Footprints: Road to radicalisation?

Published January 3, 2016
A Tanzeem-i-Islami activist leafleting in Karachi’s PECHS locality on Saturday.—Fahim Siddiqi / White Star
A Tanzeem-i-Islami activist leafleting in Karachi’s PECHS locality on Saturday.—Fahim Siddiqi / White Star

ALONG main University Road a moderate number of old and young men are gathered on the pedestrian island. It is a cold, sunny evening when I spot them outside Masjid-i-Baitul Mukarram, standing silent, holding placards, a few carrying leaflets. “An interest-based economy invites the wrath of Allah,” reads one of the placards. Another one says: “Those who rely on an interest-based economy are in fact in a state of war with Allah.”

This is a demonstration called by the Tanzeem-i-Islami — one of the few disciplined organisations in the country which has a cadre of workers that are almost entirely educated, generally respected in their neighbourhoods and known for their simple lifestyles.

The University Road demonstration constitutes some sort of evidence of this perception. Karachiites know how to make their grievances heard, whether it’s against water shortages, power outages or as part of any political party’s campaign.

But here, today, the traffic is moving as usual on one of the busiest roads in the city and the regular business of life is as smooth as on any other day. Even so, the Tanzeem-i-Islami’s demonstration attracts almost everyone passing by.

“How effective it is?” I ask a young participant. He smiles, and comes up with a one-line reply after a few seconds while shaking hands with me and saying salaam: “I don’t know. I’m here only to do my bit; I would be asked about my contribution, not the results.”

How can this organisation, which is known for a disciplined and peaceful approach to even protest, inspire the young, well-off and even foreign-educated class of the society to become militants?

The question arises after recent arrests by the city police who claim to have rounded up a number of suspected militants allegedly involved in the Safoora Goth bus carnage that killed more than 40 members of the Ismaili community. Most of the suspects arrested, police say, were associated with the Tanzeem-i-Islami in the past and are now “inspired” by the militant Islamic State group.

Raja Umer Khattab of the police’s Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD), the key man behind the recent arrests, categorically denies existing links of the suspects with the Tanzeem-i-Islami. In a brief chat, however, he asserts that while interrogating the suspected militants, the police found them inspired by the thoughts of the late Dr Israr Ahmed, founding chief of the organisation.

Curiosity takes me to the Quran Academy in Yaseenabad of Federal B Area.

In a simple and well-organised building, Syed Azhar Riaz greets me in his office after Maghrib prayers. Mr Riaz, 51, is one of two Naib Nazim-i-Aala of the Tanzeem-i-Islami and looks after the organisation’s affairs in the southern part of the country.

“We never inspire people [to commit such deeds],” he smiles in answer to my question. “The people you are talking about had left the Tanzeem-i-Islami well before these incidents or their arrests occurred. They left because they knew that the Tanzeem never buys such a theory.”

During an almost hour-long sitting, Mr Riaz debates on the organisational structure of the Tanzeem-i-Islami, its objective, its way of preaching and the ultimate target of Khilafa in the country that it wants to see while putting an end to the electoral process, part and parcel of parliamentary democracy.

“Sharia law does say to cut off a thief’s hands and we want this law to be implemented. For that we believe that it’s our duty to demand and struggle for its imposition. But I would never do that on my own even if I catch a thief red-handed. That’s the difference which those people [the arrested suspects] couldn’t get.”

While referring to one of the key suspects arrested, Sheeba Ahmed (a businessman and a former employee of the Pakistan Air Force), Mr Riaz says he had dissociated himself from the Tanzeem back in 2008 but managed to radicalise a few members who also later parted ways with the organisation. All of them were also arrested.

“We are clear and focused,” he says when I ask him about any concerns within the organisation’s ranks after the recent arrests. “There is no such thing going on in our members and followers. They are very clear about our ideology and policies. I believe that even if there were [any such ideas] in a few brains, they would come to an end with the news of such arrests.”

Published in Dawn, January 3rd, 2016

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