Buraidah, Asharq Al-Awsat- On a straw mattress in a shack with a roof made of palm fronds in a village close to the city of Buraidah, capital of Al-Qasim Province in north central Saudi Arabia, sat three members of Al-Dawa Wa Al-Ahbab (the Advocacy and Love Ones group), a branch of Al-Dawa Wa Al-Tabligh(the Advocacy and Communication Organization). One of them began talking about the group, its method of advocacy, and the accusations leveled at it by rival advocacy groups, including the claim that it is a heretical Sufi movement.
In 1977 Sheikh Rashid al-Judu, 50, a prominent advocacy figure, enlisted in this group when he was only 18 and a student at King Fahd Petroleum and Minerals University. Al-Judu, who happened to be in Buraidah, which like other areas in Saudi Arabia has a large number of this group’s members and sympathizers, agreed to be interviewed by Asharq Al-Awsat. He said that their work is confined to religious advocacy and uses simple methods. He pointed out that their efforts are focused on nurturing an environment of faith and transporting people from a condition of indifference to a climate of faith, as he put it.
To achieve their objective, Al-Dawa Wa Al-Ahbab members use the method of companionship in their work. They go out in small groups on what they call “faith trips,” which can last, according to the participants’ condition of faith, up to 40 days. Al-Judu notes that these faith trips usually occur in homes when they visit relatives, neighbors, and colleagues, “They either come to us or we go to them.”
According to Al-Judu, the Al-Tabligh movement was started in India by Muhammad Ilyas, who is considered the founder and reviver. He died 60 years ago. The first groups to oppose him were Sufis and followers of heresies. This is an implicit refutation of the accusations of heresy that other advocacy groups level at Al-Tabligh movement.
Numerous advocacy circles in Saudi Arabia, and even the official religious establishment, accuse this group of innovation and say that its methods are heretical. Despite this, its members and sympathizers are increasing.
Rashid Al-Judu, who has spent 32 years with Al-Dawa Wa Al-Ahbab group, says that its members are subjected to attempts to undermine their advocacy efforts. He points out: “Those who try to undermine us are people who do not know us well. We are astonished to hear some persons claiming behind our backs that we follow superstitions and heresies and that we worship tombs, and observe Sufi customs. It is easy to demolish something but difficult to build.”
He admitted that something like a state of war exits between the members of his group and other advocates of the faith. He said: “Those who profiteer from religion are waging war on those who carry out advocacy for the sake of God.”
Although Al-Dawa Wa Al-Ahbab group emerged in Saudi Arabia a long time ago, it prefers to operate in the shadows. Its members are not easily recognizable unless they openly state so themselves.
According to sources close to the group, most of its leading members are merchants and other well-to-do persons. Sheikh Rashid al-Judu is a businessman and has a bachelor’s degree from King Fahd Petroleum and Minerals University. Nevertheless the group seeks to attract new members from all social classes, not merely the rich. Al-Dawa Wa Al-Ahbab’s financial clout stems from the fact that many of its members lived for long periods in Western countries.
Sheikh Al-Judu said that their most recent trip was to France, where they stayed for four months. They also recently visited the United States, Britain, and Singapore. He added that their trips abroad are usually inexpensive because they stay at the mosques of the country they are visiting or at the homes of group members who reside there.
Sheikh Al-Judu gave more details about their foreign trips, no one no saying that they are usually received by old group members, who show them around the country they are visiting and arrange for them to meet new people.
During the interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Sheikh Al-Judu was accompanied by two group members, one of whom formerly worked with the band of the late repentant singer Fahd Bin-Said.
Sheikh Al-Judu said that the Saudi members of Al-Dawa Wa Al-Ahbab group are very warmly welcomed by Muslim communities abroad, who consider them “the children of the Prophet’s Companions.” They take into account the holiness of the land they have come from, which is home to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina.
A significant point is that Al-Tabligh organization places “non-Muslims” at the bottom of its list of priorities. Sheikh Rashid declared: “We do not talk to the Christians, Hindus, or Buddhists. We are only interested in sinful Muslims.”
Members of Al-Dawa Wa Al-Ahbab group do not hesitate to enter bars and pubs in Western and Arab countries alike to preach God’s word. Al-Judu says: “What is wrong in entering such places if our prey is there. We seek people everywhere.”
Sheikh Al-Judu denied that Al-Dawa Wa Al-Ahbab group is an organization, saying that it does not have particular symbols but that its members can influence people by their experience, not by being representative of any symbols.
According to him, the group does not have links with any official party but represents international activism that is carried out for eternal, not worldly rewards.
Al-Judu said: “The secret of the members’ success is that they deal with the Islamic religion as a father deals with his son. They expend money, time, and effort on it. They are not like other people who deal with religion as a son deals with his father, which is a weak form of love compared with the first.”
Al-Dawa Wa Al-Ahbab group does not regard itself as an organization with particular objectives. Al-Judu says: “Our work consists purely of religious advocacy. It has no political or jihadist dimensions. We do not compete with others to win high positions. We simply try to reform people whatever their positions are. This makes politics more secure.”
He points out, however, that “we are not opposed to jihad but it falls within the rulers’ jurisdiction.”
In Al-Judu’s view, however, jihad comes in 13 types and it is wrong to confine the concept of jihad to “merely bearing arms.” He explained that Islam spread in Indonesia, Malaysia, east Asia, and east Africa without war. He said that the only region where the generation of the Prophet’s Companions fought was North Africa and the fighting was not as brutal as it is now.
Al-Dawa Wa Al-Ahbab group faults the widespread accusations of disbelief and heresy in Muslim circles and the frequent bombings. It states that its advocacy dates back to the era of the prophet but that it is subject to a process of “ebb and flow.”
Sheikh Al-Judu asserted that Al-Tabligh movement has a broad international presence and you can barely find a country anywhere where it does not have a center. Commenting on the group’s different names, he noted that there are three such appellations, namely, Al-Tabligh, the People of Advocacy, and Al-Ahbab. He explained that the group’s general aim is to change the environment “because it is hard to change the individual who is accustomed to faulty religious practices and it is easier to change the environment. After that the individual will automatically change.”
He added: “It is hard to tell the follower of a heresy to abandon his heresy because he lives with it and is used to it. When you change his environment, however, he will abandon the heresy and follow the prophet’s Sunnah.
Although the group members do not object to appearing in the media, they still have many reservations about this.
Rashid al-Judu said that the reason for this is their wish not to reveal the advocacy methods they use so that their opponents will not use them against them.
The group’s international character, however, belies what Al-Judu says. He states: “Yes, our advocacy is global. However, only he who lives with us can understand us. Our effort is not intellectual or cultural. We want to change the person. We want to bind the Muslim and cut him off. We want to bind him to the atmosphere of faith and cut him off from the atmosphere of indifference in which he used to live until he is straightened out. The way we bind him is through international Islamic faith.”
He adds: “The essence of Islam is for people to get acquainted and cooperate in piety and charity. Cooperation can only take place after the growth of companionship. Companionship only comes after getting acquainted. Getting acquainted occurs only after coexistence.” This last remark refers to the principle of companionship that the group uses as a method of advocacy.
The group says that the principle of companionship proceeds from an important stage of advocacy, which is recommendation. Their religious advocacy comes in three stages, reminder, recommendation, and education. Al-Judu explains that reminder and education, the first and the last stages exist in the nation. What is lacking is recommendation, which requires companionship. When you mix with the nation’s Ulema and preachers, you benefit.
He said: “The first thing we do is to remind the candidate of his religious duty. If he shows a desire to be guided, the principle of companionship is used to reinforce his behavior. Without companionship, nothing can be achieved.”
The Al-Tabligh group downplays reliance on reminder and education without focusing on companionship, which rests on recommendation.
Sheikh Al-Judu explains this issue in detail: “What we have in this country is reminder without recommendation. As a result, the words of reminder vanish into the thin air. A worshiper listens to a sermon or lecture but then returns to the inattentive atmosphere from which he came. In another context, we have education that is not preceded by recommendation. This does not encourage the person to implement what he hears. Faith is the driving force and education is a disciplinary force only. Our advocacy rests on the principle of recommendation. First of all, we remind the people of the necessity of faith. Those who listen and wish to be guided are then provided with companionship. This is the strongest educational principle advocated by the prophet, may God’s prayers and peace be upon him.”
Sheikh Al-Judu also believes that a sermon or a lecture alone cannot produce the desired objective. He explains: “What we need is recommendation. A preacher delivers his sermon and goes home. He does not give the persons who were influenced by it the opportunity to accompany him. As a result, his sermon is soon forgotten. If people are not subjected to recommendation, they will not be able to implement what they learned.”
According to Al-Judu, joining Al-Tabligh group does not require a member to abandon his family or devote his entire time to his membership. The trips of faith alone are sufficient to alter the individual’s behavior in due time.
Al-Judu said: “These efforts increase a person’s strength and success in his home, family life, professional life, and in his society. This advocacy implants in a Muslim’s heart the desire to guide others. His wish to guide them encourages him to forgive those who did him wrong. It encourages him to be giving to those who deprived him, to be charitable to those who cut him off, and to be kind to those who hurt him. No person has a higher morality than an advocate of the faith.”
Al-Judu added: “Someone who wishes to join the group leaves his family to heal his heart. He returns to them with a sound heart.
Al-Tabligh group is known to work on the question of promoting virtue and prohibiting vice by focusing only on the first issue. Al-Judu explains: “The promotion of virtue is automatically a prohibition of vice. Our objective is to turn a person from a doer of mischief into a reformed individual who is also a reformer. We promote virtue and prohibit vice in a practical manner.”
The Saudi advocate of the faith criticized the type of religiosity that used to be the norm in the past “which was superficial, devoid of depth and understanding, and naive.” He believes that current demonstrations of faith are enlightened, profound, and based on understanding. He believes that the current state of religious advocacy “encourages optimism because goodness is increasing in quantity and quality while evil is increasing in quantity and quality among the evildoers.”
He remarked that this proves the truth of the prophet’s prediction that “at the end of times the people will be divided into two groups, a group of faith in which there is no hypocrisy and a group of hypocrisy in which there is no faith.”
He added that evil is increasing in Satan’ camp while good is increasing in the camp of the Merciful One. He said: “We urge the Muslims to withdraw completely from Satan’ camp and enter into the camp of the Merciful One.
The efforts of Al-Tabligh group in Saudi Arabia are not confined to local activity. Al-Judu points out: “We ensure that any person who travels abroad through our international network will not go astray. We give him the addresses of our advocates everywhere in the world. We do this to ensure that the Devil cannot ensnare a Muslim anywhere in the world. We have insurance against deviancy.”
Al-Judu asserted that Al-Tabligh group’s international network sends out its advocates worldwide so as to make it more difficult to undermine Al-Ahbab’s efforts, as he put it. He pointed out that they do not choose their emissaries from a particular class of persons but use university graduates and ex-convicts alike.