Hitherto we have dealt with the Tablighi Jamaat as it grew after its foundation in 1926. But the Tabligh movement as such is much older. We have to go back into history and see the Muslim situation after the Mughal Empire broke down after the death of Aurangzeb (1707), and the invasions of Ahmad Shah Abdali in the second half of the eighteenth century failed to restore Muslim rule in India.
Muslim ‘community’ in India had remained sharply divided into two mutually exclusive segments throughout the centuries of Islamic invasions and rule over large parts of the country. On the one hand, there were the descendants of conquerors who came from outside or who identified themselves completely with the conquerors – the Arabs, the Turks, the Iranians, and the Afghans. They glorified themselves as the Ashraf (high-born, noble) or Ahli-i-Daulat (ruling race) and Ahl-i-Sa’adat (custodians of religion). On the other hand, there were converts from among the helpless Hindus who were looked down upon by the Ashraf and described as the Ajlaf (low-born, ignoble) and Arzal (mean, despicable) depending upon the Hindu castes from which the converts came. The converts were treated as Ahl-i-Murad (servile people) who were expected to obey the Ahl-i-Daulat and Ahl-i-Sa’adat abjectly.
‘During the medieval period,’ observes Professor K.S. Lal, ‘forcible and hurried conversions to Islam left most of the neo-Muslims half-Hindus. With his conversion to Islam the average Muslim did not change his old Hindu environment and tenor of life. The neo-Muslims’ love of Hinduism was because of their attachment to their old faith and culture. High class converted Hindus sometimes went back to Hinduism and the old privileges Such a scenario obtained throughout the country ’ He goes ahead and describes the state of neo-Muslims in the North-West, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Central India, Bengal, the Deccan and South India.
Shah Waliullah (1703-62) and his son Abdul Aziz (1746-1822) were the first to notice this situation and felt frightened that the comparatively small class of the Ashraf was most likely to be drowned in the surrounding sea of Hindu Kafirs. Abdul Aziz had converted his father’s jihad against the Marathas and Jats into a jihad against the British when he issued a fatwa that India under British rule had become a Dar al-Harb (zone of war). But jihad against the British needed manpower which the Ashraf were not in a position to marshal on their own. They had to turn to the neo-Muslims. The neo-Muslims, however, had little interest in waging wars for Islam. They had, therefore, to be fully Islamized, that is, alienated completely from their ancestral society and culture. That is why the Tabligh movement was started. But early leaders of the movement could not achieve much because each one of them clashed with the Sikhs or the British and got killed.
Syed Ahmad Barelvi (1786-1831), a devoted disciple of Abdul Aziz, travelled to Mecca and some other Muslim countries in 1822 and met masters of Islamic lore to learn methods of ‘purifying Islam’ in India, that is, brainwashing the neo-Muslims and turning them into full-fledged Muslim fanatics. He labelled his Tabligh as Tariqah-i Muhammadiyyah. But he got himself entangled in a jihad against the Sikh Kingdom in the Punjab, North-West Frontier Province and Kashmir, and was killed and burnt to ashes in 1831 by a Sikh battalion led by Kunwar Sher Singh.
Barelvi’s disciple Mir Nasar Ali of Barasat in Bengal, better known as Titu Mir or Titu Mian, tried to purify Islam in West Bengal. But he clashed with the British very soon, and was killed by a British military unit in 1831. Many of his followers were hanged. Around the same time, Shariatullah (1790-1831) started the Faraizi Movement in East Bengal after having spent twenty years in Mecca and Medina. But he died in 1837 without achieving significant results. His son, Muhammad Mohsin better known as Dhudhu Mian (1819-1860) carried on his father’s experiment. But he was caught by the British for numerous crimes committed against Hindus in the countryside and died in jail.
Meanwhile, another Tabligh movement had arisen in Haryana under the leadership of Shah Muhammad Ramzan (1769-1825). ‘He found that the converted Rajputs and Jats were in no way different from their Hindu counterparts in culture, customs and celebration of religious festivals Shah Muhammad Ramzan used to sojourn in areas inhabited by such converted Rajputs, dissuade them from practising Hindu rites, and persuade them to marry their cousins (real uncle’s daughters which converts persistently refused to do). They equally detested eating cow’s flesh. To induce them to eat beef, he introduced new festivals like Maryam ka Roza and ‘Rot-bot’. On this day, observed on 17 Rajjab, a ‘pao’ of roasted beef placed on a fried bread was distributed amongst relatives and near and dear ones Such endeavours ruled out the possibility of reconversion and helped in the ‘Islamization’ of neo-Muslims ’
This leader of the Tabligh was killed not by the British but by some neo-Muslims who got enraged by his vituperation against their ancient ways.
The Tabligh movement had not been able to make much headway when the last jihad against the British was launched in 1857.
The British put it down with a strong hand, and the Ashraf stood really scared for the first time. A way out of blind alley was found for them by Sir Syed Ahmed Khan who crawled before the British on behalf of his co-religionists. The Aligarh movement he started saw salvation for the Ashraf in all-out collaboration with British imperialism. Henceforward, and till the second decade of the twentieth century, every member of the Ashraf fraternity prayed and worked for the permanence of the British rule in India. By 1871 when Sir W.W. Hunter wrote his book, The Indian Musalmans, the Ashraf had become the most obedient servants of Her Majesty, the Queen of England.
But the Ashraf was far from being cured of its ingrained habit. Soon they felt strong enough to demand quid pro quo for their loyalty to the British. They tried to dictate British policies not only in India but also in the international field. But the British had their own compulsions. So the alliance broke down when the British annulled the Partition of Bengal in 1911 and imposed a peace treaty on Turkey in 1919 depriving the Sultan-cum-Caliph of a large part of his domain. The Ashraf, therefore, decided to strike a deal with the Indian National Congress which had been seeking their support ever since it was founded in 1885. Ishtiaq Husain Qureshi has summed up the situation as follows:
“The Muslims realized that single-handed they could achieve nothing. They had waged a lone struggle against British domination and gained a modicum of temporary success in 1857 when a fair number of Hindus had made a common cause with them. Both Afghans and Turks had impressed upon their leaders the stark necessity of gaining the cooperation of Hindus. Now was the opportunity and it had to be seized. It had been impressed upon them that the citadel of British power in Asia was India, which made all the Muslim countries vulnerable to attack and encroachment Therefore whatever the cost involved, the British power must be dislodged from this citadel. They, like the Hindus, wanted freedom, but if the Hindus were to play false after the departure of the British, at least the Muslim countries will be able to breathe freely. The Muslims of the Subcontinent wanted to be partners in the freedom of their habitat as well as in the liberty of the rest of the Muslim world, but if the glory of Islam and the prosperity of other Muslim lands could be built only upon their own misery and deprivation, they thought the price was not too high to pay .”
“The stage was, therefore, set for Hindu-Muslim cooperation and Mahatma Gandhi knowing full well the depths of the emotions that surged in Muslim breasts and swayed Muslim minds, was too shrewd a politician to let such an opportunity go. Muslim sentiments and energies could be roped in for the deliverance of India for little to be given in return. The bargain was therefore struck.”
We do not want to go into the story of who had to suffer ‘misery and deprivation’, and who had the last laugh. What we wish point out here is that the Tabligh movement was revitalized by the Khilafat agitation led by the Ashraf in India.
“The beneficiary of the Khilafat movement was not only Mr. Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan. Maulana Maududi, Allama Inayatullah Mashriqi (the founder of the Khaksar movement), and Maulana Ilyas (the founder of the Tablighi Jamaat) also benefited from the emotionally charged religious environment of Indian Islam in the late 1920s. The emergence of these new movements unleashed religious and political forces that had the combined effect of directing the Muslim position on a parallel course vis-a-vis Hindus and dividing the two religious communities – a division which ultimately culminated in the creation of the Muslim state of Pakistan.
”Although Maulana Ilyas kept himself completely aloof from politics he never opposed Islamic groups actively engaged in politics Maulana Ilyas was of the view that the Tabligh movement and politically oriented Islamic groups although operating in different spheres, were complimenting each other’s work. Hence there should be no competition and rivalry among them.
“Since the beginning of Muslim rule in India, the ulama had remained permanently allied to an elite north Indian Muslim culture, hence the orthodox forms of Islam had not penetrated deep into the daily lives of the Muslim masses, who continued to cherish the customs and practices they had inherited from their Hindu past. Since the nineteenth century Mujahideen movement of Sayyid Alimad Shaheed (1786-1831) and the Faraizi movement of Haji Shariatullah, the Tabligh movement is the most important attempt to bridge the gap between orthodox Islam and the popular syncretie religious practices that are prevalent among the Muslim masses.”
Mumtaz Ahmad has failed to mention the most important beneficiary of the Khilafat agitation, namely, the Jamiat-ul-Ulama-i-Hind which really fathered the Tablighi Jamaat and which still supplies most of its leaders to the latter. The Jamiat can also take credit for Islamicizing the Indian National Congress in cooperation with the Communists and Socialists of all sorts led by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi during the pre- as well as the post-independence period. It remains lodged in the heart of the Indian Republic like a cancer.
“The ulama and the Khilafatists were significant components of the Jamiat ulama-i-Hind, or the Association of Indian Ulama founded in 1919 The Jamiat was responsible for the Unanimous Fatwa of the Indian Ulama (1920), sanctioning Muslim participation in favour of the Non-Cooperation movement. It resulted in the predominance of Muslims in the Congress movement in U.P.
“The breakdown of the Khilafat alliance launched a new phase of conflictual communal politics Tabligh was begun by Khwaja Hasan Nizami, sajjada nashin of the Nizamuddin Dargah, M. Abdul Bari, and was actively assisted by the Jamiat By mid July 1923 Tabligh had become such a large project that a closed door session of the Jamiat decided to establish the Jamiat-i-Tabligh-ul-Islam, a subordinate and financially independent organization to be devoted exclusively to missionary activity.”
All these Muslim leaders – Maududi, Mashriqi, Ilyas and founders of the Jamiat-ul-Ulama-i-Hind – came to be known as ‘nationalist Muslims’ during the Freedom Movement simply because they were opposed to the Muslim League’s demand for Partition. Nobody cared to find out the real reason for their opposition to the League, namely, that they wanted the whole of India and not only a part of it as Dar al-Islam. None of them ever believed that kufr and Islam could ever co-exist peacefully.
The Khaksars of Mashriqi have disappeared from the scene. Ilyas lived to found the Tablighi Jamaat which is still centered round his family at Nizamuddin. The Jamiat-ul-Ulama-i-Hind has continued to function in post-independence India, and grown from strength to strength. It is only Maududi, the founder of Jamaat-i-Islami in 1941, who left for Pakistan after Partition. But that has not prevented his Jamaat-i-Islami from cooperating with the Tablighi Jamaat in India as all over the world.
Maududi (1903-1979) like Mashriqi had come to believe that Islam in India should work out a strategy which had placed the Communists, Fascists and Nazis in power – the strategy of a mailed fist wielded by a determined minority. But unfortunately for him, the British decided to divide India and quit before he could mobilize the requisite manpower and assemble the arsenal needed. He moved his headquarters to Lahore in 1948 and his ‘Jamaat scored its first major victory in March 1949’ when the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan passed the Objectives Resolutions proclaiming that country as an Islamic State. But the Jamaat-i-Islami which he left in India ‘is equally vigorous in defending secularism as a ‘blessing’ and as a ‘guarantee for a safe future for Islam in India’.’
The work of the Jamaat-i-Islami and the Tablighi Jamaat is being coordinated by the Nadwatul Ulama, Lucknow, presided over at present by Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi popularly know as Ali Mian.
“Associated with both M. Maududi and the Tablighi Jamaat, he has been concerned with protecting the Muslim way of life through Dini Talim Council .
“Nadwi stated in an address at Jeddah (Saudi Arabia): ‘I am one of those who believe that a religious order cannot be established unless religion comes to wield political power and the system of government is based on Islamic foundations’ He states that Hindu civilization, like the Greek, Roman and pre-Islamic civilizations, are (sic) ‘no better than ancient monuments’ that have exhausted their potentialities Only Islam can contribute to making India the leader of all nations from Istanbul to Jakarta, and of the continents of Asia and Africa. Elsewhere, he writes: ‘mankind regards the Muslim world as the deliverer and the Muslim world, in turn, looks up to the Arab world for leadership’, to countries as Saudi Arabia who are the ‘custodians of Islam’.”
The Tablighi Jamaat is busy world wide in recruiting soldiers for Islamic jihad. The merit one earns by working for Tabligh is enormous.
“Calculations about benefits from righteous acts can only he called arithmetical. The concrete faza’il, or merits for prayer, for example, is astronomically inflated depending upon where one is: one must perform the canonical prayer, but in a mosque its value is enhanced 27 times, in Mecca 50,000 times in Mecca 100,000 times, in the path of God, that is, on a jihad including Tabligh mission, 490,000,000!”
And Islamic jihad like Tabligh is now world wide because the whole world except some pockets where the Shari’a prevails, has become a vast spread of jahiliyya.
“To hasten the return of Islam requires the defeat of jahiliyya. Modern means of violence are clearly technological tools: to practice jihad, interpreted as armed struggle against jahiliyya, the most effective weaponry available provides the means ‘Adel Hammuda summarizes the story of al-Jihad as ‘Bombs and Holy Books’ (Qanabil wa masahif). In Hasan al-Banna’s legacy is the call ‘from the Holy Book to dynamite’ (mina al-mishaf ila al-dinamit) as an expression for jihad.”
Wahiduddin Khan spells out the meaning of Tabligh when he writes:
“Sometimes it becomes urgent to make peace, as at Hudaibiyya, and sometimes defence is urgently called for, as at Badr and Hunain .”
We cannot expect leaders of the Sangh Parivar to read a biography of the Prophet, and find out what Hudaibiyya, Badr and Hunain stand for and what ‘peace’ and ‘defence’ mean in the language of Islam, They are bent upon repeating Mahatma Gandhi who refused to read the Dogmatics and Polemics of Islam and claimed to know the ‘noble faith of Islam’ better then those who had studied this doctrine and its history from its primary sources. He harboured a life-long illusion that the Maulanas of the Jamiat-ul-Ulama-i-Hind would help him in bringing the Muslim masses into the national mainstream. They helped him all right and to the hilt, but only in stamping out even the least little voice of resistance to naked Muslim aggression. He ended by becoming the Father of Pakistan, and a shahid in the service of sarva-dharma-samabhava. We harbour not the shadow of a doubt that the Sarva Panth Samadar Manch is pushing on the same path whatever has survived of Hindu society and culture in the shrunken and shrinking Hindu homeland.