The Intellectual Background of Tabligh Movement Tending to the roots of the Faith

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The Intellectual Background of Tabligh Movement
(Sheikh Abul Hasan Ali Nadvi Rahmatullah Alaihi )
“The very foundations upon which the super-structure of Islamic Revival system of teaching and learning was to be raised were crumbling among the Muslims and even their belief in the fundamental articles of Faith was weakening day by day. In the Maulana's own words, "The fundamental doctrines have ceased to be fundamental and lost the power to sustain and regulate the subsidiary doctri­nes." Belief in the Supermacy and Tawheed of Allah and in the Apostleship of the Prophet Muhammad salallahu Alaihi wasallam was steadily declining, the life Hereafter was losing its importance, and the dignity of the Word of Allah and the worth and significance of the sayings of the Apostle were getting redu­ced to meaningless terms.
In a letter to Maulana Husain Ahmad Madni, the Maulana Ilyas wrote:
"There is no limit to the ridicule and derision with which the very mention of things like Namaz, Roza, adherence to Faith and compliance with the Shariat is greeted among the Muslims. The basic aim of the Tabligh move­ment is the revival of tire glory of these tenets and duties, and to bring about a change from scoffing to reverence."
Gross neglect
The Maulana had realised that the Muslims were drifting away from the elementary teachings of the Faith. To talk of the more advanced branches when the plant of Faith had yet to take root in the hearts was' unreasonable and premature. What was the point in the establishment of new theological institutions when even the older ones were languishing and the veins and arteries which carried blood to them were getting harder and narrower day by day? No one was willing to acknowledge their need or to recall with gratitude the services of their founders, teachers and other well-wishers. As the Maulana wrote to Haji Rasheed Ahmad, who was associated with a number of leading Madrassas:
"I had seen, fifteen years ago, the trend that was deve­loping among the well-wishers, and felt that the way the Madrassas were functioning and being maintained, i. e. the interest and inclination of the people which led them to make donations and serve the institutions in various other ways was dwindling and it would soon disappear and there was not much hope for the future."
The Maulana had, also, felt that theological sciences were becoming unproductive, and, in fact, a burden on the pupils owing to the predominance of worldly interests. He said, "These sciences are becoming valueless because the aims and objects for which one acquired them have gone out of them and the ends and advantages for which these were studied are gained no longer. Keeping the two things in mind, I concentrated on this way, i.e. Tabligh of serving the Faith."
It was not that the Maulana did not consider the Maktabs and Madrassas essential for the Muslims. On the other hand, he regarded their extinction a curse and a misfortune. Writing to Haji Rasheed Ahmad on the closing down of a large number of Madrassas in Mewat, he said:
"You must emphasise that the stagnation or closure of hundreds of Madrassas is a source of great misfortune for the people and there is the danger of our being called to account on the Day of Final Judgement that the Quran was disap­pearing from the world and there was no share in our wealth and no anxiety in our hearts for it."
The Madrassas had been founded upon the ground our ancestors had prepared, and deep anxiety for the preservation and propagation of Islam had induced religious-minded Muslims to set them up so that the younger generations did not remain ignorant of Faith. It was on account of this awareness and solicitude, however weak, that the Madrassas were functioning and getting pupils. But the stock of eagerness and earnestness was running out fast which was a most alarming portent for the future of Faith and the survival of the Madrassas.
The primary need, therefore, was to revive the ardour and enthusiasm among the Muslims. It should be brought home to them that there was no other way to acquire Faith than to learn it, and the learning of Faith was more important than the learn­ing of material arts and sciences. Once this realisation was produced, the rest would be easy. The general ailment of the Muslims was lethargy and listlessness. It had been presumed that Faith was present among them, and, hence attention was being diverted towards things of a secondary nature.
A notable change that had come over religious preaching, instruction and reform, as compared to the earlier times, was that it had got restricted to seekers and nothing was being done for those who were the victims of complacency and oblivious to the need for improvement. The world was sunk in torpor when­ever the Apostles were raised up. They aroused it from deep slumber, produced earnest seekers of truth and trained men for their mission. To stimulate the mindless and apathetic people and to enkindle the desire for correction and change in their hearts was the real end and purpose of Tabligh.
But, how was it to be done? The Kalima of Laa ilaah was the end of the Rope of Allah which was in the hands of every Muslim. By seizing that end you can pull him towards the whole Faith. He cannot resist it. As long as the Muslim affirms the Kalima, there will be a good chance of bringing him over to Faith. The opportunity must be seized with both hands before it is lost altogether.
The only way now to create religious consciousness among the Muslims was that contact was made with them through the Kalima. It should be taught to them if they did not know it already and seen that they pronounced it correctly. Its signifi­cance should be explained to them and they should be told what the affirmation of servility to God and loyalty to the Prophet meant. They should be roused and brought round to observing the duties to God and the Apostle, the foremost among which was Namaz. God had endowed Namaz with the exceptional quality of generating the strength and ability to adhere and be faithful to the whole of Faith. It was the primary and most manifest evidence of loyalty and obeisance avowed through the Kalima. For further advancement and solidity, the Muslims were to be exhorted to remember the Lord much and often, and it should be made clear to them that for living as Muslims it was neces­sary to acquire knowledge of the will and purpose and com­mands and injunctions of God. No art or skill could be acquired without spending sometime over it. The same was true of Faith. One had to find time for it, aside of one's pre-occupations. The task was so extensive that it was beyond the capacity of a few individuals or groups. The general body of the Muslims must come forward to fulfill it. In the words of the Maulana: "If lakhs will not rise up for the sake of crores, how will it be done? There are not as many lakhs who know as crores who do not."
For it, the Maulana was convinced that a ceaseless and uni­versal endeavour had to be launched in the whole of the Muslim World. Action and movement were a permanent and intrinsic part of the life of a Muslim. Lethargy and pre-occupation with worldly affairs were a passing phenomenon. The foundation of the Muslim millet was laid on struggle and endeavour for Faith. It was for it that it had been raised up otherwise there was nothing lacking in any sphere of worldly activity to remove which a new community had to be brought forth. The decline of the Muslims began when they neglected this duty and grew spiri­tually weak and listless and their habits became sedentary and they acquired fondness for the softer ways of urban life. It started with the end of the Glorious Caliphate.   Says the Maulana:
"We stopped setting out in batches in the path of Faith although it was a fundamental duty. The Prophet himself used to go from place to place and whoever took the pledge at his hand, also, began to do the same like a man possessed. When, in Mecca, Islam was confined to the individual plane, everyone who became a Muslim strove individually to preach the Faith to others. In Medina, there was a more civilized and collective life. On migrating to it, the Prophet started sending out parties in all directions, and as the Muslims grew in number, they acquired a martial character. Peaceful life was possible only to those who ser­ved as the refuge and sustainers of the wanderers. To be in a state of movement and active endeavour in the path of Faith was the thing that mattered. When it ceased, the Caliphate, too, came to an end."
Design of work
The plan of work, in the Maulana's own words, was as follows:
"The real Tabligh is of two things, and the rest consists only of giving it a definite shape. One of these things is mat­erial and the other is spiritual. By 'material' we mean what is related to the limbs i.e. revival of the practice of travel­ling in batches from place to place and country to country for the propagation of the Guidance brought by the Prophet, while the 'spiritual' half denotes the engendering of senti­ments i.e.  giving rise, once again, to the custom of laying down one's life at the command of God, as has been set forth in the Quran:
"But nay, by thy Lord, they will not believe (in truth) until they make thee judge of what is in dispute between them and find within themselves no dislike of that which thou decides, and submit with full submis­sion.( IV : 65)
"I created the jinn and humankind only that they
might worship Me.   (LI : 86)
1. To strive for the things brought by the sacred Pro­phet in proportion, to their importance. As, unfortunately, we are getting unacquainted with the Kalima, its preaching should receive paramount attention, which, in truth, lies in the affirmation of the godhead of God, i. e., our sole ambi­tion should be to lay down our lives at the behest of Allah.
2. To pay attention, after the correction of the Kalima, to the correction of Namaz and ending it with as much likeness to the Namaz of the holy Prophet as possible.
3. To engage, in morning and evening and in some part of the night, in gaining the knowledge of Faith and remembrance of God.
4. To travel in order to spread the teachings of the Prophet in all parts of the world.
5. To train oneself in good moral and social behaviour during the travels and to fulfill the duties to God and fellowmen with sincerity.
6. (Correction of intention), i. e., to seek Divine good pleasure and betterment of life in the Hereafter through carrying out the Commands of God with fullest faith in the promises made by Him on each Command."
A great evil which is the source of a thousand evils these days and has deprived the Muslims of each-other's virtues and Islam of the collective goodness of the Muslims is the disparagement of fellow Muslims. Every Muslim has taken it for granted that he is the embodiment of virtue while all the other Muslims are mean, vicious and sinful, and, hence, he, alone, is worthy of esteem. This attitude is responsible for all the ills and evils that are plaguing the religious and social life of the Muslims.
There was a special favour of the Lord on Maulana Mohammad Ilyas in this regard and he made respect for Muslims a cardinal point of his endeavour. The nature of the Tabligh movement is such that, in it, one has to deal with all sorts of Muslims and numerous difficulties can arise if this basic principle is overlooked.
In place of the prevalent attitude of self-righteousness, the Maulana insisted that people saw their own faults and learnt to admire the good qualities of others. It was the only way to ensure peace and co-operation in individual as well as collective life.
As the Maulana, once, wrote:
"There is no man or Muslim who is wholly good or wholly bad. Everyone has his own virtues and weaknesses. If the practice of appreciating the good and ignoring the bad points of each-other became current among us, many evils will disappear, by themselves, from the world and virtues will take their place. But, unfortunately, what obtains in actual practice, today, is far different."
By his own example and through instruction and exhortation the Maulana had instilled into the Mewatis and other Tabligh workers reverence for the Kalima and respect for the Muslims so well that it had become a part of their nature. Together with it, the emphasis on Zikr and Ilm, and on abstention from vain and fruitless conversation, and rendering obedience to the leader, and working as a united body, in accordance with the rules, had made the Movement safe against the sad experiences that, gene­rally, befell those who are associated with the work of religious reform and instruction.
Preparing the ground
According to the Maulana, the Faith was the soil and to travel from place to place for its propagation among the masses was like the preparation of the soil, while theological institutions and other manifestations of the religious life of the Muslims could be compared to the orchards, and, naturally, the more fertile and well-irrigated the soil, the more flourishing would be the orchards. The primary need, therefore, was to prepare the soil and make it fertile.   As he writes:
"Striving in the cause of Tabligh and going from place to place is, for theological institutions and all other religious affairs, like preparing the soil, and the other religious activi­ties are like planting trees on it. Groves are of many kinds. There are groves of dates, apples, pomegranates, bananas, and, so on. But no grove can be grown without hard work in two directions. One is the preparation of the soil without which nothing can be done, and the other is taking care of the trees. The Tabligh movement, thus, is the soil of the Faith, and the institutions are the groves. So far, the soil of the Faith has been lying neglected. How, then, can trees be grown on it?"
And, again:
"How can a community whose degeneration has gone so far that it has sunk even below the words of the Kalima of Laa Illaaha illallaah be reformed at the top without start­ing from the bottom. The end cannot be corrected without the correction of the beginning. If it is corrected at the starting point and set on the right course, it will reach the top by itself, while to hope for reformation at the top when the base is unsound is pure illusion."
The Maulana, thus, regarded his Movement essential for the preservation of Faith and believed no effort or sacrifice to be too much for it. He said:
"I cannot think of any other way to the progress and advancement of our Movement, the need of which is accept­ed on all hands, than that everyone got ready to sacrifice whatever he had.
Like Jehad, it, too, in its typical form, is a foremost religious duty, and it is binding on all Muslims to take an active interest in it. Doubtlessly, among all the efforts that are being made today, it is nearest to the method of the holy Prophet."
In a talk with Maulana Ataullah Shah Bukhari, during his last illness, the Maulana explained his viewpoint in these words:
 "In the beginning, when I taught in the Madrassa, a large number of pupils came to study, and there were many good and promising boys among them. I thought that the net result of the time and energy I spent on them could only be that after graduating from the Madrassa, they would become Molvis and Alims, and, then, take to professions that were, generally, accepted during those days. Some of them would learn the Unani system of medicine and open their clinics, some would pass the university examinations and become teachers in schools and colleges, and some would have to rest content with serving as Molvis in the Madrassas. That was all.I, thereupon, lost interest in teaching in the Madrassa.
Then a time came when my spiritual mentor gave me the permission to teach Zikr to the seekers of Truth, and I, also, felt inclined towards it. By the grace of God, those under my instruction made such a rapid progress that even I was surprised. With it, I, also, started thinking what it all was and where would it lead to. At the most, some men of spiritual merit would be produced and people would come to them with requests to invoke Divine favour on their behalf to win a law-suit, or give them an amulet for having children. It could, also, be that the chain of guid­ance and instruction endured for sometime because of them. Ultimately, I lost interest in it as well, and resolved that the proper use of the capabilities God had endowed me with was that those were employed for the same purpose for which the holy Prophet had employed his own capabilities, i. e., for leading the bondmen of the Lord, specially the heedless and the negligent, towards Him and giving rise to the prac­tice of striving to the utmost, even to the extent of sacrificing one's life, for the glory of the Word of God. This, solely, is our endeavour, and this is all that I say to everyone. If this work is seriously undertaken, a thousand times more Madrassas and Sufi-lodges will get established automatically, or, rather, every Muslim will become a Madrassa and a Khanqah, and the boon and blessing brought by the sacred Prophet will come to be distributed at the level of the common man."
To a friend asking for an amulet, the Maulana wrote:
"May God bless you, brother. I possess no knowledge of the amulets, charms and incantations. It will, however, be most beneficial if you learnt Tabligh from me for stead­fastness in Faith. It will make the life of this world easy and the life of Futurity pleasant for you. I want to devote all my time to Tabligh though I know it not as well."
Similarly, in another letter, he said:
"I know nothing of amulets and charms. For me the panacea for all the ills and evils is Tabligh. God is pleased with the ascendancy of Faith and cool comfort is brought to the Prophet   in   his mausoleum. Thus, God will mend everything by Himself when His good pleasure will be sought and comfort brought to the sacred Prophet."
In yet another letter, the Maulana wrote:
"My friend, I am neither a conjurer nor a soothsayer. I, also, know nothing about charms and amulets. I am am ignorant man lying in the corner of a mosque. By the grace of God, 1 strive for the correction of the life of Futu­rity, and my sole anxiety is that God made me of those who derive benefit from the holy Prophet. This is my one and only occupation. If you and your friends are in need of it, pay heed to what I say.   Maybe, it does you some good."
Tending to the roots of the Faith
The Maulana had realised that the leaves and branches of the tree of Faith were withering because its roots had dried up. The freshness and radiance of supererogatory deeds was dimini­shing owing to the neglect of fundamental duties. Says he:
"The supererogatory acts of worship, prayer-formulas, entreaties and supplications, in fact, everything in the line of religion are the leaves and flowers of Faith. Now, how can the leaves and flowers of a tree preserve their freshness when it has dried up at the root? That is why, in my hum­ble opinion, neither the prayer-formulas are being effective these days nor supplications nor the spiritual attention and inclination of anyone. As a Tradition has it, 'When the endeavour for the preaching and propagation of Faith, which consists of sanctioning what is right and forbidding what is wrong, will have ceased, the prayers of the devotees who spend their nights in crying to the Lord and their supplications will avail nothing. 'The Gates of Mercy have been closed. It is futile to hope for improvement in the condition of the Muslims until they make efforts for the preservation and propagation of Islam.' It is the Will of God that He will turn with mercy towards the Muslims only when they strive for the glory of Faith and spend their time and energy on it."
To feel earnestly for Faith was an essential attribute of a Muslim. There was, he said, a great danger of being put to humiliation and disgrace in the Hereafter for the Believer who remains indifferent to the Call of Tabligh and does not parti­cipate in the endeavour for the revival and regeneration of Faith.
 "Believe me", says the Maulana in a letter, "Whoever dies without grief in his heart over the extinction of Islam dies the worst kind of death. On the Day of Resurrection, he will rise with a blackened face."
In the same way, on the occasion of a Tabligh meeting in Mewat, he wrote:
"Give glad tidings to those who worked towards the success of the meeting. Tell them that as they have striven to change the scene of mutual discord and hatred into that of the glory of the Word of God, this act of theirs shall, Insha Allah, be mentioned, on the Day of Final Requital, from the pulpit where all the men and jinn and angels and Apostles will be present."
Change of outlook is essential for reform
The religious surroundings in which the Maulana had been brought up did not permit of any laxity or hesitation in the forbidding of what was wrong and sanctioning of what was right in the eye of the Shariat. In fact, it was owing to this cons­tancy and resoluteness that many lawful things were made current in the religious circle to which he belonged and unlawful things were eradicated, and numerous defunct Sunnats were revived.
The Maulana knew that the way to remove the evils was not to grapple with them one by one for often a life-time was spent in uprooting a sinful practice, and, yet, no progress was made, and even if some success was gained, it remained confined to a particular class or group, and, sometimes, it, also, happe­ned that if one evil was eradicated, another took its place. It would, thus, take centuries of struggle to rid the world of the innumerable vices and iniquities that were prevalent in it. The wisest course would be to avoid a direct assault on them and concentrate on the promotion of religious conscience and giving rise to lawful and virtuous acts and practices.
The Maulana did not believe in piecemeal reform. He would say, "Come from far and near, changing the environment all the way and spreading what is good and lawful. The evil and forbidden things will disappear by themselves. The more the positive virtues and legitimate acts will flourish, the more will the moral and religious faults and sinful deeds and habits lose their hold and pass from existence."
It was related to me by a Mewati that, once, he was wett­ing the ground with water to make it cool. He poured the water all around him, but the place where he was standing remained dry, and, then, a cool breeze came and the temperature of that place, also, fell down. At that time, he realised that if he had poured water only where he was standing and the surrounding ground had remained dry, it, too, would not have become cool, and, it was with it, that the wisdom of the Maulana's method dawned upon him.
About a village which was devoid of religious feeling, the Maulana wrote:
 "It would not be correct to make a direct approach. A better course would be to persuade the people of the adjoin­ing village to take Tabligh parties to it. They should first be brought into a proper frame of mind and it is only then that a direct appeal can bear fruit; otherwise the conse­quences will be even more disastrous.
A man is always influenced by his environment. This is the guiding principle of our Movement. It is most diffi­cult to take a man out of his surroundings. The aim should, therefore, be to change the surroundings."
The Maulana insisted that the whole life should be brought under the influence of Faith.
"Keep your spirits high in the service of Faith", said he to a friend. "You cannot imagine how much joy will it bring to the soul of the sacred Prophet, and, God willing you will see a marvellous improvement."
 Similarly, to a friend who was, probably, interested in the religious uplift of the trading classes, the Maulana wrote:
"In my humble view, the ultimate purpose of Tabligh to which I invited you and for which I am, also, striving to the best of my ability is to bring the trade, commerce and agriculture of the Muslims under the control of the Shariat. The starting point of Tabligh is worship, and without the perfection of worship, no progress can be made towards the observance of the teachings of Islam in social conduct and monetary dealings. The primary object of the earnest bond­men should, therefore, be the propagation and perfection of the A, B. C. of Tabligh, i. e., worship in the world. Moral conduct, social behaviour and monetary dealings can be reformed only through it."
Popular method of Zikr and Ta'allum
Maulana Mohammad Ilyas gave a general call of Zikr and Ta'allum to the Muslims, but in his scheme of things, these terms possessed a special significance. Throughout India, or, rather, the Islamic World there are in vogue some definite prayer-formulas for Zikr and a special course of study is prescribed for the Madrassas. Gradually, Zikr and Ta'allum have become so institutionalised that to observe or pursue them outside the traditional design is considered inconceivable. The Maulana held a revolutionary idea in these matters as well. He felt that while the established order was necessary, only a few persons could profit by it. The general body of Muslims could make little or no progress in Zikr and knowledge within a limited period of time.
After a deep study of the life-record of the holy compa­nions, the Maulana had concluded that the method which was followed during the early phase of Islam was the most natural way for the education and instruction of the Ummat. About Zikr he felt that it would be a grave folly to neglect it, yet, at the same time, he was sure that it should not be confined to the repetition of a few set prayer-formulas. To bear in mind the rules and principles laid down for various walks and circumstan­ces of life and to abide by them at each step was the sum and essence of God-remembrance, and the main task lay in reviving, in the Ummat, the spirit of Iman and Ihtisab. All the same, it was, also, necessary to include vocal Zikr in the plan of Tabligh. He wrote:
"Believing Tabligh to be an easy and unfailing means of seeking the countenance of the Lord, keep yourselves engaged in this task, carrying out Zikr much and often and making earnest entreaties to Him, with the head bent low in genu­flexion. Tell others, also, to do the same. Remembrance of God and supplication are the essence of Tabligh."
 As for education, the Maulana believed that to confine it to books and Madrassas was to exclude a large section of the Ummat from acquiring it. Only a small minority of Muslims would be able to profit by it, and that, too, only intellectually. The direct method through which the masses could acquire not only religious knowledge but, also, realise its inner reality without the usual paraphernalia was that of personal contact, associa­tion and congregation and active  participation  in religious effort and coming out of one's traditional environment. Just as language and good manners were learnt best in the company of men of culture and education, in the same way correct know­ledge of religion was acquired in the company of and close asso­ciation with men of Faith and piety. Faith was a living and dynamic thing while books were lifeless and devoid of feeling and spirit, and to obtain the animate from the inanimate was contrary to the law of nature. A part of the Faith was related to the limbs and it could be acquired only by moving the limbs, and a part of it was related to the heart which could be trans­mitted only from one heart to another and a part of it was related to mind and this could be gained, of course, by reading the books. As he said:
"Every limb of a man has a function to perform. The eye is meant for seeing and it must do that. It cannot be used for hearing. In the same way, it is the function of the heart to react to the surroundings, and the mind gives a definite form to what the heart feels. Mind is governed by the heart and feeling is produced in the heart by external environment, and the giving of form to it is called know­ledge. The mind will form the correct image, i. e., acquire knowledge only when the response of the heart is correct and this is not possible through the books. It can be produced only by action. I do not say that the Madrassas should be closed down. The Madrassas are for the perfection of edu­cation, but they are not sufficient for the elementary and basic education of all Muslims."(Only 5% of Muslims can join the formal system of Madarsa)
Another thing needed for the advancement of education was to share with others the knowledge one had acquired. To put it in Maulana's own words:
"Know that a scholar cannot make progress in learning until he imparts what he has learnt to those who are inferior to him in knowledge, particularly to those who are on the borderline of Apostasy."
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