By Syed Kamran Hashmi
November 29, 2013
Fashion becomes a curse word and your admiration for the arts and literature will evaporate as part of history. With these changes, you will emerge as a ‘reformed’ Muslim
You know exactly who he is when you see him. A man with a long scruffy beard, a trimmed down moustache, a long shirt and a short Shalwar, a Taqiyah cap on his head, a prayer rug in one hand and a Lota in the other is easy to recognise as a member of the Tableeghi Jamaat in Pakistan.
Nowadays, he is present everywhere: in the remote towns of southern Punjab, in the interior districts of Sindh, the affluent neighbourhoods of Lahore, the cantonment areas of Rawalpindi and obviously in the Defence Housing Authority (DHA) in Karachi. His presence cannot be ignored, even if you try, not because he is so noteworthy and impressive, but only because if he finds you ignoring him, he will come after you to preach his Islamic values and make you a better Muslim. No, he is not rude, bossy or condescending, nor is he intimidating or aggressive; actually, he is just the opposite: humble, down to earth and gentle. He will never argue with you over any issue nor will he confront you on any subject; rather he would listen to you. Yet, in his own unique style he will just keep on insisting that you join his hands to teach ordinary Muslims the true path of Islam — the Muslims who, in his opinion, have lost contact with their Creator and have deviated far from their religious duties. He thinks Islam has been kept on the shelf for a long time instead of being practiced in everyday life. “They need help to be reintroduced to their faith and, with your assistance, they can get back on the right track,” he will insist.
Trust me, once glued he is impossible to get rid of, until you have given him some indication that you will join him on his three day trip, which I call a three day trap, to invite others to the education, learning, preaching and the implementation of Islam in their lives. For immediate confirmation he may even ask you for a short walk with like-minded brothers to get acquainted with the ‘right’ path and to step away from the charms of this mundane life — which may include your wife, children, parents and your job.
It usually happens after the Asr prayers when Tableeghi Jamaat members divide themselves up into small groups of twos, threes and fours to take a walk around the surrounding neighbourhood. During these trips, they knock on every door in the street to preach Islam and help those residing within to acquire a more ‘religious’ lifestyle, an action that can be considered a direct attack on the faith of non-Muslims or non-Sunnis and a step to further make insecure the religious minorities. The evangelists do not care; why should they? They are convinced that they are on the road that follows the Sunnah (ways) of the prophet (PBUH) and are acting upon the will of God even though most Muslims throughout the world and throughout history refuse to accept this as the rightful way to preach.
If you join them in these local congregations, you are encouraged, often times to an embarrassing extent, to plan a three-day course, which is followed by a weeklong trip and then that is then extended to a 40-day tour to the remote areas of Pakistan to spread the message. After one cycle, you will be requested to repeat these self-financed excursions after every few months or at least once a year to get your own faith revitalised. These expeditions get so addictive that my cousin went on a six-month long visit. On his way out, he reassured his ailing father, who had recently been diagnosed with lung cancer, in these words, “I am leaving my mobile phone behind but I will be in touch with you and will call you as soon as I get an opportunity.”
Even then, he did not forget to advise him, “Our group will pray for your health every day; just ascertain that, meanwhile, you will compensate for all of your missed prayers, fast for your lost months of Ramzan and pay off your zakat in full.” It turned out that his father passed away within the next 30 days and my cousin was never able to attend his own father’s funeral.
With the passage of time, as you make these volunteer trips, you will adopt a new lifestyle, the one that has been recommended mostly by one sect as the righteous way of living. Your attire will be more ‘compliant’ and more representative of that particular faction, your accent will adapt to new rules, your vocabulary will evolve and, above all, your attitude towards your family will change. Surrounded by a number of new friends, either you will avoid your old associates or they, after failing to find their old pal in you, will start circumventing you. Fashion becomes a curse word and your admiration for the arts and literature will evaporate as part of history. With these changes, you will emerge as a ‘reformed’ Muslim who is ready for his three-day trip every weekend.
You are also convinced that your denomination is the only rightly guided one and that every other faction is either a non-Muslim or, in the best case scenario, a sinful Muslim, an attitude that has helped religious intolerance and fanaticism grow in society, and has not helped bring religious harmony and plurality in Pakistan. If I am wrong, just imagine if a Tableeghi group from a Shia community knocked on your door and asked you to join them in their Imambargah every week. Now imagine that this happens every other day!
No, you are not going to be violent, nor do I think that you will condone it. I am also confident that you are not going to support any form of torture, bloodshed or terrorist activity as long as you stay with the Tableegh. However, this is the boundary where non-aggression ends and one step further towards the right will take you to an entirely different world, a world of active jihad to establish Islamic Sharia in the country.
Syed Kamran Hashmi is a US-based freelance columnist.