Political analysts think Dr Tahirul Qadri’s long march followed by a sit-in in Islamabad last year was quite humiliating for both him and his workers. He urged people, including women and children, to come out in the cold of January for nothing.
And, in the end, he retreated to Canada.
But, given how the situation evolved outside the Pakistan Awami Tehreek’s headquarter in Lahore about two weeks ago, his latest call for ‘revolution’ has been taken well by his supporters. A few days before his arrival from Canada, his 10 followers were killed in a clash with the police.
Despite tensions, thousands of them reached the Islamabad airport to welcome him on June 23.
Senior political analyst, Zahid Hussain says Qadri is a cult figure and enjoys sect-based support. “He is a powerful speaker and has state and political patronage since 1980s. He has been close to Mian Sharif since 1989. In mid-1980s, he used to deliver a regular lecture on PTV on religious issues. That widened his reach and support base,” he says.
His supporters think he is the most trusted personality. “He will never deceive us,” says Sarwar Siddiq, a Lahore-based follower of Dr Tahirul Qadri.
He has been supporting Qadri’s movement for the two decades. “He is not an ordinary person, he is a reformer”, adding that Qadri has been working on his followers for the last three decades — “We are convinced he will never guide us to the wrong path.”
Tahirul Qadri has been propagating his philosophy since early 1980s. He is perhaps the first religious scholar in Pakistan who uses media effectively to disseminate his message. He is the first scholar in the country of the Barelvi school of thought who has documented each and every lecture delivered by him. His lectures on more than 5,500 topics are available on CDs and in printed form, and always directed his followers to take notes of what he says.
“He is the first Barelvi scholar who encourages research and documentation,” says Pir Mudassar Shah, Islamabad-based representative of World Sufi Council in Pakistan and an authority on Barelvi movements in the subcontinent. “He has written books and delivered lectures on topics varying from history to modernity of Islam. His messages appeal to Pakistanis living in the West as he touches on issues that affect them. This has helped him establish a network in Pakistan.”
Shah says Qadri’s followers are present in Azad Kashmir and districts along the GT road from where a good number of people have settled in the West. “He is very clever. His is the first Barelvi movement in Pakistan that includes women in its ranks. His organisation publishes a monthly magazine exclusively for women. He set up a separate women wing in his organisation in 1988, and does a lot to build the capacity and training of his followers. He has also set up a shadow cabinet to enhance his followers’understanding of the working of government and state,” he says, adding that Minhaj-ul-Quran International may not be the richest Barelvi organisation in Pakistan but it definitely has been investing money in the most appropriate manner.
His followers are convinced that one day he will lead a revolution in the country. His message is clear, “that we should save our energies for the right time, for the revolution,” says Sarwar Siddiq.
He sees no harm in having close ties with the establishment. “In Pakistan, nothing is done without the army’s help, so why must Qadri turn army against him?” he asks.
According to Siddiq, the monthly membership fee is the only source of income for the organisation. “A separate account is kept for the political activities of the PAT, even though a majority of members of the MQI and PAT are same.”
Minhaj-ul-Quran International, a religious organisation with an aim to bring about a comprehensive and multidimensional change in the society and to exalt the Muslim ummah to an admirable and respectful status, was established in October 1980. It works to achieve four major objectives — Da’wa and propagation of true Islamic teachings, reformation of the moral and spiritual affairs of ummah, revival of Islamic sciences and promotion and renaissance of Islam. The organisation further elaborates the path to achieve these goals.
According to information available on their official website, the organisation has networks in more than 90 countries and has over 700,000 members. It focuses on villages and backward areas rather than big cities. It runs 600 schools, 20 colleges and one university, imparting education to more than 150,000 students. They read government-approved syllabus along with MQI books on personality and philosophy of Qadri. Also, it runs more than 110 hospital and dispensaries and an ambulance service in 30 cities of Pakistan.
The organisation also arranges training workshops for workers. The women’s wing of the MQI is at the forefront when it comes to training and propagating the message of Qadri. Women’s wings are present in 400 cities and 7000 Union Councils (UCs).
Lahore-based political analyst Suhail Warraich says that the MQI (and PAT) is organised on the Jamaat-e-Islami model but has become a bigger phenomenon. “There is no other political or religious organisation which exercises so much influence over the ex-pats.”
MQI mosques in western countries are like community centres that are used for marriage ceremonies and other events. “In most of these mosques, highly-educated and trained people are appointed,” he says, adding that Qadri is a good administrator. “He has followers and properties in around 90 countries but he controls all funding and membership.”
Warraich thinks the MQI/PAT slogans are catchy. “I do not think he has institutional support from the army but the middle class and his followers in the army like his slogans.”
He further says that Qadri’s following owes itself to ideology and economic dependency. “His organisation has thousands of job openings in the shape of school teachers, medical staff and officials working at his head office. His organisation also introduces students and followers from Pakistan to families of expats living in Europe, America and Canada who want to marry their daughters off to boys of ‘good character’ from Pakistan.”