The arrest of three office bearers of the Islamic group Tamil Nadu Thowheed Jamath (TNTJ) has brought the focus back on southern India and radical organisations that are seen to “incite communal passions”. TNTJ has been under the scanner of Indian intelligence agencies for its “provocative activities” for several years now. The recent arrest of Covai Rahamathulla from Tirunelveli and S Jamal Mohammad Usmani from Thanjavur by the Tamil Nadu police for threatening the Prime Minister and judges over the recent Karnataka High Court verdict in the hijab case once again raises questions on the role played by these outfits.
Rise of TNTJ
Founded in 2004 in Tamil Nadu, the TNTJ came into national focus after the Sri Lanka suicide bombings in 2019. The organisation’s name was first confused with the National Towheed Jamaat (NTJ), a Sri Lankan jihadist group. Colombo had blamed the NTJ for the terror attack that killed 290 civilians.
While the TNTJ had clarified that it had no connection with the NTJ, intelligence agencies did find an Indian connection. Zahran Hashim, the man who allegedly was the mastermind behind the terror attack, was a devoted follower of P Jainulabdeen (also known as PJ), the founder of the TNTJ. Incidentally, Jainulabdeen was expelled from the party for alleged sexual misconduct and misappropriation of funds in 2018.
News18 spoke to Al Ameen, secretary of TNTJ, on the arrest of their three functionaries for threatening the Karnataka HC judges over the hijab verdict.
“We agree that they should have spoken in a controlled and cautious manner. But let me tell you, we have sought an internal investigation into the matter and we have been told that the three officials said they have been quoted out of context. They should have been understood in a bigger context, “ Ameen told News18 over the phone from Chennai.
“We are a peaceful organisation and this is the agenda of the Sangh Parivar to create an issue to make headlines. They are making a mountain of a molehill and they are committed to propagating issues against the TNTJ and create a wrong image of us.”
The outfit’s mother organisation, the Tamil Nadu Muslim Munnetra Kazhagam which was established in 1995 with the aim to provide a political platform for Muslims, considers the TNTJ a breakaway group.
“We wanted to be of service to the community, not be a political party. So we created the TNTJ as we did not believe in bringing politics into our agenda,” explained Ameen.
With branches all over southern India, the TNTJ was founded in Tamil Nadu in 2004 and has claimed to be an organisation built to preach Islam to both Muslims and non-Muslims.
The TNTJ office bearers claim to be apolitical and focus on socio-religious activities, education and democratic discourse. They generate funds from their 10-lakh strong membership and are often seen participating in social activities like helping those affected by Covid-19, floods, etc, officials told News18.
“We are not extremists. We believe in God and our social work speaks for us,” said a senior TNTJ member who did not want to be named when asked about the outfit’s officials threatening judges on the HC verdict.
In a verdict passed on March 15 by a full bench of the Karnataka High Court comprising Chief Justice Ritu Raj Awasthi and Justices Krishna S Dixit and JM Khazi, a ban on students attending classes in hijab was upheld. Three TNTJ leaders, two from Madurai and one from Thanjavur, were arrested for allegedly threatening the judges and the Prime Minister for the unfavourable verdict.
In a video shared by Indu Makkal Katchi, TMTJ leader Covai R Rahmatullah announced that the judges should not forget what happened to a district judge in Jharkhand who was mowed down by an autorickshaw last year while on his morning walk. He further claimed that “people knew where the Chief Justice goes to walk in the morning”. Karnataka chief minister Basavaraj Bommai soon after announced that the three judges will be given ‘Y’ level security.
TNTJ’s moves have been closely monitored by intelligence agencies and its members arrested for “anti-national activities”.
A joint secretary, N Faisal, was arrested for his hate speech against union home minister Amit Shah and the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in 2019. In 2015, the Chennai police filed an FIR against TNTJ members after an American national accused the group of assaulting him for attempting to convert Muslims to Christianity. Again in 2019, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) raided three locations of the group along with offices of the Popular Front of India (PFI) for their alleged links with terror groups.
“PFI and TNTJ are not connected. Thowheed Jamath was not raided by the NIA and there is no relevance in that. Saying anti-national activities is giving a larger meaning. We accept that the three people who have spoken in a way that is not accepted by our organisation and we condemn their action. We have taken many actions in the past. Nothing that our organisation does is provocative. We preach Islam to people in the purest way and we want them to follow Islam,” said Al Ameen, spokesperson of TNTJ.