Bishwa Ijtema and the Unfulfilled Potential of Tabligh Jamaat

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For the past 33 years, the Bishwa Ijtema (world assembly) of Tabligh Jamaat has become of the second largest annual congregation of Muslims in the world. As usual, this year's Ijtema attracted an estimated two million Muslims from 45 countries. The three-day assembly held in the plains of Tongi, a small city in the vicinity of Bangladesh's capital Dhaka, ended Monday with the so-called Akheri Munajaat (last supplication). Many people not traditionally associated with the Jamaat also joined the gathering to participate in the Akheri Munajaat.

As the Bishaw Ijtema shows, the Tabligh Jamaat has gathered a huge following of Muslims around the world. The Tabligh Jamaat has created a religious movement that has effectively changed the personal lifestyle of its participants but failed to add any weight to the political voice of the Muslim community in national and international affairs. Muslim leaders both within and outside the Tabligh Jamaat have yet to appreciate its immense potentials.

You will find the followers of Tabligh Jamaat almost every nook and corner of the world. Their number is, however, much greater in the South Asian countries, such as India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. The international Tabligh Jamaat began 50 years ago near Delhi and still has its headquarters there.

From an organizational perspective, the participants at Tabligh Jamaat gatherings stand out by their self-enforced discipline and spirit of mutual sharing, caring, and learning from each other. Even when they gather in the millions, as in the case of Bishaw Ijtema, they show little need for law enforcement and almost no sign of chaos; they are self-financed and self-managed. They find their gatherings to be festivals of faith and goodness, occasions for spiritual renewal. Anyone who has joined their caravans and pursued their courses without much questioning has found his life changed forever.

Ironically, the Tabligh Jamaat ignores the social and political dimensions of Islam almost completely. You will hardly find any Tabligh Jamaat participants running for government office, registering to vote, or being interested in establishing Islamic law in public life. Socially and politically, you will find them among the most uninformed groups of Muslims. The Tablighi Muslims operate with the utopian theory that, once every individual practices Islam, there will be no need for public enforcement of the law. Lest publicity should give them a false sense of piety or pride, they avoid publicity as well.

Tabligh Jamaat promotes a simple, austere lifestyle. It is not an organization for those who seek finery, adventures and challenges in society, scholarship, and politics. Most of all, it discourages the spirit of scholarship, innovation, and change with the times. Many of its participants I know have received the wrong (perhaps unintended) message that they should not pursue higher study in disciplines that relate to living in this world.

Yet, the Tabligh Jamaat enjoys a communicative advantage over the socially and politically conscious Muslim groups. They can easily communicate with Muslims who do not practice Islam or who subscribe to political ideologies that consider Islam as a religion only, not as a complete way of life. The Bishaw Ijtema in Bangladesh, for example, attracts people from nationalist and semi-socialist political camps. The assemblies of the politically conscious Muslim groups do not attract any such group.

Perhaps because of its apolitical stance and exclusive focus on innocent religious aspects of Islam, the Tablighi Muslims face little obstruction to their work from regimes that are hostile to Muslims. The Israeli government, for example, allowed the Tabligh Jamaat to move from one mosque to another even during a curfew they imposed during the Palestinian Intifada.

The situation, then, is one of Catch 22. The Tabligh Jamaat enjoys popularity and access while perpetuating a misunderstanding of Islam in as much as the political order of society is concerned. Many other Muslim groups lack the popularity of the Tabligh Jamaat as long as they uphold the political aspects of Islam. Tabligh Jamaat appears more effective in what it teaches about Islam, while the other groups that take holistic approaches to Islam are less so in shaping the personal lives of their adherents.

It is long overdue that the leaders from both the Tablighi and non-Tablighi groups sat down to learn from each other and enrich mutual understanding and approaches. This dialogue within the community is more important than dialogues of Muslims with people of other faiths. The burden for initiating the dialogue lies more with those who are politically conscious. Imagine the political clout American Muslims would have once the hundreds of thousands of their Tablighi brothers participate in the public, political action.

Mohammad A. Auwal is an assistant professor in the Department of Communication Studies at California State University, Los Angeles and is a regular columnist for iviews.com


  Category: Nature & Science
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Older Comments:
JULAYBIB FROM MAURITIUS said:
Assalaamu 'alaykum w.r.

May Allah reward brother Mohammad Auwal for trying to balance his article. I humbly think, however, that some of the objections against the Tabligh Jamaat doesnt hold (in my case at least).

I have been involved in the activities of the so-called Tabligh Jamaat for some years now. I have to say that though I have at some times felt an urge to abandon the worldly life and consecrate my life to worship entirely, every time my older companions have convinced me to keep an active professional life, for that will be a better service for the Islamic cause. It also requires more mujahadh (striving), and if work is subjected to the commands of Allah and the Sunnah, it will be rewarded as Ibaadah.

In brief:

X I work as a software engineer
X I dont think I have ever underestimated the need for the enforcement of law,
X I am trying my utmost to combat corruption in my place of work (a Muslim-owned enterprise),
X and I am a registered voter.

I am firmly convinced that humanitys success resides in the establishment of Shariat. However, when the rules of attaining a goal is corrupt, we need another set of rules. One should know, for example, that running for a post of authority invalidates oneself for this very post.

The playing field as well needs to be re-designed. It makes me smile to see the sympathisers of Palestine asking the UN to condemn Israel. It is a pity. Does it matter really what the UN says? The real authority lies with the Owner of the Throne. We should seek help from Him, and this demands some resolute changes in our life style.

Fii amaanillaah,
Julaybib

Please keep my e-mail private. Julaybib is not my real name.
2004-04-20

UMAR FROM USA said:
Assalaam-o-Alikum

The fact is that the average Muslim doesn't want the establishment of an Islamic state. If we look at the Muslim countries today we realize this sad truth. I agree that there may be some people who truly want change, but I'm afraid that may not be enough to draw the help (Nasr) of Allah (SWT). Tabligeehi Jamaat is the only group of people who have been successful in inculcating the desire for the establishment of an Islamic state in common Muslims. Their method may not be up-to-date with todays fast pace mechanical age but it is hardly unorthodox. I see no better approach in trying to get the help of Allah (as this is the core ingredient in the establishment of an Islamic state) then the approach of the prophets. The Prophets made untiring efforts on the people at an individual level, as they went door to door with the message of Islamic Monotheism and after years of efforts and struggles when they had at last become successful in creating a group of people who were willing to stake everything for the sake of the truth, then came the help of Allah and the inevitable and rapid spread of Islam.

How can we make a political struggle for an Islamic state when the average Muslim is content with whatever little Islam he/she is practicing? Until and unless the average Muslim values the establishment of the word of Allah more then his life, a political struggle is impossible rather futile. As far as leadership is concerned, once the ummah is ready as a whole to sincerely want change the righteous leaders will emerge accordingly. Leaders are chosen by Allah (SWT) and not by people (as so commonly misunderstood).
2003-09-30