Tablighi Jamaat in Mewat-2: Maulana Ismail and the Meos, the Makatib Experiment and the Method of Tabligh
By Yoginder Sikand
Even though the Tablighi Jamaat (TJ) as we know it today took off in Mewat only in the late 1920s under Maulana Ilyas, it was actually the Maulana's father, Maulana Muhammad Ismail (d.1898), who first made contact with the Meos. Ismail came from a family of Siddiqui Shaikhs of Jhanjhana in the Muzaffarnagar district of the United Provinces (now Uttar Pradesh). This family, which claimed descent from Abu Bakr, the first Khalifa, of the Sunnis, had for generations been renowned for its piety. Ismail is said to have been a very learned and pious Islamic scholar. So deeply engrossed in his spiritual quest was he that it is reported that he would often go for days on end without any food, forgetting that as a result his own little children had to remain hungry (Ferozepuri n.d.c:6). In Tablighi hagiography he is even credited with having possessed certain miraculous mystical powers, besides having been vehemently opposed to the British for having dispossessed the Muslims of political power (Baliyavi n.d.:38-39).
Ismail is said to have been the heir to a vast estate in Jhanjhana. According to one source, besides 4,000 Bighas of agricultural land, he owned over 400 houses, all of which he had given out on rent. However, he is said to have completely renounced his wealth and taken up residence in a semi-abandoned mosque, the Bangle Wali Masjid in Delhi's Basti Nizamuddin, which today serves as the global headquarters of the TJ. It is said that when Ismail first got to Basti Nizamuddin, he found to his consternation that he had no one else to join him in a jama'at for congregational prayers. He did not give up hope, however, and went out onto the main road, hoping to find some fellow-Muslims. Just then, a small group of people, who, from their external appearance, seemed to be non-Muslims, passed by. Seeing them, Ismail called out to them, asking them who they were. In reply, they said they were Muslim Meos from Gurgaon, and that, owing to a severe famine in their part of the country, they were heading towards Delhi in search of work.