Tablighi Jamaat means « The Outreach Society ». The movement was started in 1927 by Muhammad Ilyas al-Kandhlawi in India.
Its stated primary aim is spiritual reformation of Islam by reaching out to Muslims across social and economic spectra and working at the grassroots level, to bring them in line with the group’s understanding of Islam.
I met and interviewed Omar-Shariff, one of the oldest member of Tablighi Jamaat in Kyrgyzstan.
« – I served in the Soviet army for two years. Then after the army, I had a business and then it happens that I found connected to religion.
– What happened?
– My parents are muslims, my parents are religious, I know religion from my childhood so it was kind of normal for me, kind of natural. Then I have started to follow some religious courses from special people, not in the madrasah. Then I was the imam’s right-hand man and the substitute of one of the imam. Then I join the Tablighi Jama’at and I have been in this movement for 18 years, starting from 1998.
– So you are like a gold member of the Tabligh-i Jama’at?
– In 1998, Tabligh-i Jama’at was just starting its operations in Kyrgyzstan. It has been actually calm in this country after the collapse of USSR in 1991. At that time, muslims had only one mosque in Bishkek. Now we have almost 100 mosques in Bishkek and more than 300 prayer rooms.
– Who did you meet at that time to enter the Tabligh-i?
– Initially the representatives from UAE came to our mosque and then we get to know each other.
– Were they coming from India and Pakistan?
– The first people I got to know were from UAE. The first people who arrived to Turkestan, they were Arabs, they were Pakistani or from Egypt. And then some representatives from India started to come. »
Central Mosque, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan
A portrait of Omar-Shariff in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan – December 2016
« – Since then, they have spread in Kyrgyzstan?
– From 1991 to 2001, there were 7 to 10 people participating to the activities of the Tabligh’i Jama’at in Kyrgyzstan. Initially they were coming to the mosque, they were presenting themselves and then asking to local people if they have some interest in joining their movement, if they were willing to participate to their activities. Just few people volunteered at the beginning. These foreigners (the missionaries) invite all these people to participate to activities, for a week, two weeks, three weeks, it depends how much time they have on their visa. Usually they had a touristic visa up to one month. They were teaching certain people on one-to-one.
Local people wanted to join the Tabligh’i because they did not have enough knowledge of the dawat (dini dawat means religious mission and is the name used by Tablighi Jamaat followers to call the organisation). During these ten years, local people were not going to the prayer together, it was more about getting to know each other. They would not go to the dawat individually but with the representatives of the Tabligh Jama’at coming from abroad.
– Doing dawat is going to a seminar, a missionary journey. How to teach, how to approach people, how to persuade?
– For example, a person goes to Issyk-kul lake for its holidays. Another one goes to Turkey for holidays. Both are going on holidays but it is not the same, right?
Someone goes skiing somewhere and the other does go to dawat. If you don’t go to dawat, you cannot understand the system of doing dawat. For example you have a watch.
You have seen these people going out from the mosque and getting into cars to go to dawat.
The person who has already gone out in the name of Allah, it is like the person has opened this watch and has seen how the mechanism is actually working. For example, you can just see the watch from outside and see how it is working and you can also open it to see how the mechanism works. The next level would be to be able to make the watch by yourself.
Jama’at Tabligh is proposing to go inside Islam, bottom-up.
The person who is going to dawat, has the following characteristics: spirituality wise this person is getting knowledge quicker than a person who is just going to the mosque and praying there. To reach its personal and spiritual awakening, he needs to give 40 years of his life. A person who goes to dawat for 4 years he gets the equivalent.
– So it is a question of productivity?
– Theory and practice.«
« – What does Tabligh mean?
– It means method! In madrasah and other schools, there are teachers to teach and students to listen and learn. This way the religion is not spread. This way only the knowledge is given. Theory. Tabligh is a method for this people to spread the religious knowledge and its practices. Madrasah is in a fixed place whereas to spread the religion, you have to move. Madrasah and Universities are not practical. Tabligh is a method to pass on your knowledge and to practice it. Like a doctor after the university does not do surgery directly, it starts learning the practices before for two years. He is not with his teachers, but with other doctors. He is observing, he is learning.
How many medrasah do you have in Kyrgyzstan?
– Quite a lot. 1 or 2 universities, 6-7 institutions, 50 madrasah.
We have also special courses for those who want to become imams. Two month courses.
– And so, how long does it take to really understand that?
– It depends on the person. Actually to perceive the God, your entire life is not enough. The God is limitless. The prophets had their own students, right? For example, Jesus. He had the apostles. The apostles were following him all the time. Let’s say they were 12. The famous ones. Actually there were more followers. They came at different times. For example the one who spent the day with Jesus compared to the one who spent a week with him, the later has more knowledge than the first. The one who has spent a year, he reached the complete level, a complete different level. In this case, the person decides for himself what kind of commitment, which desire he has to reach that specific level. For example we try to teach people they have to spend a lot of time in conceiving, perceiving and understanding the dawat. We also invite them for dawat not only for 3-4 days but for 2 weeks and maximum for 4 months. The more he spends time for dawat, the greater is his ability to conceive, to perceive and understand the dawat.
– There are different orders of importance for the texts in Islam. You have Holy Quran, sunnah, hadiths, but they are many kind of hadiths. For example al-Bukkhari’s. Do you have any kind of special book for Jama’at Tabligh?
– What is the name?
– It is a collection of hadiths.
– Written by who?
– It is called « Collection of Hadiths Mutharab ». You can find in English, Russian, everywhere… It is not written by someone. It is a collection. Muhammed Yusuf and his great-son Mohammed Saad collected the hadiths and created this book. There is also another book, also a collection of hadiths, it is called Fazel Hamal. It is called the same in English, Russian, etc. Author is Mawlana Zakharia. He is Indian.
– How is the relationship between Jama’at Tabligh and other Muslim communities?
– We have very strict rules, we have a « charte ». The one who is going on dawat has to follow these rules. We are inviting to dawat any Muslim from any level, from any school, from any sect.
– So Shia, Sunni?
– No problem. Hanafi and the rest, no problem. The only thing is that they have to obey the rules.
– And what are these rules?
– There are four rules. The first one: we cannot participate in politics. The second one: we don’t talk about the different Muslim schools. If he disobeys he will not participate to the dawat.
So the first rule means you cannot talk about America’s, French politics. France is doing this thing, Russia is doing that, such things arriving in Saudi Arabia, or in Kyrgyzstan…
– Do you have cells for each murshid?
– We have murshids (students) but we don’t call them murshids. In Sufism, you have a spiritual practice, salat, zikr… but in dawat, you have also a Tabligh, which is on top of that.
First practice is dawat, the second one is talim, the third one is zikr, and the last one is isma. There is no dawat in tariqat. But the prophet was doing the dawat in the first place. Dawat is actually an invitation to faith. In turuq and sufism, there is nothing like that. That’s why religion is not spread through turuq. Murshid is only seating at the same place. People come to him but the prophet was moving and converting people. There is a difference between murshids and the prophet. That’s also the main difference between Jama’at Tabligh and tariqat.
Tabligh Jama’at is opened to everybody, bandits, alcoholics, non-believers, mafias, etc. They invite them to turn them to the faith, they tell about the God, the afterlife, about the internal life. This is Tabligh Jama’at. Tariqat is almost the same but something is missing in their teachings.
– What about the relationship with other religions?
– Until these days, we have not invited non-believers or non-Muslims to Tabligh Jama’at. Why? Because today the Muslims themselves cannot be exemplary people for non-Muslims. If we invite non-Muslims today, it will create conflicts and misunderstandings. The person who has not enough knowledge, he cannot do something like that. He cannot provide enough arguments and rationale. He must learn himself first. There is no use in this. According to sharia, if we are going to invite non-Muslims to Islam and let’s say that the person accepts Islam, and that the person’s parents would have kicked him out from his house, we would take the responsibility to find a place to stay according to sharia. We cannot do that.
Let’s take an example, let’s say that this guy is leaving Islam after being converted. First he was a non-believer which is a sin, then he becomes Muslim and then he is leaving Islam, and thus becomes a big big sinner. He is turning away from God, from the faith. (repeating)
Who can say that God is with me? Nobody. Tabligh is not from some Sheikh. The aim of this project is to unite people. At this stage, it is to unite Muslims but in the future, (he stops). You know before Islam, there were two types of religion in front of the God: Jewish and Christians. Believers and Non-Believers. Good people and Bad people. The people of Truth and the people of confusion. The prophet is coming. The prophets are here to invite everybody, to unite. They are like magnets, they attract everybody. When the truth is coming, it attracts the rest.
– What you are saying is that Tabligh wants to, when you are exemplary to others, to attract other religions?
– Yes, that’s right! We need to get quality for that, of true believers with the characteristics which were in the prophet. It is not only with the tongue but with actions, in the life, in the behavior, in the soul. Honesty and being true to yourself and wish good to everyone. It is our answer to everyone. All the best. When the prophet Muhammed came, there were no Muslim on Earth. The third thing we want it is to avoid inspiration by wealth. We don’t want people to expect money and gratefulness from other people. We should have a heart that worries about all the other people in the world. We have to teach each other how to use this heart. If someone leave this world without a belief in his heart, what will happen to him? »