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Islamic Society ( 25 Apr 2022, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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The Heaven’s Caravan: Da’wah – The Concept Of Propagation Of Islamic Faith

By Moin Qazi, New Age Islam

26 April 2022

Da’wah Is An Important Duty Of Every Muslim To Invite People To Their Faith Or To Recall Nominal Or Lapsed Muslims To A Deeper Faith

Main Points:

1.    The Da’wah message is nonviolent and harbours no hatred for other faiths or peoples.

2.    Islamic evangelism has a simple message that boils down to five points to mirror Islam’s five cardinal pillars of a practice

3.    Tablighi theology stresses that Muslims must first devote themselves to becoming good, practising Muslims in their own lives


Who is better in speech than one who calls (men) to Allah, works righteousness, and says, "I am of those who bow in Islam

— (Qur'an, 41:33)

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

– (Qur’an 3: 104)

The Muslim world is in crisis and biased media has added its biased colour to it. The negative stereotyping has created an impression that everything Muslim, is evil. This perception is slowly changing as millions of grassroots Muslim missionaries are spreading the true message of Islam. Far away from the 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.

Religions have jostled with each other for millenniums. Many missionaries are returning to practices 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 the remotest nooks of the world. All this 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 seventh century. Historically, missionary Da’wah accompanied commercial ventures or followed military conquests.

Now, in the modern digital world, the hardships are fewer, but challenges and prejudices are much stronger. 

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.  A Muslim who practices Da’wah, either as a preacher, religious worker, or someone engaged in faith-building community work is called a da’I, plural du’at. The fundamental credo of Da’wah is enjoining good and forbidding evil.

Moral virtues form the cornerstone of Islamic civilization. It is this fundamental trait that distinguishes it from any other civilization in history. The argument that other civilizations, too, have a moral core is countered by the fact that Islam is a way of life—ad-deen —and not simply a religion. Our values shape our lives; they are the qualities that define us. They make us who we are and guide us in our life choices, what we believe in and what we commit to. It is ultimately our character that will influence the perception of others about us. All religions, of course, do imply a total way of life and define a believer’s most fundamental values and thereby shape their influence within the family, the society, the polity, and the economy.  But   Islam provides an elaborate code of religious law; it lays out   a blueprint for a specific social order

Islamic evangelism has a simple message that boils down to five points to mirror Islam’s five cardinal pillars of a practice: Grasp the true meaning and implications of the creedal 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; honour fellow believers, and participate in missionary work (Da’wah) by spreading awareness of Islam. 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. Da’wah is God’s way of reconnecting “inconsistent” or “wayward” Muslims to their faith.  

The Da’wah message is nonviolent and harbours no hatred for other faiths or peoples. Instead, it seeks to show Muslims that the injustice and oppression they face are symptoms of their waning morality. Muslims themselves are to blame, they are told, for letting their faith slip. It insists that the solution lies in spiritual renewal. The aim is less about conversion and more about propagating the correct Qur’anic teachings about piety, sin, and salvation for souls.

The most accomplished modern missionary is Maulana Muhammad Ilyas Kandhlawi (1885-1944), a puritan, religious scholar, pass belonging to a distinguished family of Sufis, popularly known as Maulana Ilyas.

When he began his revivalist movement called Tabitha Jamaal (“Proselytizing Group, also Society for Spreading Faith”) in a rural setting in Mewat in northern India in 1927, its primary objective was to counter the inroads being made by Hindu missionaries into the local Muslim community whose knowledge of Islam was only superficial. Worried that the existing Islamic educational institutions were not able to suitably fend off the Hindu challenge, Ilyas envisioned a movement for deputing missionaries to villages to reform the society by instilling Muslims with core Islamic values so that they attain personal spiritual renewal. The adherents of the movement are popularly known as “Tablighi”. The Tablighi lead Spartan lives, shunning the outside world. They strive to create an ambience of spirituality, solidarity, and purpose.

The Tablighi Jamaʿat is one of the most widespread Sunni Islah (reform)and Dawa (missionary)organisatios  in the world today. It is apolitical but its loose and porous structure may leave it open to penetration by other elements. It is on account of this reason that there has been infiltration of wrong people with the sporadic accusation of links of terrorists with the organization. 

Tablighi theology stresses that Muslims must first devote themselves to becoming good, practising Muslims in their own lives, rather than struggling for political power or even protesting oppression by non-Muslims focusing on the "greater jihad," which is the inner struggle for faith and piety. A lay preaching movement, the Tabligh aims primarily to revive the religious knowledge and practice of Muslims, and secondarily to impact non-Muslims. Given the voluntary and largely informal nature of participation, it is impossible to precisely enumerate the persons involved at any given time. Despite its global reach and the presence of regional Markaz (. Markaz, centre or headquarters) outside South Asia, it maintains its strongest presence in South Asia and still looks to its founding Markaz in Nizamuddin, Delhi, as its inspirational centre. With roots in the Deobandi reformist tradition, the organization began in northern India in the early decades of the 20th century. The movement’s founder, Maulana Muhammad Ilyas (1885–1944), studied under Deobandi luminaries like Rashid Ahmad Gangohi (b. 1826–d. 1905).

Like his Deobandi forebears, Ilyas was a Alim-cum-Sufi who combined a commitment to scripturalist reform with the sensibilities of a Sufi Shaykh. Concerned about the lay Muslims of India’s Mewat region who were targeted for “re-conversion” to Hinduism by the proselytizing activities of Hindu revival movements, and increasingly dissatisfied with the reforming potential of Islamic madrasa education,

Theologically, the Tablighi Jamaat is closely tied to the conservative Deobandi school of Sunni Islam, which emphasizes strict adherence to religious orthodoxy. Ilyas too graduated from   Deoband in 1910 A.D. While working among the Muslim masses of Mewat, he realized that education alone could not 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.

Some Muslim groups in the subcontinent, notably the Barelvis (a group more catholic in their acceptance of customary practices associated with the veneration of Sayyad’s, holy men, saints, and the Prophet.)had previously developed the idea of itinerant missionary work to counter Hindu (and Christian) conversions of Muslims, but it was Ilyas’s genius that grounded Tabligh as a powerful vehicle in the crusade of rectifying Muslim faith.  Another group is the Ahl-i-Hadith   (they are akin to Arabian Wahhabis who trace their origin to an iconoclastic late eighteenth-century reform movement.) Tablighis are often conflated with Salafis or Wahhabis—but this is incorrect; they are neither. Ilyas aimed to recapitulate the piety and practice of Prophet Muhammad and his companions in the seventh century A.D., and as such was concerned not just with the percolation of Hindu or Christian influences into the Muslim community but with stemming the growing tide of Westernization and secularization. Unlike other contemporary Islamic revivalists, Ilyas believed that Islam could not be reconciled with Western science, technology, and political ideologies

Ilyas wanted to take his teachings from the classroom to the masses, to the grassroots. The mission was meant to devote itself largely to the business of preaching. The Meos, the Rajput community of Mewat, were Muslims but mostly followed Hindu traditions.

By the mid-1930s, Ilyas had promulgated a fairly detailed programme of belief and praxis. This new doctrine which is the staple of Tablighi includes:

•        Propagating Islam.

•        Islamic education (especially, for children at home.)

•        Modest Islamic dress and appearance (shaving the moustache and allowing the beard to grow long),

•        High regard for other Muslims and protecting their honour.

•        Rejection of other religions.

•        Self-financing of Tabligh trips.

•        Lawful means of earning a living.

•        Strict avoidance of divisive and sectarian issues.

What began as a revivalist movement has over the past century transformed into the largest group of religious proselytizers of any faith. It has seen a massive surge in recent times, heightened by a strong religious zeal in the new generation of Muslims.

Several influential personalities have joined the movement. Although its members are from diverse backgrounds, all share one key common interest—the propagation of Islam for the salvation of souls. The movement has an amazingly well-oiled machine that nets hundreds of thousands of new adherents every year.

Barbara Metcalf, a University of California scholar of South Asian Islam and the foremost Western expert on Tabligh, called Tablighi Jamaat “an apolitical, quietist movement of internal grassroots missionary renewal.” She reckons that although the movement aims to remake adherents’ lives, the sought-for transformation, “is not viewed instrumentally, that is, by the expectation that the transformation of individuals will ultimately produce a just society. On the contrary, the concern is whole with orienting Muslims toward an Islamic pattern in individual lives, the one dimension of life over which, one appears to have full control. The shape of the larger world is simply left to God.”

The Tablighi Jamaat’s canon is almost skeletal and amazingly simple, unencumbered with too many spiritual nuances. Their simple message resonates with nascent minds that are caught in a moral bind as they grapple with the complex vicissitudes of life.

Apart from the Qu’ran, the only literature the Tablighis are required to read is the Tablighi Nisab (Tablighi Curriculum) later retitled as  Fazail-e-Amal, the core piece of literature of the Jamaat, a compilation of hadith and commentaries on the Qur’an written by Muhammad Zakariyya (1898-1982), the nephew of the founder and main ideologue of the movement. This manual has four separate parts titled  Hayatus Sahabah, Fazail-e-Amaal, Fazail-e-Sadqaat and Muntakhab-e-Ahadis . The thrust of the book is on “six points.”

The six principles (Chhe Usul) of the Tablighi Jamaat (over and above the five pillars of Islam) which are the cardinal canons of the movement are:

1.       Kalimah-An article of faith in which the Tablighi accepts   an individual covenant that  there is no god but Allah and the Prophet Muhammad is His messenger and also acknowledges the obligations that flow from it

2.       Salaat-Five daily prayers that is essential to spiritual elevation, piety, and a life free from the ills of the material world. They are to be performed by men in the congregation whenever possible.

3.       Ilm and Dhikr-The knowledge and remembrance of Allah, conducted in sessions in which the congregation listens to preaching by the emir performs prayers, recites the Qur’an and reads Hadith. The congregation will also use these sessions to eat meals together, thus fostering a sense of community and identity

4.       Ikram-i-Muslim-The treatment of fellow Muslims with honour and deference

5.       Ikhlas-i-Niyat-Reforming one’s life in supplication to Allah by performing every human action for the sake of Allah and toward the goal of self-transformation

6.       Tafrigh-i-Waqt-The sparing of time to live a life based on faith and learning its virtues, following in the footsteps of the Prophet, and taking His message door-to-door for the sake of faith. This principle is also known as Tabligh, emphasizing the centrality of the doctrine.

Personal reform through prayer is the most identifiable feature of the Tablighi. The organization has not produced any major intellectual work nor does it boast of any established scholars. It places an almost magical emphasis on ritual. The Tablighi believes that each act of reciting the Islamic credo or praying makes a defined contribution to an individual’s salvation.

Every day, thousands of Da’wah groups, comprising devoted Tablighis with shaved upper lips and wispy beards, donning crocheted skull caps, undertake self–financed short-term preaching treks, known as Kharooj, to reinforce the religious norms and practices that, in its view, underpin a moral society. The Tablighis focus their attention on “correcting” Muslim practice.

The Karoo is a designated mission defined by the number of days involved in the spiritual journey, typically three days, forty days, or four months. The most prominent is the “chilla”, a forty-day preaching tour that all are obliged to undertake annually-similar to a Sufi order.

Like Jehovah’s Witnesses, they trawl through the day to save souls and find new converts for their faith.  . Four or five members of the group conduct daily people door-to-door ghast (“rounds” in Persian) going to those Muslims who live near a mosque. They give a two-minute speech, offer a blessing to the people they visit and make one request that they join them for maghrib (sunset) prayers and a brief lecture at the neighbourhood mosque for a lecture on Qur’an. Those who attend are offered Da’wah (invitation) to enrol in the movement. 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.

The Tablighi missionaries lead an austere and egalitarian lifestyle by observing strict regimens relating to dress and personal grooming. They also demonstrate strongly principled stands against social ills. They eschew beds and sleep on mosque floors, and bond deeply with fellow Tablighis by eating, washing, sleeping and praying together. Intoxicants are off-limits but missionaries are also expected to shun gossip and vain talks to insulate their minds from impure thoughts.

Instead of adopting the frayed coarse discourses, the dai, pepper their preaching with stories from Qur’an and Prophet’s life to enthuse the initiates. The enlightened elders also engage in deep theological discussions. The Tablighis layout has 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).  

Tablighi Jamaat acts as a beacon to those lost in Jahiliyyah (the state of ignorance of guidance from God), but it just stops here. It is time it designs and embarks on Mission 2.0 so that the journey completes a full Islamic cycle in every respect. As the acclaimed book  Travelers in Faith puts it:

“Man is a ship in a 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.”

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 Tablighi. It is a migration from corruption to purity, drawing away from worldly attachments to the Path of God. A period in da’wah work cleanses the soul and enhances one’s spiritual vitality.

The secret of the Tablighis’ success lies in direct, personal appeal and their simple style, shorn of theological frills. That is why they are most successful among the young. The members are committed, highly motivated, and spend their resources on the work of the Jamaat. It is no wonder that we have millions of stories of backslidden Muslims undergoing a total transformation and being restored to the pristine faith.

An important point, a Da’i emphasizes is that the Islamic concept of spirituality differs from that of other religions. In contrast to the renunciation of the world and physical self-denial, Islam lays stress on being in the midst of life and balancing both the mundane and temporal roles. 

Far from proselytizing and inducing others to change their religion or way of life against their free will, Islam does not permit the use of coercive, aggressive, or violent means. To set an example, Da’wah followers attempt to emulate the social practices of Muhammad in all aspects of life, ranging from which foot should one put forward to exit the mosque first to which direction to face when sleeping at night. They eat from communal platters on the ground, men sport beards of a certain length, and they use Miswak (teeth-cleaning twig) instead of a toothbrush as did the Prophet’s companions. In short, they emulate the dress, speech, and habits of the Prophet.

The Qur’an has made it explicitly clear that the method of both Islamic call (da’wah) and preaching (Balagh) should be fair, balanced, moderate, peaceful and non-violent so that people can embrace it voluntarily.  The Qur’anic term “Balagh” means to convey the message and “not to convert.” It involves wisdom and prudence on the part of the preacher.   The missionaries are expected to approach their audience with respect and treat them with love.

The preachers are expected to be humane and sensitive to the family obligations of others. They should not pursue their mission with aggressive zeal. Moreover, they must invite people to the faith and convince them through logical explanation and not by coercion. These two Qur’anic verses are lodestars   for the missionaries:

•        “You cannot guide whomever you please: it is God who guides whom He wills.” (Q28:56)

•        “It is not up to you to guide them, but Allah guides whom He wills.” (Q2:72)

The proselytization movement needs to guard itself against the arrogance that usually corrupts such movements. The missionaries need to inculcate the highest ethical standards while staying on course. They must also use creative ways of leveraging various l platforms for sharing the   “gospel.”

Tablighi Jamaat has its share of critics. Harder-line Islamists mock them because of their simplistic version of a revolutionary creed. Tablighis focus entirely on fostering a consciousness of the Islamic creed and promoting the practice of Islamic rituals. Many argue that its obsession with other-worldliness and asceticism leads to alienation and withdrawal from everyday realities, which is not what Islam enjoins to communicate the “gospel” correctly and convincingly; by seamlessly navigating all cultural filters and societal barriers. The overarching objective must finally be to polish people’s faith to make it a robust moral template to enable attaining well-being in this world and salvation in the hereafter.

Moderation is a fundamental and distinguishing feature of Islam. God says: ‘We have made you a nation justly balanced‘(Q 2:143). When the Qur’anic verse, “As to monasticism which they themselves invented, we did not prescribe any of it for them” (Q57: 27). An inability to cope with regular family and social obligations can impair one’s faith and lacerate one’s moral character.

But, as  Metcalf writes, “Islamic movements [like the Tablighi Jamaat] may have many goals and offer a range of social, moral, and spiritual satisfactions that are positive and not merely a reactionary rejection of modernity or ‘the West.’ Quite simply, these movements may, in the end, have much less to do with ‘us’ than is often thought.”


Moin Qazi is the author of the bestselling book, Village Diary of a Heretic Banker. He has worked in the development finance sector for almost four decades.


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