The Australian today published a disturbing report on a management dispute at Sydney’s Sefton mosque, managed by an entity called the Bangladesh Islamic Centre.
The story is headlined “Terror Links in battle for mosque”. It claims that the Tabligh Jamaat (TJ) are trying to take over management of the mosque. Apparently the incumbent imam has been removed and has had an apprehended violence order taken out against him.
The authors of the story are senior reporter Natalie O’Brien and cadet journalist Sanna Trad. The story described the TJ as:
… a hardline religious movement that has been linked to the 2005 London bombings … under watch by Western intelligence agencies because of its suspected links to terrorism …
The Tablighi are influenced by a fundamentalist branch of Saudi Arabian-based Islam known as Wahabism. The sect has been linked to two July 7 London bombers, and failed shoe bomber Richard Reid is also known to have attended Tablighi meetings.
I almost fell off my chair when I read these descriptions. The TJ? Influenced by Wahhabism? How?
In fact the TJ are a Sufi Sunni missionary group founded in India in the 1920’s. The founder, Maulana Muhammad Illyas, was a mureed (disciple) of the famous Indian Sufi of the Chishtiyya order named Rasheed Ahmed Gangohi. The methodology of the TJ represents a combination of the practices of various Sufi orders, and the texts used by the TJ (authored by prominent Sufi Muhammad Zakariyya Kandhalwi) make heavy use of Sufi sources.
Saudi Wahhabist scholars and authorities have severely criticised the TJ, their methodology and their texts as being heterodox. As TJ expert Yoginder Sikand notes:
In fact, TJ missionary groups are actually prohibited from preaching in Saudi Arabia, presumably because the Saudi 'Wahhabis' do not believe that the TJ is really 'Islamic' enough. In fact, Saudi opposition to TJ ideology is so extreme that Tablighi books are not allowed to be imported into the
A fatwa issued some years ago by the late Shaikh Bin Baz, chief official Saudi mufti (available online on the 'Wahhabi' website http://www.fatwa-online.com), bearing the revealing title 'The Final Fatwa of Shaykh Abdul Azeez ibn Baaz Warning Against the Jamaah at-Tableegh', clearly denounces the Tablighis as a 'deviant' group. Bin Baz warns his 'Wahhabi followers, that '[I]t is not permissible to go with them, except for a person who has knowledge and goes with them to disapprove of what they are upon'. This is because, he argues, the Tablighis are characterized by 'deviations, mistakes and lack of knowledge'. They represent 'falsehood' and are do not follow the Sunni path.
In other words, as this fatwa indicates, Bin Baz clearly regarded the TJ propagating 'un-Islamic' beliefs and seems not to have even regarded them as fellow Sunnis, and hence not as proper Muslims, because for the 'Wahhabis' only Sunnis are Muslims. In an even more strongly worded fatwa hosted on the same site, Bin Baz went far as to denounce the Tablighis as being destined to
perdition in Hell, alleging that they were 'opposed' to the Sunni path, and, hence, for all purposes, not Muslims at all.
One need only read Hanifa Deen’s Caravanserais to see how the TJ operate in Australia. Yes, they are ultra-orthodox. Yes, they do hold very conservative views on personal and social morality.
It may well be true that the shoe bomber and some of the 7/7 bombers had attended TJ meetings. But then, so have many others including former Pakistani PM Nawaz Sharif, deceased former Indian President Dr Zakir Hussein, a few Pakistani cricketers, Indonesian rock band Sheila on 7 (whose songs openly support TJ) and yours truly.
In fact, the TJ hold meetings and gatherings at just about every mosque in Sydney (except the Wahhabi ones), with these gatherings being timed to coincide with regular prayer services. That means potentially any and every person who has been to a mosque in Australia will have attended a TJ gathering.
Far from politicising Muslims, the TJ has been attacked for discouraging its members from political involvement. Prominent TJ elders have been publicly critical of Sheik Tajeddine Hilaly on a variety of issues, including his speaking on political matters in Friday sermons. It’s little wonder, therefore, that Hilaly and his translator Keysar Trad haven’t exactly been best buddies with the TJ.
(Though both Hilaly and Trad have sat in on TJ meetings and gatherings at the Imam Ali Mosque in Lakemba. Will The Oz now link both these gentlemen to terrorism?)
Coincidentally, among those cited for the story is “Islamic Friendship Association president Keysar Trad”. Trad tells the two reporters:
It is a disgrace to seek out an AVO against an imam unless he's made a major breach of religious teachings or the law.
With all due respect, Mr Trad, it is also a disgrace to suggest that resources devoted to enforcing Part XVA of the Crimes Act be diverted away from protecting actual and potential victims of violence and be used to enforce religious orthodoxy and observance of imams.
So what’s the crux of the Sefton mosque dispute? TJ opponents claim TJ members are staging ...
... an ethnic and religious-based takeover, wanting the mosque exclusively for Bangladeshi Muslims, particularly those who follow Tablighi, to the exclusion of other ethnic groups including Arabic Muslims.So non-Bangladeshis could soon be banned from Sefton mosque. That includes Usama bin Ladin, Abubakar Bashir and Saudi wahhabi scholars. And we’re told this new mob is linked to transnational terrorists. Go figure.
UPDATE I: I sent the following letter today to the editor of The Australian ...
Your story on the Sefton Mosque management dispute alleges that one competing faction belongs to an organisation which is linked to terrorism and is influenced by Saudi-style Wahhabism. It also cites Keysar Trad on the dispute.UPDATE II: That Keysar Trad may have a special interest in the affairs of Sefton Mosque could arise because (at least in October 2002) he resided with his family in Yagoona, a stone's throw away from Sefton. This in itself doesn't reflect on Trad, nor should it. However, it means that The Oz had even more reason to declare that a name appearing on the by-line of the story was in fact related to Mr Trad.
Is there any reason why the story doesn't disclose that one of its authors is in fact Keysar Trad's daughter?
What makes your slip-up even more serious is that Mr Trad is well known in Muslim circles for his criticism of the faction in question, as is his close friend Sheik Hilaly.
(Indeed, as am I. Though I regard any suggestion they are influenced by Saudi-style Islam as completely ridiculous.)
One might infer from this that your newspaper is being used to score intra-Muslim sectarian points.
UPDATE III: Keysar confirms his personal interest in the Sefton mosque dispute and his knowledge of the mechanics of the story in this e-mail he sent to an individual and which was forwarded to a variety of e-mail groups ...
From: K Trad
Date: 7 Jan 2008 16:34
Subject: FW: No happy keysar
To: kaled el...
Dear Br. Kaled
1 – Sanna did her work on this two weeks ago as background and stopped. Natalie took over, the only reason that Sanna's name is on it is because of the early contact that the people from Sefton did.
2 – My involvement stems from contact by the Imam and others from the community, Sh. Abdul Karim is the imam there by the statements of several members of the committee and the trustees.
3 – It was one of the committee members who contacted Sanna Trad, this person kept calling her on a daily basis, I have learnt that one call was 11 pm at night.
4 – This is an issue that cannot be ignored. One of the committee members seems to have been trying to throw the imam out in the absence of the president who went on holiday to the US for an one month holiday.
5 – Sanna did not quote me, Natalie interviewed me in relation to this story.
6 – Sanna Trad did not raise the issue of Wahhabi or Tablighi. I checked with Natalie who was kind enough to explain, she has pointed out that the wahhabi influence is partly deduced from public articles that you can access at the following links:
7 – I maintain, if we have an issue with an Imam, let the community resolve it, I fear that this sets a nasty precedent, I am curious to see what the court hearing will produce in this matter. This issue is about more than an AVO, the Imam contacted me two weeks ago to tell me that this committee member brought the police to his home to evict him between 12:30 and 1 AM on Monday 17 December, the police came again after midnight two days later to see one of the neighbours at the behest of the same committee member, this committee member brought the police a third time on Friday morning when the Sefton mosque people were having their Eid and the police almost went inside to remove the Imam, it was one of the caretakers who explained to them that this committee member was not empowered to remove the Imam in such a manner. The police have been dragged into this issue over the past couple of weeks by the committee member who has been trying to oust the Imam. The neutral members of the committee seem to be waiting for the president to return before taking any form of action. The Imam was thrown out of his house without a court order or an eviction notice.
8 – It has been suggested by a "Muslim" blogger that Sh. Taj and I are known as critics of the Tablighis, this blogger, whom I might add has a history of attacking both Sh. Taj and myself has not produced any evidence for his claim. I would challenge him to find one quote anywhere of Sh. Taj criticising Tablighis. I personally did not comment on the Tablighis in this story nor did I criticise them, nor was there any intention of criticising them in my comment about the atrocious treatment of the Imam.
Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf