ن: The Tableeghi Jamaat, and a Werther’s Original on the bus.

.بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

ن is a member of the Tableeghi Jamaat: ‘the Society of Preachers’. She said that she had become a member of the group back in 1985, in Bangladesh, and ended up moving here, to London, a year later.

I don’t know what ن’s actual name is, but I call her ‘Nanu’, which means ‘nan’ in Bengali: she is one of our neighbourhood aunties/grandmas, and lives at Number 27.

ن wears all black when she is outside: black clothes, black face-veil [she says that Allah has made women’s faces lovely, especially in our youth, and that a woman’s beauty should only be seen by her husband], black gloves. She carries prayer beads with her, in her hands, and seems to frequent the masjid, via bus, fairly often.

When I saw her fairly recently, she had been on her way to a Janāzah (funeral). She had noticed and spoke to two other Muslim women she had recognised, on the bus.

The Tableeghi Jamaat is known as being a Subcontinental group that demonstrates an emphasis on proselytisation: more specifically, on preaching to people who are already Muslim.

They tend to hold educational gatherings, at one another’s homes and, I think, also at the masjid: these, they refer to as ‘Ta’leems’.

The movement had initially come about, in South Asia, in response to the perceived deterioration and neglect of Islamic values, and its establishment had seemingly co-occurred with a Hindu revivalist movement, which had also been a reactionary one: acting in opposition to the many Hindus who had been converting to Islam and Christianity in the former half of the Twentieth Century.

I admire the sincerity and devotedness of the people who find themselves members of this movement.

On the bus, and I suppose since she had been en route to, she said, her brother’s (perhaps cousin’s) funeral, ن spoke a little about the nature of this life: like we are on a bus, and we are anticipating the stop we get off at, so why put our hopes in what is fleeting and temporary?

This world is something like a big lie, ن remarked.

In considering the essence of the Tableeghi Jamaat group, my only personal contention (though I would not say this to ن. She’s a sincere and devout Muslim, and within the parameters of Truth, each to her own) would be that as a movement, it is, and feels, quite reactionary: it originated as a fairly strong reaction against something, and maybe continues to bear this kind of essence. Those people’s lifestyles and attitudes are morally declining, so here is a strong antidote to that: a movement.

While, I think, some Muslims in the Subcontinent had started to resume more pre-Islamic, originally-Hindu, practices and such, the members of the Tableeghi Jamaat dressed in their white caps and their thobes, and their black, from head-to-toe.

I do not mean to write and attempt to negate any of their efforts and intentions: they, almost indisputably, have established Islam in pockets of India, England, Bangladesh, France…

But in seeking, In Shaa Allah, the Muhammadan (SAW) way: I wonder what he (SAW) would have done, in a world like ours. Although I do not know him personally, I know that he had demonstrated an ethical emphasis on… easygoingness, and gentleness. Beauty, ease. On ‘flowing’, perhaps, almost, although he had been more firm when Truth had called him to be.

My own understanding is that if Muhammad (SAW) had been alive today, perhaps he would have worn… normal clothes (in line with contemporary norms and practicality, including weather conditions) but with a beard. Living life, as a Muslim: taking whatever was decent and good from the world around him, and being rooted in his religion. Not in any way that granted religion little importance, but not in any reactionary way either: religion is not a mere badge, a mere differentiator/marker of group identity. [Not so quiet that you easily forget about it, and end up losing cognisance of Allah; not so loud and harsh that it becomes repellent and burdensome, on yourself and/or others]. Rather, it is a home — a home — for the beating, fallible, unique and warm, emotion-filled, human heart.

I have a large amount of respect for those, our grandmothers and grandfathers, who had committed to Islam, and who had practised and preached it through such groups as the Tableeghi Jamaat.

I also know that many of us, today, may feel rather ‘out-of-touch’ when it comes to those specific expressions of Islam: like it does not necessarily, completely speak to us. But whomever we find ourselves to be, and whatever our own personalities and inclinations may be, there’s a place for us here in Islam, and we are finding our way through, aren’t we, one step — or, indeed, bus stop — at a time.

  • ن had given me, as well as the two other women she recognised, a little Werther’s Original sweet, while on the bus. I found this very sweet indeed! [The grandmothers, grandfathers, aunties and uncles from our area: distributers of sweets, fruits, and plates of food during Ramadān! May Allah bless them.]

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