The Da’wat-e-Islami (DeI), the group to which Rajasthan police have linked Ghouse Mohammad who killed tailor Kanhaiyalal in Udaipur on Tuesday, is a Sunni Barelvi proselytising group that was founded in Pakistan four decades ago. It has chapters in several western countries. The Da’wat-e Islami in India, based in Mumbai, is a breakaway Sunni group and has no links to the DeI Pakistan.
Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), the Barelvi group that has demonstrated its rallying ability and street power several times since 2016 on the issues of blasphemy and the finality of the Prophet, draws its inspiration from the DeI.
Many DeI members are now said to be part of Labbaik, which came up in 2015.
The Labbaik mobilised its cadres in 2020-21 to demand that Islamabad must cut off diplomatic relations with France over the Prophet cartoons controversy. It contested elections in 2018 and won two seats in the Sindh Assembly.
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In January 2011, when Mumtaz Qadri, the police bodyguard, shot dead Salman Taseer, Governor of Pakistan’s Punjab province, police said he had links to the Dawat-e-Islami. An AFP report had quoted DeI spokesman Mahmood Ahmed Attari as saying he had no information about whether Qadri belonged to his party. He said Dawat-e-Islami members are moderate followers of the Barelvi sect of Sunni Islam and do not believe in agitation or protest demonstrations.
Labbaik grew out of a movement to free Qadri, and gained followers rapidly after he was judicially executed for the killing of Taseer.
Formed in 1981, the DeI was the Barelvi response to what the Sunni sect saw as a virtual Deobandi takeover of Islam during a period that Pakistan was actively aiding Islamic radicalism and jihadism funded by the Saudis and armed by the US for the first Afghan War against the Soviet Army.
The jihadi tanzeems were built in Deobandi mosques and were schooled in Deobandi teachings. The Pakistan military’s training and backing to such groups gave the Deobandi image a huge shot in the arm, much to the concern of the Barelvi Sunni leadership in Pakistan. After the Soviet withdrawal, the Deobandis contributed to the emergence of the Taliban and their extreme interpretation of Islam.
Muhammad Ilyas Attar Qadiri, the founder of DeI, was born in 1950 in a Kutchi Memon family in Karachi. His parents hailed from Junagarh in undivided India. He modelled the DeI on the same lines as the Tableeghi Jamat (TJ), the influential transnational Deobandi missionary group that was formed in 1921. Like TJ, DeI sends followers on long tours of duty on missionary work and holds ijtima or congregations at different places. Like the TJ, it also focusses on tableegh, the quest for inner spiritual reform and through this, the reform of society. But DeI and TJ differ in ideology, theology and doctrine. DeI members are distinguishable by their green turban, representative of the green dome of the Prophet’s Mosque at Madina.
TJ itself disavows affiliation to any political ideology and denies links to the violent jihadist movements that took birth in Pakistan in the 1980s and 1990s. But the flurry of post-9/11 counter-terrorism investigations in the first decade of this century revealed that many radicalised individuals had overlapping membership with TJ.
Before the killing of Taseer, DeI was a low-profile organisation. But that incident and the higher profile of the Barelvis in recent years due to the activities of the TLP, and its apparent proximity to the Pakistan Army on and off, have thrust it into the limelight.
“The DeI has exactly the same relationship with Labbaik that the Tableeghi Jamaat has with Lashkar e Jhangvi and other Deobandi groups,” said Ayesha Siddiqa, the Pakistani author and commentator. “Many DeI have joined Labbaik now.”
The Barelvis are close to 50% of Pakistan’s population, but they saw themselves sidelined politically as the Pakistani military establishment threw in its lot with the Deobandis. While DeI aspired to become a massive international network like the TJ, members did not take to violent jihad in Afghanistan, Pakistan or Kashmir. Rather, Barelvis have been victims of terrorism by groups such as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Sipah-e-Sahaba, and the Taliban itself. The shrine worshipping Barelvis have seen all their important darghahs in Pakistan bombed including Bari Imam in Islamabad and Data Darbar in Lahore.
Sunni Tehreek, a Barelvi group formed to protect Barelvi mosques from being captured by Deobandis and Ahle Hadith (another Sunni reformist movement that was influenced by and influenced Wahabism), never recovered from the 2006 Nishtar Park, Karachi bombing in which all its top leaders were killed.
The Barelvi school of thought was once sought to be projected as the moderate face of Islam, and working with the US, Pakistan’s former military ruler Pervez Musharraf thought he could use Barelvism to counter the Taliban ideologically. However, that project ended in 2011 after Taseer’s assassination by Qadri. The TLP has ensured that Barelvisim will no longer be associated with “soft” Islam and Sufism, as it used to be earlier.
To understand how the blasphemy issue has radicalised Barelvisim, consider that the Sunni Tehreek (now a political party called Pakistan Sunni Tehreek), which started off with a slogan about protecting its mosques — Jawaniyan lutaaingai, masjidain bachayeingai — now uses the rallying cry “tauheen rasalat ki ek hi sazaa, tan sey sar juda” (beheading is the only punishment for anyone who insults the Prophet).
Based in Karachi, the group is now present across the world. It runs a television channel called the Madani channel, charitable organisations and trusts.
In 1992, the Mumbai-based India chapter of the Dawat-e-Islami broke away from its Pakistani moorings as it differed on the replication of the TJ model. The head of the Indian branch, Maulana Mohammed Shakir Ali Nuri , started a separate organisation which he named the Sunni Da´wat-e Islami in Mumbai.
The accused in the Udaipur case are said to have ideological affiliations with the Pakistani wing as both use the word Attari after their names, after DeI leader Muhammed Ilyas Attar Qadri. This is a practice followed by members of the Pakistani based organisation.
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