NEW DELHI: In mid-19th century, India was on the cusp of a major political transformation with the rise of British Raj in India. Muslim scholars believed ending of the Mughal empire, perceived as Islamic state, was caused by deviation from the ‘faith’ and deterioration of religious practices during later Mughal rule.
This thought gave birth to Islamic revivalist movement in the country, which aimed to reorient people practising Islam. Tablighi Jamaat, which literally means ‘preaching group’, set up by noted scholar Muhammad Ilyas Kandhlawi in 1926, was one attempt to bring the faithful close to the correct way of practicing the religion.
Zacharias P Pieri, assistant professor of International Relations and Security Studies at the University of South Florida, has recorded in his book Tablighi Jamaat and the Quest for the London Mega Mosque: Continuity and Change how political circumstances led to the movement in the subcontinent.
"For Muslims in India, the collapse of the Mughal empire carried with its connotations of waning of Islam. Hinduism, long present in the region, was in ascendance, not to mention the emerging influences of Christianity and later secularism. It was this threat, perceived or real, to the Islamic way of life – the shifting of balance of power—that inspired Islamic reformists in the region and the founding of movements for the reinvigoration of the faith," he wrote.
Niaz Ahmed Farooqui of Jamiat-Ulema-e-Hind, one of the leading organisations of Islamic scholars in India, however, said Jaamat was formed in response to ‘Shuddhi (reconversion) Movement’ launched by Arya Samaj around 1920s.
"Because of the movement, some Muslims started shunning Islam as they lacked basic knowledge of fundamental of the religion. So, Maulana Ilyas started Tablighi Jamaat. He would go to the villages and educate Muslims," said Farooqui.
Ilyas, a native of village Kandhla in Muzaffarnagar district of Uttar Pardesh, was appointed Imam of Banglewali Mosque in Nizamuddin Basti in 1918 so when he formed the organisation, it became headquarters of the Jamaat. Within two decades of its formation, the influence of Tablighi Jamaat spread across the globe and its roots now exist in more than 160 countries, with millions of followers.
Every year, the organisation holds three-day congregations in different cities in India including Delhi which lakhs of devout including international guests attend. Every day, hundreds of devouts from others states and abroad reach Nizamuddin to attend the religious gatherings. They are sent to different cities in batches for religious service, where they spend from seven days to 40 days or sometimes even four months and travel to multiple towns.
A religious gathering takes place every Thursday at Markaz in which thousands of Delhi residents also participate and sometimes they stay overnight on its campus.
"People start reaching Markaz around Asr (evening prayer before the sunset) namaaz and stay there till Friday congregational prayer. Food is available in the premises. Some return after Isha (late evening prayer) namaaz. At any point of time, around 2,000 people are present in the building," said a youth, associated with the arrangements at Markaz, who wished not be named.
The organisation split around five years ago over leadership issue. One breakaway fraction with its headquarters in Nizamuddin is headed by Maulana Muhammad Saad Kandhlawi, great grandson of its founder Maulana Ilyas. The other group is based out of Dargah Faiz Ilahi Masjid at Turkman Gate.