Tablighi Jamaat: Extremism for export

The past year of 2020 was perhaps the most critical in the memory of our generation.

The consequences of the pandemic were so unexpectedly deplorable that other acute international problems taking place were undeservedly left without proper attention and coverage. International terrorism, with its religious and extremist component, is certainly one of these problems.

The fight against extremism has long gone beyond individual countries and regions. The phenomenon has clearly acquired the scale of a pandemic – a terrorist one. There is hardly a State today that can completely exclude such acts of aggression on its territory. For a number of countries, the fight against extremism and terrorism has long been almost the main agenda in domestic and international affairs.

The fact that terrorism has become a global problem is recognized by everyone: from law enforcement agencies to the UN. It was there that the counter-terrorism directorate was established in 2017 to strengthen the fight against the threat. The world understood: no one can cope alone.

Extremism and terrorism have begun to threaten the future of entire countries and regions.

The Central Asian region has long been quite resistant to serious extremist attacks. Unfortunately, over the past few years, various radical groups have managed to break through the defences several times and carry out their monstrous actions.

Chinese Embassy In Bishkek In 2016

Here are just some instances: an explosion at the Chinese embassy in Bishkek in 2016; an attack by an unknown group of religious radicals on security forces and weapons stores in Aktobe in the same year; an attack on the border post by ISIL militants on the Tajik-Uzbek border in 2019.

Unfortunately, the special services did not manage to prevent these cases, but how many successful counter-operations were there. Last year alone, dozens of cases were reported: three terrorist attacks were prevented in Nur-Sultan, two in Dushanbe, two in Bishkek, and 25 terrorists were detained in Tashkent. At first glance, there is no connection between these events, but the isolated actions of terrorists in these and other CIS countries, as it turned out, have something in common.

So, what unites all these cases with the explosions, for example, in the St. Petersburg metro, the detention of six Kyrgyz people in Moscow and the prevention of a terrorist attack in one of the military units of Kyrgyzstan on December 31st, 2020?

Answer: all the actors were somehow connected with the religious movement "Tablighi Jamaat", and most of the detainees were originally from Kyrgyzstan, and they received instructions for their activities in their homeland from followers of this extremist ideology. So what is Tablighi Jamaat and how dangerous is it?

Despite the fact that many people today are hearing about the "Tablighi Jamaat" for the first time, the origins of the movement date back to 1927 in India. The very history of Tablighi (approx. "tabligh" from the Arabic "call") is not so interesting, more important is how this organization was able to gain about 80 million followers over the years of its activity. And among its adherents, high-ranking officials are increasingly found.

Perhaps the best place to get acquainted with the activities of the Tablighi sect, oddly enough (in many countries of the world, the organisation is officially banned), is Kyrgyzstan. This is the only republic of the former USSR where Tablighi Jamaat operates freely. You can even say-at ease. Judge for yourself: its activities were positively characterised at the time by President Atambayev, and the brother of the previous President Sooronbay Jeenbekov-Asylbek is periodically ranked among the most influential adherents of the group. Especially criticism intensified after the opening of the namazkhana in the building of the country's Parliament (Jogorku Kenesh).

The grain fell on fertile soil and now the representatives of the Tabliga can be found even in the most remote corners of Kyrgyzstan. Missionaries with religious talmudic texts literally terrorise the local population: they harass them in the streets, they invite them into their homes.

People are increasingly ignoring and openly avoiding such communication. However, not everyone is able to restrain the onslaught of "theologians": hundreds of new recruits are sent annually for "additional education" in the Tablig madrasas of India and Pakistan. In February of this year, the leader of the Tablighi Jamaat in the Kyrgyz Republic, the country's chief mufti, M. Toktomushev, was exposed for embezzling funds collected by parishioners of mosques for performing the Hajj, and was also accused of involvement in the Salafi movement. Now he is placed in a pre-trial detention centre by employees of the State Security Committee of the Kyrgyz Republic.

All this cannot but concern Russia. Despite the distance between the countries, Kyrgyzstan is much closer to us than is commonly believed. The common space, including economic and migration, within the framework of the EAEU, joint membership in the CSTO and a number of other intergovernmental agreements have long removed all possible barriers to open cooperation between our countries.

And, of course, Moscow cannot help but be concerned about the prospect of Kyrgyzstan becoming a second Afghanistan or Tajikistan in the 1990s. So far, despite the ban on this movement in the Russian Federation, the FSB continues to record the facts of recruitment of its members on its territory.

And the threat persists. It is striking how deftly terrorist cells operate in crisis situations. Even the pandemic is being used for its own purposes. According to the head of the UN Counter-Terrorism Office, Vladimir Voronkov, in the context of the coronavirus pandemic, the activity of Islamic terrorists has only increased.

According to him, the militants are already considering the coronavirus as a biological weapon, noting that some extremist groups have openly called for using the virus as a means of attack. The idea of deliberate infection is already quite actively used by radical elements, who urge like-minded people who become ill to " visit the local mosque, church or synagogue, or take a walk in the migrant area."

An additional concern is the following state of affairs: after the introduction of quarantine by most countries, representatives of the Tabliga, along with ordinary citizens, were restricted in their movements. Nevertheless, the Tabligh missionaries are still being blamed for the spread of the coronavirus, because no one has canceled collective prayers in mosques and dawaats. Naturally, during the quarantine period, Tablighi did not purchase any ventilators, medical masks, or medicines necessary for the treatment of COVID-19, even for its adherents.

All this could not but affect the already weak health care system of Kyrgyzstan, which is experiencing a huge burden due to the ongoing activities of the Tablighi Jamaat. What will happen when the international borders open and these inspired people rush around the world to carry out their "educational" activities?

Of course, the unstable economic, political and social situation in Kyrgyzstan has not only contributed to the rise of radicalism in the country, but also added to the scale of the threat of the export of terrorist ideas to neighboring countries.

International experience shows that the Tabligh interpretation of Islam is extremely destructive and destructive for any secular society. A person involved in this activity changes his self-consciousness quite quickly, and becoming more radical and intolerant towards other religious movements, he eventually becomes an opponent of traditional Islam.

Seeing all this and understanding what consequences it can lead to, it is difficult to say what prevented the official Bishkek to follow the example of Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, to ban the activities of this sect.

Of course, during the inaction of the authorities, the lack of reforms and a clear strategy aimed at improving the lives of ordinary people, Islam, and radical Islam, is increasingly becoming the only salvation for many residents of Kyrgyzstan. According to many experts, this is the main reason for the growing and spreading threat of terrorism.

Russia, which has a wealth of experience in countering extremist and separatist movements, cannot simply stand by.

Moreover, Russia is extending a helping hand to Kyrgyzstan, both through cooperation within the SCO, CSTO, and EEU, and directly. Seeing the root of the problem in education, Moscow offers help here: the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of the Russian Federation is ready to meet the need of the Kyrgyz people for spiritual development without the help of dubious preachers. But there is no backlash yet.

In turn, the Tabligov missionaries of Kyrgyzstan, using the visa-free regime of the Kyrgyz Republic with the Russian Federation, continue to spread their extremist ideology in Russia.

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