The organisation behind the Newham mosque plans

 

The organisation behind plans to build a giant mosque in Newham is one of the lesser known and most misunderstood Muslim revivalist movements that came out of north India at the turn of the last century. Tablighi Jamaat began as an offshoot of Deobandism, the deeply socially conservative school of Islam which movements like the Taliban also trace a theological lineage to. But they espouse none of the violent militancy of their ideological cousins who continue to blight Afghanistan and much of tribal Pakistan.

Founded in the 1920s by Maulana Muhammad Ilyas in India’s Mewat province, the organisation places enormous emphasis on returning Muslims to what they believe is the correct interpretation of Islam. They promote grassroots preaching and are avowedly apolitical, something which enabled them to flourish across much of the Muslim world throughout the mid-twentieth century precisely because they weren’t seen as a threat to the ruling classes.

Much like Jehovahs Witnesses and Mormons, Tablighi volunteers spend their time going door to door spreading dawah (preaching Islam). They usually try to emulate the Prophet Muhammad, dressing in white robes and growing long beards. Some followers take emulation so seriously they reject beds and replace their toothbrushes with twigs.

But while they are a deeply proselytising organisation, Tablighi Jamaat concentrates almost exclusively on netting new Muslim followers and rarely preach to non-believers. In predominantly Muslim neighbourhoods they are regular door knockers but outside of those areas it would be rare to come across them.

Some law enforcement officials, particularly in the States and France, have accused Tablighi of being a “gateway” organisation to more militant or violent groups. Some of the July 7 attackers and failed shoe bomber Richard Reid frequented Tablighi mosques though there is no suggestion they were radicalised there.

Tablighi have long argued that this accusation is unfair given their view that earthly politics should be avoided and that they have been routinely criticised by more militant Islamist groups for not being political enough.  They have millions of followers around the world and, they say, cannot be held responsible for the actions of every one.

Where Tablighi can be more fairly criticised is their often isolationist views which might not raise too many eyebrows in places like India and Pakistan but cause difficulties in western societies where immigrant communities need to integrate.

There is little doubt that Tablighi Jamaat is at the socially conservative end of the Islamic spectrum. Women are generally confined to traditional domestic roles, usually adopt extensive hijab and are not found in senior leadership roles. The organisation does not have a very good track record at encouraging followers to integrate with the non-Muslim community. Towns like Dewsbury, where Tablighi have a significant presence and their European headquarters, are often held up by critics as examples of where communities remain acutely divided.

Whatever decision Newham makes on the mosque, Tablighi and the controversies surrounding them are here to stay.

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor