Leaders of the Tablighi Jamaat movement in India have responded with anger to Saudi Arabia's decision to ban the movement and describe it as "aberrant and perverse" and a "gateway to terrorism".
According to the Times of India, the group's Shura (Consultative) Council said that the Saudi decision has to be viewed in the context of "an influential Western conspiracy to defame a group that has a global impression on mysticism". The 'conspiracy', the council added, is trying to split Riyadh from the Islamic world.
A spokesman for the movement defended its members as "fundamentalists who seek to reform Muslims and stand as a fortress against global terrorism." Moreover, said Samar Al-Din Kassemi, "We are not associated with terrorism. Indeed, we resist, condemn and renounce terrorism. We do not allow our members to speak against any religion, society or country. We focus on the five pillars of Islam." The Saudi government, he insisted, has been misled. "None of our men have ever been found in any terrorist activity."
Muslim activist Zafar Sarshwal called on Saudi Arabia to reverse its decision as it may transmit an inaccurate message to Muslims around the world. "I am surprised by the Saudi decision," he explained. "The Tablighi Jamaat is an antidote to extremist thought because it rejects jihadist ideology. Even the Taliban spoke out against the group, so describing it as a 'gateway to terrorism' is unbelievable and unacceptable."
Maulana Fakhr Al-Hassan Khan, a senior Tablighi leader, said that the group will respond unequivocally after speaking to its members in Saudi Arabia.
The Saudi Minister of Islamic Affairs, Abdullatif Bin Abdulaziz Al-Sheikh, called on mosque preachers to "warn against the Tablighi Jamaat and explain its deviation, aberration and danger."
The Tablighi Jamaat was founded in northern India in 1927 to spread Islam. It focuses on personal revival of the faith and is strictly apolitical.