Co-Written by Badre Alam Khan & Dastagir Khan
It is to be noted that South Asia is the land of several Sufis and Saints (like, Hazrat Nizamuddin, Amir Khusro, Dara Sikoh and Kabir, etc,) who taught us human and universal values like love, devotions, compassion, brotherhood, social equality and of course spread out the message of communal harmony among religious communities. As secular minded and academic historians (who have produced academic works on Sufism in the context of South Asia) have shown that the ‘popular Islam’ to the great extent influenced and spread out among the peasant community and the lower caste in South Asia in general and India in particular. Contrary to textual Islam, the popular Islam which is based on teachings of Sufis and Saints have had adjusted and accommodated the local folk culture and deeply rooted in the local social environments. In other words, the popular Islam in our country and elsewhere have had taken different shape and acquired distinctive Indian characteristics which are different from Arab and West Asian Islam.
However, for the Hindu nationalist forces, Islam spread out in India through the force (sword) and came in India as an invader, not by ‘egalitarian teachings’ of Islam imparted by the great Sufis. Nonetheless, we are not going to discuss historiography of Islam and rather our concern will be confined to discuss stereotypical images constructed by the Sangh Privar and a section of electronic media (as hard-core orientalists have had constructed violent image of Islam mainly after the 9/11 incident in the context of the Western society) in the context of the TJ in particular and Indian Muslims in general. Besides, we would like to also discuss the message taught by the great Sufis, as stated above, not indulge in arguments and counterarguments at this crucial juncture. Given the sad and depressing situations of our country amidst COVID-19, in our view, teachings of the great saints and Sufis mainly at the societal level (such as to maintain peace, love, brotherhood and communal harmony among the various caste and communities) are relevant in the context of contemporary times especially when our country is witnessing the huge threat of lethal viruses followed by economic and health crises. As a result, migrant workers and India’s poor are facing huge challenges in terms of managing everyday lives and livelihoods.
For organizing a congregation, recently Tablighi Jamaat (henceforth TJ is apolitical and transnational Islamic movement, which was initially started from the Mewat region of India, located in the state of Haryana) as a whole had been falsely alleged by a section of electronic media (infamously called Godi Media) for spreading coronavirus in our country. And they (communal minded media houses) called this is a kind of ‘corona-jihad’ launched by the Jamaat’s members. To note that the Hindu religious and several public-political gathering (which had also taken place in the last month of March also), however, corporate-funded Godi media have only shown and painted the TJ in an extremely bad light and blamed entirely for spreading the COVID-19. In short, the mainstream mainly electronic media have selectively made critic and blamed Jamaat for spreading coronavirus. In doing so, they (anchors of T.V. including communal minded leaders) have communalized the discourse around the COVID-19, to a large extent. As a result of propaganda made by media and communal leaders, phenomena like mob-violence and socio-economic boycott against the members of Jamaat in particular and Indian Muslims, in general, have increased in the public spaces. However, just a few days back our Prime Minister has requested and made an appeal for not indulging in communal propaganda and try to forge the larger social solidarity across caste and communities to fight against the Coronavirus and challenges posed ahead in the realm of health and economic sectors too confronted by the toiling masses.
In what follows, we are not going to discuss and highlight the arguments and counterarguments which have been put forward by supporters of the TJ and those who made criticism against it. On this issue, however, enough has already been written in several newspapers and widely debated and discussed in the public domain. Our concern will be limited to discuss the role of Sufis, saints and their contributions in terms of promoting communal harmony, peace, and love among the caste and communities since the 12th century onwards. The point must be noted that while attending the big Sufi Conference, organized at Delhi during the first tenure of PM Modi, in which he also had acknowledged the role of the great saints and Sufis in terms of promoting good human values, peace and brotherhood among masses.
Before coming to the role of Sufi like Hazarat Nizamuddin of medieval India, let us briefly discuss the history, aims and stated objective of the TJ. However, most of the leaders who had initiated the TJ’s works were also associated with Sufis order (silsila) earlier. As Martin Van Bruinessen and Julia Day Howell in their work, Sufism and modernity in Islam have said, “most of the founders and early leaders of the Tablighi Jama`at had family connections with Sufi orders and privately practised some Sufi devotions, but the movement firmly rejected Sufism as it existed in India, especially the veneration of saints”. (, See Martin Van Bruinessen and Julia Day Howell (edited) “Sufism and the ‘Modern’ in Islam” 2007, London, New York, p-14)
While knowing the details about Jamaat is a difficult exercise because, it is hard to trace out authentic documents, manuscripts, and written stuff. However, on the basis of Maulana Illyas saheb’s letters (Maktubat) and utterances (Malfuzat), we can decipher aims and objectives about the TJ, as noted by the eminent scholar of Islamic jurisprudence like Yoginder Sikinad in his work on the TJ. To be very precise here, the TJ was established by the late Maulana Iliyas saheb (who had been earlier associated with a famous Islamic seminary like Deoband which was established after the decline of Mughal state and 1857 revolt, to revive and preserve the Islamic literature) and others during the 1920s to spread basics of Islam like five times, Namaz regularly. The TJ had initially started working in the Mewat region (located in the state of Haryana now) mainly in the Muslim peasant communities whose identities were ‘nominal Muslims’, as underlined by Sikinad. Unlike Jamate-e-Islami and Jamiat- Ulema-e-Hind, the TJ’s members are not supposed to participate and side with any ideological and political factions. Even during the elections, the TJ never gives political guidelines to their members, as far as voting is concerned. It entirely depends upon individual members, who himself should decide on their own capacity to which political party he/she must cast their vote.
That was the reason, why the TJ had not supported, Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s demand for Pakistan and the two-nation theory-based on religion. In this respect, Yoginder Sikinad writes, “even at the height of the Pakistan movement in the mid-1940s, Ilyas steered clear from overt political involvement, preferring to focus on strengthening and reinforcing Muslims’ commitment to Islam”. (Yoginder Sikinad, “The Reformist Sufism of the Tablighi Jama`at: The Case of the Meos of Mewat, India”, op-cit, p-146). To note that the TJ often maintain ‘strategic silence’ concerning on the political matters and exhort their members also not unnecessary indulge in political and sectarian tension (Shia vs. Sunni, Barelvi vs. Deobandi etc,) rather concentrate on ‘good deeds’ (more focus on Amaal) like performing regularly five times Namaz (salad) and work among the poor mainly converted peasant and lower caste/class Muslims to make aware of the basic teaching of Islam in accordance with sharia( it refers to the code of law derived from the Quran and the teachings of the Prophet, as stated in several Hadith).
In this piece, it is not our intention to support or blame any religious and social organizations. Our concern remains to be limited and try to understand why Indian electronic media in particular and the mainstream media in general which supposed to follow ( the ‘media ethics’ and report evidence-based facts, remain ‘objective’ and ‘independent’) rather than working as ‘propaganda machines’ under the patronage of the ruling establishment to satisfy the majoritarian communal sentiments. Under the pretext of blaming, unknowingly and unknowingly negligence of chief (Amir of Jamaat), electronic media houses have unnecessarily targeted the entire Muslim community and its Islamic identities, as a result of several places bearded Muslims including those wearing skullcap have faced social and economic boycott and even attacked by mob-violence in different places.
However, let us add here a little caveat. In this piece, our concern is not to defend every step which has been taken by Jamaat now and even in the distant past. We have some disagreements with the TJ; however, this is not an appropriate time to put forth here and hence this is beyond the scope of this piece. Secondly, like several Hindu religious and social organizations, we are not completely denied the fact that some discrepancies and negligence might have occurred knowingly or unknowingly from the sides of the responsible members of the TJ during the course of organizing congregations at Nizamuddin Markaz mainly at the time when the news about the larger implications and danger of COVID-19 came out in the public sphere in the last month of March 2020. However, we are not going to comment on the said incident because still matter is under the process of inquiry; the truth will come after genuine and objective inquiry will be over. Let us wait for fair and independent inquiry who is to be blamed whether Delhi administrations or responsible members of TJ.
In this respect, community leaders and secular-minded had condemned the Indian media (mainly electronic which have full patronage from the ruling establishment) for communalizing discourse around coronavirus. The point must be noted that when India media falsely implicated and taken the name of Hazarat Nizamuddin while attacking allegedly on Jamaat for spreading the virus in Delhi and elsewhere; several devotees of Nizamuddin Auliya (R.A) irrespective of caste and religion have got disheartened and deeply disappointed. The point is to be noted that when a section of media has falsely alleged members of the TJ as a whole responsible for spreading COVID-19. After holding responsible for TJ as a whole for spreading the virus by electronic media and even by leaders of the BJP-RSS combine which had prepared ground for the strengthening communal fissures among the gullible general masses. As a result, several members of the TJ who might have not attended the congregation at Markaz are also facing a social and economic boycott and even beaten by the public at large. However, after the petitions filed in the Supreme Court by the Jamiat- Ulema-e-Hind led by Maulana Arshad Madani, the tone and tenor of the Godi Media has been to some extent changed and even expressed their apologies.
Forget for a moment what happened recently vis-a-vis the TJ, now it is high time to work together and launch a serious battle against the Coronavirus which has been now spread out at the nation-wide, as reminded by our Prime Minister too. Before coming to the massage of 12th century Sufis and saints like Hazarat Nizamuddin (R.A) and others whose teachings are based on values like compassion, peace, and communal harmony. It is to be noted that while alleging the TJ for mentioned activities, a section of media has also correlated and conflated with Nizamuddin Dargah and its vicinity of West Delhi which has obviously disappointed several devotees who have spiritual affiliation with a Sufi likes Nizamuddin Auliya.
To put briefly, Dargah is an old 12th-century Sufi shrine which represents plural and syncretic space where every social group irrespective of religion and caste used to visit on a regular basis to express their inner emotional feelings and get spiritually alleviated. Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya ( the great Sufi who was born in 1238 and died in1325) is also known as Mahbub-e-llahi (beloved of God) and was a Sunni Muslim scholar and Sufi (this is the mystical branch of Islam which promote and teach human values like love, peace, acceptance of various spiritual paths) of Chistia order, known as Silsila. He is one of the most popular Sufi of the Indian sub-continent. Historically, Delhi is known as the land of several Sufis and Auliyas such as Hazarat Bakhtiyar Kaki, Amir Khusro (who is known as a parrot of Hind and one of the very much closed disciple of Hazarat Nizamuddin ) and others where several devotees used to visit their shrines on a regular basis.
While concluding our piece, we would like to emphasize that during the spread of coronavirus; we as a citizen of secular and democratic India are making an appeal to maintain peace, communal harmony, brotherhood and work for the humanitarian cause which had been taught us by the great Sufis and saints like Nizamuddin Auliya, Amir Khusro, Dara Sikoh and of course Kabir Das( Kabir was 15th-century Indian mystic famous Bakhti poet and saint who emphasized human values and made a strong critic of all kinds of orthodoxy whether social or religious) rather than unnecessarily indulge in and harping on communal sentiments, amidst the COVID-19.
Badre Alam Khan is a Research Scholar University of Delhi and Dastagir Khan is a former student of Jamia and President of Mercy Care Foundation