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LAHORE, Oct 23: What a dedicated religious scholar Maulana Mohammad Ilyas started over 60 years ago as a limited religious educational programme for the illiterate and uncivilized Muslims not far away from Delhi in Mewat, has now expanded into an international Muslim missionary movement — the largest preaching mission of any religion in the world. Though the movement had started in Delhi, after partition of the sub-continent it set up its main centre at Raiwind, 35km away from Pakistan’s second largest city of Lahore, where a congregation is held in the first week of November every year, the biggest after haj.

This year it is beginning from Oct 24 due to the holy month of Ramazan, which starts in the first week of November. Similar congregations are held in India and Bangladesh. The Raiwind moot is attended by a large number of preaching missions from all over the world.

It is a unique movement in the sense that its tens of thousands of members remain engaged in missionary work throughout the year in different countries of the world at their own expense. They stay in mosques where they hold small congregations of the Muslim community after the prayers.

They approach the Muslim men collectively as well as individually and go about in small batches in the residential and commercial areas of the areas they visit and contact the people requesting them to attend their congregations in mosques. Their main purpose is not the conversion of non-Muslims to Islam but the reorientation of the Muslims to their religious obligations and arousing an awareness of Islamic values and teachings as enunciated by the Holy Quran and Sunnat. If non-Muslims take interest in this process and offer to embrace Islam, they are welcomed. It is a purely voluntary mission.

The missionaries believe that their foremost duty is to save the countless Muslims all over the world from being swayed by un-Islamic influences through education and persuasion. They have succeeded in saving millions of Muslims from going astray. Unlike other missionaries, they have no rigid rules and regulations and welcome all sorts of the people of any age and occupation provided they can spare some time ranging from a few days to a few months exclusively for missionary work at their own expense. The organisation has no funds to meet the preachers’ travel and boarding expenses. Wherever the preachers go, they persuade the local people into assisting them. Thus thousands of young and old Muslims throughout the world join the mission. There is no discrimination between the rich and the poor. All march together for educating the people of their community about the fundamental values of their religion with a view to preserving their religious identity in the comity of the nations on one hand and their deliverance in the hereafter on the other.

What do they teach? They have a course of six main subjects: firm belief in the first kalma of Islam which is the first article of faith in Islam; performance of obligatory five-time prayers which is the second article of faith; quest for knowledge and zikar particularly that of the basics of Islam, Holy Quran and Sunnat; good behaviour towards the people, particularly Muslims, with an emphasis on observing the moral values of Islam; purity of one’s intention in seeking Allah’s pleasure in religious obligations and propagation of Islamic teachings, values and knowledge to the people.

The verses of Holy Quran and the sayings of the Prophet (Peace be Upon Him) relating to these six subjects have been compiled by Tableeghi Jamaat founder Maulana Ilyas’s nephew Maulana Mohammad Zakariya in separate booklets, which have been combined in one volume called The Virtues of Actions for the convenience of preachers. Its previous title was Tableeghi Nisab.

The book is a sort of Magna Carta for preachers and is carried by them wherever they go and is recited to the preachers and other people in the mosque where they stay. It has been translated into many languages of the sub continent and the world. So far 70 million copies of the book have been sold without any royalty to the family of its late author who had foregone it in his lifetime for the sake of propagation of Islam.

These six subjects form the main theme of the preachers’ discourses, who believe that the subjects cover most of the Islamic teachings relating to the basic beliefs and practices of Islam.

The missionaries believe that no ways and means other than those of the Holy Prophet could help achieve the objective of propagation of Islam. Personal contact was the method of the Holy Prophet. That is the reason why the missionaries do not use the modern methods of mass communication like the print and electronic media and posters, etc. By word of mouth — personal contact with people at their doorsteps and congregations in mosques after prayers, they communicate their sermons and the schedule of their meetings, annual congregations etc. No publicity through radio, television or posters, handbills and banners, etc. Yet their congregations and annual conferences draw millions of people.

It is said that once India’s first prime minister Pundit Nehru expressed his concern at the large attendance of the Muslims at congregations of Tableeghi Jamaat, wondering that they might conspire against his government.

He sent secret agents to inquire about their activities and programme and was told that their activities had nothing to do with the events in India as they were more concerned with the life hereafter — down in the graves or up in the heavens. Satisfied, Nehru allowed them to do whatever they liked. A similar probe was said to have been conducted by the Saudi agencies on the instructions of their highups, who also heaved a sigh of relief when informed that their presence in Saudi Arabia was not harmful because they talked of things that were either under the earth or up in the heavens. Yes they do talk of the life in the grave or in the heavens, but in the context of the life here in this world. If it is good here, it will be good there. If it is bad here, it will be bad there.