Write angle Ziya Us Salam

Navigating in the green corridor

Irfan Ahmad Photo V.V. Krishnan.   | Photo Credit: V_V_Krishnan

One fine morning I had unannounced guests at my home. They were volunteers of Tabligh-i-Jamaat who had come to invite me to join them on a year-long journey of faith and revival. I knew a little about the Tabligh and it was not entirely complimentary; reason enough for me to decline their invitation. Their approach to matters of faith seemed driven by rituals; well removed from my belief that prayer is a means to the end. “But I do not know you, guys. I do not know much about Tabligh, either,” I protested. “All the more reason to come with us. You will get to know everything,” they responded, most patiently. One year away from home just to know the Tabligh seemed a tall order. I decided to read up on the body instead, a far easier option it seemed.

Not quite, as I soon discovered. The Tabligh might attract lakhs of people to its annual ijtema in the subcontinent but there is not much literature available on it. There are not many worthies who have written about it, at least in English. All I could gather, from my conversation with the volunteers, and some elementary research a little later, the body was started to counter Dayanand Saraswati’s Shuddhi programme in 1927 by Muhammad Ilyas Kandhlawi. He would have had some noble principles as the founding father but over the years generations of volunteers have projected a picture of faith that is not much more than a series of rituals – so unlike Dr Israr ‘Tanzeem’ Ahmed who always projected faith as a way of life: Say no to zina (sex outside matrimony) and riba (interest) was his basic message even as he strived to bring about Islamic way of life. The Tabligh preferred to look within rather than seek to change the state of affairs of the world. The body was opposed to modern tools of communication. Even today, it has no website, no online literature about its history, its principles, its president, etc. In the age of Sadhna, God and Peace TV, it is not exactly in favour of telecast sermons – you see, Internet and television did not exist in the Prophet’s time. Never mind, the volunteers were preparing to fly to Egypt!

The search for an elusive ready reckoner on Tabligh, however, helped me in starting a journey of exploration as far as Muslim bodies are concerned. My findings were more than mildly surprising. Unlike Tabligh, I found, voluminous literature on Jamaat-e-Islami, founded by Syed Abul Ala Maududi in 1941. Interesting information was provided by Australia-based academic Irfan Ahmad in his book, “Islamism and Democracy in India”. A worm’s-eye view, his book, page by page, revealed different facets of the Jamaat. Its founder was a man of formidable intellect. Maududi, at one time, believed in pluralist democracy, and even penned the biographies of Mahatma Gandhi and Madan Mohan Malviya. Though Jamaat started many years after Tabligh, Maududi scored all the points in the early years. For instance, his organisation was the first to give membership to women. Unlike modern day Panchayat elections where one often finds wives and daughters of politicians as dummy candidates, the Jamaat considered them as individuals. Today, it runs the country’s largest madrasa for women.

Yet it has not always been a smooth sailing for Jamaat, as Ahmad points out in his book. An early challenge came after the founder migrated to Pakistan. Before Independence, the Jamaat under Maududi had declared its goal to be the establishment of Hukumat-e-Ilahiya or Allah’s kingdom. The Jamaat’s Constitution made it mandatory for its members to boycott Assemblies that legislate secular, not Shariah laws, judiciary based on secular laws, and banks running on interest – the Quran through Surah Baqarah and Al-Imran expressly prohibits interest in any form. Maududi considered secular democracy to be haram because it replaced Allah’s sovereignty with human supremacy. Yet after Maududi went to Pakistan, secular democracy came to have a deep impact on the Jamaat. It was soon discovered that a majority of Indian Muslims, including intellectuals, were not opposed to multi-hued society and polity, prompting the Jamaat to move away from its earlier position of fusion of religion and the state. This helped the body to open its doors and windows to people of other faiths, the ‘other’ of Maududi became kind of one as the Jamaat sought out allies in its attempt to impact the polity and society. The recent actions of the Jamaat inviting representative bodies of the minorities, Dalits, Scheduled Castes and Tribes, etc to protest from a common platform the killing of a Dalit man in Hamirpur and the lynching of Akhlaq in Dadri are fine examples. The Jamaat of early days was opposed to the system, it used faith as a weapon to forge a new order, the Jamaat in later avatar was happy to use the tools of the system to further its cause. The Jamaat of 1945, running on political theology, was opposed to non-Muslim bodies, the Jamaat of 2015 was ready to embrace them. If, as Mohammed Iqbal said, “The storm of the West made Muslim, Muslim,” the gentle breeze of Azaad Hind made Jamaat more accommodative.

Meanwhile, Tabligh continues with its ways, getting across to the poorest of poor, teaching them the fundamentals of religion, populating masjids, but never, ever threatening the status quo of the world or even embracing the winds of change. The Jamaat with far fewer members in villages – Ahmad considers it a largely urban body – continues to make social strides, working within the system governed by the law given by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. The recent noises on the issue of intolerance, blood donation drive, taking the girl child to school, all reiterate that matters of faith go beyond daily rituals. It completes an interesting circle for Jamaat, a body that invoked the Quran before Independence and now works as per the rights and responsibilities granted by the Constitution, the holy book of secular India. Across the border, Dr Israr Ahmed’s attempt to change the world order continues many years after he passed away – Pre-Partition Jamaat rechristened in 2016?

(The author is a seasoned literary critic)

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Printable version | Jun 14, 2021 5:37:15 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/columns/Ziya_Us_Salam/Navigating-in-the-green-corridor/article13975200.ece

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