Explained | Who are the Tablighi Jamaat?

Firefighters spray disinfectants at a locality near the Nizamuddin Markaz, the Tablighi Jamaat headquarters in south Delhi.   | Photo Credit: PTI

The Tablighi Jamaat, a little known Islamic organisation, has been at the centre of a controversy after dozens of people who attended a religious congregation the group held at its headquarters in Delhi in March tested positive for COVID-19. At least 2,000 people, both from across the country and foreign nations such as Indonesia and Malaysia, had attended the gathering in Nizamuddin that started in early March and went on for a couple of weeks. Maulana Saad Kandhalvi, leader of the group, has been booked by the Delhi police under the Epidemic Disease Act.

Who and what exactly is this group?


The Tablighi Jamaat (Society of Preachers) was founded by a Deobandi Islamic scholar Muhammad Ilyas al-Kandhlawi in Mewat, India, in 1926. As its name suggests, Al-Kandhlawi’s goal was to establish a group of dedicated preachers as a Muslim revivalist society, who could revive “true” Islam, which he saw was not being practised by many Muslims. The slogan Al-Kandhlawi coined for his new organisation captured the essence of its activities — “Oh Muslims, become true Muslims”.

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Al-Kandhlawi called upon his fellow Muslims to “enjoin the good and forbid the evil”. This was also a time when Islam and Hinduism had seen several revivalist streams in Asia. India had seen the rise of the Deobandi school in the second half of the 19th century. Scholars like Jamal ad-Din Afghani and Mohammed Abduh called for reformation of faith through their Salafi preachings. In India, Hinduism was seeing revivalist movements such as the Shuddhi Movement in the early 20th century. Al-Kandhlawi’s mission was also to revive his faith, but based on its core teachings and lifestyle of its early leaders. Also in Mewat where the Tablighi was founded, the Meos Muslims, a Rajput ethnic group, had followed syncretic traditions. Al-Kandhlawi wanted to end it all through dawa (proselytising). He sent his volunteers to villages to spread “the message of Allah”.

The organisation grew fast in British India. In its annual conference held in November 1941, some 25,000 people attended. After Partition, it grew stronger in Pakistan and East Pakistan (lately Bangladesh). Now, Tablighi’s largest national wing is in Bangladesh. The group has presence in 150 countries and millions of followers.

Ideology and organisation

Inspired by the Deobandi creed, the Tablighis urge fellow Muslims to live like the Prophet did. They are theologically opposed to the syncretic nature of Sufi Islam and insist on its members to dress like the Prophet did (trouser or robe should be above the ankle). Men usually shave their upper lip and keep long beard. The focus of the organisation was not on converting people from other faiths into Islam. Rather, it is focussed on ‘purifying’ the Muslim faith. The organisation has a loose structure. The Emir is the leader of the international movement and is always related to the group’s founder Muhammad Ilyas al-Kandhlawi. The current leader, Maulana Saad Kandhalvi, is the grandson of the founder. The group also has a Shura Council, which is largely an advisory council with different national units and national headquarters.


The Tablighi Jamaat members have declared they are not political. They have also decried violence in the name of religion. They say the Prophet Mohammed has commanded all Muslims to convey the message of Allah, and the Tablighis take this as their duty. They divide themselves into small Jamaats (societies) and travel frequently across the world to spread the message of Islam to Muslim houses. During this travel, they stay in local mosques.

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The group’s modus operandi is peaceful and it is focussed entirely on the Muslim community worldwide. “There is a culture of secretism in the organisation, which develops suspicion,” Ajit Doval, now India’s National Security Adviser and a former intelligence boss, said in 2013. “The movement was never viewed adversely by the government.” But the Tablighi Jamaat has been banned in some Central Asian countries such as Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan, whose governments see its puritanical preachings as extremist.

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Printable version | May 16, 2021 10:24:20 AM |

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