New Age Islam
Tue May 11 2021, 02:38 AM

Interfaith Dialogue ( 15 Oct 2010, NewAgeIslam.Com)

Comment | Comment

Shuddhi and Tabligh: New Forms of Religious Preaching in India-[part 2]

By Yoginder Sikand,

Muslim Reaction to Shuddhi

The remarkable successes registered by the Aryas and Sanatanis in winning over the Malkanas to the Hindu camp and their announcements that they now wanted to embark on the shuddhi of all the many other neo-Muslim groups sent shock waves reverberating throughout the Muslim community in India. At first the reaction was one of stunned disbelief. It was as if nothing less than the death-knell had been sounded for the very existence of the Muslims in India. A leading Muslim alim declared that if the Muslims chose to remain complacent any longer in the face of the irtidad onslaught, it would be tantamount to renouncing Islam altogether. For, he went on to add, 'While protecting the Ka'aba made of bricks is a solemn duty, if the spiritual ka'aba and the real house of God, the heart of the true believer (qalb-i-momin), were to be emptied of faith, a very big ka'ba would be destroyed'.18

Echoing the same concern, a Muslim social activist from the Punjab announced that the irtidad campaign among the Malkanas was, 'simply the lull before the storm, a mere prelude to much more sinister things that were yet to happen'.19

Effective and bold steps had to be taken immediately if the flood of apostates was to be stopped. A leading Muslim community activist pleaded in anguish, crying out, "O Brothers! .. . Islam is calling out to all of you, saying, 'Get up and fulfil your duty to me or else you shall have to hang your heads in shame on the Day of Judgment before God and His Prophet' ".20

Diagnosis of the Problem

Before a fitting response could, however, be given to the shuddhi campaign, Muslim leaders had to consider why it was that such large numbers of Muslims, albeit for the most part only nominally so, had begun deserting Islam for what, to them, was unadulterated falsehood. One theory, put forward by a Muslim politician, suggested that for the last fifty years the leading minds of the Hindus had been conspiring to devise different ways to destroy Islam and the Muslim community in India. Two basic factors, he said, laid behind this plot. Firstly, it was claimed that the British, mortally afraid of the growing prospect of all Indians turning Muslim, had filled history textbooks with fanciful stories of the alleged barbarity of the Muslim kings of India towards their Hindu subjects so as to create hatred in the hearts of the Hindus towards the Muslims and Islam. Secondly, the high caste Hindus, finding large numbers of low castes deserting Hinduism for Islam, were greatly alarmed at the possibility of the Hindus soon being reduced to a minority. This, then, it was alleged, had set the Hindus plotting and the present tehrik-i-irtidad (Movement for Apostasy'), a term by which the Muslims referred to the shuddhi movement, was but a natural consequence of this.21

 Another conspiracy theory, put forward, this time, by a leading Muslim alim, was that the irtidad campaign was but a tool used, by whom he did not divulge, to rend asunder the Hindu-Muslim unity cemented in the course of the Khilafat movement. His reference was probably to the British or to pro-British groups that were opposed to the nationalist struggle, such as the Hindu Mahasabha.22

It was, however, not enough, many Muslims realized, to place the blame entirely on others for, clearly, the alleged conspiracy to destroy Islam could not have met with the degree of success that it did if all had been well within the Muslim camp itself. This realization, in turn, led Muslim leaders to march within and to engage in serious introspection to understand where they had gone wrong. All Muslim leaders seemed to agree that the root cause of the success of the irtidad campaign lay essentially in the common Muslims' ignorance of even the bare basics of Islam, which had left them vulnerable to the depredations of the Hindu missionaries. Addressing a gathering of ulama and students at the Firanghi Mahal Madrasah in Lucknow, Maulana Abdul Bari, the head of this renowned Islamic seminary, opined that the conversion of the Malkanas to Hinduism had only been made possible because the Muslims themselves had been neglectful in properly educating them as well as other "neo-Muslim groups in the essentials of Islam, as a result of which they had still retained many of their Hindu customs even after accepting Islam. Because of this, it was possible for them to slide back into Hinduism at the instigation of the Aryas. The Muslims, he commented, had all along been complacent about the Islamic education of the neo-Muslims because they believed that once they had renounced Hinduism there was no way they could go back to their ancestral faith. Now, however, the Aryas and even the orthodox Hindus had suddenly turned their backs upon their age-old principle of not allowing others to join the Hindu fold by engaging in aggressive proselytism. Under the sway of primordial group (qaumi giroh) sentiments the nau Muslims were now beginning to desert Islam in large numbers.23

Similar to this view was the one articulated by a leading alim of the Jamiat-i-Ulama-i-Hind ('The Union of the Ulema of India'). Not only had the Muslims who came to India neglected the religious education of the nau Muslim, they had also failed to "dye the Hinduistic society (hinduana ma 'ashrat) deep with the colour of the culture of the Hejaz". This is why, he said, the nau Muslim had remained ignorant of Islam. Their retaining of many Hinduistic beliefs, customs and practices even after formal conver¬sion to Islam had resulted in a gradual distancing and growing estrangement (ajnab-iyyat) between then, on the one hand, and Islam and the Muslims on the other. As long as they had continued to rule, the Muslim had remained oblivious to and completely unconcerned about this. It was because of this that now, despite having ruled India for over six centuries, the seventy million-strong Muslim community in the country was now being threatened with complete extinction.24

If, then, it was the ignorance of the teachings of Islam on the part of the neo-Muslim masses that had left them vulnerable to the missionary efforts of the Hindus, the only solution lay in directly addressing this very fundamental question. If the neo-Muslim were to be kept within the Muslim fold, clearly the only way out was to spread knowledge of Islam among them. Thus, an all-out effort through massive communal mobilization for tabligh or the preaching of Islam, was seen as the only effective response to the shuddhi challenge. No longer could the Muslim elite, including the ulama, remain indifferent to the religious conditions of the neo-Muslim masses. In a since long-past age, when Muslim political power prevailed over the land, such indifference was possible and, as we have seen, indeed, in a way, admirably suited the interests of the political establishment. Now, however, this no longer remained the case. If Islam had to be saved the neo-Muslims had to be fortified from the Hindu onslaught with the shield of Islamic education and, as we have seen, one alim had suggested, with "the culture of the Hejaz". This, stressed Maulana Syed Sulaiman Nadvi in his presidential address to the seventh session of the Jamiat-i-Ulama-i-Hind at Calcutta, could only be accomplished if the Muslims themselves went out and worked to teach Islam to the common Muslims. For, he said, keeping a Muslim ignorant of practical (amali) Islam is to convert him from Islam to unbelief'.25

Tabligh, or Muslim missionary activism, then, emerged as a reaction to the shuddhi movement. As Minault puts it, "Shuddhi and Tabligh were two sides of the same coin".26

 Many Muslim leaders themselves saw it in this way. "The Muslims' response to the Shuddhi came in the form of tabligh", writes a biographer of a leading tablighi activist of Delhi.27 A Deobandi alim, who was to go on to play an important role in the Jamiat-i-Ulama-i-Hind's tablighi efforts, thus exclaimed:

For eight centuries Muslims had completely renounced their fundamental duty of tabligh. It is only thanks to the shuddhi sabha that we were forced to reach out to the Malkanas and other such brothers of ours, otherwise who could say that we would give up all our comforts and spend days on end touring villages and towns simply for the sake of the spread of Islam?

He then went on to add that,

The shuddhi movement, or the fitna [discord, mischief, insurrection] of apostacy, is, in some way, Allah's way of testing us. Till such time as every single Muslim does not make the invitation (dawaf) of the Truth and the tabligh of Islam an integral part of his daily life, it will be impossible to say if we have passed this test by God or not ... The truth, however, is that the fitna of apostacy has produced a certain level of consciousness among the Muslims about the urgent need for tabligh.28

Similarly, in a speech delivered on the occasion of the annual distribution of degrees at the Madrasat al-Hayat at Kanpur, Maulana Abdul Bari of the Firanghi Mahal Madrasah noted:

At the present time the Aryas have shown you the path to the field of action. They have forced you to remember something (i.e. the duty of tabligh) which you had ignored and forgotten for centuries.29

For many Muslim leaders, tabligh was not to be restricted simply to the nee-Muslims. Rather, they felt that the Muslims should go beyond a merely defensive strategy of preventing the Hindus from making further inroads among the neo-Muslims. Address¬ing a large gathering of Muslims at Lucknow, Maulana Abdul Ban declared:

Our desire is not just that the apostates should once again become Muslim. Rather, we invite all the Hindus to become Muslim. Not just that. In fact, we extend the invitation of Islam to all the non-Muslims of the world, and we ourselves do not at all wish to listen to the preachings or invitation of other religions.30

While tabligh work went on to be undertaken by several Muslim outfits among neo-Muslim communities such as the Malkanas, the Muslim Gujars and the Muslim Jats with some amount of success, few efforts were actually made to proselytise among the Hindus. While Muslim leaders did exhort Muslim missionaries to make special efforts to convert low caste Hindus, especially the untouchables, not much seems to have come of that. Given the constraints of the situation, in particular the highly surcharged communal situation of the time, pragmatism dictated that tabligh efforts be directed, by and large, among the neo-Muslim groups alone.

Practical Combative Measures

Panic-stricken Muslim leaders, trembling with the prospect of vast numbers of only nominal Muslim being absorbed into the Hindu fold, were, then, jolted into making desperate efforts to stem the tide of shuddhi. Only a massive tabligh campaign, Muslim leaders came to believe, could now save Islam in India from virtual extinction. Consequently, scores of Tablighi bodies sprang up in many parts of the country, mainly in the north where the real threat lay. Many of these were sporadic efforts on the part of individuals who themselves possessed few resources but much religious zeal. As a result, most of them proved to be short-lived attempts which soon wound up once the shuddhi campaign among the Malkanas finally died down towards the close of the second decade of the present century. The only exception to this was the movement known today as the Tablighi Jama'at, said to be, in fact, the single largest of contemporary Islamic movements. Since considerable literature exists on the Tablighi Jama'at we shall not deal with it here, and, instead, shall focus on four other major efforts at tabligh, representing various schools of Islamic thought, that followed in the wake of the tehrik-irtidad:

(a) Khwaja Hasan Nizami—a Barelwi response,32

(b) The response of the Jami'at-i-Ulama-i-Hind.

(c) The response of the Firangi Mahal Madrasah, Lucknow.

(d) Ghulam Bhik Nairang and his Jami'at Markaziya Tabligh-ul-hlam.

The first two seem to have been, by far, more active because of their links to the already well-established and widespread networks of the Barelwis and the Deobandis, whose resources they could have access to. Because of this, more information is available about them than about the other two responses mentioned here, about which very scanty reference are to be found in the existing literature. Hence, in the course of the next section of this paper, we shall discuss the Firangi Mahall response as well as that of the Jami'at Markaziya Tabligh-ul-hlam only briefly.

Khwaja Hasan Nizami and his Tablighi Efforts

Among the several individuals and groups that pushed forward the cause of tabligh in the wake of the shuddhi campaign was the prolific writer and noted Urdu scholar of Delhi, Khwaja Hasan Nizami (1879-1955). Nizami's principal biographer, Mulla Wahidi, claims that Nizami had over 500 books, on an amazing variety of subjects, to his credit.34

In the wake of the shuddhi movement, he writes, Nizami is said to have had 'several crore' tablighi handbills, posters and pamphlets printed and distributed among Muslims to warn them of the Arya threat.35

In addition, he is said to have undertaken several tablighi journeys to outlying rural areas inhabited by neo-Muslim communities. Nizami's efforts represent one of the most forceful and well-organized attempts of traditional Muslims, of what is commonly called the Barelwi school of thought, at tabligh in order to counter the shuddhi campaign.

Among Nizami's several writings on tabligh as a response to shuddhi, his Dai Islam ('The Missionary of Islam') stands out as the most prominent. Written with the stated purpose of 'making every Muslim a missionary (dai) of Islam' and first published in 1923, this book proved to be so immensely popular that it saw three editions within the same year. Interestingly, the Arya Samaj took such serious note of the book that, without Nizami's permission, Swami Shraddhanand was said to have got the book published in Hindi under the provocative title of Hindu par Shabkhun aur khatra ke Ghante (The hour of Murder and Danger for the Hindus). Ten thousand copies of it were then sold to the Hindus to spread panic among them, or so says Nizami, by conjuring up the phantom of a grand pan-Islamic conspiracy against Hinduism.

Nizami begins his book by stressing the need for the spread (isha'af) of Islam, taking pains to point out the fundamental difference between the aims of the Christian and Arya missionaries, on the one hand, and Islamic missionaries on the other. While the real motive of the Christian missionary is to spread European culture among the colonized peoples and the Arya shuddhi activist concerned solely with increasing Hindu numbers so as to further enhance their powers and privileges, the Muslim dai, says Nizami, has no such ulterior and base worldly motives. The tabligh of Islam, he stresses, should be undertaken solely to "preach the Oneness of God, to save people from the sin of shirk and to spread true love and equality in the world".36

 Nizami observes that the tabligh of Islam, particularly among neo-Muslim groups that are most vulnerable to shuddhi propaganda, cannot be undertaken simply through lectures (va 'az) or debates (munazra) or by recounting the faults of other religions. There are, he says, other, far more effective ways to achieve the purposes of tabligh. The first among these is "using the power of the caste or community (biraderi ki quwwaf). Since the immediate target of the Aryas are the Malkana Rajputs, Nizami suggests that Muslims should take pious Muslim Rajput landlords (jagirdars) and nobles (ra'is) to address meetings in the Malkana villages. Seeing these wealthy and powerful Muslim Rajputs advocating the cause of Islam and promising them an equal place in their biraderi, the Malkana Rajputs can easily be won over to the Muslim camp. This, says Nizami, is by no means an Islamically unacceptable way of doing tabligh and nor is it without precedent. The "power of the community", in particular the power of strong and influential social groups, he says, played a crucial role in the spread of Islam in the days of the Prophet himself. Many Arab tribes of the Prophet's day, he claims, had already come to realize the truth of Islam and the falsity of their own ancestral religions but had hesitated to convert to Islam because of the obduracy of the most powerful tribe among them, the Qumish. It was only when the Quraish finally relented and accepted Islam that these other tribes followed and became Muslim.37

In the following section of die book, entitled, Those Things Which Contain Elements That Can Persuade People or Which Can be Employed for Inviting People to Islam, Nizami lists an amazing number of other means that the dai of Islam can adopt in tabligh work. This reveals a remarkable understanding of the social dynamics of religion on his part. Among them different mediods that he suggests are popularizing 'folk Islamic' beliefs, practices and festivals, such as taking out tazia processions during the month of Muharram; spreading stories about the fame of Hazrat Ali and Imam Husain and about the miracles of die Sufi saints and their ability to fulfill wishes; organizing parties of singers in villages and towns to sing the verses of Sufis and faqirs and disseminating, in an organized manner, 'such talk about Islam as will leave die lower caste non-Muslims dumbstruck'. The last mentioned point concerned tabligh among die untouchables, for Nizami, like several other tablighi activists at diis time, felt that it was not enough simply to attempt to save die neo-Muslims from die Hindu missionary threat but diat, to gain die upper hand in die battle, and, indeed as a fundamental religious duty itself, diey should seek to convert non-Muslims to Islam. The low castes, because of die cruel oppression that they were subjected to at the hands of die high caste Hindus, were seen as potentially die most receptive to die call of Islam.

Making a sharp departure from tradition, Nizami says that it is wrong to think that the responsibility for die work of tabligh rests solely with the ulama and the Sufi Mashaikh. Rather, he says, dai’s work is die duty of every single Muslim, no matter how humble his origins. Ordinary Muslims, belonging to various different social and occupational groups, have different but equally important roles to play in die work of tabligh. Tabligh, then, is to be seen as a grand community-wide effort with a well organized division of labor between different Muslim groups. Nizami classifies die Muslims into broadly die following categories, each of which has its own role clearly defined for it. These categories are:

(a) The mashaikh, including sajjada nashin of dargahs, darwesh and faqirs. Those among these who have muridin (deciples) of dieir own can use diem in spreading Islamic teachings among the neo-Muslims and the low caste Hindus. Pin with large jagirs (estate) can donate money to finance Muslim missionaries. Festivals associated with die cults of die dargahs such as die gyaravhin of Abdul Qadir Jilani and die urs of die saints, should be popularized. Itinerant faqirs and those who practice astrology and fortune-telling (ramal, najam, jafar) should use every opportunity to preach Islam to those whom they come into contact with.

(b) The Ulama. They should go out to die jahil (ignorant) Muslims and teach diem die basic masa'il related to aqida (belief), saum (fasting) and salat (prayer). Imams of mosques should spend some time after every congregational prayer in teaching groups of Muslims simple ways to do tabligh. Ulema in Madrasahs should study in depdi die religions of die non-Muslims so as to be able to refute diem effectively.

(c) Muslim rulers of princely states (waliyan-i-riyasat). Every Muslim princely state should set up a department for die tabligh of Islam in its territories. Muslim landlords and estate owners, too, can play an important role in regard to tabligh, because, 'Whatever they command the people under their influence to do, that will be followed by them.'

(d) Muslim agriculturists (kashtakar), artisans (dastakar) and traders (tajir). These people often come into contact with low caste Hindus, such as sweepers, cobblers and farm laborers. If they are properly trained, they can do effective tabligh work among them.

(e) Blue- and white-collar Muslim workers (mulazmat pesha). These include police officers, village record keepers, postmasters, sepoys, doctors, compounders and cooks and bearers in the homes of the rich. Muslim doctors should treat their non-Muslim patients with such care and love that, seeing true Islam in practice, they will be drawn to the faith. Muslim railway employees should use every opportunity to do tabligh among train passengers. Muslim bearers and cooks in English homes should try to convert the other servants, especially sweepers (halalkhor) to Islam.

(f)   Muslim actors (sang), singers (ganewale) and writers (musannif). Muslim actors should be asked to stage plays on various Islamic themes in villages. Mendicants who play instruments and sing as well as blind beggars in particular, who generally have sweet voices, should memorize and sing Islamic songs when soliciting alms. Muslim qawwals should sing qawwalis about the glories of Islam. This strategy, Nizami says, promises to be very effective because, 'in India song and music have a far more powerful effect than lectures and sermons.' Muslim writers should write tracts on methods of tabligh as well as stories about the bravery of the Muslims. The latter will have a particular appeal for 'martial' groups such as the Rajputs.

(g) Informers (khabarasari). A central department (mehkama) for obtaining and documenting information about the missionary activities of the Christians and Hindus among the Muslims should be set up with a hierarchy extending down to the village-level. Sources of information would include Muslim policemen, Muslim servants and other workers in the homes and offices of the British and the Hindus, and blind Muslim beggars and Muslim beggar women who can enter people's houses, and so on.

(h) Others. These include Muslim politicians and newspaper editors. The latter should regularly publish such articles in their papers as would help in augmenting the monetary and other resources of Muslim missionaries as well as promoting their zeal to carry on with their mission.38

Despite Nizami's desperate appeals for a massive tablighi counter-attack in response to the shuddhi challenge, he failed to evoke much support by way of volunteers who were actually willing to work with him. The Aryas, he ruefully remarked, had, within a matter of a mere few months, sold out all the ten thousand copies of his book which they had published on their own, but so indifferent were the Muslims themselves to it that he had to eventually give away three thousand copies of it free of cost because few were interested in purchasing it. Ironically, it was the Aryas, and not the Muslims, for whom it was actually written, who drew appropriate lessons from the book. The Aryas, said Nizami, had now begun employing precisely the same methods and tactics in their shuddhi campaign as he had suggested to Muslims in his book. They were using the very same occupational groups among the Hindus to carry on their tehrik-i-irtidad as he had recommended should be used by the Muslims in their tablighi crusade.39

TheJami'at-i-ulema-i-Hind's Efforts at Tabligh

Like other Muslim groups the Jami'at, an India-wide umbrella group of mainly Deobandi ulama, was quick to respond to the tehrik-i-irtidad launched by the Hindus. Several teams of Jami'at missionaries were, in fact, dispatched to the Malkana villages. In the middle of 1923, it set up the 'Department for the Propagation and Protection of Islam' to organize tablighi efforts throughout the country, particularly in the region inhabited by the Malkanas. Within five months of its establishment, the department had set up 105 branches all over the country, mainly in the western districts of the United Provinces and the Punjab. It had also constructed nearly 70 mosques and madrasahs at various places with a large neo-Muslim population.40

In a pamphlet detailing the early activities and achievements of the department, the department's treasurer, Maulana Muhammad Abdul Halim Siddiqui, termed the Aryas' shuddhi onslaught as 'an enormous calamity' (musibat-i-kubrd) for the Muslims and a 'religious plague', which, 'if ignored even for a single minute would spell suicide for Islamic India'. He then went on to suggest ways by which the further spread of irtidad could be checked and the neo-Muslims protected from the depredations of the Aryas.41

The first and foremost step that should be taken, wrote the Maulana, was the training of muballighin from among the neo-Muslims themselves. This is precisely what the Aryas had done, and, in large measure, this was also the secret of their success among the Malkanas. They had used Hindu Rajputs, who were familiar with the customs and ways of the Malkana Rajputs, as missionaries. The Muslims, too, should adapt the same strategy and use qaumi muballighin, missionaries from among the same caste as the target group towards which tablighi efforts were to be directed. These muballighin were, however, not to be made to do tabligh work in their own villages since opposing factions from even among the same caste within the village could place hurdles in their way.42

Besides qaumi muballighin, patrol groups (gashti wafud) could travel through the countryside spending a few days in each village, preaching Islam to the neo-Muslims. Siddiqui also suggested the immediate setting up of a chain of mosques and madrasahs in the Malkana belt. Pinning his hopes on die younger generation of Malkanas, for the elders were fixed in their traditional ways of thinking, he argued that Islamic madrasahs were, in fact, the 'foundation stone' of tablighi efforts in the area. 'No number of madrasahs is too much and nor is any amount of money spent on them, he declared.43

It was not, maintained Siddiqui, that the Malkanas were deserting Islam for Hin¬duism because of any perceived merits of the latter. Rather, their irtidad had actually much to do with their harsh and pitiable economic conditions, in particular, their heavy indebtedness to Hindu moneylenders, the Mahajans and the Banias (money lenders). So deep in debt were they to them that, 'the Mahajans (had)become the masters (maalik) of not just their self-respect (izzat, 'abru) but, indeed, of their very life and death itself.' The Mahajans, Siddiqui alleged, were coercing the Malkanas to apostise by threatening to cut off all credit to them. Even strict, practicing Muslims among them, threatened by the ultimatum delivered by the Banias, who had court notices brought against them for their inability to repay their debts, had no other recourse than to go against their faith and conscience and agree to undergo shuddhi at their insistence. Given these harsh realities, said Siddiqui, to protect the neo-Muslims from irtidad not only must arrangements be made for their Islamic education, but, simultaneously, efforts should be made to release these hapless people from the clutches of the Mahajans and the Banias. He suggested the setting up of Muslim agricultural banks, interest-free loan societies and irrigation wells for this purpose. These, he advised, must be set up not only in the Malkana belt but in all other areas where neo-Muslim groups, vulnerable to the fitna of irtidad lived.44

Another reason why the Malkanas were entering the Hindu fold, Siddiqui noted, was that the Aryas were enticing them with false promises of extending ties of roti-beti (commensality and consanguinity) with them, which would enable them to raise their own social status. Indeed, these blandishments were, 'the very foundation stone of the very grand and lofty, yet imaginary, palace that was shuddhi which, if dislodged, would bring the entire structure crashing down.' The Aryas, however, were not serious about these promises. The Muslims, on the other hand, should seize the initiative and convince the Malkanas that if they stayed on within the Muslim fold they would be given an honorable status and full roti-beti relations would be established with them.45

A Firanghi Mahali Response

The ulama associated with the Firanghi Mahal Madrasah of Lucknow, long known for its devotion to scholarly pursuits, too, seem to have been jolted out of their com¬placency by the dramatic success of the irtidad campaign of the Aryas. The then head of the Firanghi Mahal Madrasah, Maulana Abdul Bari, forced to come to terms with the harsh reality of scores of Malkanas deserting Islam, declared that he firmly believed that, 'Islam alone, and no false religion, had the right to be propagated' and that, 'if even for a single minute, a Muslim were to concede this right to others to preach their religions, his faith would be brought under serious doubt'. However, he was forced to concede, it was an entirely different matter if the followers of false religions began to propagate them but the Muslims were not in a position to stop them, as was the case in British India.46

The fitna of irtidad, the Maulana suggested, could most effectively be countered by the jama'at of the Sufis. Muslims should repose their trust in the Sufis' ability to undertake this work. Mistrust arises from monetary donations, he said, and so the Sufis should, as far as possible, refrain from seeking financial assistance from common Muslims for their tablighi efforts. It is not money that is required for effective tabligh, he said, but pious and dedicated workers who, would be willing to sacrifice their time in the cause of protecting Islam. If the need arose, the leaders of the Sufi orders (shaikh-i-tariqaf) could turn to their own muridin for money. The latter, knowing that this would be a source of blessing (barakd) for them, would willingly comply with their request.

Since the heads of the Sufi orders had a vast network of muridin spread right across the country, it would, said the Maulana, be relatively easy for them to together engage in country-wide tablighi efforts. The mashaikh should extensively tour the country to visit their muridin, to bolster their zeal for the tablighi cause, to expand their sihilah of bayt and to appoint their deputies (khulafd) to expand tabligh work. Roving faqirs should form groups and go into neo-Muslim villages. There they should spend six hours a day working as laborers and, in the evenings, gather the people and teach them the basics of Islam. They should earn their bread through the sweat of their own labor, or, if they did not manage to get any work at all, they should be willing to go without food for days on end. Furthermore, the mashaikh and the ulema should organize small jama'ats comprising at least three people, one with a knowledge of medicine, another experi¬enced in worldly matters and the third, reasonably well-versed in Islam, and dispatch them to the villages inhabited by the neo-Muslims. These jama'ats would spend a few days in each village, preaching Islam as well as ministering to the sick. The latter, commented Siddiqui, could play a particularly important role in attracting non-Muslims to Islam.

Like Khwaja Hasan Nizami, the Maulana also wished that all Muslims, no matter what their background or occupation, should actively participate as missionaries to combat the shuddhi onslaught. Each Muslim should, he said, consider it his binding duty to convert at least one non-Muslim to Islam. Ordinary Muslims should attempt to do this among the non-Muslims, especially the low caste Hindus, whom they came into contact with in the course of their daily work.

The Jami'at Markaziya Tabligh-ul-Islam

Yet another prominent crusader for tabligh who came to the fore in the wake of the rising flood of the tehrik-i-lrtidad was the Punjabi activist, Sayyed Ghulam Bhik Nairang. Nairang, who served as a lawyer at the high court at Ambala, floated the Jami'at Markaziya Tabligh-ul-Islam, with its headquarters at Karnal, in the Punjab, in July 1323, soon after news began pouring in of large numbers of Malkanas crossing over to the Hindu fold.47

 Haji Maulvi Sir Rahim Bakhah, KCIE, leader of the Council of the Muslim princely State of Bahawalpur, was appointed as the president of the Jami'at. By 1925 its efforts at tabligh among neo-Muslim groups had spread over large parts of northern India, including Ajmer and Rajputana, the Punjab, Jammu, Delhi, the United Provinces, Central India and the Bombay Presidency. In that year it had enrolled the services of thirty missionaries and was running sixty three madrasahs at various places. By 1928, the number of volunteer missionaries associated with the Jami'at is said to have risen to 370. In the first five years of its existence, broadly spanning the period when the Aryas were most active among the Malkanas, it had reportedly sponsored over 16,000 tablighi meetings all over the country and claimed to have converted or reconverted over 25,000 people, including several Malkanas, to the Muslim faith. The jami'at is believed to have been fairly active in opposing the Aryas' forays into the Malkana belt. It set up a branch at Aligarh, headed by a Rajput Muslim, one Kunwar Wahhab Khan, to carry on tabligh work among the Malkanas. In addition, so as to help co-ordinate tablighi efforts, it launched its own Urdu newspaper, the Tabligh.


The transformation of what, for want of a better term, can be called 'Hinduism' into an openly and self-consciously missionary religion is one of the most significant developments in South Asian religious history. Today, several Hindu groups are active, not just in India but elsewhere as well, to bring others into the Hindu fold. These are no mere fringe groups any longer. In fact, one of the major groups behind the rise of aggressive Hindu nationalism in India today is styled the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (The World Hindu Council), one of whose stated goals is actually to convert the world as a whole to Hinduism. This transformation of the fundamental character of Hinduism over the years, which owes much to the shuddhi campaign of the Arya Samaj in the early decades of the present century, is not simply of significance to Hindus and Hinduism alone. Rather, since Hindu missionary activity as well as Hindu religious nationalism has, traditionally, been sought to be built up on the foundation of a profound antipathy of Islam and its adherents, it has had tremendous consequences of Muslim public behavior in South Asia and, indeed, as in the case of the Tablighi Jami'at, for Muslim communities in other parts of the world as well. One such consequence for Muslim South Asia has been the awakening of not just the ulama and the Muslim political elite but even common Muslims to the need for Islamic reform through tabligh. Efforts at the more proper and complete Islamization of the Muslims of South Asia, which are today being carried out by a number of groups in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, owe their immediate origins to the dramatic fall-out of the fitna-i-Irtidad in the early twentieth-century northern India, to combat which the four groups this paper has dealt with, besides the Tablighi Jama'at, seemed to have played a crucial role.


18. Maulana Abdul Bari, Fitna-i-Irtidad aur Musalmano Ka Farz (Urdu) (The Calamity of Apostasy and the Duties of the Muslims), Lucknow: Firanghi Mahal, AH 1341, p. 39.

19. Nairang, op. cit., p. 3.

20.  Khwaja Hasan Nizami, Dai-i-Islam (Urdu) (The Missionary of Islam), Amritsar: Roz Bazar Burqi Press, 1923, p. 27.

21. Nairang, op. cit., pp. 5-6.

22. Abdul Bari, op. cit., p. 16.

23. Abdul Bari, op. cit., p. 44.

24. Maulana Abdul Halim Siddiqui, Asbab-i-Irtidad (Urdu) (The Causes of Apostasy), Delhi: Depart¬ment for the Spread and the Protection of Islam, Jami'at Markaziya Ulema-i-Hind, 1923, p. 9.

25. Jami-at-ul-ulama-i-Hind-Dastavezat Markazi Ijlas 1919-45 (Urdu) (Resolutions Passed by the central committee of the Jami'at-ul-ulema-i-Hind 1919-45), Vol. I, Islamabad: National Institute of Research in History and Culture, 1980, p. 371.

26.  Gail Minault, The Khalifat Movement: Religion and Political Mobilization in India, Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1982, p. 193.

27. Imam Murtaza Naqvi, Khwaja Hasan Nizami-Hayat aur Adabi Khidmat (Urdu) (Khwaja Hasan Nizami: Life and Literary Contribution), Lucknow: Naseem Book Depot, 1978, p. 149.

28.  Siddiqui, op. cit., p. 38.

29. Abdul Bari, op. cit., p. 37.

30. Abdul Bari, op. cit., p. 48.

31. The two major works on the Tablighi Jama'at are Sayyed A.H.A. Nadwi, Life and Mission of Maulana Muhammad Ilyas, Lucknow: Academy of Islamic Research and Publications, Nadwat-ul ulama, 1993 and M. Anwarul Haq, The Faith Movement of Mavilana Muhammad Ilyas, London: George Alien & Unwin, 1972. For more bibliographical details on the subject, see Y. S. Sikand, "Charisma and Religious Revivalism: The Case of the Islamic Tablighi jama'at Movement Among the Meos of Mewat", Unpublished M Phil Dissertation submitted to the Centre for the Study of Social Systems, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, 1994, pp. 138-141.

32. The term Barelwi is generally employed in South Asia to refer to Traditional Sunni Muslims who, among other things, are known for their association with the cult of the dargahs of the Sufis.

33. The term Deobandi is generally used for South Asian Muslims who follow the reformist school of thought of the Dar-ul-ulum, in the city of Deoband, which is a small town in northern India.

34. Naqvi, op. cit., p. 30.

35.  Used in several north Indian languages, a crore represents ten million.

36. Nizami, op. cit., p. 3.

37. Ibid., pp. 4-5.

38. Ibid., pp. 4-38.

39. Ibid., p. 40.

40.  Siddiqui, op. cit., p. 6.

41. Ibid.

42. Ibid., p. 15.

43. Ibid., p. 18.

44. Ibid., p. 27.

45. Ibid., p. 21.

46. Abdul Bari, op. cit., p. 12.

47. Nairang, op. cit., Back cover.

Copyright 2010:@ New Age Islam Foundation