islam, they constitute the largest group of believers – a plurality of 34%, according to the State Department's 2009 publication, "Being Muslim in America."
The leading forces in South Asian Islamist ideology are centered in Pakistan. At the beginning of November, the current Pakistani Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, announced he would offer a "peace process" to Pakistan's Taliban. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation, however, immediately reported on November 1, 2013, that Pakistan's Taliban representatives rejected Sharif's proposal unless Pakistan withdraws its military forces from Taliban strongholds along the border with Afghanistan and releases all Taliban members held in prison.
Sharif's conciliatory attitude toward a terrorist faction that, in 2013 alone, killed hundreds of innocents in Pakistan reflects the long-standing toleration of violent fundamentalism by Islamabad. The Pakistani Taliban has targeted in particular, among the country's Muslims, the shrines of spiritual Sufis, as well as members of the Shia minority.
In addition, Pakistan's dispute with India over Kashmir has produced more jihadist movements allied with, and providing foot-soldiers for, Al-Qaida, as shown in American, British, and United Nations investigations and legal verdicts, exemplified by the "North Virginia Jihad" case described below. Although little-known in the West, one of the most brutal of the organizations appealing to Pakistani Muslims to wage jihad against India's occupation of a section of Kashmir is Lashkar-e-Taiba ("Army of the Righteous"), or LET, which plans and executes terrorism far from Kashmir.
Identified by the governments of Britain, the U.S., Australia, India, and Pakistan as a terrorist apparatus, LET is included by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) "Al-Qaida Committee" in its register that designates individuals, entities, and other groups associated with the main terrorist faction.
LET was first exposed to the West by American authorities, in the 2003-2005 federal trial of the "North Virginia jihad network," a group of Al-Qaida supporters who disguised their military training activities by playing paintball. It was determined in the proceeding, before U.S. District Court Judge Leonie Brinkema, that after the attacks of September 11, 2001, the group had sent American Muslims to Kashmir for military action against India, as an alternative to armed combat serving the Taliban and Al-Qaida in Afghanistan.
Trials of the 10 North Virginia defendants resulted in all of them being found guilty in 2003-2005. The case concluded when the North Virginia group's "spiritual guide," Ali Al-Timimi, was sentenced by Judge Brinkema to life in prison for jihadist incitement; levying war against an American ally, India – and services to the Taliban. Al-Timimi was portrayed by his lawyers as no more than a Muslim scholar exercising his right to free speech.
In a similar instance, Rashid Rauf, an LET associate, was suspected by UK authorities of having organized the London Heathrow airport conspiracy in 2006. That incident forced changes in the regulations for international air travel and the checking of passengers' carry-on liquids, which might be used as explosives.
LET and its paramilitary leader Hafiz Muhammad Saeed are also blamed by the Indian government for the 2008 terror raid on Mumbai, in which 164 people were killed and more than 300 injured.
How is this organization able to continue its operations? LET conducts fundraising through Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JUD), or "Community of Preaching," a front group; and JUD's "charitable" arm, the Falah-e-Insaniyat Foundation (FIF), or "Human Welfare Foundation." Because of this activity, the United Nations Security Council placed JUD and FIF, as the public face of LET, on the "Al-Qaida Committee" list. In 2008, based on the UN verdict, JUD's assets were frozen and its leaders barred from international travel. The restrictions were confirmed by Pakistan's Information Minister Sherry Rehman, as reported in the U.S. by NBC News on December 11, 2008.
The head of JUD is currently Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, the same man charged by India with the assault on Mumbai. Saeed remains in Pakistan, and, through JUD, operates unhindered as a defiantly public advocate for jihad.
JUD has been noticeably active in tying its fundraising activities to religious observances, as, for example, could be seen on October 15 as Muslims around the world observed the holiday of Eid al-Adha – the "feast of sacrifice" – which concludes the period of the annual hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. On this occasion, animals are slaughtered and their meat distributed throughout the community, as an expression of social solidarity and a religious reminder of the faith of Abrahim/Ibraham, whom God ordered to sacrifice his son. In Jewish tradition, where the incident is recalled, it involves the younger son Isaac; in Islamic tradition, the elder son, Ismail or Ishmael. But God prevented the slaying of a son of the progenitor of monotheism.
Eid al-Adha in Pakistan this year included the killing of about six million animals. Skins from the dead cattle, goats, and other beasts are a major source for the Pakistani leather industry. In addition, animal skins from the Eid butchering are collected and sold by LET to finance its operations.
As well as soliciting donations for animal skins, JUD also offers the Muslim believers animals for sale, to be killed by the organization in the Eid ritual.
JUD, for its part, denies involvement with terrorism -- notwithstanding its condemnation by the UN Security Council as an Al-Qaida asset, its association with recruitment of jihadis in the U.S., its connection with the Heathrow affair, and its role in the horrors of Mumbai.
At a press conference by JUD, Saeed stated that its campaign to accumulate hides would be used to generate funds for construction of new housing in the southwest Pakistan province of Baluchistan, struck by severe earthquakes at the end of September. At Eid al-Adha, Saeed charged the U.S. and India, as described in an unsigned article published by the Pakistani newspaper Dawn of October 14, 2013, with falsely linking JUD to extremist bloodshed, to prevent relief aid from reaching earthquake victims.
In August 2012, JUD appealed for donations of money and food, as well as ambulances and medicines, during the other major Muslim holiday, Eid al-Fitr, which falls earlier than Eid al-Adha, at the end of the fasting month of Ramadan -- even though, in 2011 and again in 2012, the Pakistani authorities attempted to limit donations to jihadist groups at Eid al-Fitr.
Less than two weeks after Eid al-Adha, on October 26, 2013, a more activist LET front, the "Indian Mujahideen" [IM], were accused by Indian authorities of bombing an electoral rally in the northeast Indian city of Patna in an attack that left six dead and 80 injured. The electoral rally was sponsored by the Bharatiya Janata Party, identified with Hindu militancy. Although at month's end no group had yet come forward to claim responsibility for the blast, Indian authorities had arrested an IM leader, Tehseen Akhtar, with 13 other suspects, as having planned the bombing.
South Asia's radical Islamist panorama further includes the indigenous jihadists inspired by Abu'l Ala Mawdudi (1903-79), organized in the Jamaat-e Islami (JEI), or "Community of Islam," and the Deobandi sect, from which Mawdudi, and, later, the Taliban, emerged.
On the far eastern side of the Indian Peninsula, JEI Mawdudists and Deobandis, have made headlines recently in Bangladesh. Trials of JEI members for atrocities committed during the 1971 independence war in Bangladesh, known until then as East Pakistan, have so far produced six death sentences and two of life imprisonment.
When the people of Bangladesh demanded independence from Pakistan in 1971, JEI sent detachments to the former East Pakistan, and sought to force its continued union with (then) West Pakistan. More than 40 years later, the Bangladeshi government has put on trial the main JEI figures involved in a bloody rampage that, as summarized by the BBC in an unsigned online report dated November 20, 2011, killed as many as three million people.
The war crimes trial of Motiur Rahman Nizami, the current "emir" or "commander" of JEI in Bangladesh, was delayed by a boycott of the proceedings on the part of defence lawyers. On November 1, according to the Daily Star, a leading English-language newspaper in Dhaka, Bangladesh's capital, the trial resumed. The prosecution was given three days to complete its arguments, with four for the final defense effort.
Charges against JEI in the Bangladesh independence war included mass murders of Bangladeshi activists, rapes, torture, and arson. Chowdhury Mueen Uddin, head of a JEI death squad in 1971, was ordered to be executed for the murder of 18 Bangladeshi intellectuals. He and his co-defendant in the case that dealt with the 18 victims, Ashrafuzzaman Khan, were tried in absentia and received the same sentence.
After the trial, Mueen Uddin declared his innocence to the BBC; he now lives in Britain and works for the charity Muslim Aid.
Ashrafuzzaman Khan – who, with Mueen Uddin, is to be punished if Bangladesh can extradite either of the men – lives in New York, according to the BBC. He is reported by The New York Times to have worked for the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), an organization that follows JEI's ideological line. ICNA has not commented on Ashrafuzzaman Khan's conviction, nor has Khan spoken in his own defence to American media.
Bangladeshi court representatives pointed out that in the trial of Mueen Uddin and Khan no defense witnesses appeared, while prosecutors called 25 individuals to testify against them. All those indicted by Bangladesh for war crimes in 1971 reject the legitimacy of the tribunal.
JEI in Bangladesh, like JUD in Pakistan, also uses Islamic charitable donations to finance its activities. On November 3, the Bangladesh High Court appealed to the national Elections Commission to prohibit JEI from drawing on "zakat," an annual 2.5 percent charity tax on Muslim financial assets, and "ushr," levied on agricultural produce, to sustain its ideological agitation. JEI argues that collection of Islamic charitable donations is a necessary element in its campaign to impose an Islamic state.
The Deobandis, as peers of the Wahhabis and JEI in ideology, and the fountainhead of both JEI and the Taliban, have expanded their efforts in Bangladesh. The Dhaka Tribune reports a controversy underway at the shrine [dergah] of Hazrat Shah Jalal, a 14th century Sufi for whom the Dhaka international airport is named. This otherwise-marginal development is helpful in understanding the contradictions of Deobandi sectarianism, and of the Taliban's war on Sufis, in that the Deobandis claim not to oppose Sufism, but, at the same time, they massacre Sufis.
Although Hazrat Shah Jalal's birthplace is unknown, he is associated with the prominent Sufi tradition in Hadramawt, southern Arabia, whence he journeyed to India. His mausoleum is in the northeastern Bangladeshi town of Sylhet, formerly called Jalalabad.
A Deobandi madrassa, or Islamic religious academy, has been open for decades in the Hazrat Shah Jalal shrine. Given their condemnation of Sufi shrines, a Deobandi theological school would not be housed in a Sufi complex unless the Deobandis intended to take it over and remove it from its Sufi heritage. The Sufi structure's presence therefore is at odds with the Deobandi and Wahhabi strictures against constructing tombs and shrines to Muslim saints, which both ultra-fundamentalist sects claim is a form of "idolatry." Deobandis, Wahhabis, and other extremists denounce prayers and honors in favor of the spiritual figures buried within them, as diluting Islamic devotion, which should be directed only to Allah.
In Pakistan, the local Taliban, as Deobandis, have bombed and otherwise violated many Sufi monuments in the region of Peshawar, leaving dozens dead. Deobandi clerics claim that they do not oppose Sufi Muslim metaphysics or praising distinguished Sufis, but only prohibit erecting sanctuaries or embellishing graves. Nevertheless, the conflicting views of the Sufi administrators of the Hazrat Shah Jalal shrine and the Deobandis of the Dargah madrassa have, since the foundation of the latter in 1961, created an uneasy situation at the shrine. The head of the Deobandi madrassa at the Sufi shrine, Mufti Abul Kalam Zakaria, claimed, "Hazrat Shah Jalal would not have approved of his own dargah."
Conditions at the shrine have produced calls on the Deobandi clerics to clarify their views: Do they, for example, accept the Sufi practices carried out in the same premises where they operate their madrassa, or not? Are the shrine's Sufis, and the structural complex itself, at risk?
Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh and their overseas communities thus remain hotspots for radical Islam that the world should not ignore.