38th Bishwa Ijtema

If you don’t know about it you might just miss it. So inconpicuous is the markaz (world head-quarters) of the Tablighi Jamaat at Basti Nizamuddin in Delhi. There are hardly any photographs available on the web of the building or the leaders. It is a very different religious organization in the sense that it is totally apolitical and has always shunned publicity. Its workers go about doing their tasks with a nonchalance that sometimes seen unreal. The truth is that it is not.

Bishwa Ijtema

The world may have respected their desire for privacy for a long time but these days it is difficult to get 2 million Muslims from all over the world congregate at a place and not get noticed. Tongi in Bangladesh would play host to the second largest gathering of Muslims after Hajj for the 38th Bishwa Ijtema (World Congregation) over the next three days.

Preparations are almost complete for the 38th Biswa Ijtema, the biggest congregation of Muslims next to Hajj, at Tongi from Saturday.

Devotees from around the world will start arriving in a couple of days for the three-day Ijtema that takes place on an area of 160 acres of land on the eastern bank of the river Turag.

Every year, about two million people from home and abroad join the grand meet, organised by the Tablig Jamaat. Devotees from Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Middle Eastern countries pray for the divine blessings, unity and prosperity of the Muslim Ummah.

Volunteers have already set up pandals and makeshift camps. Hundreds of devotees from the Kakrail Grand Mosque, other mosques, students from madrassahs and different religious institutions carried bamboo poles, gunny and other necessary things to the spot from as early as October.

The major news agencies are still confused about what to report. Reuters says that it is being organized by the World Tablig Council even though there is no such thing. BBC calls it Bangladesh Muslim Festival which is incorrect as it is no festival. And what would these 2 million people do for three days? They would pray, listen to sermons/talks and make plans on how to mold their lives according to the teachings of Islam.

Published by

Mohib Ahmad

Mohib is a management graduate, an Urdu aficionado and a photography amateur.

15 thoughts on “38th Bishwa Ijtema”

  1. Just to add to this; during the congregational prayer no loudspeaker is used! They stick to the sunnah of Prophet Muhammed (Peace be upon him), the takbeer is carried over to the back by people.

  2. The annual Ijtima in Bhopal attracts over a million devotees. There is great discipline. People come from all over the country and outside but no disorder witnessed ever.

    However, a noticeable thing which reflects badly on Muslims in general in India (again the issue of bad PR) is witnessed here also. The media guys are always confused. Local bureaus get directions from Delhi to report that why so many people are gathering there and for what purpose.

    However, the journalists who reach there don’t find anybody willing to talk and they return angry. I have been witness to such strange dialogues.

    Journalist: Can you tell us something about your goals or message to people.
    Jamaatis: Go to the Laat Sahab or X Maulana Sahab

    Journalists: (Repeats)
    The Maulana Sahab: You come with us, stay here, live for three days and see it yourself.

    Journalists: Sir, but we need byte, for TV, have to file stories for papers, just tell us whatever message you want to give and the purpose of Ijtima

    The Maulana Sahab: either silence or repeat of the same sentence that frustrates journos. Cameramen are mistreated and often rolls taken out and cameras thrown back. This angers them as they counter ‘even cameras are installed in makkah moazzama. So that creates bad-mazgi (leaves a bad taste). These are occasions for Hindi journaliss/English media, mostly non-Muslims, to be told clear things. Why there is either ambiguity or such silence that confuses people.

  3. @ Sharique

    Yeah, some of the things they do seem idiosyncratic to me. Even though they would not use loud-speakers for prayers they have no problem using them during sermons.

    @ Adnan

    I agree.

  4. @Sharique and Mohib

    Umm.. I’m not exactly sure why they don’t use microphones during Fardh prayers, but I’ve seen them using it during Taraweeh prayers. And so I’m guessing that it has something to do with their understanding of fiqh/sunnah or their notion of ikhlas (sincerity).


    It’s the first time I’m hearing about Tablighis mistreating journalists. The thing is – In a gathering as large as this, I think it is unfair to hold the Jamat or its leaders responsible for the actions of a few ignorant individuals. I just hope that their scholars are informed about this, and they start including lessons on basic Islamic etiquette in their lectures in such gatherings.

    And about Tablighi Maulana-dudes not talking to journalists, I think it’s part of the Jamat’s philosophy. They believe in doing their work silently, for the sake of Allah Alone. Publicity makes it difficult for them to do that. If journalists are genuinely interested in understanding their work and the purpose of such gatherings, they’re free to listen to Tablighi lectures, visit the Markaz, spend time in jamats, read the works of their scholars etc.

    Most media organizations are scum. They live on controversy, while the Tablighis shy away from it. I find nothing wrong in that, especially when it helps them focus on the higher objectives of their organization (self-development, brotherhood et al).

  5. Saif Sahab,

    You say that, “All media organisations are scum!” Do you think Muslims alone have fought for secularism and justice in this country!

    It was English press that had exposed the horrific Neilly massacre and until Gujarat, it has been the English media that has been highly critical of Modi and kept doing follow-up stories abour rehabilitation and relief.

    If journalists want to know their work they should live with them! Be reasonable, they are not workers of Islamic Voice or Milli Gazette, they have lot of work, have other beats also and they are asked by their bossess to report.

    If they won’t report the function, they would be blamed for ignoring a Muslim event. And you think Tablighi Maulanas are not aware! They are aware. However, that doesn’t stop them from courting the BJP Chief Minister (in the past Congress ones) when he comes in his fleet and the elated Maulanas are on their feet.

    They can simply hand out press notes of four lines that this is the purpose the event is being held. If they don’t want the coverage, then they should clearly say that this organisation will run a bit differently even though the event is Alami Tablighi Ijtima. Alami is Global.

    They may be Tablighis or whatever, but for non-Muslims, all are Muslims, why should Hindu journalist get the feeling of being unwelcome. Why should Ulema behave in such a way that they look out of reach of others and create a wall between them and others, that created suspicion.

    It is not a question of publicity, no body is eager to give them. But it is about information and talking to others. Two Muslim photographer friends of mine have shunned going to the Ijtima. (Mind you, cameras have been broken, a photographer was beaten for taking photo last year and the cameras are quite costly, you must know).

    When you are holding a event, that is an event of Muslims in the eyes of others and not just of Barelvi or Deobandi sect which is internal matter. ab agar baat karne ko bhi taiyyar nahiiN hai, to yeh ghalat hai! That affects Muslim society in many ways, which you might comprehend. If the aim is to improve self, then clearly they should refrain from looking like a cult or live in sync with society.

  6. Adnan Sahab,

    When you’ve taken the pains to use quotation marks, you should have atleast double-checked what I’d written. I didn’t say ALL, I said MOST media organizations were scum, and I stand by my statement. And by making that statement I do not belittle the good that these organizations have done; I just attempt to highlight the bad that exists in their methodology.

    If journalists or their bosses are seriously interested in covering an event of this magnitude, believe me, they have all the time in the world. It’s just a question of how important they think it is.

    If they don’t cover the event, the Tablighis won’t blame them. They don’t organize their Ijtemas for the media; it is for people who want to benefit from them.

    And yes, I think that the Tablighi Maulanas are not aware of violence against mediapersons at their Ijtema. I’ve personally met them, and I feel that they’re not the kind of people who’d do nothing to stop it. They don’t want to be photographed, but they don’t want violence against those who try to photograph them either.

    Also, the Tablighi Maulanas have never entertained political guests. No Maulana was at any ministers feet. I find your comments very harsh, insulting, and baseless.

    It’s not that they don’t want the coverage, or that they want it – They’re just indifferent to it. Their main issue is with giving out an official press statement. They do not trust the media, and they do not want others to get the impression that they’re organizing the event for publicity purposes. What difference does it make to them if it’s an Alami gathering? Their concerns remain the same.

    They may be Tablighis or whatever, but for non-Muslims, all are Muslims, why should Hindu journalist get the feeling of being unwelcome. Why should Ulema behave in such a way that they look out of reach of others and create a wall between them and others, that created suspicion.

    I agree with this completely. But Tablighi Ulema are unlike traditional Ulema. They consider/show themselves as representatives of their movement, rather than representatives of Muslims in general. That’s the reason you never find Tablighis in AIMPLB and the like. If a non-Muslim journalist is unaware of this, it’s only due to his lack of research.

    If it’s really about information, then like I said, you can easily gain it by attending the lectures and observing firsthand what it’s all about. Aur jahaan tak baat karne ki baat hai – Mere experience maen, non-journalists say lohg bahot khul kay baat kartay haen. Bhai, aap kehtay haen kay Ijtema Alami hai aur uskay baray maen kuch batana chahiyae; lekin aap bhi jantay haen kay journalists sirf itnay pay nahi ruktay. Wo Jamat kay baaray maen, unki methodology aur unflences, aur unkay critics kay baray maen savaal uthaengay. Iss sabsay wo lohg bachna chahtay haen. Ijtema kay maqasid ko wo apnay bayanaat maen khul kay bataatay haen. Meri nazar maen lohgon kay savalon kay javaab maen unko bayan sunnay ki dawat denay maen koi harj nahi, kyunkae unkay javaab unhay iss tarah mill jaengay, aur unhay controversial cheezon pay guftugoo bhi nahi karni paregi.

    And if they don’t want to be photographed, then journalists should respect their wishes. If some Tablighis have been violent on this account, I see no purpose in their attending the Ijtema.

    As far as living like a cult is concerned, they don’t willingly try to differentiate themselves from everyone else; it’s more like they don’t make a conscious effort to be like everyone else, which results in that.

    I’m not saying that everything Tablighis do is correct, or that they are above criticism. I’m just asking you to cut them a little slack, especially when they deserve it.

    Aur akhir maen, mujhay yae baat samajh maen nahi aati kay aapko iss muamilay maen ‘confrontational attitude’ apnaanay ki kya zarurat hai. Mere khayal maen doosron kay nazariye ko refute karte huay sensitivities ka khayal rakhna chahiyae.

  7. The tabligh movement has always been criticized for being too other -worldly or should I say Akhirah oriented.
    They are largely indifferent to political or socio-economic issues.

  8. Well I think the problem today is that people generally tend to associate the whole group’s ideology on the basis of an individual’s response. Tabligh never claimed to be a group!

    The problem with Tabligh is that it has grown overwhelmingly and so relatively easy to know about its ideology and working. But majority of them can’t explain things to other, charges of bidah and other blessings anti-Deobandis shower on them. Its really unfortunate that people instead of trying to benefit from the great work try to find fault with its working.

    I agree that all cannot embrace few aspects of Tabligh; I was in Nizamuddin Markaz and we were being given the farewell speach. The person, who i assume was one of the heads there, mentioned that we shouldn’t send our girls to english medium schools because they ask them to wear skirts and they should be kept in homes and made to study urdu. This is something which is practically not possible and not even rational. I beg to differ from him but that doesn’t mean I neglect his other suggestions. I think its upto an individual, how much he can accept and upto what levels. There were many other aspects which he narrated and which was perfectly acceptable to me.

  9. @Sharique

    My greatest beef against the Tablighis is that for them giving bayans on religion is free game. Anyone and everyone can indulge in it. That’s why you hear some of the stupidest things on the planet in some of the bayans by Tablighi folks, like the one you’ve mentioned in your post.

    The height of the matter is, that even in the Markaz, lots of unqualified people are given authority to give bayans. My guess is that the guy who said that was probably a person who’s been with the Jamat for a long while, but knows very little about Islam.

    The elders in Tabligh (the guys who sit for the mashwera in the Markaz building) are either qualified Alims, or educated Muslim professionals. And believe me, they’re the last people from whom you’d expect to hear something as stupid as that.

    My point is, what the guy said was his own opinion, and not that of the Tablighi Jamat.

  10. Saif Sahab,
    What tablighis would think is not the issue. It is about what Muslims would think, that an event of their community was not reported though other communities’ minor things are reported.

    I did not say that they are on somebody’s feet. Read again, I said they are on their feet ie they get active in explaining it to politicians. Probably you are confused by the idiom. I didn’t write that they fell on others’ feet, which you probably felt.

    A lot of others things you have said, I agree. Hopefully such discussions (like on this post here) can take things to those who are in a position to improve the state of affairs, if they feel.

  11. Adnan Sahab,

    I’m sorry for the misunderstanding. The “their” in “on their feet” sounded as if it was refering to the ministers rather than the maulanas themselves. And still, I don’t think that they’re any more eager to explain their work to ministers than they are to the average Muslim on the street.

    Anyways, it’s good that we agree on other stuff. I too have several beefs against the Talighi Jamat. But all in all, I feel that the benefits in their methodology out-do the ills.

    Let’s hope that things improve.


  12. Assalamualikum to all brothers and sisters,
    Regarding this topic of tabligh i honestly dont know why are we judging tablighis or people like that. Who has given us the authority to do so. i am from Canada and i did not know about to sectors of Islam, though i was in Saudia Arabia for 13 years, i never knew a single bit of these sects. Anyhow,the tablighi jammat, as being called by who consider themselves judges of all mankind to name these people tablighi jammat, knocked on my door a several time and also cried. Brother islam is the right path. These people have the right concern and if you want to know their concern you cant understand it until or unless u spend time with them. Some people understand it in a minute, but honestly i never understood how the concern of our beloved Prophet S.A.W has been brought till here. I respect them cuz my brother was an MQM gangster in Pakistan, now he is a pious religious man, because of those three knocks that happened in KSA. me n my family are praying 5 times Alhumdulillah by the hukm of Allah through the sacrifce of these people. i apologize for any false behaviour or talk that i uttered in this post, but please, a humble request. Leave the judging to the One who has created you and I. He has the ability to bring out all your bad deeds and good deeds folder that no one on this earth or the whole mankind can do. May Allah guide us and help us in our hardship. May Allah forgive me n you for any shortcomings or misbehaviour. Assalamualikum

  13. The Tablighi Jama’at is a Jama’at that works for the promotion of the Imaan of the Muslims. The muslims have got a weak Imaan. This Imaan needs improvement and promotion. How weak is it! This weakness lets us do all the sins. The stronger the Imaan, the more virtuous one is.

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