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Tablighi Jamaat in Mewat-5: Succession Disputes, the Tablighi Jamaat in Mewat Today and Objections of Youth



By Yoginder Sikand

Succession Disputes

When Yusuf died of a heart attack at Lahore in 1965, a dispute of sorts seems to have arisen within the Tablighi Jamaat leadership as to who should succeed him as Amir. According to one source, a certain Maulana Rahmatullah was felt by many to be the best qualified for this post, being among the senior-most Tablighi leaders after Yusuf. However, he was sidelined in favour of Enam-ul Hassan, a grandson of Ilyas' sister, and like Yusuf, a son-in-law of the chief ideologue of the Tablighi Jamaat, Muhammad Zakariyya. This was done despite the fact that, according to a Meo 'Alim, his relations with Yusuf were far from cordial daring the latter's lifetime (Bajhotavi 1987:3). This 'Alim maintains that Enam-ul Hassan had been chosen to serve as Amir of the Tablighi Jamaat only for a certain limited period, though he went on to hold the post right till his death (ibid.:5)

While the Tablighi Jamaat continued to expand under Enam-ul Hassan's leadership elsewhere in India and abroad, it seems to have run into certain difficulties in Mewat itself. Many Meos, including local Tablighi authorities themselves, testify that since at least the 1980s, there has been a visible slackening of the movement in Mewat. This partly has to do with Enam-ul Hassan himself. Owing to his engagement with other matters and to his general reserve, he is said to have been unaware of the power conflicts that were being fought out within the top Tablighi leadership after Yusuf s death. He is accused of having removed certain very active and dedicated old-time and senior Tablighi leaders, including some Meos, from the movement's global headquarters, allegedly finding them a major challenge to his authority (ibid.:3).

 It was also under Enam-ul Hassan's Amirship that the Meo presence in the top-level Tablighi leadership at the headquarters began to decline significantly, with the Meos and Muslims from Uttar Pradesh being gradually replaced by others, in particular, by Gujarati 'Ulema such as Ahmad Lath, Sulaiman Jhanjhi, Ahmad Godhra and Umar Palanpuri. Abdullah Tariq has an interesting explanation for this development. As the Tablighi Jamaat began to expand across the world, he says, money and wealth became a matter of increasing significance. Only rich Muslims, and not impoverished Meo peasants, could afford to travel to far off countries on long Tablighi tours or help organise massive Tablighi rallies. Even though the movement had started to grow outside India in Yusuf s time, Yusuf, says Tariq, 'made the rich his companions but did not let them ride over him'. Under Enam-ul Hassan, however, Tariq claims, Yusuf s strict principles were gradually relaxed and 'wealth began receiving greater importance than ever before'. This, he says, worked to favour the new, relatively wealthier Gujaratis from merchant families with their worldwide business contacts, who were now seeking to make their way into the central leadership of the Tablighi Jamaat, thereby leading to a growing marginalisation of the old-time leaders from Mewat and Uttar Pradesh. Isa Ferozepuri, a Meo disciple of Ilyas and author of several Tablighi-type books, who was later eased out of the movement in Enam-ul Hassan's time, also makes the same point, albeit obliquely (Ferozepuri n.d.a: 174-76).

The rise of the non-Meo, particularly Gujarati, element in the top-level leadership of the Tablighi Jamaat, a process that received particular impetus during Enam-ul Hassan's term as Amir, is deeply resented by many Meos today, who feel cheated of what they think is their due, owing to the fact that it was among them that the Tablighi Jamaat had started. However, probably the most serious charge levelled against Enam-ul Hassan by several Meos is his alleged nepotism. Many Meos seem to imagine that the leadership of the Tablighi Jamaat should lie in the hands of only the direct descendants of Ilyas. The saying Chaudhry Ka Beta Chaudhry Aur Hazra Tablighi Jamaati Ka Beta Hazra Tablighi Jamaati (‘the son of the Chaudhry becomes the next Chaudhry and the son of the Hazra Tablighi Jamaati becomes the next Hazra Tablighi Jamaati') is a truism that requires no justification for many in Mewat. Thus, when Yusuf’s son Harun was sidelined in favour of Enam-ul Hassan for the post of the Amir of the Tablighi Jamaat, many Meos were incensed (Bajhotavi, 1987:6).

 During Enam-ul Hassan's tenure the Meos are said to have grown increasingly resentful owing to widespread speculation that he was grooming his own son, Zubair, to succeed him, rather than allow Sa'ad, Harun's son, who is particularly popular among the Meos, to become the next Amir. One Meo 'Alim went so far as to issue an 'open letter' addressed to Enam-ul Hassan, accusing him of following in the footsteps of Muawiya who, by enabling his son, the tyrant Yazid, to succeed him, had done great harm to Islam (ibid.: 6). Enam-ul Hassan's propping up his son was, said this 'Alim, a serious violation of the Shari’ah (ibid.:6) and an 'enormous crime', for the post of Amir rightly belonged, he claimed, to Sa'ad, the true 'inheritor of the property' of Ilyas (ibid.:4). Besides, he went on to argue, Sa'ad was personally eminently qualified for the post and enjoyed widespread support not just in Mewat but elsewhere, too. Opportunists, he said, who 'had their five fingers deep in ghee', were in favour of Zubair, while the truly committed Tablighi activists were in full support of Sa'ad's case (ibid.:4). Concluding his letter, he issued a stern warning to Enam-ul Hassan that if he proceeded further with trying to prop up his son and denying Sa'ad his due, it would have serious implications for the future prospects of the Tablighi Jamaat in Mewat, for the Meos were fiercely opposed to Zubair. If Zubair were hoisted upon them, he warned, 'both Mewat and the Tablighi Jama'at would be completely destroyed' (ibid.:6)

The Tablighi Jamaat in Mewat Today

While in the 1990s, the Tablighi Jamaat has continued to spread, albeit gradually, to hitherto unreached Meo villages, it has still been unable to penetrate into the more remote villages in Alwar and Bharatpur, where the Sufi cults still flourish. In these parts the Meos were more heavily outnumbered by Hindus than in Haryana, and, lying in close proximity to Braj, the historic centre of the Krishna cult, the Meos here still maintain many of their Hindu traditions. Moreover, this is a region where, unlike in Haryana, economic change has been slow in coming.

Consequently, the pressure for cultural change and redefinition of religious and community identities has been less severe. Even in Haryana itself, the Tablighi Jamaat has been unable to elicit active participation from all sections of Meo society. Landless, poverty-stricken Meos, whose primary concern is the struggle for sheer survival, are unable to afford the luxury of taking time off from work to travel on Tabligh. Rather, it is among Meo families who possess some land that the Tablighi Jamaat has been able to generate most support. The months when there is no work in the fields are often used by them for Tabligh work. For Meo families which have benefited from agricultural prosperity, their new economic status is often sought to be translated into a higher social status. Association with the Tablighi Jamaat, with its rich symbolic resources of 'high' scripturalist Islam, functions for them as a channel of upward social mobility.

Although in geographical terms the 1990s continue to witness an expansion of Tablighi work in Mewat, a general slowing down in momentum is clearly discernible. Dissatisfaction with the top level Tablighi leadership is not the only cause of this. It seems that the enthusiasm that characterises participants in most social movements in their early and peak stages generally tends to mellow after the social crisis which gave birth to the movements is surmounted. Social movements have life paths of their own, going through the stages of birth, youth, old age and demise. In some cases that may be spared the last stage, in which case they usually become institutionalised and begin to play new social roles, different from what they were intended for by their founders.

This appears to be the case with the Tablighi Jamaat in Mewat. Here, the Tablighi Jamaat reached its peak in the immediate aftermath of the partition riots, a period of intense trauma for the Meos. As the years passed by and the Meos gradually began to resume their routine lives, their earlier zeal and enthusiasm seem to have declined, though even today, most Meos continue to at least formally and emotionally identify with the Tablighi Jamaat, for in much of Mewat it is still considered to be an integral part of Meo Muslim community identity. This lasting emotional commitment to the Tablighi Jamaat can, in part, be attributed to the heightened sense of insecurity among the Muslim minority in India more generally (S.A. Hussain 1993:180-81) where pervasive discrimination and periodic pogroms against Muslims and the dramatic rise in recent years of neo-fascist and militantly anti-Muslim Hindu groups has encouraged a process of community mobilisation based on cultural retreatism and insularity among Muslims that is strongly expressed in involvement in groups such as the Tablighi Jamaat (Tadsarkar 1996).

Objections of Youth

Despite this widespread emotional identification with the Tablighi Jamaat in Mewat, today it is commonplace to hear elderly Meos complain that no longer do the Meos, especially the younger, more educated generation, display the same passion for Tabligh work that they used to some decades ago. The general refrain seems to be that the Meo youth have become so distressingly materialistic as to have turned almost indifferent to matters of religion. Thus, a Meo, writing in what is probably the community's only regular periodical, the New Meo Times (1 April 1995, p. 4), laments that:

“No one can beat the Meo boys in matters of fashionable clothes, but in matters of Islam they always lag far behind the rest ... When it comes to participating in the Friday prayers they are the last to attend. However, when it comes to drinking alcohol and loitering around, they are right at the top.”

Such criticism of the waywardness of today's Meo youth is routine in the Meo press. In the pages of the New Meo Times hardly ever does one come across mention of Meo youth actively participating in Tabligh and other religious activities. Some elderly Meos readily admit that they sometimes have to force their sons to travel on Tabligh much against their will. According to one informant, from time to time instructions are received from the Tablighi Jamaat headquarters calling for a certain minimum number of men from each village to go out on Tabligh. In some cases there seem to be no volunteers and so the village elders simply get together and decide on their own who should be made to join the Jama’at. In this way, sometimes people are forced by social pressure to go on Jama’at.

On their part, many young Meos are now beginning to complain that the Tablighi Jamaat is far too ritualistic, other-worldly and neglectful of the real world concerns of their impoverished community. According to a Meo college student, it is now often the case that people who know little about Islam but have participated in a Jama’at presume that they know more than the 'Ulema themselves and start to raise objections to such small, inconsequential matters as wearing western clothes, shaving off the beard, sending girls to co-educational schools and even to men urinating while standing—all of these being grossly 'un-Islamic' for them. Because of this, he says, growing numbers of younger generation Meos are simply losing interest in the Tablighi Jamaat.

To many young Meos today, the attitude and behaviour of Tablighi Jamaat activists is not just wrong in a general sense, but, above all, un-Islamic as well. A Meo student pursuing his doctoral studies in Islam at Delhi's Jami'a Millia Islamia says:

“The division that Tablighi activists make between din and Duniya is itself un-Islamic, for in Islam, the sphere of life is part of the din. They see the din as lying simply in prayers and fasting and going on Tabligh tours, the rest being Duniya, and these two are perceived as fundamentally opposed to each other. That is why they do not pay any attention to the worldly concerns of the Meos, dismissing them as Duniyavi. In fact, I have often heard Tablighi Maulvis in Mewat lament in their lectures the little economic progress that we have experienced, saying that when we were poor and nearly starving we were very pious Muslims, but that today because we are a little more comfortably off we have forgotten God. This attitude of the Maulvis is something that many educated Meos resent today. Undoubtedly, this has caused a growing disillusionment with the movement on their part.”

'We only talk about the heavens above and the grave below and never the world in-between', is a refrain that Tablighi activists commonly employ when seeking to convince others that their movement has no political or worldly motives. To such great lengths will Meo Tablighi activists go in their opposition to 'worldly' affairs that some of them are known to have vociferously opposed secular education for Meo children, especially girls, seeing this as a corrupting influence? Maulana Muhammad Ishaq, head-teacher of Mewat's largest Tablighi-oriented madrasa, the Madrasa Mo'in-ul Islam, Nuh, himself confesses not to read newspapers and not to allow his students to do so, because, he says, they deal simply with worldly affairs, and acquiring such knowledge is not a religious obligation. It is, however, precisely this lack of concern with worldly matters that is making growing numbers of young Meos indifferent to, if not resentful of, the Tablighi Jamaat. As a Meo college student puts it:

“Look at our neighbours the Jats, the Gujjars and the Ahirs. A century ago their conditions were as miserable as ours. But how is it that today they have advanced so far but we are still where we were then? This has much to do with religion. The Arya Samaj, of which most Jats are members, did not just talk in the air about religion and sit back and do nothing else. No, it built scores of schools, colleges, hospitals, orphanages and training centres all over the Jat territory. That is how the Jats managed to get so far ahead. But look at the Meos! The Tablighi Jama'at says we should give up all concern with worldly affairs beyond the bare minimum needed to survive and that we should leave everything in God's hands. Not only have they not undertaken a single constructive effort for our economic and educational development, in many cases they have actually worked against such development….

“…I remember one Maulvi who once issued a fatwa declaring that learning English and Hindi was Haram [forbidden]. And, many Maulvis are still opposed to secular education, especially among Meo girls. On the other hand, you have not a small number of Maulvis who, while preaching to us the virtues of poverty, are making large sums of money for themselves through the religious rackets that they run. I have a strong feeling that these Maulvis don't wish to see us progress, because if we do, and if we were to go in for secular education, which is actually a fundamental duty in Islam, they would feel that their own leadership would be threatened.”

i. Rahmatullah's son, Maulana Abdulah Tariq, says that his father was probably denied the post of amir because Zakariyya wanted his own son-in-law to get it. He adds that there may be a grain of truth in the oft-heard accusation of his father being sidelined because of his 'low' Teli (oil-presser) caste origins or because he did not belong to the family of the Siddiqui Shaikhs of Kandhala (interview, New Delhi, 24 July 1996).

Tabish Mahdi, once a vociferous Muslim critic of the TABLIGHI JAMAAT, is convinced that the sidelining of Rahmatullah was simply because of caste prejudices. He says that because 'a very large section among the Indian Muslims' believe that, 'leadership and spiritual guidance [Imamat] must rest only with the Sayyeds, Shaikhs, Pathans and Mughals' and that the other Muslim communities are 'not worthy of establishing social relations with', when Rahmutullah was proposed as the Tablighi Jamaat Amir, Tablighi Jamaat activists themselves vehemently protested. These people declared that the 'hallowed seat' of ‘Hazra Tablighi Jamaati’ should go only to a Shaikh from Kandhla. It was then that Zakariyya announced that he had seen a dream in which Yusuf had appeared driving a 'machine'. After he got tired of driving, he handed over the contraption of Enam-ul Hassan to drive. This, said Zakariyya, was a divine command that the post of Amir of the Tablighi Jamaat should go, not to Rahmatullah, but to Enam-ul Hassan (Mahdi n.d.: 13-14).

Interestingly, Mahdi claims that following the Rahmatullah-Enam-ul Hassan controversy, with his protege now in power, Zakariyya's own stature and influence within the Tablighi Jamaat began to grow rapidly. Enamul Hassan, out of gratitude, is said to have begun directing his close followers to Zakariyya, and activists participating in Chillah tours were advised to undertake his visitation (ziyaraf). It was also at this time, Mahdi says, that Zakariyya's Faza'il-i-'Amal became increasingly popular in Tablighi Jamaat circles, so much so that today, 'probably no other book is so widely read in India and Pakistan as it is' (Mahdi n.d.:l4-15).

ii. According to Abduliah Tariq, there should have been a Mashwara (consultation) after Yusuf s death to decide the new amir. Zakariyya, however, apparently rejected the suggestion and announced that Enam-ul Hassan and Yusufs son, Harun, would work together as joint leaders of the TABLIGHI JAMAAT. Some Meos were upset that Harun had not been chosen as the sole leader, but they were later pacified on being told that Enam-ul Hassan would function simply as Harun's guardian till he came of age. This was, however, not to be, and Hatun died not long after (interview).

iii. Prominent among these old Tablighi leaders, who are said to have been sidelined and made either to dissociate themselves from the Tablighi Jamaat or else to fall in line, were Miyanji Muhammad Isa Ferozepuri, Maulana Obaidullah Baliyavi and Maulana Rahmatullah. No letter of termination needed to be issued against them, says Abdullah Tariq, since there are no official appointments or offices in the Tablighi Jamaat. They were simply made to feel marginalised and thereby themselves realised that they were no longer wanted. According to Tariq, behind this development was, besides other factors, the new Gujarati element which increasingly found the old, established leaders a hurdle in their path. The reason for this, he says, was simply personal, perhaps reflecting caste or regional prejudices. He says that it had nothing to do with ideology, because even after they retired from active involvement in the Tablighi Jamaat, none of the displaced leaders ever spoke against the movement.

iv. Interview with Abdullah Tariq.

v. This fact seems to be recognised by the high-level Tablighi leadership, but, as a noted Tablighi ideologue puts it, those who feel this way about the old-timers being sidelined by the new element have been 'duped by Shaytan [Satan]', this being nothing less than a 'conspiracy of the devil' (S.A. Khan 1997:77).

vi. The reference here is probably to the Gujarati and other new elements.

vii.  Muhammad Swaleh Khan feels that this has much to do with the increasing enthusiasm for secular education, leading to a gradual weakening of traditional Islam in the community as a whole (Interview, Ferozepur-Jhirka, 3 January 1995).

viii. According to Qadri, because of this, things have reached such a point in Mewat that 'today instead of the Tabligh of the Kalima and prayers, great hue and cry is being raised by Tablighi Jamaat activists declaring the opponents of the movement as unbelievers and apostates' (Qadri, op. cit., pp. 180-81).

ix. Interview with Rahim Khan, Nuh, 1 January 1996

x. Interview with Muhammad Habib, Delhi, 25 January 1996.

xi. Interview with Maulana Muhammad Ishaq, Nuh, 2 October 1993.

xii. Interview with Hashim Khan, Nuh, 2 October 1993.


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