The Origins and Development of the Tablighi-Jama�at (1920-2000)
A cross-country comparative study
By Yoginder Sikand
Year of Publication: 2002
Publisher: Orient Longman, 3-3-272 Himayatnagar, Hyderabad 500 029 (A.P), India
Tablighi Jamaat is by far the largest Islamic movement in the world. Its roving missionaries have carried the Dawah work to the farthest corners of the world. By keeping itself aloof from politics, the movement has been able to carry on its missionary work without attracting the prying eyes of the authorities. Since Sept.112001, however Tableeghi Jamaat has come under increasing pressure from anti-Islamic writers and other ill-informed individuals who wrongly associate it with terrorism. Most of them have never carried out any fieldwork on the movement and their information is limited. Due to the scant and dispersed nature of the literature on the movement available, the media and the masses unwittingly digest baseless allegations by these �experts�. Yoginder Sikand, a post-doctoral research fellow at the International Institute for the Study of Islam in Modern World at Leiden, Netherlands, is different from the pack. Not only is he sufficiently aware of the dynamics of various Islamic movements but has also traveled widely in India, Bangladesh and Britain meeting and interviewing Tablighi Jamaat activists. His The Origins and Development of the Tablighi Jamaat (1929-2000) is based on the extensive research that he undertook while working on his PhD at the University of London.
Tablighi Jamaat owes its origins to the socio-economic and historical context of early twentieth century when there was large-scale communal mobilization by Hindus and Muslims. Hindu organizations like Arya Samaj had embarked on a massive campaign to bring marginalized Muslim communities to the fold of Hinduism through the process of �shuddhi� or purification. These attempts at �irtidad� or apostasy were challenged by the activities of such luminaries as Khwaja Hasan Nizami, Maulana Abdul Bari of Firangi Mahal, Syed Ghulam Bhik Nairang et al.
Especially targeted by the �Shuddhi� campaigners were those borderline Muslims communities who had retained many practices of their Hindu ancestors. The Meo�s in the Mewat region, near Delhi, were one such vulnerable community. They had converted to Islam long time ago but were anything but Islamic in practice. Their birth, marriage and death ceremonies were heavily influenced by Hindu culture. Maulana Ilyas, a Deobandi scholar, was concerned about their plight and the machinations of the Shuddhi campaigners.
Born in 1885 at Kandhla in the United Provinces, Maulana Ilyas was educated at the seminaries at Gangoh, Deoband and Saharanpur. He had the privilege of studying under Maulana Rasheed Ahmed Gangohi, Maulana Khalil Ahmed and Sheikh ul Hind Maulana Mahmud ul Hasan. When Maulana Ilyas�s elder brother died, he was approached by a group of Meos who asked him to take the position of his brother at the Basti Nizamuddin Madrassa. At first he declined but later relented on the condition that the Meos will send their children to the Makatib (Islamic elementary schools) that he will set up through out the region. The futility of the Makatib experiment dawned on Maulana Ilyas when he was presented with a Meo man who had just completed Hifz from one of his Maktab. In his appearance, the Hafiz was indistinguishable from other Meos and Hindu peasants. �He had a thick long moustache but had no beard. He wore a dhoti and his mannerism too were just like Hindus,� (p.57). Maulana Ilyas was so distraught that he reportedly passed out and almost had a heart attack. He cried out �O Allah! What should I do? My life and my money have been wasted completely producing a Hafiz of Qur�an like this one!� Soon thereafter he traveled to Makkah and often thought about settling there. While there, according to Tablighi accounts he had a vision in which he saw Prophet Muhammad (SAW) command him: �Oh Ilyas! Go back to India where Allah shall take work from you.�
On his return to Delhi in 1926, Maulana Ilyas was again received a divine inspiration regarding his tariqa-e-tabligh (the method of preaching). This methodology consisted of organizing Jamaat or units of three or more men who would travel to different locales presenting the following six points:
1.Recite and know the meaning of Kalima-e-Shahadah
3.Learn the basic teachings of Islam and to do zikr (Ilm o Zikr)
4.Pay respect and be polite to fellow Muslims (Ikram ul Muslimeen)
5.Purification of ones� intention (tashih-e-niyyah)
6.Spending of time in Tabligh (tafrigh-e-waqt)
With these six guiding principles the Tabligh missionaries traveled throughout the world not only transforming Meos as well as others into observant Muslims. The Tablighi Jamaat�s tremendous tremendous success invited the wrath of its detractors who sometimes reacted violently and engaged in a defamation campaign. Tableeghi Jamaat and its founder were even called �agents of British� notwithstanding the fact that Maulana Ilyas had taken the oath of Jihad against the British. Over the years Tablighi Jama�at had had a number of critiques of including Barelwis (Arshad ul Qadri), Ahle Hadith (Abdul Rahman Umri), and Jamaat-e-Islami (Tabish Mahdi).
TJ�s critiques have often accuse it of keeping Muslims away from politics and thereby advancing the �political designs of of the forces of falsehood, variously described as Hindu chauvinists, Jews, the CIA and other anti-Islamic groups that are said to be vehemently opposed to the iqamat-e-din agenda of Islamist political groups.� (p.265).
Sikand however argues that Tablighi Jamaat�s focus on individual reform and its distance from matters related to the state can be read as reflecting an underlying, unwritten understanding of a fine division of labor-the TJ focusing on spiritual realm of the individual, with other groups spreading Islamisation efforts in this-worldly realm, including the political sphere.� (p.266)
Sikand�s book is the first comprehensive account of Tableeghi Jamaat which he says has �in a matter of less than eight decades, emerged as the single largest and one of the most influential Islamic movements of contemporary times.� Topics covered in the book include, the inner struggles in the Jamaat, the challenges of modernity, its consolidation in the Indian sub-continent, the challenges that it faces in UK from groups like Hizb ut Tahrir, etc.