Religious Authority, Popular Preaching and the Dialectic of Structure-Agency in an Islamic Revivalist Movement: The Case of Maulana Tariq Jamil and the Tablighi Jama’at
Not many can match his influence and following. The subscribers on his two YouTube channels exceed 13 million. He has his own official apps on the Google Play Store and Apple’s App Store. The Maulana’s services have also been officially recognised and he received the President’s Pride of Performance Award this year. In a way, he has become the Maulana Laureate of Pakistan.(Z. Khan 2021).
As popular preachers and movements multiply in the Muslim world, there is a need for thoughtful scholarship on such figures and movements—scholarship which views them as movers of historical change, which understand them within the contingencies of their historical contexts, and which takes their theological discourses seriously.
2. The ʿUlamāʾ, Popular Preachers and Contestations of Religious Authority in a Digital Age
4. Maulana Tariq Jamil: A Biographical Sketch
4.1. Upbringing and Early Life (1953–1972)
4.2. Conversion to the Tablighi Jama’at and Studies at Raiwind (1972–1980)
I did not desire to stay with those people for one single minute. Because I had left college and when I saw them, all illiterate rustics [anpar dihāti], I thought to myself what will they teach me? I already know more than them, my mentality was one of learning new information whereas Tabligh cultivates qualities [ṣifāt] … But I stayed with them and I disciplined myself to live against my desires. In my future life, I was destined to face many, many hardships so Allah made this my foundation from my first journey. I was left decimated [mai pis kar reh gaya], every day I thought I’ll run away. On one occasion, I even wrapped my bistar [baggage], tied the knot and bent down to lift it but then I remembered the reality of my state and suddenly an invisible force moved me back…
I wanted to learn religion … I wasn’t going to become a thief or a bandit! But if your aspirations collide with even your parents, then they [may] disown you. 23 November 1972, 9 a.m. in the morning has forever been etched onto my heart! At the age of 18, if your father evicts you from your home [saying]: “Get out! If you want to become a religious scholar [maulvi], then get out of my house!” [then how can one forget?] …
4.3. A Rising Star (1980–1997)
I had donated [waqf] my life to Raiwind … Even after two months if I requested some time off, I’d get admonished “You want to leave so soon!” After marriage, when I returned to Raiwind after two weeks, Abdul Wahhab Sahib took me to task [saying] “You spent two weeks, such a long time!”5
I was newly graduated, every speech of mine would be different to another … I had a passion for knowledge, the temperament [mizāj] of da’wa had not overwhelmed me, I had a knowledge-seeking temperament. So, I did around 80 speeches [on that trip to the UK] and every one was different to another … and I became very well-known there. And from 1982 till now … 2017, I have continuously travelled. Allah takes me through His grace and kindness.
When I saw Maulana Saeed Ahmad Khan sahib, then I was like [awestruck facial expression]. You know, when someone sees an amazing thing and he’s [startled] … By Allah! Watching that bondsman [banda] I was like, wow [awestruck facial expression]! What is this? What is this? … [and after our first interaction] an intense desire arose in my heart, if only I could remain in the company [ṣuḥba] of this bondsman [of God].
He remained grieved all his life that my Medina has escaped me, but I benefited a great deal … My understanding is that Allah sent him here only for me. I stayed twelve years with him … two, three, four months I’d spend with him [each year].
When I came into the ṣuḥba [companionship] of Maulana Saeed Ahmed Khan sahib, then I saw that this person was a walking, talking dhikr [remembrance of God], at every opportunity he performed litanies … then, after that … through the grace of Allah … I began giving more importance [to my own dhikr], it was only after seeing him I [gained this] (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lPuDzSiLcWk) … The gentleness Allah has created in my temperament, the forgiveness, love, abhorrence of backbiting, whatever Allah has given me … though what have I to boast about, it’s all from observing that bondsman. These things cannot be acquired through study.
When he [Maulana Zubair ul-Hasan] would come to Pakistan, there would be great expressions of love. He would specially call me, and his children had great love for me too … In the Hajj of 1997 we were together and he called me over saying, “Brother, all the ladies of our household listen only to your speeches so do this, go … to their tent in Arafat and deliver a lecture.” So I went there and delivered a lecture. And just now, when he attended the [annual Raiwind] ijtimāʿ his eldest son said, “My young son would like to talk to you” and he talked to me over the phone … a five-year-old child … saying, “Please pray that I too become someone who delivers speeches like you.” I said, “Son, may Allah make you like your grandfather” … Allah has taken such work from this family as rarely occurs in centuries.
4.4. Development into a National Celebrity (1997–2016)
Observers of contemporary Islam have often viewed the ulama as mired in an unchanging tradition that precludes any serious or sophisticated understanding of the modern world on their part, and prevents them from playing any significant role in their societies other than striving fruitlessly to mitigate their increasing marginalisation.
The TJ [Tablighi Jama’at] has, undoubtedly, penetrated deep into the Pakistani society and counts among its activists members of the civil and military bureaucracy, businessmen, university lecturers, celebrities from the entertainment industry and … sportsmen.”.
A Shift from ‘Hard’ to ‘Soft’ Tabligh
It is not [due to] anybody’s conspiracy! [People say: “Our downfall is due to] an American conspiracy, a British conspiracy, a French conspiracy. Ah! These are the habits of defeated nations who project their faults onto others. They ascribe their weaknesses to others. If they get a stomach ache, then even that’s blamed on an American conspiracy! Find faults within yourself. Seek out your own shortcomings. [Quoting Allamah Iqbal, apne man mein dūb kar pā ja surāgh-e-zindagi]: “Delve into yourself and discover life’s secret traces” … A nation’s ship only sinks when its crew drill holes into it with their own hands. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nnNevzucIKs.
Show me, what are you doing with my Prophet? [weeping] Did he leave you bound in sects or did he make you into an ummah? Why do you squander your lives in these foolish games [nādān khel]? … Difference of opinion has existed since the inception of this ummah and will always remain, but don’t go to the extent of issuing decrees of disbelief [kufr] against one another [weeping]. Who will go to Paradise? [If] Sunnis say that Wahhabis are kāfir [disbelievers], Wahhabis say that Sunnis are kāfir, Barelvis say that Deobandis are kāfir, Deobandis say that Barelvis are kāfir, Shias say that Sunnis are kāfir, Sunnis say that Shias are kāfir [then] who will go to Paradise? … [weeping] You don’t go to one another’s mosques, you don’t pray behind one another, [but have instead] made yourselves into wardens over Paradise! … Show me, where have you got this religion from in which you’ve divided into sects and spread fires of hostility? … I beseech you in the name of Allah and His Prophet [to] live as an ummah. Live [simply] as Muslims. Remain firm on your own creeds [aqīdah] but be lenient towards others.
4.5. Forging His Own Way: Controversy and Criticism (2014–Present)
Tariq Jamil’s success in reaching out to the powerful elite was seen as an asset. And his huge popularity is clearly seen as an asset by state officials as well. His close association with them can be seen as a mutually beneficial relationship. Maulana’s endorsement, even a picture with him, extends an aura of religiosity to members of Pakistan’s political elite, who have always used religion as a major source of their legitimacy. They also find him valuable in extending the state’s messages to the religiously inclined masses. It is hard to guess who benefits more from the relationship—members of the political elite or the Tableeghi Jamaat [sic] and its mission.(Z. Khan 2021).
The transposition of religious (and political) issues to new media also changes the associative ecology of Islamic discourse, juxtaposing religious issues in innovative ways with commerce, entertainment, and the professions, and contributing to the greater pervasiveness of religious themes in an increasingly redefined public life.
5. The Dialectic of Structure-Agency in a Global Revivalist Movement
When Hadhrat Maulana Muhammad Ilyas Saheb Rahmatullahi alayhi [God have mercy upon him] commenced his mission of propagation, even the Ulama were at variance with him and even the most eminent scholars tended to be critical towards him, but placing his confidence in Allah, he nonetheless planted the roots of this mission and went ahead. He showed no outward sign of being awe-struck by their criticism and condemnation.
Power within social systems which enjoy some continuity over time and space presumes regularized relations of autonomy and dependence between actors or collectivities in contexts of social interaction. But all forms of dependence offer some resources whereby those who are subordinate can influence the activities of their superiors. This is what I call the dialectic of control in social systems.(Giddens 1986, p. 16, italics original).
…the most fundamental issue surrounding preachers and storytellers was one of control: who was to control their activities, their words, and their messages, and how was such control to be exercised?
Action depends on the capability of the individual to ‘make a difference’ to a pre-existing state of affairs or course of events. An agent ceases to be such if he or she loses the capability to ‘make a difference’, that is, to exercise some sort of power … Expressing these observations in another way, we can say that action logically involves power in the sense of transformative capacity.
Informed Consent Statement
Conflicts of Interest
See https://yougov.co.uk/topics/international/articles-reports/2020/09/22/worlds-most-admired-2020 (Pakistan must be selected from the dropdown list of 42 countries). Jamil’s ‘admiration score’ was 17.5%, Imran Khan 16.38%, Bill Gates 5.16% and Cristiano Ronaldo 3.42%. Jamil also topped the poll in 2018 with a 17.6% admiration score (the second highest being army general Raheel Sharif with 13.7%—see https://yougov.co.uk/topics/international/articles-reports/2018/04/11/worlds-most-admired-2018), though in 2019 he was narrowly pipped to the top spot by Imran Khan (19.37% and 20.95% admiration scores respectively), the next closest ranking being Bill Gates with 6.74% (see https://today.yougov.com/topics/international/articles-reports/2019/07/18/2019-worlds-most-admired). Country-specific ratings seem not to be available on the YouGov website for 2021 or prior to 2018. Unless otherwise specified, all URL links referenced throughout this paper were accessed on 8 July 2022.
See https://www.youtube.com/c/tariqjamilofficial/about and https://www.youtube.com/c/AJOfficialPK/about (accessed on 13 December 2022). These figures do not include the many unofficial channels that feature his talks which have collectively attracted hundreds of millions of additional views.
To cite a single excerpt from many possible examples: “For the sake of Allah, my children, if you are my students then this Deobandi-Barlevi [conflict], you must get rid of these quarrels! Consider yourself [only] Muslims … I want to see you as Muslims. I want to take you out of Deobandiyat [Deobandism], just be Muslims … We follow the decrees of Imam Abu Hanifa [and] consider the interpretation of his edicts by the scholars of Deoband to be more correct. [But] we respect everybody else and honour them. Our hearts are open to everybody. [To claim that] we’re exclusively on the truth and we’re exclusively going to Paradise, I want to take this ‘ujb [vanity] out of you. He [God] is a generous King who forgives whomsoever He pleases. Are we sentinels [over Paradise]? Be a Muslim, be a mu’min [believer], be an ummatī [member of the global Muslim community] … Love everybody. Clean your hearts [from animosity] towards anybody.” See https://youtu.be/306c7ZKsrS4 (accessed on 8 July 2022).
Maulana Tariq Jamil, in particular, was influenced by four teachers two of whom he describes as ‘jalāli’ (majestic, stern) and two as ‘jamāli’ (beautiful, gentle): (1) Maulana Jamshed, erstwhile imam of Raiwind and khalīfah (spiritual successor) of Maulana Masiullah Khan (himself a khalīfah of the renowned Deobandi figurehead Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanawi); (2) the ethereal Maulana Nazar-ur-Rahman, current amīr [leader] of Raiwind following the death of Hajji Abdul Wahhab in 2018, and an accomplished scholar of hadith and Sufi master; (3) Maulana Ehsan ul-Haq, son of Raiwind’s second amīr Hajji Babu Bashir Ahmad and khalīfah (spiritual successor) of Tablighi Jama’at founder Maulana Muhammad Ilyas Kandhalawi’s nephew Shaykh-ul Hadith Maulana Muhammad Zakariyya Kandhalawi; (4) Maulana Abdur Rahman, a pious elder of the Tablighi Jama’at known for his rigorous ascetism (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GWf1V6xkJDE). In addition, he was a personal attendant to Mufti Zainul Abideen, a respected scholar who had been a companion of Tablighi Jama’at founder Maulana Muhammad Ilyas during his final illness (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BZe8yR7Hl4U).
See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ttjKc0yj5Ck. Hajji Muhammad Abdul Wahhab, one of the most important global leaders of the Tablighi Jama’at, was head of the Pakistani chapter from 1992 until his death in 2018. Maulana Tariq Jamil married around 1983 and has five children, three sons and two daughters.
The Isrā’īliyyāt refer to a corpus of extra-Quran’ic exegetical material derived mainly from Christian and Jewish sources which has formed “a nebulous and undisciplined stratum of popular culture” (Berkey 2001, p. 41) in Islamic societies.
In his speech, Mufti Taqi stated: “It is my heartfelt prayer that Allah blesses this work you are commencing today, makes it successful and also grants you divine aid (tawfīq) to bring it to fruition with sincerity (ikhlāṣ) … [so you may] achieve the virtuous objectives before you with special divine grace. Hadhrat Maulana Tariq Jamil Sahib, may his blessings abide (dāmat barakātuhu), is an asset for our nation and community. In this regard, after conveying my greetings of peace to him, I congratulate him that his personal name is being utilised in this venture. I pray that this becomes a means of virtuous reputation (naik nāmi) and a means of serving (khidma) Allah’s religion and that it results in external and internal benefits, and that Allah confers upon him increases in external and internal [blessings]” (see https://youtu.be/fDTu3O4xsTg).
Conversations with senior Tablighis in Gujranwala and Raiwind (3 and 7 April 2022).
The foreword to a lengthy Urdu critique of Jamil published in the UK observes: “The respected personality of Sir Maulana Tariq Jamil Sahib is not in need of any introduction. He is famous in the capacity of a global preacher and in this capacity attends diverse religious assemblies across the world addressing Muslims; the Muslim masses thus benefit from him. From the beginning, he has been attached to the Tablighi Jama’at discharging the responsibilities of da’wa and tablīgh in conformance with the principles stipulated by the elders of Tabligh for scholars and masses involved in the Jama’at. However, for some years now Maulana appears to have freed himself from these principles and now he travels the world delivering lectures in the capacity of an independent preacher” (Muhammad Thaqalain Jawed Haidari in Rangooni 2019, p.4).
Conversations with senior Tablighis in Pakistan and the UK (April and May 2022).
A certain Azad Khan—under the misleading title of Maulana Azad Jameel—gained some fame as an Islamic preacher in Pakistan by imitating to a remarkable degree Maulana Tariq Jamil’s intonations of voice, idiomatic expressions, and general rhetorical style leading to a widespread misconception that he was the Maulana’s son. This caused some chagrin to Jamil’s family who were eventually obliged to formally distance themselves from him. For more, see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ROT4v3HRF0; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=toDJ4cAQIwk; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M-hfi0HFdKI; https://thenamal.com/latest/fact-check-azad-jameel-is-not-maulana-tariq-jameels-son/; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aIX5gTM3bFQ (accessed on 9 September 2022).
Conversations with senior Tablighis and ʿulamāʾ in Raiwind and Islamabad (April 2022).
Specifically, Masud (2000) contrasts Maulana Ihtisham ul-Hasan Kandhalawi’s (a close relative and early associate of Tablighi Jama’at founder Maulana Muhammad Ilyas) and Shaykh Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi’s intellectual engagements with modernity, rooted in a rationalizing discourse, with Shaykh-ul Hadith Maulana Muhammad Zakariyya Kandhalawi’s more interiorized Sufi-inflected ethos rooted in strong theological foundations. I am grateful to Professor Muhammad Khalid Masud for bringing this to my attention (personal conversation, Islamabad, 14 April 2022).
I am grateful to Dietrich Reetz for suggesting this phrase to me (personal communication, 19 August 2022).
I am grateful to Muhammad Khalid Masud for suggesting this phrase to me (personal communication, 3 September 2022).
Tablighi Jama’at’s second global amīr Maulana Yusuf Kandhalawi, son of the founder, unequivocally stated: “It is necessary to avoid usual [riwājī] channels like newspapers, advertisement and the press for the publicity of this work, since the customary words cannot properly describe this significant work. This is an extraordinary work. The media, as an ordinary means, tends to reinforce the current ordinary customs in the society. It cannot explain this extraordinary work. The true forms of publicity are gasht, ta’līm and tashkīl” (Masud 2000, p. 80).
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Timol, R. Religious Authority, Popular Preaching and the Dialectic of Structure-Agency in an Islamic Revivalist Movement: The Case of Maulana Tariq Jamil and the Tablighi Jama’at. Religions 2023, 14, 60. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel14010060
Timol R. Religious Authority, Popular Preaching and the Dialectic of Structure-Agency in an Islamic Revivalist Movement: The Case of Maulana Tariq Jamil and the Tablighi Jama’at. Religions. 2023; 14(1):60. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel14010060Chicago/Turabian Style
Timol, Riyaz. 2023. "Religious Authority, Popular Preaching and the Dialectic of Structure-Agency in an Islamic Revivalist Movement: The Case of Maulana Tariq Jamil and the Tablighi Jama’at" Religions 14, no. 1: 60. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel14010060