The general perception is that the global Jihad phenomenon in the modern world started with US geopolitical interests and opportunism backed with financing from the House of Saud to various Islamist militant groups.
This conventional wisdom has permeated because many of the books published in the last few decades on this subject focused on the biographies of Osama bin Laden and his ilk, or discussed the background of al-Qaeda and its founding in relation to Afghan jihad and terrorist attacks in the West.
The modern grand jihad did not start with Afghanistan, nor was it initiated by al-Qaeda. The Meccan rebellion in late 1979 was the first jihadist operation launched by a truly international Islamist group, Juhayman’s Ikhwan. The attempt to take over Mecca failed, and the Saudis executed the rebel leader, Juhayman al-Utyabi, and the self-anointed Mahdi, Muhammad bin Abdallah al Qahtani. Their story did not end there. In fact, it was just the beginning of an endless clash between religious zealots and the rest of the world. Very few understood that the global jihad extends far beyond Afghan war.
The Juhayman’s Ikhwan was based in Mecca, and its Salafist members were spread all over the world, from the Middle East to South Asia and the West, tirelessly spreading its ideology via a 438-page book of Juhayman’s epistles and attached commentary. The scripture became increasingly popular, creating a huge following which later, coincidentally, merged with al-Qaeda in the mid 1980s. Historians and avid journalists like Yaroslav Trofimov, Thomas Hegghammer and Stephane Lacroix, and Pascal Menoret sketched the origins, concepts, case failures and history of the organisation. What they could not figure out, in their scholarly books, was what would — or in this case did — eventually become of the organisation.
The Juhayman’s Ikhwan jihadi ideology remains intact even though the organisation mutated into two equally lethal groups: al-Qaeda and Markaz Dawat wal Irshad (MDI). The al-Qaeda threat, which has manifested in headline-grabbing attacks worldwide, continues to pose a challenge, but what happened to MDI and its very existence remained unexplored. The fate of this dangerous group is what Arif Jamal successfully explains, in chilling detail, in his exceptionally well-researched book, Call for Transnational Jihad: Lashkar-e-Taiba 1985-2014.
The book can be called a sequel to his first publication: Shadow War: The Untold Story of Jihad in Kashmir, that profiled and analysed the history of jihad in Kashmir and the role of the Pakistan army in shaping it. In the new book, he explains how the Kashmir conflict is just a fraction of what is happening behind the scenes. He digs deeper and even names the names of organisations and their inner connections with other terrorist groups.
Arif Jamal has written more than 350 investigative articles focusing on subjects as diverse as Islamist politics in Pakistan, jihad driven agendas, and funding sources of madrassas; the jaw-dropping accounts he describes in the new book are firmly based on various official publications of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), as well as his personal correspondence with the JuD leadership during his journalistic work in Pakistan. This gives his facts more credibility.
Arif Jamal is known for telling such unpublished and unexplored stories of jihad. The cover of the book has been taken from a recruitment pamphlet designed by the organisation. In the twelve chapters of the book, he covers missions, men and madness involved in the MDI’s transformation into a powerful Islamist militant syndicate. While the world considers al-Qaeda as its enemy and tries to leave no stone unturned to eliminate the threat, the MDI goes unnoticed.
It is interesting to note that while the al-Qaeda leadership mainly consists of Arab jihadists forming local cells, the MDI is led by more domestic, familiar faces reaching out to Arab and Western like-minded jihadists.
The book explores how the surviving members of the Juhayman’s Ikhwan founded the MDI in Lahore, Pakistan.The group was established in 1987 as an idara to unite Salafists and Ahl-e-Hadith worldwide, with Allama Badiuddin Shah Rashidi (aka Pir Jhanday Shah, or Allama Rashdi for short) as its first Ameer.
Palestinian preacher Isam al Barqawi (aka Abu Mohammad al Maqdisi) popularised Juhayman’s ideology in the mujahideen camps in Afghanistan. His book, The Clear Proofs that the Saudi State is infidel, was a popular read among the jihadists. At that time, Hafiz Saeed was just the public face and spokesman for Juhayman’s Ikhwan in Pakistan until 1994 when a report on the Jihad-e-Hind Conference in Mujallah ad-Dawa called him the chief of MDI for the first time. The MDI was renamed as the Jamaat-ud-Dawa in December 2001, and often erroneously referred to as the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT).
Like most Ahl-e-Hadith ulema, Hafiz Saeed, his colleague Zafar Iqbal, and their small group of followers had given little or no attention to the Afghan jihad until 1985. Both were teaching Islamic Studies at the University of Engineering and Technology in Lahore, and organised religious sermons for larger audiences. They formed Salafiyya Rising Engineers and organised Ahl-e-Hadith students. Both Hafiz Saeed and Zafar Iqbal had been indoctrinated in jihad during their stay in Saudi Arabia in the early 1980s. Zafar Iqbal came from a Barelvi family and converted to Salafism under the influence of Hafiz Abdullah Bahawalpuri. Hafiz Saeed, on the other hand, came from a very religious Ahl-e-Hadith family, and later married the daughter of Bahawalpuri, his maternal uncle.
The ideology of the family strengthened JuD and ultimately linked it with dozens of other world militant organisations in different countries like Afghanistan’s Jamaat ud Dawa ilal Quran awl Sunnah (JDQS) and Ittehad Islami, Great Britain’s Jamiat Ahyaul Minhajul Sunnah (aka Tehreek Minhajul Sunnah) and Jamiat Ahle Hadith, India’s SIMI and IM, Burma’s RSO, Philippines’ Moro Islamic Liberation Front of Philippines or MILF, Thailand’s Patani Islamic Liberation Front or PILF, Sudan’s Jamaat Ansar al-Sunnah al-Muhammadiyya, then Egypt, Nigeria and more than 90 other countries.
Resultantly, JuD’s role can be easily connected to jihadi stints in Chechnya, Tajikistan and Bosnia.
Besides other eye-opening facts, it was also revealing that the Bosnia jihad in 1992-1996, which was until now attributed to al-Qaeda, was conceived and led by Mahmoud Bahaziq, who was a member of the Juhayman’s Ikhwan and then top founder of the MDI/JuD.
Such was the reason that decades after the Mecca siege, Prince Khalid al Faisal, Governor of the province of Asir, acknowledged the existing jihadi threat, saying: “We have eliminated the individuals who committed the Juhayman crime, but we have overlooked the ideology that was behind the crime. We’ve let it spread in the country, ignoring it as if it did not exist.”
The book also examines the JuD’s overpowering status because the West has overlooked the group’s open activities, categorising it — wrongly — as a mainly South Asian problem. The book concludes that it could take only 24 hours if the JuD wanted to take over Lahore. Unlike other religious militant organisations, the JuD members are not some madrassa trained young students. Most of them are trained professionals and come from all walks of life, and have the ability to run a shadow government.
It also suggests that one of the reasons why the JuD has not rebelled against the Pakistani state is that its functionaries have penetrated the state apparatus, including the nuclear establishment. The world needs to consider JuD a serious formidable threat of the level of al-Qaeda. Ignoring the danger could result in even more 9/11s on a global scale.
Call for Transnational Jihad… is all you want to know about jihad that is brewing and spilling out of Pakistan. The book’s paperback is much awaited, since it is well worth a read and will reach as wide an audience with a lower price tag.