Tableeghi Ja­maat on cam­puses

The Pak Banker - - 4EDITORIAL - Muham­mad Amir Rana

AN­OTI­FI­CA­TION is­sued by the Pun­jab govern­ment has banned preach­ing ac­tiv­i­ties on univer­sity cam­puses. How­ever, the no­ti­fi­ca­tion does not pro­vide enough rea­son for the govern­ment's de­ci­sion to put re­stric­tions on the ac­tiv­i­ties of the Tableeghi Ja­maat on univer­sity cam­puses and its mem­bers' stay in hos­tels.

Ap­par­ently, the de­ci­sion has been taken from a se­cu­rity per­spec­tive. The Tableeghi Ja­maat has easy ac­cess to univer­sity cam­puses and mosques at­tached to hos­tels. The law-en­force­ment agen­cies sus­pect that ter­ror­ists could use the Tableeghi Ja­maat's loose or­gan­i­sa­tional struc­ture to fa­cil­i­tate their op­er­a­tional mo­bil­ity on univer­sity cam­puses. The pro­vin­cial govern­ment's de­ci­sion is, there­fore, an im­por­tant ini­tia­tive in the con­text of mil­i­tants' on­slaught on ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions.

The religious and right­ist par­ties' re­ac­tion was ex­pected. They crit­i­cised the de­ci­sion on the ba­sis of their be­lief that the Tableeghi Ja­maat had no links with ter­ror­ism. As al­ways, they saw a Western con­spir­acy be­hind this de­ci­sion and deemed it tan­ta­mount to the ban­ning of the preach­ing of Is­lam.

Apart from the in­ter­nal discourse of the Tableeghi Ja­maat, which is peace­ful and in­flu­enced by the Sufi tra­di­tions of the sub­con­ti­nent, the group has sec­tar­ian un­der­cur­rents. In­deed, it has been an im­por­tant tool for the pro­mo­tion of the Deobandi school of thought in the coun­try, which also raises some crit­i­cal ques­tions. For one, why would the govern­ment al­low the or­gan­i­sa­tion of a par­tic­u­lar sect to preach in ed­u­ca­tional cam­puses and not oth­ers? Should the govern­ment also al­low mem­bers or groups of marginalised Mus­lim sects to preach on cam­puses?

Those who are fa­mil­iar with the Tableeghi Ja­maat's preach­ing prac­tices know that its mem­bers go into class­rooms with the co­op­er­a­tion of the ad­min­is­tra­tion of a school, col­lege or univer­sity. The ad­min­is­tra­tion fears that non-co­op­er­a­tion would be used to tag it as anti-re­li­gion. Is the same 'right' to dis­turb aca­demic ac­tiv­i­ties at ed­u­ca­tional cam­puses avail­able to preach­ing or­gan­i­sa­tions of any other sect or re­li­gion? The group once had spe­cific times to go door to door and in­vite peo­ple to mosques but this is a new prac­tice - its del­e­ga­tions have now started vis­it­ing of­fices and schools dur­ing work hours.

The Tableeghi Ja­maat has ex­panded its out­reach and in­flu­ence in sec­tions of Pak­istani so­ci­ety to the ex­tent that its del­e­ga­tions are some­times in­vited to cab­i­net meet­ings and im­por­tant state func­tions. Mil­lions par­tic­i­pate in its con­gre­ga­tions in Pak­istan, Bangladesh and In­dia. The growth of par­tic­i­pants in its an­nual con­gre­ga­tion is ex­po­nen­tial. This makes it nec­es­sary to re­view the group's pol­icy, dis­ci­pline, im­pact, and more im­por­tantly, the rea­son why peo­ple are at­tracted to it.

Crit­ics raise many ob­jec­tions to the method­ol­ogy of the group, es­pe­cially the time of its preach­ing vis­its, sched­ules, em­pha­sis on its six prin­ci­ples and its way of ad­min­is­ter­ing the oath of al­le­giance. Th­ese acts are la­belled im­per­mis­si­ble in­no­va­tions in re­li­gion. Western schol­ar­ship has crit­i­cised the Tableeghi Ja­maat for its po­ten­tial links to ji­had, ter­ror­ism and political Is­lam. On the con­trary, religious cir­cles in Pak­istan, par­tic­u­larly religious schol­ars, who are also en­gaged in pol­i­tics, crit­i­cise the Tableeghi Ja­maat for push­ing the peo­ple away from ji­had and pol­i­tics.

It is

in­ter­est­ing

to note

that

the founder of the Tableeghi Ja­maat, Maulana Mo­hammed Ilyas, ini­tially es­tab­lished ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions along the lines of con­vents where com­mon folk would come for a lim­ited time. They were given ba­sic knowl­edge of Is­lam and wor­ship. How­ever, as its in­flu­ence and num­bers grew, its ap­proach and meth­ods of preach­ing changed.

When set­ting up ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions on a large scale to at­tract Mus­lims to re­li­gion be­came dif­fi­cult, mosques were brought into use as schools and af­fil­i­a­tions were forged with ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions. How­ever, the preach­ing model re­mained that of the Sufi mys­tics.

Ser­mons based on schol­arly ar­gu­ments were avoided. The ba­sic prin­ci­ple named taleem was: "those who have a higher knowl­edge of Is­lam should share it with oth­ers and those who have lit­tle should learn from oth­ers". The method was de­rived from the one prac­tised by the As'haab-i-Suffa (Com­pan­ions of the Prophet [ PBUH] ded­i­cated to teach­ing Is­lam in the Prophet's mosque in Mad­ina).

De­spite its sim­plis­tic mes­sage, the Tableeghi Ja­maat has failed to shed its sec­tar­ian im­age. Tra­di­tion­ally, it has used mosques be­long­ing to the Deobandi sect for taleem and other ac­tiv­i­ties. Never has a Shia mosque been used.

The Tableeghi Ja­maat does not be­lieve in charis­matic lead­ers. They are to be re­spected and ven­er­ated which again is part of the Sufi mys­tic tra­di­tion. Maulana Tariq Jameel is an ex­cep­tion and re­port­edly the el­ders of the Tableeghi Ja­maat have reser­va­tions about his way of reach­ing out to celebri­ties and the rul­ing elite. How­ever, their dis­plea­sure can­not stop Maulana Tariq from con­tin­u­ing his ways be­cause he him­self has be­come a celebrity.

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