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TABLIGH. Qazi Muhammad Sulaiman Mansurpuri (d. 1930), an Indian scholar known for several works defending Islam against criticism by non-Muslims, defined tabligh in Tabligh al-Islam (Simla, 1928, p. 4) as “a call toward one’s religion by one nation to another.” He argued that Islam was the only religion whose scriptures obliged its followers to proselytize others. Mansfirpuri’s definition was a rebuttal to Christian missionaries who contended that Islam was not a missionary religion. Max Muller included Islam among the missionary religions when, in a lecture in 1873, he suggested a wider redefinition of the term “mission.” He described a missionary religion as one whose founder raises the work of converting unbelievers to the level of a sacred duty, and stated that the spirit of truth in the hearts of believers in a missionary religion impels them to manifest it in thought, word, and deed. This spirit is not satisfied until it has carried its message to every human soul. Mansurpuri’s definition refers to the common usage of the word tabligh in the nineteenth century, which developed in response to the debate over missionary activity.

The word tabligh is derived from the root b-1-gh, meaning to reach one’s destination, to achieve an objective, to come to hear, or to come of age. Tabligh is the transitive verbal form, meaning to make someone reach, to communicate, or to report. Muhammad A’la Thanvi, an eighteenth-century lexicographer in India, treated it as a term in the science of rhetoric, in which it is defined as a literary claim that is physically as well as logically possible. Accordingly, in literary usage tabligh is primarily a function of language; thus the science of rhetoric is called `ilm al-baldghah. The elements of communication, reasonable claim, maturity, and attainment of an objective are significant components of the semantic field of tabligh. The transitivity of the verb tabligh requires an object, for example, risalah (“message,” frequent in the Qur’an) or da’wah (“call,” as in tabligh al-da’wah, a commonly used modern phrase). The words tabligh and da`wah are interchangeable in modern usage; the connotation of “claim” in both baldghah and da’wah is implicit in Qur’anic references to prophecy and miracle.

The word tabligh does not occur in the Qur’an, but its verbal forms have frequently been used in conjunction with prophecy or mission (risalah) to mean “to communicate a message or revelation” or “to fulfill a mission” (e.g., surah 5.87). The Qur’an instead uses the verbal noun baldgh, which according to the lexicographer al-Raghib al-Isfahani (d. 1108) is synonymous with tabligh (Al-mufraddt ft gharib al-Qur’an, Cairo, 1961).

The Qur’anic usage of baldgh signifies that the mere proclamation of the message is sufficient for the fulfillment of the mission; a preacher is not responsible for conversion. The Qur’an says, “And say to the People of the Book and to those who are unlearned: `Do you submit yourselves?’ If they do, they are in right guidance. But if they turn back, your duty is only to convey the message” (3.20). Moreover, “Had God willed, they had not been idolatrous. We have not set you as a keeper over them, nor are you responsible for them” (6.106).

According to the Qur’an, “There is no compulsion in religion. Truth is henceforth distinct from falsehood” (2.256). A preacher’s duty is to communicate, warn, and remind others to follow the truth. Tabligh in this sense implies an association with the concept of miracle as God’s sign in support of a prophet’s claim. Max L. Stackhouse (Encyclopedia of Religion, New York, 1987, vol. 9, p. 563) explains that missionary activity is rooted in the fundamental assumption that once people are exposed to the proclaimed truth, they will choose this truth; therefore they should be free to encounter and choose even a foreign truth. The Qur’anic statement about the completion of mission by mere proclamation of the truth refers to a similar trust in human reason. The Qur’an further distinguishes the “People of the Book” (ahl al-kitdb) from other human beings because they are the recipients of earlier revelation, which should prepare them to accept the truth more quickly.

The Qur’an stresses that Islam confirms previous revelations, and since it is the last of them, the duty of tabligh is now assigned to the Muslim ummah as a whole: “You are the best community that has been raised up for humankind. You enjoin right conduct and forbid evil; and believe in God. If the people of the Book had believed it had been better for them. Some of them are believers but most of them are evil-livers” (3.11o). The doctrine of al-amr bi-al-ma’ruf wa-al-nahy `an al-munkar (enjoining good and forbidding evil) evolved from these verses and forms an essential component of the concept of tabligh.

Commenting on the Qur’anic verses dealing with tabligh and amr bi-al-ma`ruf, modern scholars have discussed the addressees, methods, and objectives of tabligh. Muhammad Rashid Rida (d. 1935) an Egyptian reformer, made it clear that Islam is a universal mission; hence all humankind, including believers in other revealed religions, are its addressees, and tabligh is a duty of every Muslim. Mufti Muhammad Shafi` (d. 1978), a prominent Deobandi scholar in Pakistan, asserted that since tabligh addresses the question of salvation, belief in Muhammad’s prophecy is essential. He refuted the argument of some scholars who, referring to surah 2.62, argued that those who faithfully practiced the religions revealed before Muhammad were on the right path, implying that they were not required to convert to Islam. Mawlana `Ubaidullah Sindhi (d. 1945), a Sikh converted to Islam, raised the question of the salvation of those whom the message of Islam had not reached and argued that their salvation did not depend on accepting Islam. Manazir Ahsan Gilani, a twentieth-century scholar and author, stated the rule that punishment of individuals after death is always commensurate with their access to tabligh in life.

Abfi al-A’la Mawdudi (d. 1979), the founder of Jama’at Islam-1, addressed the question of method in tabligh. He stressed that human beings are free to choose between truth and falsehood; tabligh does not require coercion.

These debates echo the discussions between the Mu`tazilah, a sect stressing human reason as a basis even of revealed laws, and their opponents the Ash’ariyah. The Mu’tazilah believed that humans, as rational beings, were obliged to do good and to avoid evil even in the absence of revelation. Accordingly, those whom tabligh has not reached will be judged by God on the basis of their rational understanding of good and evil. The Ash’aris advocated that good and evil were defined and made known only by revelation; human beings would be pardoned by God if they had not received revelation. The Ash’ari theologians found it impossible to conceive of a contemporary human community ignorant of Islam. The only occasion that called for tabligh, therefore, was before the waging of a war. Views on this issue were discussed in the doctrine of bulugh al-da’wah (inviting the opponent to Islam).

Wahbah al-Zuhayli, a contemporary Syrian jurist, in Al-fiqh al-Islami wa-adillatuh (Damascus, 1989), explains that juristic opinion is divided on the question of whether tabligh to the opponent is obligatory before waging war. Maliki jurists consider it obligatory, whereas Hanbalis do not. Most other jurists, including al-Mawardi, a medieval author on constitutional and administrative laws, hold that tabligh is obligatory if the opponent has not previously heard about Islam; it is only commendable in other cases.

Against this background, the doctrine of amr bi-alma’ruf received increased emphasis and became almost synonymous with tabligh and da`wah. As mentioned, the doctrine was derived from the Qur’anic verses that describe enjoining good as a duty of the Muslim ummah (9.72). These verses are read along with a hadith, reported by Muslim in his Sahih (Cairo, 1954, vol. 1, p. 69), that says a believer must correct evil by hand or tongue, depending on his ability, or should at least condemn it in his heart. These three levels of action may be compared with jihad, tabligh, and hijrah (withdrawal), respectively. The level of action is determined by the ability of the actor. In jihad, ability refers to physical fitness and military skills; in tabligh, it includes command of language and knowledge of divine laws. Accordingly, only the `ulama’, are qualified for this duty. Like jihad, therefore, tabligh was deemed fard kifdyah, an obligation not incumbent on every Muslim.

`Abd al-Qadir `Awdah, a twentieth-century expert on Islamic international and criminal law, explains that only a person with the following qualifications is allowed to perform this duty: maturity, legal capacity, adherence to Islam, physical capacity, and intellectual and moral integrity. `Awdah adds that most jurists stipulate permission from the government as a condition, but he disagrees with this view. However, this stipulation points to the political role of tabligh, and the condition was probably added by Sunni jurist against the Isma’ilis and other sects whose tabligh efforts were aimed at the establishment of states of their own.

This cautious permission for tabligh activity was probably also prompted by the fact that tabligh, especially the doctrine of nahy `an al-munkar (prohibition of the objectionable), could encourage criticism and opposition against a regime that did not abide by Islamic teachings. The Sunni jurists justified rebellion against a Muslim ruler only in cases of open violation of the shad `ah, but this justification was actually available only in extreme cases. Generally they recommended obedience even to morally corrupt rulers, because their rule was better than anarchy. Such considerations led tabligh to be closely associated with politics. It may also explain why Muslim rulers usually paid no attention to the establishment of formally organized institutions for tabligh; rather, they tried to control individual tabligh efforts.

The issue of tabligh became crucial in politics when Christian missions came to the Muslim world with Western colonial governments, introducing missionary schools and hospitals. Muslims viewed these missions as efforts to subjugate the East to Western colonialism, using education, medicine, nationalism, and economic aid as missionary instruments. Tabligh thus emerged as a weapon of religious and political defense against Christianity and colonialism. Tabligh also became an expression of Muslim identity. In India, for instance, tabligh appeared as a crucial issue in the Hindu-Muslim politics of conflict, and in the mobilization of the Muslim masses as a political entity. Tabligh also urged Muslims to realize that their past glory was based on their adherence to Islamic teachings and that future success also depended on abiding by their religion.

Close encounters with Christian missionaries provided Muslims with the opportunity to study and adapt new missionary methods. Missionary organizations like the Ahmadiyah Mission founded by Ghulam Ahmad (d. 19o8) in India illustrated the impact of this encounter. Rashid Rida founded Jam’iyat al-`Urwah al-Wuthqa (Society of the Reliable Bond) and al-Da’wah wa-alIrshad (Da’wah and Guidance) for similar purposes.

Muslims have also used education for the purpose of tabligh, and a number of organizations were founded with this objective in mind. Some, like Anjuman-i Himayat-i Islam (Association for the Defense of Islam) in Lahore and Peshawar in British India, combined tabligh with education as their objectives. Others, such as the Muhammadan Literary Society (founded in 1863), and the Bengal Muhammadan Educational Conference in Calcutta, strove for the modernization of Muslim societies. They founded institutions on European models and published literature in defense of Islam against Christianity. The Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College, founded in 1875 by Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan (1817-1898) in Aligarh, is another such example.

Institutions like Dar al-`Ulum Deoband, established in 1867 in India, promoted traditional religious education and took an anti-British stance. This and other religious madrasahs produced persons qualified for tabligh. They wrote in defense of Islam, refuting non-Muslim polemics, and participated in dialogues and public debates among Christian, Hindu, and Muslim missionaries. They traveled to towns and villages, preaching among both Muslims and non-Muslims.

In the twentieth century participation of the masses in politics gained significance, especially after the introduction of democratic institutions. Conversion through missionary activities may well have helped to increase the number of politically active individuals. Additionally, modernity and democracy promoted secularism, posing a threat to traditional religious values. Muslims thus felt the need to focus on tabligh among Muslims. Mawlana Muhammad Ilyas (d. x944), the founder of Tablighi Jama’at in 1927, observed that education alone was not sufficient to achieve the objectives of tabligh. Rather than establishing madrasahs, he stressed organized and formal travel from place to place for the purpose of tabligh among Muslims. He emphasized that its purpose was not to convert non-Muslims or to preach to others. Ihtishamul Hasan Kandhalavi (d. 1971), an ideologue of the Tablighi Jama’at, also defined tabligh without reference to conversion. He said that tabligh was “to convey, and educate others in, the teachings of the true religion” (Paydm-i haqq, Delhi, 1959). It was, in the words of Mawlana Muhammad Yfisuf, the second amir of the Jama’at, “an effort to adapt oneself to Islamic practices by inviting others to them.” Tablighli Jama’at has been one of the most successful modern Islamist movements.

Political movements and parties in the Muslim world-for example, the Muslim Brotherhood and Jama’at Islam generally disagree with the form of tabligh that requires avoiding participation in politics. According to them, the formation of an Islamic state is essential for the reform of Muslim society and the revival of Islam. This argument, which became popular during the struggle for independence against colonialism, is still advocated by those who call for the islamization of modern westernized states in Muslim countries. The conservative religious view expressed by scholars like Qari Muhammad Tayyib, the former rector of Dar al-`Ulum Deoband, holds that tabligh is essential for building a Muslim society, which in turn is necessary for the establishment of an Islamic state.

[See also Da’wah and Tablighi Jama’at.]


Anwarul Haq, M. The Faith Movement of Mawland Muhammad Ilyas. London, 1972. Indispensable study of the Tablighi jama’at founded by Mawlana Muhammad Ilyas in 1927 in India. The book discusses the Indian Sfifi background to the movement and compares its lexical and operational techniques with those of Sufis in India.

Arnold, Thomas W. The Preaching of Islam: A History of the Propagation of the Muslim Faith (1896). 2d rev. ed. London, 1913. Excellent introduction to the issues concerning tabligh, analyzing the missionary nature of Islam and describing the history of the spread of Islam in different parts of the world.

Arnold, Thomas W. “Missions (Muhammadan).” In Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, vol. 8, pp. 745-749. Edinburgh, 1958. Comprehensive theoretical discussion of the Muslim understanding of tabligh.

Kandhalavi, Ihtishamul Hasan. “Muslim Degeneration and Its Only Remedy.” In Teachings of Islam, by Muhammad Zakariya. Des Plaines, Ill., [19831. Argues that the neglect of the duty of tabligh led to Muslim decline.

Khalidi, Mustafa. Al-Tabshir wa-al-isti’mar ft al-bildd al-`Arabiyah: `Ard li,Juhud al-Mubasshirin allati tarma ild ikhda` al-Sharq lilisti’mar al-Gharbi. Beirut, 1964. Muslim view of Christian missionary work in the Arab world, which, the author argues, paved the way for the colonization of Muslim countries. The author analyzes how educational institutions, hospitals, literary organs, and political parties were used to influence the Arab mind in favor of Christianity and the West.

Muhammad Zakariya. Fazd’il-i A’mal. Lahore, [198?1. Revised edition of Tablighi Nisab (Islamic Teachings). English translation of a collection of treatises by the author, a patron and close relative of the founder of the Tablighi jama’at movement. The book is part of the instruction readings of the Jama’at. The tract on tabligh provides Islamic teachings about the concept, its merits, and methods.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/tabligh/

  • writerPosted On: May 20, 2018
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