The ultra-conservative brand of ‘Wahabi’ Islam has lately managed to find more takers among the country’s Muslim community, thanks to the efforts of the Wahabi preachers who constitute a major chunk of the over 20,000 foreign Islamic preachers that descend on Indian shores every year to preach at huge congregations in the hinterland.
In fact, a quarter of the preachers hailing from at least 25 countries are from neighbouring Pakistan and they move about in Tablighi Jamaats, according to intelligence and police sources. The Indian visa regime does not allow entry to Pakistani nationals if they do not have local sponsors and also bars entry to preachers of faith. Hence, all the scholars travel on a tourist visa.
The invites to the Pakistani Islamic scholars are extended by various well- known Islamic organisations likeTableeghi Jamaat Nizamuddin Markaz, Islamic Research Foundation, Ahl-e-Hadis and Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind among others.
Meanwhile, the Wahabis, who trace their origin to Saudi Arabia and preach a purer form of Islam, are not new to the country and they had even participated in the ‘Gadar’ of 1857. But their numbers have seen a significant rise in recent years. It is believed that almost 20 per cent of the nearly 20 crore Muslims in India today follow the Wahabi edict. Significantly, the number of Wahabis in the country was less than 10 per cent a decade ago. Incidentally, the Deoband University and the Nizamuddin Markaz subscribe to Wahabi school.
The Tablighi Jamaat has also been actively increasing its influence in Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Kerala, UP and Gujarat. Though Bhopal has a tradition of holding Aalmi Tablighi Ijtema (world conference) which attracts at least 10 lakh faithful every year, Tabligh now wants to hold similar Ijtemas in Raipur (Chhattisgarh) and Hyderabad. Tabhlighis now also control the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) and most Wakf boards, which had suffered a backlash even from moderate Muslims.
Syed Mohammad Ashraf of the All-India Ulema and Mashaikh Board (AIUMB) believes that “petro dollars are weaning away the Indian Muslims” and the government seems to be doing little about the 80 per cent Muslims who believe in a more Sufi influenced Indian form of Islam. And Arshad Alam a former professor at the Jamia Millia Islamia University believes that it is leading to the “obliteration of ethnic identity of Muslims”.
The influx of scholars has also led to invites to moderate Pakistani preachers like Tahirul Qadri -- a Canadian citizen of Pakistani origin. Known for his strong stand against Islamist terrorism, Qadri’s address to congregations in Baroda, Hyderabad and Raipur last year had been opposed by the Tablighis.