Women on the Stairs

Ramadan is here and the donors must learn to place their funds away from inexperienced enthusiasts with ideas of epoch-making projects, (but who make no monetary contribution themselves); the innocent-looking appealers who, if they look clueless, it is because they are clueless about the project they are promoting; and appeals for grandiosely decorated mosques, within whose budget several mosques could be built, and within which budget many women squatted on its stairs could be gifted modest houses, writes SYED IQBAL ZAHEER.

Reference to most religions, cultures, societies, movements, et al could be reduced to a word or two – sort of a cliché – to express the essence, qualities, or features of their nature and calling.

For example, Christianity could be reduced to ‘Trinity.’ Some people would describe the machinery involving the most prominent class of modern-day democracy as ‘mobocracy’ while others would say it is ‘oligarchy by vote.’ The characteristics of today’s Western culture could be reduced to one word: ‘gay.’ That happens to be its outstanding quality at the moment. The glorious Greek civilization and culture deserves one word as the cause of its demise: ‘hedonism.’

Thus, many realities could be reduced to one word to express their prominent characteristic. How could we refer to the Tablighee movement? Well, if Islam itself could be reduced to one word as: ‘Oneness (of God),’ then, perhaps, Tableeghi movement could be best described as ‘devotion (to that One God).’

But we note a strange phenomenon in reference to Tabligh, namely, the movement has remained through 80 years of its existence unchanged in its call, in its spirit, in its purposes. It has not deviated from its original tenets, or principles of Da`wah as enunciated by its founder, Mawlana Ilyas, and as incorporated in the well-known six articles or principles he formulated. This retention of originality is certainly surprising. It hasn’t got many historical instances to cite in comparison.

To illustrate with an example, we could consider the first movement away from Islam: Shi`a’ism. At the start, it was no more than an inclination, sympathy and moral support of high-caliber individuals towards `Ali in his political struggle. To be sure, many renowned personalities of the time were with him. But in less than half a century, the movement began to move, little by little, away from the mainstream. After `Ali, the sympathy – though not active participation – of the renowned personalities were transferred to his son Hussain. But the active support began to dwindle as newer elements started to come in to the movement, or rather, infiltrate in, to be welcomed by the infiltrators of `Ali’s time, with whom `Ali was never happy from the start. The movement itself began to deviate, from religion-based stance, to religio-political one.

Deviant ideas and ideologies began to surface, and the leaders began to use religion as a front for political ambitions and activities. Jewish, Zoroastrian, and Persian influences began to dominate over the Islamic. Arab elements began to exit and non-Arab elements began to jovially and excitedly step in.

In our own times, Shi`aism spreads fast in African and Asian countries. The hatred for Sunnis has graduated into hatred of the Arabs. The Jewish belief in the Messiah, who will help them gain final victory over the global populations, who, in turn, will submit to serve them thereonward, is reflected in Shi`ee belief in the Mahdi al-Muntazar (the awaited Mahdi) who will help them annihilate the Sunnis. The belief in him is central to today’s Shi`ah cult, and tearful prayers and supplications for his quick arrival, held at the individual and group level, are a prominent feature of modern Shi`aism. (Sunnis also believe in him, but do not pray for his arrival, nor do they believe that he will annihilate the Shi`ah). It is Jewish influence that the Sh`ah also conceal their true beliefs shying away from selling their religious books in public.

This is not an article on Shi`aism, although, given the present context, the subject demands serious and urgent attention. The objective herewith is to illustrate how noble causes, attitudes, develop into movements and end up as a new religion altogether. (Islam and Shi`aism share only two elements: Tawheed and the Hereafter).

One may take up any noble movement – within Islam, or outside it – to discover how its nobleness is, over generations, metamorphosed into mainly a movement of concealed nefarious agenda with traces of the original nobleness in its underpinnings. Humans, sadly, have a corruptive hand. Whatever they touch, they corrupt. It was not too long after Adam (asws) that his sons had to be drowned, one and all. Of such order is the approval of deviations by the masses, and love of the corruptions among the humans.

So, how come Tabligh has escaped the universally dominating degenerative rule? The answer lies in the movement’s loyalty to the original principles: the so-called six points. One and all, the scholar as well as the laity, the old and the new, have been kept bound to the six principles laid down by the founder. Any expansion beyond the original, despite all-round criticism, any deviation, however slight, has been unceremoniously suppressed. Personal opinions, even of top class scholars – from within or without – have been pre-empted and, if taken further up, strongly vetoed down. Any new element, however pious, scholarly, or spiritual, has found its door shut in its face. The more the members are involved, the more of the inner circle they belong to, the stricter they have been about entry of any new element. Tafsir and Hadith, newer interpretations and demands of the time, new visions in view of changing or unchanging situations, newest inspirations, have all been halted at its borders, despite the borders expanding into newer and newer regions of countries and continents.

This could have, or maybe not, in view of several, and stronger reasons – contributed to stagnation of the individuals, even of many who could have grown into much profounder personalities. But, to the credit of the movement itself, it has, in contradiction to the alleged stagnation, remained dynamic. There has been no drop in the spiritual strength of the adherents, their readiness to sacrifice, to remain cheerful in the face of criticism. Thus, if there has been any stagnation, it is of minor nature when compared to the dynamism of the movement itself. It keeps on growing, keeps on attracting, keeps on spiritually satisfying and keeps on remaining afresh.

It is easy for a lazy mind to conclude that this is by Allah’s grace. Allah’s Grace overarches this Ummah. But, granted that, not understanding the nature and causes of the Grace, can turn the grace into a gift to the undeserving and, in turn, to turning off of the Grace. It can open the doors to corruptions – which always come in the form of attractive – but short-sighted – innovations. And, ironically, innovations are sometimes welcome by a movement’s own devoted adherents, especially by those who feel tired of the monotony, but which prove to be viruses that can eat the tree and over time bring it down: “And he swore to the two: ‘I am a well-wisher of you two.’” (Qur’an, 7: 21)

When this writer and a few Islamically active foreigners were visiting the headquarters of a certain Jama`ah, on the welcome table, we were told all about the noble objectives of the Jama`ah, except for what it originally stood for, about which, we suspected, we knew more than the introducer – until an old-timer sitting in the middle, but quietly watching the theatrics, could not take it anymore and intruded, after an hour or so, to say that all the introducer had said so far, was secondary, and that the primary aims and objectives were as follows… That was in the headquarters, and that was preceded by the displacement of many old guards, and followed by significant changes guiding the Jama`ah away from its original cherished goals. Noticeably, the Jama`ah has not recovered. The dynamism is gone, the spirit is low, and exasperation is writ large on the faces of those who adhere, come what may, because there are no alternatives of a similar kind. The future, it must be realized, is closely bound to the past.

This desire for ‘change,’ the tiresomeness of the monotony, the attractions of innovative ideas promising improvement, then, must be curbed by the Tabligh. But, why? The answer is: spiritual laws are unchanging in this changing world. The spiritual rules and ideas that were successful at one time will remain successful at any other time. The Qur’an, the Sunnah, and the Salaf’s understanding were successful at one time. They, if adopted as the source of action and inspiration, will remain successful at any other time: Allah’s way that has been since before, and you will never find change in Allah’s ways. (Qur’an, 48: 23)

What were the sources of the methodology, and his choice of the six principles out of the innumerable available, developed by Mawlana Ilyas, and how many other scholars he consulted, are details unknown and unknowable now. But their success in reforming millions of souls, in such a stupendous manner, is proof enough of their indispensable worth. Yet more, which is our emphasis here, the fact that the Tabligh has neither turned into, nor does it evince any signs of turning into, a cult or a sect – is a noticeable and appreciable phenomenon. This fact is attributable to the adherence to its six articles. Introduction of any new element, or change in its methodology, might promise immediate returns, but, it could lead to divisions. Some divisions might die out, some might develop into sects and the mainstream will dry up like an onion in the sun.

The idea to reform the movement, alter its precepts, develop it to make them Islamically more meaningful, was feared by both Mawlana Ilyas and his son, Mawlana Yusuf. Accordingly, instead of defending the system, they decided to cure the minds. Scholars and prominent men of the Muslim society at large, as well as many in the inner circles, thinking on the same lines, were, therefore, directed by the two Amirs, to go out for seven Chillas (over nine months) at a stretch. The measure was to reform and cure them of ideas, thoughtful but out of context. Nine months of exposure to the ground level realities, firsthand experience with the laity, personal contacts with the masses who are so sunk in Jahiliyyah to be completely ignorant of the very basic principles of Islam, was necessary to teach the scholars and others, of the perils in trying to expose the masses to higher principles, profound values, and spiritual truths. As it is, they are ever ready to fall into any wild and vicious error. They have been hijacked by deviant ideas, by the Ahl al-Bid`ah, and are deeply sunk in un-Islamic practices which they assume are Islamic. Give them the Qur’an in one hand, and the Hadith in another, they will sell the books in the market, happy that they didn’t have to steal them from a mosque.

Talking of mosques, this Ummah has reached such level of degeneration that they can beat up rival groups, splitting their heads, right in the mosques, right in Ramadan, right at the breakfast time. Go to villages, and you find garlanded images of deities hanging by the walls in Muslim homes, (including the house of the Mutawalli of the village’s locked mosque), and the front yard of their houses decorated with pagan images drawn in white, and decorated with dung. They will encounter boys studying in colleges who think the Prophet’s name was ‘salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam,’ that he was born in Makkah-Madinah, and that their aunts have cast evil eye on them. The somewhat educated of them believe that Saudis are Kafir, and that prayers offered behind the Imams in the Haramayn Shareefayn must be repeated. After a lecture on the Palestinian problem, they ask, “Sir, why can’t the Palestinians live in peace with Israel?”

What Islamic Renaissance, what return of the Khilafah, what liberation of the Masjid al-Aqsa, what removal of the masses from ghettoes? The scholars will conclude, after seven 40-days’ journey on the ‘path,’ that they better work on preparing the masses to answer the three questions in the grave.

Interestingly, critics commonly demand answers to, “Why can’t the Tablighee people study the Qur’an? Why can’t they open Islamic schools? Why can’t they join political parties? Why can’t they work on establishing an Islamic state? And so on. But such questions are asked either by the ignorant, or by the insincere. They never ask themselves that if Tabligh is not doing these things, then, the responsibility returns to those who have decided to remain outside its influence. Their own ignorance and the habit of inactivity do not allow them to learn that there is something called division of labor.

Mawlana Yusuf was asked, in effect, “When will you take up issues like construction of schools, establishment of health centers, etc.?” He replied, “Without establishing Islam and Eeman in their hearts, whatever this Ummah attempts, is bound to fail.”

The refusal to accept this bitter truth has resulted in embezzlements of millions, sometimes at the hands of no less than the Mutawallis themselves, and in failures – by the hundreds – of projects taken up by the young and enthusiastic, supported by public funds, taken out of the pockets, in the name of noble causes, but which proved to be bananas in the hands of gorillas.

This is another offshoot of the discussion. Ramadan is here and the donors must learn to place their funds away from the inexperienced enthusiasts with ideas of epoch-making projects, (but who make no monetary contribution themselves); the innocent-looking appealers who, if they look clueless, it is because they are clueless about the project they are promoting; and appeals for grandiosely decorated mosques, within whose budget several mosques could be built, and within which budget many women squatted on its stairs could be gifted modest houses.

It is feared that, soon, if one has to describe the Indian-Ummah today, with one word most characteristic of it, it would be ‘Gulag.’ The woman on the stairs belongs, along with a vast majority, to its modern version.