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Tablighi Jamaat, an island unto itself

The Tablighi Jamaat, a non-political body, is considered to be the ‘ideal Muslim organisation’, focused solely on introspection in isolation. Often criticised for reducing Islam to a set of rituals, the Tablighi Jamaat was accused of spreading COVID-19 in Delhi following a mass gathering in March. Inside the Tablighi Jamaat provides a lowdown on the organisation and its ideological beliefs. An excerpt:

Founded in 1927 in Mewat, the Tablighi Jamaat is now perhaps the largest Muslim organisation in the world, and the only one to have a footprint across all continents. Its membership is rather conservatively pegged at 80 million, though admittedly, with millions of floating members who join for a tour and drop out, only to come back later, keeping a headcount is not easy. Or, perhaps, even desirable.

Explained | Who are the Tablighi Jamaat?

In any case, the Tabligh does not maintain an account of its members, their names, addresses, profession, family, and other such details. There is no card-holding cadre; just foot soldiers of Islam. People join of their volition and leave accordingly; sometimes they return. No questions are asked.

That this leaves the organisation vulnerable to charges of possibly hosting a potential terrorist who might use his membership to get visas and lodging in mosques is another matter. In England, for instance, two of the 7/7 bombers, Shehzad Tanveer and Mohammed Siddique Khan, had prayed at a Tablighi mosque in Dewsbury. Although this did not prove that the Tablighi Jamaat was involved in the incident, the organisation did come under suspicion. The Tablighis reason that merely offering a prayer in the Markaz or any of its centres in other countries does not make the organisation responsible for a person’s conduct. No more than it does the church or temple where a terrorist might offer prayers.

No questions asked

Due to its almost unprecedented flexibility on membership and lack of records, the Tabligh has flummoxed sociologists and religious commentators alike. The body has no written constitution, no plans chalked out to reach a certain number of people by a certain date and year. It does not operate using a blueprint for progress, and does not take stock of the year gone by. Unlike the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind or the Tanzeem-e-Islami of Pakistan, the Tablighi Jamaat defies easy definition. It does not aim to restore the Caliphate. It does not set out to establish a world order governed by the Quran and Sunnah. Unlike the Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind, it nurtures no pronounced emphasis on the concept of nationalism either.

Also read | Tablighi Jamaat episode — Muslims fear more ‘social distancing’

The Tabligh never questions the nizam, the laws of the land, the way of functioning of a polity. Its volunteers travel to a new city or a country, park themselves in a mosque, read and recite from religious books, share the message of faith with their fellow practitioners, and go back home. The body eschews conversion of people of other faiths and concentrates on making Muslims better Muslims. This makes it difficult for opponents of Islam, or the Tabligh, to point fingers at the organisation. After all, it does not seek depletion of numbers in other religions, or augmentation within the ranks of Islam. If it says not a word on divorce among Muslims, internationally, it does not speak on political issues involving countries such as Palestine or Yemen, or even some of the poverty-stricken Muslim states of the African continent. This again is unlike other Muslim organisations which have taken an unequivocal pro-Palestine stance, or a more nuanced stand in the Saudi-Yemen conflict.

The Tabligh professes a uniquely insular approach that chooses to emphasise particular aspects of Islam while underplaying others, thus ensuring the organisation remains an island unto itself. While it certainly believes in the five pillars of Islam — the Kalima, salah, roza (fasting in the month of Ramzan), zakah and Hajj — it follows its own six principles, of which it clearly stresses salah or prayer above all else.

The Tabligh’s proponents say that it is because of the Tablighi Jamaat that several community members who might have fallen prey to the last century’s Shuddhi campaigns did not. No other organisation came forward to help the deprived and the dispossessed find their way back to their own faith.

Also read | Letter petition to CJI seeks complete ban on activities of Tablighi Jamaat

A huge number of young men and women today owe a debt of gratitude to the Tabligh for teaching their ancestors the correct way to offer prayers and perform ablutions, the importance of fasting in the month of Ramzan, and other aspects of the faith.

Controversial actions

While these are, undoubtedly, laudable accomplishments, a few questions about the Tablighi Jamaat and the way it functions remain. It is fine to recruit a man who is either unlettered or knows little about Islam and teach him the basics, but why should the teaching stop at that? Why should a man who memorised certain surahs on a three-day trip with the Tabligh do the same repeatedly over a 40-day or even a four-month trip? Why does the Tabligh assume that every new entrant is either ignorant or negligent of his prayers? What does it offer people with higher intellectual prowess? Why not look for answers to emerging issues in the light of the Quran and Sunnah, instead of resorting to obscurantism or convenient silence?

Excerpted with permission from HarperCollins

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Printable version | Mar 8, 2021 7:35:31 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/tablighi-jamaat-an-island-unto-itself/article32083172.ece

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