Pakistan’s Tanzeem-e-Islami and Its Troublesome Extremist Links

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 15 Issue: 21

Tanzeem-e-Islami members in Karachi (Source: Tune.Pk)

A number of Pakistan’s Islamist organizations that agitate for the establishment of an Islamic caliphate but profess to be non-violent are finding renewed prominence, a concerning result of the surfacing of Islamic State’s (IS) local chapter, Wilayat-e-Khurasan.

Islamist organizations such as Hizb ut Tahrir, Jamaat ul Momineena and Tanzeem-e-Islami have large followings in Pakistan, operating across the country and based mainly in the country’s major cities.

While the organizations and their ideologues often promote hate-speech, the organizations themselves claim to have no involvement in Islamist terrorist activities. Tanzeem-e-Islam, an organization that has long called for the establishment of an Islamic caliphate in Pakistan, states on its website: “We believe that an Islamic state can be established in Pakistan by means of a popular non-violent movement” and goes on to renounce violence, saying that “a coup d’etat can never produce a stable and positive change as it does not involve changing the beliefs and thoughts of the people.”

Tanzeem is not a proscribed organization in Pakistan, but a number of its members have reportedly been arrested in connection with IS’ Khurasan province and accused by the authorities of involvement in terrorist financing. Even after his death in 2010, radical speeches by Israr Ahmad, the founder of Tanzeem, still circulate online among jihadists, raising concerns that the group provides an entryway to Islamist extremism.

Ideology and Background

A qualified doctor who studied at King Edward Medical College in Lahore, Ahmad founded Tanzeem-e-Islami in 1975. He had been an active member of Islamist political party Jamaat-e-Islami, but parted ways with the group in 1957 over Jamaat’s decision to participate in the electoral process, something Ahmad considered un-Islamic. Indeed, the Tanzeem founder remained a critic of democracy and the electoral process until his death in 2010.

Through Tanzeem, Ahmad hoped to prepare Pakistani society for the eventual establishment of his longed-for caliphate and the imposition of sharia law. His most influential work, Islamic Renaissance: The Real Task Ahead, written in 1967, emphasizes the need to revitalize the Muslim faith, especially among educated Muslims, the importance of disseminating the Quranic message and the urgency of reinvigorating the faith of the Muslim masses (Muslim Observer, April 2010).

Another important aspect of Ahmad’s ideology was his belief in the notion that the spiritual nerve center of the Islamic intellectual movement had shifted from the Arab world to Pakistan, and that it was therefore imperative that the foundations for the caliphate be set down there (Dawn, April 15, 2010).

Ahmad’s teachings were frequently anti-Semitic, and he would often expound conspiracy theories about how Jews and Israel would attempt to destabilize Pakistani society. [2] As a respected speaker for many in Pakistan, by incorporating these things into his speeches he played an important role in the dissemination of anti-Semitic views through Pakistani society.

Since Ahmad did not believe in democracy and electoral politics, he fully supported the Islamist regime of military dictator General Zia ul Haq between 1977 and 1988. Ahmad was a compelling orator, and General Haq personally directed the state broadcaster to provide him with a prime time television slot, which he used to disseminate his radical views, including objecting to the broadcasting of cricket matches, which he considered un-Islamic and wayward.

Despite receiving the regime’s support, Ahmad did not hesitate to use his show to express his irritation at the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, objecting to its policies that permitted women to appear on national television as newscasters and actors. He even proposed barring women from all professions, with the exception of medicine and teaching (Dawn, February 14, 2013).

Militant Links

IS announced the establishment of its regional chapter, Wilayat-e-Khurasan, just two months after the fall of Mosul in July 2014. Three Pakistani jihadist groups — Jundullah, Tehreek-e-Khilafat Pakistan and the Pakistani Taliban’s Shahidullah faction — immediately pledged allegiance to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. A number of organizations in Afghanistan, such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and various Chechen Islamists also joined the group.

In Pakistan, several urban cells associated with IS surfaced in the cities of Karachi, Lahore and Sialkot. Scores of terrorist attacks were perpetrated by these cells, especially in Karachi, prompting a security crackdown. In September last year, the Pakistani military announced it had arrested more than 300 IS militants across the country, including Hafiz Omar, the IS leader for Pakistan (Xinhua, September 1, 2016). The authorities have provided no figures of how many of those were connected to Tanzeem, but the connection has been repeatedly made in the Pakistani media. It has become clear that at least some of the key perpetrators of various attacks were inspired by Ahmad’s ideology and teachings and some even remained associated with Tanzeem.

Officials with the Karachi Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) claim the IS cell involved in the May 2015 massacre of 43 members of the Ismaili-Shia community at Safoora Goth, in Karachi had connections with Tanzeem. One of those accused of being a financier of one of the IS cells, Adil Masood Butt — who studied at New York’s Fordham University and ran his own education business, the College of Accountancy and Management Sciences (CAMS), in Karachi — had been a member of Tanzeem but reportedly left the group to join al-Qaeda (Friday Times, December 25, 2015). Butt joined Tanzeem in 2000 through Khalid Yousaf Bari and Sheeba Ahmad. (Dawn, December 18, 2015) Two other alleged financiers of the same cell, Sheeba Ahmed and Khalid Yousaf Bari, were also associated with Tanzeem, according to reports (Pakistan Today, September 17, 2015)

The CTD revealed that the mastermind of Safoora Goth massacre, Saad Aziz, was a business student at the Institute of Business Administration, one of Pakistan’s most prestigious business schools. There he reportedly met Ali Rehman, a member of Tanzeem, who introduced him to the group and its ideology. Aziz later attended lectures organized by Tanzeem in Karachi that, as reportedly revealed by Aziz during interrogation, convinced him that “in Pakistan the root of all depraved activities is corruption and the only solution to this is violence” (The Nation, August 25, 2015).

Entryway to Extremism

According to CTD Karachi’s Transnational Terrorist Intelligence Group, former Tanzeem members are also among militants with Jamaat ul Ansar al-Sharia Pakistan, a new al-Qaeda-linked group that has perpetrated a series of terrorist attacks in Karachi and Baluchistan province (News International, September 7)

In September, the security forces arrested two men said to be leaders of the banned militant group Ansarul Shariah Pakistan. A former Karachi University teacher — identified as “Professor Mushtaq” — and his associate, Mufti Habibullah, were taken into custody after raids conducted by police in Quetta and Pishin districts of Baluchistan province. Both Habibullah and Mustaq are associated with Tanzeem, according to the CDT, with Habibullah running Tanzeem-affiliated madrasas in the Hyderabad district of Sindh province (News International, September 7).

Last year, Pakistani security agencies requested Tanzeem change its pro-caliphate slogan, fearing it had backing from a banned (but unnamed in reports) group (Nation, January 8, 2016).

Tanzeem maintains an official position of non-violence. Nonetheless, a number of former members have reportedly been involved in terrorist activities perpetrated by cells affiliated with IS’ Wilayat-e-Khurasan and other Islamist militant groups. Pakistan’s policy makers should take note. While most of Tanzeem’s membership may remain peaceful activists, the group’s ideology concerns preparing individuals for the establishment of a caliphate in Pakistan. Its pro-caliphate, ultra-orthodox teachings are congruent with the ideology of militant Islamist groups.



[1] Ahmad’s speech is available on YouTube (published September 8, 2013).