In This Article Tablighi Jamaʿat

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews: Early History, Principles, and Ideology
  • Encyclopedia Articles
  • Select Primary Sources
  • Scholarly Analyses of Primary Sources
  • International Expansion
  • The TJ and Women
  • The TJ and Sufism
  • The TJ and Politics

Islamic Studies Tablighi Jamaʿat
by
Matthew J. Kuiper
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 February 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195390155-0250

Introduction

The Tablighi Jamaʿat (TJ) is one of the most widespread Sunni islah (reform) and daʿwa (missionary) organizations in the world today. A lay preaching movement, the TJ 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 in the TJ, it is impossible to precisely enumerate the persons involved at any given time. Yet most estimates suggest that, today, the TJ has tens of millions of participants active in over 150 countries. The annual congregations (ijtimaʿs) of the movement, especially those held at Bhopal in India, Raiwind in Pakistan, and Tongi in Bangladesh, are among the world’s largest recurrent Islamic religious gatherings outside of the hajj. There are also large annual ijtimaʿs in Europe, North America, and elsewhere. Despite its global reach and the presence of regional marakiz (sg. markaz, center or headquarters) outside South Asia, the TJ maintains its strongest presence in South Asia and still looks to its founding markaz in Nizamuddin, Delhi, as its inspirational center. With roots in the Deobandi reformist tradition, the TJ began in northern India in the early decades of the 20th century. The movement’s founder, Mawlana Muhammad Ilyas (b. 1885–d. 1944), studied under Deobandi luminaries like Rashid Ahmad Gangohi (b. 1826–d. 1905). Like his Deobandi forebears, Ilyas was an ʿalim-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 (the TJ’s first mission field) 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, Ilyas in the 1920s developed a lay-oriented daʿwa approach. Though the TJ has always maintained a preference for face-to-face communication, by the late 1930s the growth of Ilyas’s movement necessitated that its program of action be put into writing. This task was undertaken by several of Ilyas’s associates, particularly his nephew, Mawlana Muhammad Zakariyya, a Deobandi scholar of Hadith. Despite the criticism it has attracted from Muslim groups like the traditionalist Barelvis and Salafi Ahl-i Hadith, Zakariyya’s Faḍāʾil-i Aʿmāl (Merits of works), also known as Tablīghī Niṣāb (Tabligh curriculum), remains the main textbook or teaching (taʿlim) guide of the TJ to this day. After the death of Ilyas, his son Mawlana Muhammad Yusuf (d. 1965) became the movement’s amir (leader). During his tenure, Yusuf expanded the TJ’s operations around the world. From 1965 to the present, under leaders such as Mawlana Inʿam al-Hasan and others, the TJ has continued to expand, reaching the global proportions mentioned above. Though the leadership structure and financing of the TJ are often hidden from view, the movement is well organized and owes much to its leaders, most of whom have been drawn from among Ilyas’s relations. Without question, it is the TJ’s grassroots mobilization of lay Muslims that constitutes its most striking contribution to modern Islamic activism. Through its minimalist and highly transferable curriculum, the TJ trains ordinary believers to be, in the first place, more observant and pious Muslims, and, in the second place, devoted missionary preachers for Islam. Given its impact, it is not surprising that the Arabic/Urdu word tabligh itself (conveying the message of Islam) has come to be closely identified with the TJ, nor is it surprising that the TJ has increasingly attracted the attention of scholars.

General Overviews: Early History, Principles, and Ideology

The Deoband movement and its founding ʿulamaʾ loom large in the lineage of the Tablighi Jamaʿat (see the Oxford Bibliographies in Islamic Studies article “Deoband Madrasa”). Among the first studies in English on the founding and principles of the TJ was Haq 1972. This book situates the life of Ilyas and the early TJ in the context of Indian Sufism and is based on important Urdu sources. However, Haq rarely critically interrogates his sources, such as Nadwi 2014 (cited under Select Primary Sources), and his book is somewhat hagiographical. Khan 1986 is a brief account of the TJ from an Indian Muslim scholar and one-time admirer of the TJ. Ahmad 1991 provides a scholarly discussion of the early history of the TJ, its ideology, and its politics in a chapter that also deals with the Jamaʿat-i Islami. Gaborieau, et al. 1992, a biographical dictionary, has entries on several TJ leaders. Troll 1994 is an article that elucidates Ilyas’s philosophy of daʿwa, and contrasts this with the approach of the Jamaʿat-i Islami. Mayaram 1997 is a study of the Meos of Mewat, the TJ’s first mission field. This book is a rich source of information on the TJ from a Meo perspective. Masud 2000a, an edited volume, is among the most important works for the study of the TJ. Early chapters of Masud 2000a provide a wealth of information on the origins, ideology, and development of the movement. Masud 2000b provides a good overview of the rise of the TJ in North India in the early 20th century. Sikand 2002 is an important monograph on the TJ. It begins with a detailed account of the emergence and ideology of the movement in colonial North India, and then provides three case studies of the ways the movement’s social functions have changed in new settings (India, Bangladesh, and Britain). Metcalf 2002 (cited under TJ and Politics) is a chapter-length overview of the TJ written after 9/11. It addresses the TJ as one of two offshoots of the Deobandi movement, the other being the Taliban. Reetz 2004 provides a helpful overview of the TJ’s principles and organizational structure. Reetz 2006 is a book-length study that examines the TJ alongside other movements of Islamic mobilization in India’s emerging public sphere from 1900 to 1947. Kuiper 2018 revisits the Deobandi roots, early history, and early texts of the TJ, situating the movement within the longer history of Islamic daʿwa and interreligious relations. Several other articles that provide overviews of the TJ’s origins and ideology include Reetz 2006, Gaborieau 2006 (cited under TJ and Sufism), Sikand 2006 (cited under TJ and Politics), and Sikand 2007 (cited under TJ and Sufism).

  • Ahmad, Mumtaz. “Islamic Fundamentalism in South Asia: The Jamaat-Islami and the Tablighi Jamaʿat of South Asia.” In Fundamentalisms Observed. Edited by Martin Marty and Scott Appleby, 457–530. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991.

    E-mail Citation »

    A discussion of the early history, ideology, and politics of the TJ alongside a discussion of the Jamaʿat-i Islami, framed in the somewhat unfortunate language of “fundamentalism.” Deals with the TJ’s politics and emphasizes the apoliticism of the movement.

  • Gaborieau, Marc, Nicole Grandin, Pierre Labrousse, and Alexandre Popovic, eds. Dictionnaire biographique des savants et grandes figures du monde musulman périphique, du XIXe siècle à nos jours. Fascicule n. 1. Paris: Ecole des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, 1992.

    E-mail Citation »

    A biographical dictionary that has several entries on TJ leaders, including Mawlanas Ilyas, Yusuf, and Zakariyya. It also includes entries on several influential Deobandi leaders.

  • Haq, M. Anwarul. The Faith Movement of Maualana Muhammad Ilyās. London: George Allen, 1972.

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    Situates the life of Ilyas and the TJ in the context of Indian Sufism and is based on important Urdu sources. Emphasizes the TJ’s apoliticism. Must be read critically.

  • Khan, Maulana Wahiuddin. Tabligh Movement. New Delhi: Islamic Center, 1986.

    E-mail Citation »

    A brief, sometimes first-person account of the TJ from a well-known Indian Muslim scholar-activist. It focuses on Mawlanas Ilyas and Yusuf and includes a full sermon of Mawlana Yusuf. It also includes a description of life at the Nizamuddin markaz from the mid-1960s.

  • Kuiper, Matthew J. Daʿwa and Other Religions: Indian Muslims and the Modern Resurgence of Global Islamic Activism. London and New York: Routledge, 2018.

    E-mail Citation »

    Examines the Deobandi roots and early history of the TJ in light of the history of daʿwa and interreligious relations in Islam. It also compares the TJ’s daʿwa with that of Zakir Naik and the Islamic Research Foundation. Provides analyses of several primary sources of the TJ, including Faḍāʾil-i Aʿmāl.

  • Masud, Muhammad Khalid, ed. Travellers in Faith: Studies of the Tablīghī Jamāʿat as a Transnational Islamic Movement for Faith Renewal. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2000a.

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    This edited volume remains one of the most important works for the study of many aspects of the history, development, and thought of the TJ, with an overview of the TJ as a field of study and definitions of key terms in its introduction.

  • Masud, Muhammad Khalid. “The Growth and Development of the Tablīghī Jamāʿat in India.” In Travellers in Faith: Studies of the Tablīghī Jamāʿat as a Transnational Islamic Movement for Faith Renewal. Edited by Muhammad Khalid Masud, 3–43. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2000b.

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    Traces the early-20th-century rise of the TJ in North India. Includes a full translated sermon of Muhammad Yusuf.

  • Mayaram, Shail. Resisting Regimes: Myth, Memory and the Shaping of a Muslim Identity. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1997.

    E-mail Citation »

    A study of the Meos of Mewat, the TJ’s first mission field, and a rich source of information on the TJ from a Meo perspective.

  • Reetz, Dietrich. “Keeping Busy on the Path of Allah: The Self-Organization (Intizām) of the Tablīghī Jamāʿat.” Oriente Moderno 84.1 (2004): 295–305.

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    Provides a helpful glimpse into the TJ’s principles and its internal organizational structure.

  • Reetz, Dietrich. Islam in the Public Sphere: Religious Groups in India, 1900–1947. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2006.

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    Gives an overview of the emergence of the TJ in the late colonial period in the context of the mobilization of other Islamic groups from Deobandi, Barelvi, and Ahl-i Hadith backgrounds. It thus usefully situates the TJ’s emergence in a wider field.

  • Sikand, Yoginder. The Origins and Development of the Tablighi Jamaʿat, 1920–2000: A Cross-Country Comparative Study. New Delhi: Orient Longman, 2002.

    E-mail Citation »

    An important monograph that begins with a detailed account of the emergence of the TJ in colonial North India. It provides three case studies of the ways the movement has adapted to new settings (India, Bangladesh, and Britain), and also addresses the TJ’s Sufism and the question of the TJ’s politics.

  • Troll, Christian W. “Two Conceptions of Daʿwa in India: Jamāʿat-i Islāmi and Tablīghī Jamāʿat.” Archives de sciences sociales des religions 39.87 (1994): 115–133.

    DOI: 10.3406/assr.1994.1458E-mail Citation »

    An article that elucidates Ilyas’s philosophy of daʿwa in contrast to that of the Jamaʿat-i Islami.

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