The Tablighi Jamaat: A Movement for God

By Syed Sharfuddin

The ideology of Tablighi Jamaat (TJ), the largest Islamic revivalist movement of our times is best described by Sadruddin Ansari’s introduction of the six points of Maulana Muhammad Ilyas Khandahlawi, the founder of TJ as follows:

We all know that this world is mortal. Everyone who is born here is destined to die one day, and everything that flourishes here is to meet its decay sooner or later. We are therefore bound to believe that this is not our permanent and perpetual abode; we can never succeed in living here forever. No one so far could do so and no one shall ever do so. Should we take this world as an external and everlasting home we should not be more than a fool…We are here on a journey and our original and real destination is yet to come. We are born here only to decorate our eternal home. We cannot be called wise if we prefer this mortal existence to the eternal one. It is a fact and we must bear it in mind permanently that our sole duty is to strive for the betterment of our real home. [From Six Points of Tablighi by Sadruddin Ansari, 1967].

The Tablighi Jamaat (TJ) is the world’s most popular Islamic dawah (preaching) movement without an international headquarter or secretariat. Since its inception in 1926 in the Haryana region of Mewat in British India, TJ has remained faithful to its motto of being a puritan religious movement staying non-political, non-denominational and non-governmental in its dawah activities. Despite an impressive coordination network at the district, provincial and national levels in many countries, mainly in countries where the South Asian Muslim population lives as a majority, or is classified as an official minority faith community, TJ has no formal office holders or subscription paying members. Its preaching tours are carried out informally through a vast network of Deobandi mosques which open their doors to worshippers who are willing to share their mobile phone numbers with each other and take time out, including outside homestays of various duration, for visiting other municipalities and towns to talk about the fundamentals of Islam and the Sunnah of Prophet Mohammad, peace be upon him, encourage people to join in congregational worship, learn about the various forms of zikr other than the Sufi tradition, and develop an understanding of how to perform and multiply good deeds.

Muslims who attend regular five time prayers at mosques are familiar with the ritual of a worshipper standing up after the end of a congregational Salat and requesting his fellow worshippers to stay behind after the sunnah prayers to listen to a short talk on making Islam work better in their everyday life. This short talk, not exceeding a few minutes consists of six points of dawah. These points were devised by the founder of TJ as the best way of achieving Islamic living and a means of attaining salvation. The six points, known to every volunteer of TJ like the back of his hand, are explained below:

1. Eiman or Article of Faith.
Reciting the First Kalema, having with full conviction about the oneness of Allah and following the tradition of the Prophet and his companions. It comprises a firm belief in Allah, the Angels, Divine Scriptures, His Prophets, both who have been named or mentioned in the Holy Quran and the other Divine Scriptures, as well as those not named or mentioned in the Holy Quran and other Divine Scriptures, and the Day of Judgement.

2. Salaat or Obligatory Congregational Prayer.
The correct way of performing Salaat according to the Quran and Sunnah. Guarding the observance of Salat times and achieving regularity in prayers. Keeping the heart and mind focused on the Creator during the performance of Salat. Learning about the various types of Salat and the difference between sunnah prayers and Nafil prayers. Understanding the correct protocols of salaat and the order and sequence of reciting Suras in the Salat. Pre-requisites of Wudu or ablution. Keeping body and soul clean and pure. Awareness of other obligatory worship such as Fasting, Alms giving and Hajj.

3. Glorification of Allah and Zikr.
There are different forms of Zikr which include reciting the Third and the Fourth Kalema; sending Durood or blessings on Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him; and making Astaghfar or repentance. Zikr is done for the love of Allah. Zikr is also Ilm, the knowledge of doing what is enjoined and staying away from what is forbidden. The highest form of Zikr is reading the holy Quran with its correct pronunciation, intonations, and punctuations and understanding its meaning verse by verse, knowing the context of revelation of the verses of the Quran and reading their tafseer and annotated commentary. Zikr also includes, reciting Duas from the Quran and from the Hadith of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. Learning Seerah of Prophet Muhammad and his life events for broadening knowledge of Islam and observing good Islamic practice.

4. Ikram-e-Muslim (Reverence of the Faithful)
This consists of Adab or respect; Akhlaq or good manners; knowing and fulfilling the rights and obligations of one Muslim toward another Muslim; and maintaining or restoring friendly ties within and outside one’s family, tribe, community, country, and humanity. A Muslim should not bear any envy or grudge against another Muslim and should always be ready to help another Muslim in need or distress.

5. Ikhlas-e-Niyyat or sincerity of intention.
All good deeds are done to please Allah and not for any worldly recognition or material benefit. Carrying out self-audit of one’s actions and activities as a Muslim. Observing good manners and being generous and forgiving toward others. Seeking the pleasure of Allah through continuous monitoring and renewal of good intention and good deeds.

6. Tafrigh-e-Waqt for Dawat-e-Tabligh.
Taking time out from one’s busy life to invite others to follow the path of Islam both by word of mouth and by setting good example from one’s best behaviour and honest dealings in the society. Taking the word of God and knowledge of Islam to other Muslims who need this information and invitation, and to display Islam to non-Muslims who have an interest in knowing and learning about Islam.

There is also a 7th point, but it is not as much a part of the Taaleem as the other prescribed six points. This point is Tark-e-La-Maani or abandoning useless pursuits which do not benefit a Muslim in securing his salvation in the hereafter. TJ does not promote monastic or hermit living by giving up on the material side of life, but it places on emphasis on worshipping Allah and living according to the life of the Prophet.

TJ does not proselyte on converting non-Muslims to Islam but focuses on the illiterate Muslim masses who are born into Muslim households but have no knowledge of the fundamentals of Islam, nor are practicing Muslims. Because TJ works with the ordinary and mostly illiterate Muslims, it shuns reasoning, scientific enquiry, and media publicity in conveying its message to the Muslims in plain terms by using the medium of teachings of the holy Quran and Shahih Hadith and Seerah of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. Just as every guild has its own lexicon, the Tablighi brothers also use expressions or terms that have a specific meaning in the context of their dawah work. These are explained as follows:

Ameer. Elected leader of a dawah party.

Bayan. It is a concise and motivating short talk given by a member of the dawah party at the end of an obligatory prayer inviting the members of the congregation to join the work of TJ and gain salvation.

Chilla. Refers to 40 days cycle of dawah activity.

Gasht. A walking tour that includes a dawah party knocking at the doors of Muslims in selected neighbourhoods in a target area to invite them to say the obligatory five times Salat in the mosque and learn about Islam.

Ijtima. Periodical or annual gathering of the volunteers and participants of TJ which takes place on different dates in each country at the local and national levels.

Ikraam. Hospitality extended by the locals to a dawah party during its tour. TJ, however, makes it a point that every member of the party uses his own income for food and travel expenses.

Jamaat. A dawah party comprising at least ten persons. It also refers to a large gathering of volunteers gathered for a special event of TJ.

Karguzari. It refers to the outcome of a certain activity carried out by a dawah party.

Markaz. Is the centre of TJ in specific geographical regions where the Movement’s elders take decisions about the composition and deployment of dawah parties.

Mashwara. As is indicated by the name, it refers to consultation among the people who form a dawah party at a given time and place, usually in a TJ hosting mosque.

Mehnat. This refers to the effort made in spreading the dawah to other Nawaqif Muslims. Mehnat refers to both time and money spent by the volunteers in a dawah party to achieve their numbers target.

Nawaqif. It is a term that refers to an illiterate and non-regular or non-practicing Muslim. The focus of TJ is on these people.

Six Points. These are the essential talking points which are at the heart of TJ’s mission.

Shab-e-Jumma. A gathering of TJ volunteers every Thursday after the Maghreb prayer at a designated mosque in each city. At such gatherings about 5 to 20 percent of participants are new volunteers.

Tabligh. The act of preaching and inviting another Muslim towards reformation. TJ does not pay any honorarium or renumeration to the volunteers for their dawah work. TJ also does not fundraise nor solicits donations for its dawah activities.

Tablighi Nisab. TJ’s prescribed books and chapters that form part of the Dawa party’s readings and talks.

Taleem: It refers to the public reading of an excerpt or Fazeel from the recommended books of TJ. These books are: Fazail-e-Amaal, Fazael-e-Sadaqat, Hayat-e-Sahaba and Tablighi Nisab.

Tanzeem. The coordination mechanism in which the dawah work carried out by the local mosques is coordinated at the Markaz where certain central mosques have the responsibility of setting the goals and oversight of smaller mosques to ensure that the deployment of dawah parties is broad-based and covers all parts of the region and country.

Tashkeel. It is the process and setting up a party of people to do dawah for a certain number of days. These gatherings can be for just one evening; a 3- day tour of local mosques; a 4- month tour in different mosques outside the locality, or 3-month international dawah tour to a specific country or city.

The members of TJ are predominantly the followers of Deobandi reformist school of thought, but they do not prevent participation by anyone who claims to be a Muslim and is interested in learning about Islam. TJ volunteers are mainly males representing all age groups and professions. In the Indian Subcontinent, TJ volunteers use Urdu, Bengali or Hindi language as means of general communication but in other linguistic regions they use the services of a local translator to reach the masses. Outside the Subcontinent, TJ volunteers speak Bahasa in Indonesia, Swahili in East Africa, English in Europe, and North America and French and Arabic in other Francophone and Arabophobe countries.

TJ has a simple structure which starts from a network of small mosques to larger area mosques where TJ Markaz is located. The dawah parties formed in each small mosque chooses its own Ameer (leader), a Speaker for Taleem (more like a party spokesperson), a Guide who knows the area locally and a Chef who takes the lead in cooking the preaching party’s food for the dawah party. All these people come from within the locally constituted party and are not paid for their services.

The preaching tour of a dawah party is organised for several fixed days and is largely adhered to the following format.

Sehroza or 3-day tour conducted per month in an area outside of the Jamaat’s locality.
Chilla or 40 day per year tour which involves a longer period of withdrawal from one’s own social environment to focus on the Deen. This could involve travel to a distant location from one’s own area, and a possible deployment in other parts of the country.
• A once in a lifetime ‘grand Chilla which consists of 3 consecutive Chillas (equating to 120 days) usually in another country.
Year-long tour. It is for the most devote volunteers and usually consists of tavelling by foot, from mosque to mosque in each country calling other Muslims to join the work of the Jamaat.

The main objective of the preaching tours is not just to invite other Muslims to the path of Allah but also to develop God-consciousness in every volunteer of the Jamaat. TJ does not have an elaborate international Secretariat, but it does have a loose structure in each country which focuses on the formation and deployment of Dawah parties and coordinates with the regional and national Markaz to avoid duplication and overlap. Some of the prominent National Centres of TJ are Nizamuddin in India, Raiwind in Pakistan, Tungi in Bangladesh, and Dewsbury in the UK. TJ’s Ameer are elected by the Movement’s elders who have hitherto been descendants or close associates of the founder of the TJ.

To appeal to the understanding of the masses, TJ has deliberately kept its teaching syllabus simple. The Jamaat does not load its teachings with the study of  Ilmul Kalam, or Islamic jurisprudence, or commentary of the holy Quran (Tafseer), or research on the authority of the narrators of Hadith. At the very outset, Maulana Ilyas declared that Islam being a comprehensive religion, TJ could not do all the work itself. He decided to hold on firmly to the instruction and teaching of the Aqeeda and Salat and made these two the fundamental pillars of the teaching syllabus of the Movement. He hoped that by doing so, TJ will act as a catalyst to connect the illiterate public, after it has been made familiar with the fundamentals of the Deen, with the Ulema and reformers of Islam, who have the concern for the Deen, but who are unable to connect with the illiterate masses and disabuse them of un-Islamic practices, superstitions, and wrong notions of Islam. By keeping its message simple, TJ has been able to win more followers than any other denomination or sect in Islam. Once they have tasted the true essence of the faith, they go on to acquire the rest of the things that Islam expects them to learn by sitting in the company of learned scholars.  

TJ achieves uniformity by limiting its own references to the dawah books approved by its grand council of elders who advise the Ameer of TJ in the main Markaz at their periodic meetings. TJ books comprise selected sayings of the Prophet Muhammad on all aspects of life. TJ does not engage in dissemination of printed religious material nor undertakes social media campaigns. It gives emphasis to face to face or personal contact, in keeping with the original Islamic tradition of oral teaching. While this is a reinforcing agent, it ironically prevents the followers of the TJ from benefiting from a huge and ever growing knowledge bank of ancient and modern resources on Islam in Arabic and other languages.

TJ is facing new challenge from its global growth with new ideas and mediums of communication replacing the old established ways. Its new and emerging leadership at the National Marakiz in the Indian Subcontinent and the UK may soon need to reinvent the Movement that is prepared to revise and update its Tablighi Nisab, uses formal electronic, print, and social media to propagate TJ’s main message of dawah, and accommodates logic, scientific enquiry, and technology to satisfy the curious Muslim.

Further reading:

EPRA International Journal of Multidisciplinary Research (IJMR) – Peer Reviewed Journal Volume: 7| Issue: 9| September 2021|| Journal DOI: 10.36713/epra2013 || SJIF Impact Factor 2021: 8.047 || ISI Value: 1.188.

The Contentious Politics of Socio-Political Engagement: The Transformation of the Tablighi Jamaat in London: Submitted by Zacharias Peter Pieri to the University of Exeter as a thesis for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Ethno-Political Studies, May 2012.






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