Who are the Takfiri Islamist extremists in Pakistan

The Deobandis are an offshoot of the mainstream Sunni, Hanafi Islam in South Asia. While many of them are moderate and peace loving, a section of this community is influenced by a mutant and Wahhabized strain. Some of these people have aligned themselves with puritanical, literalist and takfiri Salafi and Wahhabi movements that seek to marginalize and apostasize the majority of Sufi, Shia and Barelvi Sunni school of thought.

The Deobandi sub-sect is found primarily in India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh and has since 1950s spread to the United Kingdom, United States and has also a presence in South Africa. The name derives from Deoband, India, where their main religious school (madrassa) Darul Uloom Deoband is situated.

The Deobandi sub-sect started to revive a puritanical Islamist identity and violent Jihad against British and other Western influences in South Asia . By virtue of an intolerant and violent approach not only against Christians and Jews but also against fellow Muslims (Sufis, Barelvi Sunnis, Shias), some groups within Deobandi sect became largely co-opted by the Saudi-inspired Wahhabi Salafi movement.

In the UK, according to The Times, about 600 of Britain’s nearly 1,500 mosques are run by Deobandi affiliated clerics, and 17 of the country’s 26 Islamic seminaries follow Deobandi teachings, producing 80% of all domestically trained Muslim clerics. In addition, up to 100 mosques are run by Salafi Wahhabi affiliated clerics. Many Deobandi and Salafi Wahhabi mosques in the UK as well in the US and other countries receive regular funding from Saudi Arabia, UAE or Qatar. Muslims praying in these mosques and children being educated in their seminaries are often exposed to puritanical and sectarian interpretation of Islam, leading to increasing hatred of Jews, Christians, Hindus, Sunni Sufis, Shias etc.

While not all Deobandis are violent, those who actively participate in violent Jihad against the West or fellow Sunni Barelvi Sufi or Shia Muslims are described as Takfiri Deobandis.

A Takfiri Deobandi is one who declares followers of all other faiths as infidel, polytheist or Kafir. Such stringent and dogmatic is this Takfiri (apostatizing) ideology that it does not spare event the moderate Deobandis themselves. It is associated with the groups that the state of Pakistan has long declared terrorist organizations; i.e, Sipah-e Sahaba Pakistan (now known as Ahl-e Sunnat Wal Jamahat ASWJ, also operating as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Jundullah) and Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Almost all of these banned organizations are Deobandi, and practice Takfiriat, i.e., treat Sufi and Shia Muslims, Sunni Barelvis and other Islamic sects as non-Muslims. Moreover, they promote the concept of violent Jihad against secular governments in the West and even in Muslim majority countries.

An interesting fact which the media has overlooked is that in all major acts of terrorism, be it bombing of Marriott Hotel Islamabad or attack on GHQ Rawalpindi, attack on Sunni Barelvi /Sufi and even moderate Deobandi clerics or mosques around Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, attacks on Ahmadis or Christians, it was all Takfri Deobandi groups that were involved in it.

What media does is to use ambiguous terms like ‘Sunni extremists’ to describe these Takfiri Deobandis; when, in fact, these Takfiris have killed even relatively moderate Deobandi clerics (e.g., Maulana Hasan Jan, Mufti Nizamuddin Shamezai, Dr. Farooq), Sunni Sufis/Barelvis (e.g., Maulana Sarfraz Naeemi, Maulana Abbas Qadri, Maulana Saleem Qadri etc), let alone Shias, Sufis or Christians. This ambiguous ‘Sunni Extremist’ term is further coloured by ‘sectarian violence’ so as to present it as war between Sunni and Shia which it actually is not. It is rather a radical Takfiri violence against the rest. Famous Sunni scholar Hamza Yousaf too has spoken against Takfiri militants. 

According to academic research by Professor Dr Murtaza Haider, “As of late, the followers of majority Sunni sects, such as Sufis, Barelvis, have increasingly become targets of militants who are followers of radicalised Sunni sects. The attack on Data Darbar, the mausoleum of Lahore’s patron saint, in July 2010 left almost 50 moderate Sunni Muslims dead. In an earlier post, I reported police statistics which showed that almost 90 per cent of arrested terrorists in Pakistan were followers of the Deobandi sect.” (Pakistan imploding under sectarian violence
http://dawn.com/2012/04/18/pakistan-imploding-under-sectarian-violence/ please read it to understand how Takiri thought has led to persecution of moderate Muslims, and other minorities).

Also refer to this article on Dawn.com providing statistical details of violence by Takfiri Deobandi terrorists of Sipah-e-Sahabas and Taliban. http://dawn.com/2011/10/05/an-incurable-disease/

The network of Takfiri Islamist violence in Pakistan has its roots in the Deobandi sect. Syed Ejaz Hussain, who is a deputy inspector general of police, for his doctoral thesis in criminology at the University of Pennsylvania analysed the demographic and religious characteristics of the 2,344 terrorists arrested between 1990 and 2009 in Pakistan*. These terrorists were the ones whose cases were forwarded to the courts after the police were satisfied of their guilt based on their preliminary investigation. The sectarian breakdown of the arrested terrorists revealed that more than 90 per cent were of the Deobandi sect. An ethnic breakdown revealed that 35 per cent arrested terrorists were Pashtuns who in fact make up only 15 per cent of Pakistan’s population. While there is indeed a tiny percentage of Shia and Sunni Sufi Barelvi militants (e.g., the now defunct Sipah-e-Muhammad, Sunni Tehreek), none of Shia and Sufi/Barelvi militants have indiscriminately attacked ordinary Shia or Sunni population, markets, army, police, mosques etc. Instead, Shia and Sufi/Barelvi’s reprisal attacks have been limited to revenge attacks against known militants and terrorists of Sipah-e-Sahaba and Taliban. 

At a time when Takfiri violence against non-Muslims as well as against Sunni, Shia and Sufi has taken a violent turn, with numerous bomb and suicide attacks on Milad and Muharram processions, it is ever more important to highlight the Takfiri roots of violence.