By Moin Qazi
Dr. Moin Qazi is a Ph.D. in Economics and English.
Let there arise out of you a band of people inviting to all that is good, enjoining what is right, and forbidding what is wrong: They are the ones to attain felicity. – (Quran 3: 104)
The Muslim world is in crisis and a biased media has added its own biased colour to it. The negative stereotyping has created an impression that everything Muslim is evil. However, away from public glare, there is a silent revolution that has Prophet Muhammad’s mission placed on the top of all priorities – the spreading of the authentic message of Islam. Called da‘wah – the concept of propagation of Islamic faith- a humongous army of preachers is silently striving to make Muslims better practitioners of their faith.
Da’wah and its meaning and importance
Religions have jostled with each other for millenniums. Many missionaries of today are returning to practices of proselytising that were long ago abandoned by the mainline missionaries. Armed only with sleeping bag backpacks, and a simple message, da’wah activists are going door-to-door in more than 200 countries. They can be easily recognised, and most are unfailingly polite. This mission evokes tales of Prophet Muhammad’s companions who trekked hundreds of miles and braved bandits and armies to spread the word of Islam back in the 7th century.
Da‘wah means the issuing of a call or invitation. It is an important duty of every Muslim to invite people to their faith or to recall nominal or lapsed Muslims to a deeper faith. Islam’s propagation remains a cardinal duty of every Muslim. This is particularly relevant in modern times where negative stereotyping of Muslims has brought a bad name to the faith. It also underlines the importance of the participation of educated Muslims because the knowledge explosion requires more sophisticated intellectual equipment to navigate the complex environment.
Islam has a simple but highly effective evangelical message that boils down to five points to mirror Islam’s five cardinal pillars of practice: Grasp the true meaning and implications of the credal statement that there is no deity except Allah, and Muhammad is his messenger; pray conscientiously five times a day; acquire learning and engage in the frequent remembrance of God; honor fellow believers; and participate in missionary work (da’wah) by spreading awareness of Islam. Da’wah is God’s way of bringing believers to faith. Historically, missionary da’wah accompanied commercial ventures or followed military conquests.
The “invitation”, or call, to accept Islam has to be extended not just to non-Muslims, but also to Muslims who do not observe Islam in its fullest form. Calling non-Muslims and “inconsistent” Muslims to Islam is considered by Muslim theologians to be an unconditional duty of every Muslim. Every Muslim is considered a missionary of Islam.
The story of Maulana Kandhlawi
The most accomplished modern missionary is Maulana Muhammad Ilyas Kandhlawi (1885-1944), a puritan, religious scholar. When he began his revivalist movement called Tablighi Jamaat (“Proselytising Group“) in a rural setting in Mewat in northern India in 1927, it was a response to a dominant Hindu culture that was influencing Muslims and their way of life. However, the seeds were germinated in British-ruled India, emerging from the Islamic Deoband movement active in South Asia. From its inception in 1867, the Deoband movement fused some aspects of Sufism with the study of the hadith and strict adherence to sharia, as well as advocating non-state-sponsored Islamic da`wah (missionary activity). In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Muslim minority in British India felt caught between the resurgent Hindu majority and the small but British-supported Christian missionary agenda.
Kandhlawi graduated from the central Deoband madrassa in 1910 and, while working among the Muslim masses of Mewat, India (just south of Delhi) came to question whether education alone could renew Islam. He eventually decided that “only through physical movement away from one’s place could one leave behind one’s esteem for life and its comforts for the cause of God.” Indeed, some have even described his movement as the missionary arm of the Deobandis. Other Muslim groups in the subcontinent, notably the Barelvis, had previously developed the idea of itinerant missionary work—tabligh—in order to counter Hindu (and Christian) conversions of Muslims, but it was Ilyas’s genius to teach that tabligh should be the responsibility of each and every individual (male) Muslim. He aimed to recapitulate the alleged piety and practice of Muhammad and his companions in the 7th century A.D., and as such was concerned not just with Hindu or Christian inroads into the Muslim community but with stemming the rising tide of Westernization and secularisation. Unlike other contemporary Islamic revivalists, Ilyas did not believe that Islam could be reconciled with Western science, technology, and political ideologies.
Ilyas wanted to take his teachings from the classroom to the common people. The mission was meant to devote itself largely to the business of preaching, The Meos, the community in which Ilyas began his work, were Muslims but mostly followed several Hindu traditions. The adherents of the organization are popularly known as “tablighis”. The movement grew out as an offshoot of Deobandism, a socially conservative school of Islam. The tablighis lead spartan lives, shunning the outside world. They strive to create an ambiance of spirituality, solidarity, and purpose that is extremely compelling to the youth.
Spread of the revivalist movement
What began as a revivalist movement has over the past century transformed into a global phenomenon. It has seen a massive surge in recent time, heightened by a strong religious zeal in the new generation of Muslims. Instead of adopting the frayed coarse discourses, the da’is use interesting anecdotes from the Islamic scriptures to enthuse the initiates. With the enlightened elders, they also engage in deep theological discussions.
Transnationalism and travel are two distinct characteristics of this movement. It adopted transnational travel and physical movement as a means of da’wah. The most important and frequent activity of an adept of the Jamaat is going out for God’s sake. A combination of time and space, ‘travel’ has a special meaning in the tablighi discourse. Tablighi Jamaat members leave the comfort of their homes for 3-4 months to serve God.
The movement is comparable with the concept of hijra, both in the sense of migration and withdrawal. It is travel within one’s self. One temporarily migrates from dunya (worldly pursuits) to din (religious concerns), a favourite dichotomy among the tablighis. It is a migration from corruption to purity, drawing away from worldly attachments to the Path of God. A spiritual period in da’wah work, in other words, reduces the desires for worldly pleasures and sets the individual on an authentic moral and spiritual path.
Lessons of the Tablighi movement
In their lessons, drawn from Quranic verses and the recorded sayings of Prophet Muhammad, da’wah supporters lay out two simple aims. First, they encourage fellow Muslims to return to what they believe are the standards and morals of the prophet’s companions. Second, they recruit members to join da’wah and take part in kharooj (preaching tours). Kharooj is a designated mission defined by the number of days involved in the spiritual journey, typically 3 days, 40 days, or four months. The object of the exercise is to lure the weak ones into the mosque, where they can be repeatedly subjected to the ‘six points’ programme. Tablighi Jamaat acts as a beacon to those lost in jahiliyyah (the state of ignorance of guidance from God), but it stops short of just that.
As Travelers in Faith puts it: “Man is a ship in tumultuous sea. It is impossible to repair it without taking it away from the high seas where the waves of ignorance and the temptations of temporal life assail it. Its only chance is to come back to land to be dry-docked. The dry-dock is the mosque of the jamaat.”
Featured Image Source: Pexels
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