By Aftab Ahmad, New Age Islam
13 May, 2015
An interesting joke circulates among the members of Tablighi-Jama’at about its apolitical character. The intelligence department once placed one of its non-Muslim agents into its fold to know what the organization teaches and preaches to its members and to the general Muslim masses. After the end of his prescribed time, when he was told to present his findings, he was very much confused. When the officer asked him what he saw and learnt, he said, “Sir, I could not understand anything of what they spoke. They only spoke about issues in the Heavens and under the earth. They did not speak anything about the earth or the world.” (Sir, Who Log To Sir Asman Ke Uper Aur Zameen Ke Niche Ki Bat Karte Hain. Meri To Kuchh Bhi Samajh Me Nahin Aaya.”
This is the truth. Tablighi Jam’at is an apolitical and non-sectarian group of preachers that stresses on the strict observance of Islamic values and five pillars of Islam. The main aim of this group is not to do Dawah among the non-Muslims but to make the general Muslims aware of the essential elements of Islam. Since Muslims of India were largely illiterate, not only in terms of modern education but also in terms of religious education. Due to this, many un-Islamic superstitions, innovations and beliefs had crept among the Muslims, particularly among the Muslims of the region where they formed tiny part of the population.
This make scholars and Ulema of Muslims ponder over the ways to propagate among the true teachings and practices of Islam. Maulana Muhammad Ilyas Kandhalwi started this movement which he termed Tehreek-e-Iman. He did not name it Tablighi Jam’at as Tabligh means reaching out to non-Muslims. The main focus of this movement was not to reach out to non-Muslims but to Muslims who did not know much about Islamic practices and essential teachings. Even in this modern age when Muslims have access to both modern and religious education, there are some parts of the country where general Muslims still do not have the desired knowledge of their religion.
Recently, I met a college student of Mewat who is studying in Delhi. His father has been a imam in a mosque and runs a madrasa in Mewat. During a conversation, he showed his total ignorance about the incident of Karbala or what happened there. This can be shocking as well surprising. We can imagine what kind of Islamic education the students studying in that madrasa received. A general opinion can be had about other small madrasas run in remote villages of India by semi literate Maulvis only for making a livelihood in a place where economy does not offer much.
Another example of ignorance of Aalims and Fazils of these madrasas run on small scale in small towns and villages of India. Once I was sitting with a person who works in a bank. During the conversation, I cited the example of the boy of Mewat and told him that despite being from a religious family, he did know about Karbala or where Karbala was or what tragedy occurred there. The person then said that Karbala was situated in Saudi Arabia. I told him that Karbala was not situated in Saudi Arabia but in Iraq. He did not believe me. He called over the imam of a mosque and asked him where Karbala was situated. The Maulana on the other side seemed to be unsure of the location of Karbala and told him that he would tell him after checking out the fact. This was all the more surprising for me.
If this is the level of ignorance of both students and small time imams today, the level of ignorance of the Muslim masses in Mewat or other backward regions of India can only be imagined. Though the Shia Muslims know this well because Karbala is their religious centre but the Sunni Muslims do not bother much about the geography of Karbala. Karbala takes their thought scape only during ten days of Muharram during which the incidents and the tragedy is revisited.
This was the state of Muslims in UP, Rajasthan and Gujarat that religious scholars of the twentieth or the latter half of nineteenth century were concerned with. This is the background of the origin and evolvement of Tablighi Jama’at or Tehrik-e-Iman.
Tablighi Jama’at is not an intellectual or ideological organization based on any particular interpretation of Quran like other organizations like Jamaat-e-Islami or Jamiat-e-Ulema Hind. This organization only aims at Islamic literacy among Muslims and at purifying the Muslim masses of the impurities that seeped through it.
However, there are some points over which Tablighi Jamaat is criticized. It does not believed in clergy. Any member can be a preacher, even if he is an illiterate and can deliver a lecture on Islamic teachings in an assembly of highly qualified audience. Another practice that is criticized is the collective long prayers particularly at the end of a tour or programme during which the participants collectively cry. Crying at the realization of sins and asking God for forgiveness is private affairs between man and God and not a public affair. The holy Prophet pbuh never cried in public. He cried in solitude at night and prayed to God for forgiveness for the Ummah. Once it becomes a routine, members also make crying in public a habit. It also falls under Riya (a show of piety). Iqbal criticized Sufism because he thought in Khanqahs or hospices; people only cried which was a kind of pessimism.
Third, during the Tablighi tours, the members offer Tahajjud prayers together under the leadership of an imam. Tahajjud is not a Farz Namaz. It is a Nafil which is not obligatory though its significance has been stressed by the Prophet pbuh. But Tahajjud has not been made mandatory. But Tablighi Jama’at has made Tahajjud a Farz which can be called an innovation (Bid’at).
However, despite its growing strength over the world, the Tablighi Jama’at has not been able to bring about an intellectual or political revolution in the world because of the lack of intellectual or ideological basis. They have avoided controversies and have focused on character building of Muslims. This much can be appreciated but for this character building, they have also diverted the attention of Muslim school and college going youth by compelling them to join the Jam’at instead of allowing them to pursue their academic career.
Recently I met a young boy from a very poor family of Saharanpur who had spent a Chilla (forty days) and was returning from Delhi by bus. He told me he did not study in school and did manual labour to sustain his family. His father was also a manual labour. I asked what his future plans were. He looked blank and said he had no future plans except doing the manual labour. He spends money from his own pocket to complete forty days and was returning home to return to his routine manual job. There are many like him who have small businesses and work to support their family and leave their job or suspend their work only to take part in Chillas. Character building should start in the childhood and for this there should be Maktabs and schools where education is imparted systematically and in stages. What Tablighi Jamaat does is rope in youth when they have grown up and are in the age where they cannot go back to their roots. They spend some days in the tour and them come back again and get involved in their usual life.
Tablighi Jamaat would have been more fruitful if it had established schools at primary levels where children would be imparted proper Islamic as well modern education. Picking up people from here and there does not benefit the community much. An organized educational system can only deliver benefits in the long run. People gather at its world congregations called Ijtemas because they are held annually. People attend it only as an act of piety and to win heavenly rewards. This congregation of millions does not have any bearing on the collective spirit of Muslims.
Observance of five time prayers is a religious duty of Muslims. And the main purpose of Tablighi Jama’at is to bring Muslims to mosques for five time prayers. Offering five time prayers is a religious duty of Muslims. So, for this purpose, a campaign can be started in every locality without disturbing the normal career related or profession related activities of Muslim youth and professionals.
Aftab Ahmad is a columnist for New Age Islam. He has been studying the Holy Quran for some time.