Who are Tablighis and Deobandis? Are they on the right path?
The noble work of tablīgh slowly and gradually uproots all unislamic activities. No amount of political or economic activism is effective as the noble work of tablīgh. The focus is winning the hearts of people and cultivating in them the love for Allāh Ta`āla, His Rasūl ﷺ and Dīn. Tablīgh has a direct impact on the quality life of an individual.
This article is a must read to understand the inception of Tablīgh and its worldwide impact.
Mufti Ebrahim Desai
In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.
As-salāmu ‘alaykum wa-rahmatullāhi wa-barakātuh.
A Glimpse into the History of Deoband
In 1601, an East India Company trade delegation under the leadership of Vasco Da Gama anchored at Bombay harbor in India. They requested assistance from the Indian government and promised to improve trade links between Britain and India while their ultimate goal was to bring India under their control. By 1701, many territories had fallen under British rule.
In 1702, Shāh Waliyullāh (rahimahullāh), who was the first to begin lessons of hadīth in India, was born. When he noticed that influence from the English was increasing in the sub-continent, he devised a method to preserve Islamic teachings. His first move was to translate the Qur’ān into the Persian language. It is important to take note that before Shāh Waliyullāh, the Qur’ān had never been translated into any other language for the past 1200 years.
Soon after, he authored many works that protected the sanctity of Islam and its teachings such as Hujjatullāh al-Bālighah. Through his writings, he educated the masses about the fiscal policies of Islam, the political system of Islam, and the philosophy behind Islamic law.
In 1762, after the demises of his father (Shāh Waliyullāh), Shāh `Abdul Azīz succeeded his father in teaching hadīth and furthered his effort against British rule. After the demise of Shāh `Abdul `Azīz, many came thereafter who fought for freedom by resisting British rule and letting the banner of Islam continue to sway in the face of oppression.
After 1831, when the `ulamā’ realized that the British were becoming more and more fortified in the country, they called up many meetings to find a solution to this problem. In 1856, another meeting of many senior `ulamā’ was held which was attended by great luminaries such as Hājī Imdādullāh, Mawlānā Muhammad Qāsim Nānotwī, and Mawlānā Rashīd Ahmad Gangohī (rahimahumullāh).
By 1857, a great battle for independence took place against the British in northern and central India against the East India Company’s rule. The British government brutally suppressed the opposition and further concocted a plan to eradicate the Qur`an along with any signs of Islam. From 1864 to 1867, the British government firmly resolved to eradicate all the `ulamā’ of India. During these three years, 14,000 `ulamā’ were put to death and by 1867, not a single religious institute remained whereas in 1601 there were thousands of Islamic institutes in Delhi alone. As a result of such aggression, the `ulamā’ were becoming scarce and Islamic knowledge was slowly being wiped out from the Indian subcontinent.
India was losing the Islamic spirit and Islamic knowledge was fading away. The sunnahs of our Prophets (`alayhimus salām) were being replaced by acts of polytheism, innovations, and ignorant customs that had no place in Islam. Those `ulamā’ who remained felt that there was a need to safeguard the sunnah of our Nabī ﷺ and protect the Muslims from losing their Islamic heritage. The only way to do so was to establish an institution for imparting Islamic knowledge and to equip the Muslims with divine knowledge so they may mend their lives according to Islamic teachings.
Soon thereafter, Mawlānā Qāsim Nānotwī (rahimahullāh) saw Rasūlullāh ﷺ in a dream wherein he was instructed to establish an Islamic institute in the village of Deoband. It is also mentioned that Mawlānā Qāsim Nānotwī (rahimahullāh) saw another dream where he was standing on the roof of the ka`bah and water was flowing from his hand and feet, thus reaching the four corners of the world. According to this glad-tiding, on the fifth of Muharram (May 30, 1866), Mawlānā Qāsim Nānotwī (rahimahullāh) laid the foundation of this institution in Deoband, India.
The first teacher to be appointed at this institution was Mullā Mahmūd, and the first student to study under him was Shaykh al-Hind Mahmūd al-Hasan (rahimahumallāh), who was one of the leading figures in the movement for the freedom of India. As they sat for their lessons under a pomegranate tree in the courtyard of the Chattah Masjid, the only thing on their mind was to save the Muslims from losing their Islamic past.
This institution is called Dārul `Ulūm Deoband, and its students are referred to as the `Ulamā’ of Deoband.
Mawlānā Ilyās and the Inception of the Tablīghī Jamā`at
In the region of Mewat located in northwestern India, Mawlānā Muhammad Ilyās (rahimahullāh) noticed a decline in Islamic awareness and a pattern of ignorance spreading through the masses. People had lost their zeal for attaining divine knowledge, and the makātib in the areas were also not sufficient in fulfilling this purpose. Since worldly occupations had distanced the majority of Muslims from Islam, children were being sent to Islamic institutions while the growing youth and adults had already left this path.
A pattern of perpetual decline had struck the ummah, and the general masses were slowly losing their connection to this Dīn. It was then that Mawlānā Ilyās (rahimahullāh) understood that if the common Muslims do not begin practicing their Dīn, all other efforts to bring them towards Islam will remain in vain. From that day, Mawlānā Ilyās (rahimahullāh) frequently visited Mewat and made an effort to connect with the common Muslims there.
In Shawwāl, 1344 AH Mawlānā Ilyās (rahimahullāh) proceeded for Hajj in the company of Mawlānā Khalīl Ahmad Sahāranpūrī (rahimahullāh). Upon reaching Madina, he felt a burning desire to remain in the city of the Prophet ﷺ and felt grief in separating himself from this holy city. It was in this blessed city that Mawlānā Ilyās (rahimahullāh) first felt that great work would be taken from him in the future.
After returning from Hajj, Mawlānā Ilyās (rahimahullāh) began giving da`wat to the people and also asked the common Muslims to join him in teaching the masses about the foundations of Dīn (i.e. Tawhīd, Salāh, etc.). In the town of Nuh a large gathering took place where Mawlānā Ilyās (rahimahullāh) expressed his desire that groups should be formed to give da`wat and make tablīgh of fundamental Islamic teachings. About a month later, a group (jamā`at) was formed and for the next few weeks they would visit different towns and cities giving da`wat to the people rendezvousing each Friday to discuss the plans for the upcoming week. For the next few years, effort was made in the district of Mewat to bring people closer to the Dīn of our Nabī ﷺ.
In 1351 AH, Mawlānā Ilyās (rahimahullāh) set out for Hajj once again and returned to Mewat with an even greater resolve. He formed even more groups and started going out in the path of Allāh for months at a time. During each of these cycles (known as a dawrah), he would select certain groups and send them to make gusht (i.e. go door-to-door and make da`wat) in the neighborhood. He also advised all groups to keep themselves busy in reading the Qur’ān, revising general masā’il (rulings) and fadā’il (talks regarding virtues), and narrating stories of the Sahābah (radiyallāhu `anhum). It was an effort to bring the Muslim communities to leave their busy schedules and come out of their houses for seeking Islamic knowledge and imparting it to others to increase Islamic awareness.
Mawlānā Ilyās (rahimahullāh) wished that such groups remain under the supervision of `ulamā’; therefore, he took certain groups and set out to places that were bustling with the akābirs (senior `ulamā) such as Kandhlah and Rāypūr.
After returning to Mewat, Mawlānā Ilyās (rahimahullāh) sketched a map and set out destinations for all the different groups while designating an amīr (leader) to lead each group. Not much time passed until a special gathering (jalsah) was held in Faridabad where 16 jamā`ats gathered from various places. From there they gathered in the Jāmi` Masjid in New Delhi and dispersed to different places for tablīgh.
During this time, the number of jamā`ats in Mewat increased and more and more people were encouraged to join this effort. Mawlānā Ilyās (rahimahullāh) focused on establishing a resolve in these groups to leave their worldly affairs and give time for tablīgh. He wished for them to realize that if they are in the path of Allāh Ta`ālā then Allāh Himself will take care of their homely affairs.
After exerting much effort, the district of Mewat began to change and light of Dīn was emanating from even the common Muslims living in the area. Islamic awareness was established and a concern for the hereafter was ignited within the hearts of many Muslims. The environment of Mewat was beginning to take a new form. The Islamic dress was becoming prevalent, the Sunnah of the beard was becoming more common, the drunkards and gamblers were leaving their sins behind them, and the pure light of Islam was shining through Mewat. When luminaries such as Mawlānā Ashraf Ali Thanwī (rahimahullāh) saw the fruits of this effort, they were also compelled to express their satisfaction at the work of the Tablīghī Jamā`at.
Mawlānā Ilyās (rahimahullāh) believed that until the people of a certain area will not make a personal effort to bring others closer to Islam, then such an area will slowly see the light of Islam fade away. He felt that even the common man should know the fundamentals of his Dīn for there were many who did not even know how to recite the Qur’ān or pray correctly (as is the situation throughout many parts of the world even today). He believed that the only way for them to bring an awareness of Islam in the hearts of people was to call them out of their homes and have them learn their fundamentals while giving da`wat to others in the path of Allāh Ta`ālā. Mawlānā Ilyās (rahimahullāh) stated in one of his letters:
If you do not prepare yourself for spending four-four months traveling in each city (and giving da`wat to the people of that area), then until that time comes the people of that area will never have the true taste of Dīn and Īmān.
In 1357 AH, Mawlānā Ilyās (rahimahullāh) expanded his effort and traveled to the holy cities of Makkah and Medina. There, he met with the governors of the areas so he could seek their permission in starting tablīgh in Hejaz. After hearing his plea, they showed great delight at the work of Mawlānā Ilyās (rahimahullāh) and commended the Tablīghī Jamā`at and their efforts. Thus, the spirit of tablīgh was also ignited in the holy land of Hejaz.
In 1362 AH (1943 CE), the effort was expanded to the city of Lucknow. Their schedule was such that after the Asr prayer a jamā`at would leave the Dārul `Ulūm and after Maghrib they would make gusht in the surrounding areas. After Isha there would be lectures and dialogues regarding the principles of tablīgh after which each jamā`at would return to their resting areas. After the Fajr prayer, there would be a session of ta`līm followed by sessions for fixing one’s recitation of the Qur’ān (according to the rules of tajwīd) and discussing necessary rulings pertaining to day-to-day occurrences.
Soon thereafter, Mawlānā Ilyās (rahimahullāh) returned to Mewat and the effort of the Tablighī Jamā`at began to spread far and wide. The fruits of this effort were such that those who had led a life of sin, never prayed a day in their lives, and never knew a single verse of the Qur’ān were now enveloped in the sunnah from head-to-toe.
It is clear from above that the Tablīghī Jamā`at’s main focus is to bring the common man from darkness to light and enlighten him with at least the most basic teachings of Islam. While many of us may impart our knowledge through lectures at home and via the internet, we can never contend with the efforts of tablīgh. How often do we see that due to the efforts of the Tablīghī Jamā`at, cities and villages that were once unable to find even an Imam to lead them in prayer are now filled with people who are teaching others how to recite the Qur’ān. How often do we hear stories of great scholars who had lived a life of darkness but through the efforts of the Tablīghī Jamā`at they are now enlightening youngsters and adults with the light of Īmān.
It goes without saying that Mawlānā Ilyās (rahimahullāh) and his Tablīghī Jamā`at were also a part of the legacy of Deoband. The concern (fikr) he showed in the district of Mewat has now become an effort carried out by thousands of Muslims throughout the Muslim world.
This great institution of Deoband played a cardinal role in preserving the culture, tradition, and honor of Islam in the Indian subcontinent. If it was not for their efforts, millions of Muslims today would be left in the darkness sulking in worldly affairs without a sign of Dīn in their life.
As such, we request that one considers the following points before criticizing the works of such great people:
1) The efforts of Deoband (whether in the form of institutions or the Tablīghī Jamā`at) have been widely accepted in each corner of the world. This shows us that such a noble effort must be backed by the help of Allāh Ta`ālā as well.
2) The `Ulamā of Deoband are academically linked right up to the Messenger of Allāh ﷺ through a consistent chain going through luminaries such as Shāh Waliyullāh, Hafiz ibn Hajar Al-`Asqalānī, `Allāmah Suyūtī, Khatīb Baghdādī, Imam Bukhārī, and Imam Muslim (rahimahumullāh).
3) The `Ulamā of Deoband are spiritually linked to the Messenger of Allāh ﷺ as well through luminaries such as Hājī Imdādullāh, Khwājah Mu`īn al-Dīn Chishtī, Hasan Basrī (rahimahumullāh), and `Alī (radiyallāhu `anh).
And Allah Ta’āla Knows Best
Checked and Approved by,
Mufti Ebrahim Desai.