Shaheen Nazar | Clarion India
A NEW book set to be released in July is likely to satiate the growing curiosity about the Tablighi Jamaat, which has been in the news for the past three months or so. Thanks to various government agencies and our national media the organisation, that had previously been pretty much unknown outside the Muslim community, suddenly became a villain of the piece for allegedly “spreading coronavirus in India”.
The Tablighis, as those who participate in Jamaat programmes are known, have occupied a disproportionate amount of space in the media for whatever they have done or not done post-lockdown announcement on March 24.
The overwhelming majority of people commenting on the Jamaat are doing so without any real knowledge of their subject. This is so, perhaps, because there isn’t much written work to be found about the Jamaat, especially in English. This is partly due to its apolitical nature and the Tablighis maintaining a low profile, restricting themselves to Islamic rituals and remaining within the boundaries of mosques.
The Tablighi Jamaat is more a missionary movement than an organisation with a formal organisational structure. Although the Jamaat has chapters everywhere from South Asia to the Middle East to Europe to North America, no one ever cared to write about them.
So, when the media started focusing on them, taking it as yet another opportunity to target the Muslim community, it hurt many people. Zia Us Salam is one such person. “I was very upset at the turn of events. No doubt Tablighis did make a mistake, but it was minor compared to how it was presented,” he told Clarion India in an interview.
“The government put all the blame on them, and media concocted stories such as ‘Tablighis were spitting at doctors and nurses and demanding non-vegetarian foods during quarantine’. The media did not stop here. It used the Tablighi episode to target the entire Muslim community and mock Islamic traditions. This hurt me deeply. I decided to rebut it in my own way,” said the author who is also a senior journalist and a well known person in Delhi’s media circles.
But “Inside the Tablighi Jamaat” is not restricted to this particular episode, he says. The book fulfils a major need of the hour. “We have almost no literature about this missionary movement which started from India and spread all over the world. The book traces the origin of this movement. How its founder Maulana Muhammad Ilyas Kandhlawi, and before him his father and uncle, used to bring unlettered labourers from Mewat (currently in India’s Haryana state) to Delhi’s Nizamuddin locality (where it is currently headquartered) and teach them and even pay them wages as a way of compensation for loss of their daily earning.”
The Tablighi Jamaat was established in 1927. According to Salam, it was in response to the Shuddhi movement of Arya Samaj led by Dayanand Sararswati. “Within 20 years, Jamaat not only spread all over India and other countries of South Asia, but it also spread its wings to the Arab world, Europe and the United States of America,” Salam said.
Apart from Jamaat’s history, Salam says he has also discussed the ideology on which the entire movement is based. The Tablighis believe in looking within. They believe that life is about internal cleansing with regular prayer that paves the path to spiritual uplifting. Unlike other Islamic organisations that balance the here and the hereafter, the Tablighis are concerned only about ‘matters beyond the sky and under the earth’. Its steadfast refusal to take a political stand has stood it in good stead. It is the ‘ideal Muslim organisation’ for some – focused solely on introspection in isolation.
Has he been a part of Tablighi Jamaat? “No, never. But I am very much impressed by their dedication to their cause. Tablighis are selfless people. As a devout Muslim I go to the mosque for regular prayers. I have been meeting Jamaat leaders and listening to their sermons in mosques where they hold their ijtema (religious gathering),” he said.
Salam says he has had this book project in mind for a long time but could not get time because of his busy schedule at The Hindu, where he had been the Features Editor. In 2017, he shifted to Frontline, a sister publication of The Hindu. He says this shift has given him ample time to write books. So far he has published half a dozen books. Three of his books are lined up for release in July.
“Inside the Tablighi Jamaat,” will be launched on the 20th. This, and two other books, “Nikah Halala: Sleeping With A Stranger” and “Shaheen Bagh: From a Protest to a Movement” were ready and about to be launched one after the other. But the sudden declaration of lockdown delayed their release.
Salam says he has tried to present an objective view of the Jamaat. While acknowledging the contributions of the movement in the community, he believes it has restricted Islam to certain rituals. Besides, in their scheme of things women have no role to play whereas Islam does not differentiate between man and woman. “They don’t allow women in mosques, which is a woman’s birthright,” he pointed out.
Previously at least two other books have been published about the Jamaat, one in Bangladesh written by a research scholar and the other in Britain. But Salam’s book is perhaps the first serious attempt to know the movement and its people, which rightly or wrongly has come to represent the Muslim community in India.