TWO RADICAL Muslim preachers from Tamil Nadu travelled to Sri Lanka to deliver sermons on towheed, a puritanical version of Islam, a few years ago, but had to leave after local Muslims complained that they were causing sectarian unrest, according to their former associates.
The role of Tamil Nadu towheed groups in spreading their version of a “pure Islam” among Sri Lankan Muslims has come under the scanner after the Easter Sunday bombings that killed more than 250 people.
P Jainulabdeen, who was until last year associated with the Tamil Nadu Towheeth Jamaath (TNTJ), was deported from Colombo after the All Ceylon Jamiyyat Ullama (ACJU) complained to police in 2006 that his sermons were creating divisions among Muslims in Sri Lanka.
Thereafter, “PJ”, as he is better known, tried to go back in 2008, and more recently, in 2015, but was denied a visa on both occasions, a former aide told The Indian Express from Chennai.
Another well-known towheed preacher, Kovai Ayub of Coimbatore, who belonged to the Jamiat ul Quran al Hadith (JUQH), a Tamil Nadu towheed group that predates TNTJ, gained notoriety in Sri Lanka in July 2009 after police launched a manhunt for him on a complaint from the Sri Lankan Ministry of Religious Affairs.
The Tamil Nadu Towheeth Jamaath has denied any links to towheed groups in Sri Lanka, and has stressed its role in speaking against social evils such as dowry.
But at least one of its former members, PJ, was identified early by the Sri Lankan Muslim community as a “troublemaker”. Ayub, the other preacher, was with the JUQH, a religious organisation founded on the 1980s to spread the towheed message.
Both preachers are fiery speakers and are well known in Muslim political and religious circles in Tamil Nadu, sources said.
PJ, too, began at the JUQH but left to join the Tamil Muslim Munnetra Kazhagam, a political party formed in the mid-1990s. He left that party in the early years of the last decade to found the TNTJ of which he was the leader until 2018, when he was removed following allegations of sexual harassment and misappropriation of funds.
The Sri Lankan Muslim community, a majority of whom follow a moderate version of Islam, took serious objection when the two started travelling to the island to preach against common practices like visiting dargahs.
PJ was first invited to Sri Lanka in 2006. His then aide, S M Backer, who travelled with PJ, said they were invited by “individuals” who were attracted to the towheed ideology. They went to at least seven locations across Sri Lanka, including Kattankudy, in the eastern province and Puttalam in the northwest.
In Colombo, they held three sessions. It was when they returned to the capital for the last one, that police, acting on a complaint by the ACJU, detained PJ overnight, and put him on the next flight back to Chennai, Backer said.
Backer, who is now the founder leader of another towheed group called the Indian Towheeth Jamaath, said PJ was invited again in 2008, by the then recently formed Sri Lanka Towheeth Jamaat.
This time he was denied a visa. Another invitation to him in 2015, to release a Sinhala version of the Quran at the Sugathadasa stadium, triggered protests by Muslims in Colombo — again, he was not given a visa. Backer’s account is corroborated by Sri Lankan media reports at the time.
In August 2009, less than three months after the military defeat of the LTTE, Kovai Ayub landed in Colombo and was all set to deliver the Friday sermon at a tawheed mosque in Kalmunai, a Muslim majority town in the Ampara district of eastern Sri Lanka. However, acting on a complaint from the Ministry of Religious Affairs and the Immigration Department, the police launched a manhunt for him.
According to a report in the Sunday Times, Ayub returned to India without being detected, but read out a message to the congregation at the mosque, which was relayed over loudspeakers. Ayub said he was unable to visit the mosque since the police were on the lookout for him.
Ayub was ejected a few years ago from the the JUQH. After their bitter parting from their respective organisations, both Ayub and PJ are keeping a low profile in Tamil Nadu, sources said. Though neither has been able to visit Sri Lanka in recent years, they have remained popular with towheed followers through their earlier sermons on YouTube. Both PJ and Ayub could not be reached for comment.