Arguably the largest Islamic faith movement in the contemporary world, the Tablighi Jama’at (Jama’at al-Da’wa wa-l-Tabligh, “The Party of Preaching and Proselytizing”) operates in many countries and has directly influenced the religious practice of millions of Sunni Muslims. According to the movement’s teachings, all Muslims are encouraged to devote a minimum of one-tenth of their lives (2.5 hours per day, 3 days per month, and 40 days per year) to nurturing within themselves and calling other Muslims toward six qualities: certainty of belief in the Muslim profession of faith, timely prayer (salat) with concentration and devotion, a basic knowledge of the obligations of Islam combined with the remembrance of God, service to other Muslims, purification of intention, and “going out in the path of God” for the sake of da’wa (preaching, in this case to fellow Muslims). These six qualities are said to be derived from the lives of the Companions of the Prophet, and it is through their implementation that, according to believers, the Muslim community is expected to one day return to a proper Islamic order, which in turn would inspire much of the non-Muslim world to convert to Islam as well. In pursuit of these goals, ad hoc bands of itinerant Muslim preachers devote their own time and resources to the Tablighi cause, often traveling to distant and foreign lands “in the path of God” to revive their own faith and that of other wayward Muslims. The Jama’at’s loosely defined global membership base is drawn from a broad array of ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds and is largely filled by nonscholars, as da’wa to Muslims is seen as a form of “commanding right and forbidding wrong” and is thus an individual obligation and not simply the duty of a scholarly elite. Women may also participate in Tablighi activities, albeit under stricter guidelines and in the company of their husbands, fathers, or sons.
Both in the path of God and in a member’s home, books on the virtues of devotional works (faḍā’il) form the primary manuals for daily piety. Arabic-speaking jama’ats are instructed to read from Imam Nawawi’s (d. 1278) Riyad al-Salihin (Gardens of the righteous), while all other language groups rely on Muhammad Zakariyya alKandhalawi’s (d. 1982) Faza’il-i A’mal (Merits of righteous deeds, originally Tablighi Nisab or “curriculum”) in its original Urdu or in translation. Muhammad Yusuf al-Kandhalawi’s (d. 1965) Hayat alSahaba (The lives of the Companions) also plays an instrumental role in inspiring the activities of Tablighi participants. The Tablighi leaders who guide the functioning of the movement, however, pass on much of their teachings through nonliterary means. All participants are encouraged to undertake, at least once in a lifetime, a fourmonth initiatory pilgrimage to the Indian subcontinent in order to learn Tablighi norms from their source.
The Tablighi Jama’at originated as an indirect response to the Hindu shuddhi movement of North India in the 1920s. Muhammad Ilyas (d. 1944), a scholar of the Deobandi reformist tradition, received a vision during his pilgrimage to Mecca in 1925–26 and returned to Delhi to redirect his late father’s proselytizing activities among the semi-Islamized Meos of the Mewat region to the southwest of Delhi. In the few years before his death, Ilyas would develop a proselytizing methodology that has come to form the crux of the Tablighi da’wa principles. Working out of a mosque complex near the Nizamuddin shrine in Delhi that has remained the global Tablighi headquarters to this day, he attracted a devoted core of preachers numbering in the thousands. The Tablighi movement was next led by Muhammad Yusuf al-Kandhalawi, who shaped it into an international movement. Subsequently, under the leadership of In’am al-Hasan (d. 1995), control of the Jama’at shifted toward wealthy Gujarati merchants who were able to provide the capital for further global penetration. Since Hasan’s death, Tablighi leadership around the world has generally moved toward a more decentralized consultative (shūrā) structure. Two secondary global headquarters exist today in Raiwind, Pakistan (near Lahore), and Dhaka, Bangladesh.
The Tablighi Jama’at remains nominally apolitical, though it has played some role in the Islamization of many Muslim societies and minority communities across the globe, sometimes with distinctly political repercussions.
See also Deobandis; preaching; quietism and activism; revival and reform; ‘ulama’
Muhammad Khalid Masud, ed., Travellers in Faith: Studies of the Tablighi Jama’at as a Transnational Islamic Movement for Faith Renewal, 2000; Barbara D. Metcalf, “‘Traditionalist’ Islamic Activism: Deoband, Tablighis, and Talibs,” ISIM Papers, no. 4 (2002); Sayyed Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi, The Life and Mission of Maulana Muhammad Ilyas, 1983; Yoginder Sikand, The Origins and Development of the Tablighi Jama’at (1920–2000), 2002.
MATTHEW B. INGALLS