Long before Al Huda Institute shot into the limelight for its links with Tashfeen Malik, one of the shooters in the San Bernardino killings, the conservative school was blamed by some in Pakistan for radicalising thousands of women -- including wives of civil and military officials. Malik, 29, enrolled for an 18-month course on the Quran at an Al Huda centre in Punjab province in 2013. After she and her husband Syed Rizwan Farook shot and killed 14 people in California, Pakistani investigators named Al Huda for having played a role in Malik's radicalisation.
Karachi-based Al Huda is run by controversial cleric Farhat Hashmi, who founded the organisation with her husband Idrees Zubair in 1994. Both are PhDs from Scotland's famous centre of Islamic learning, the University of Glasgow. Hashmi insists she is pursuing a moderate version of Islam but her detractors say Al Huda has had a role in radicalising thousands of women because of its conservative views.
Hashmi hails from Sargodha in Punjab province, where her parents were members of the Islami Jamiat Tulaba, and she is steeped in the “dars" (studies) of the Jamaat-e-Islami. Like the Jamaat-e-Islami, Al Huda too has the support of Pakistan's military establishment and it is unlikely its followers will be questioned about their activities.
“It is unclear whether any investigation will be undertaken against Al Huda because the wives of a number of senior military officers are members of this group," said analyst Khaled Ahmad, who has written about the organisation. Al Huda has branches in many cities of the US and Canada, where thousands of adherents pursue their brand of Islam unhindered. It also has a branch in Bengaluru.
Hashmi migrated to Canada some 10 years ago to expand her network from there. Her followers are known for their hardline views and wear an all encompassing burqa of the type banned in parts of France. In the past, activists linked to al Qaeda were apprehended from the homes of people allied to the Jamaat-e-Islami, and observers now fear that educated Pakistani women radicalised by organisations such as Al Huda could drift towards groups like the Islamic State.