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Qāẓī Muḥammad Sulaymān Manṣūrpūrī (d. 1930),an Indian scholar known for several works defending Islam against criticism by non-Muslims, defined tablīgh in Tablīgh al-Islām as “a call toward one's religion by one nation to another” (p. 4). He argued that Islam was the only religion whose scriptures obliged its followers to proselytize others. Manṣūrpūrī's definition was a rebuttal to Christian missionaries who contended that Islam was not a missionary religion and hence Muslims were denied missionary activities in Africa by the British. Max Müller, in a lecture in 1873, redefined missionary religion as one whose founder raises the work of converting unbelievers to the level of a sacred duty. He included Islam among the missionary religions and stated that the spirit of truth in the hearts of believers in a missionary religion is not satisfied until it has carried its message to every human soul. Manṣūrpūrī's definition reflects this debate in the Muslim world during the upsurge of Christian missionary activities under colonial rule. The meaning of tablīgh changed in the twentieth century as the term was gradually replaced by daʿwah.

Meaning of the Word.

The word tablīgh is the transitive verbal form, derived from the root b-l-gh, meaning to reach one's destination, to achieve an objective, to come to hear, to come of age, to communicate, or to report. Muḥammad Aʿlā Thānvī, an eighteenth-century lexicographer in India, defined it as a rhetorical literary claim that is physically as well as logically possible. Accordingly, the science of rhetoric is called ʿilm al-balāghah. The elements of communication, reasonable claim, maturity, and attainment of an objective are significant components of the semantic field of tablīgh. The transitivity of the verb tablīgh requires an object, for example, risālah (message, frequent in the Qurʿān) or daʿwah (call, as in tablīgh al-daʿwah, a commonly used modern phrase). The words tablīgh and daʿwah are interchangeable in modern usage; the connotation of “claim” in both balāghah and daʿwah is implicit in Qurʿānic references to prophecy and miracle.

The word tablīgh does not occur in the Qurʿān, but its verbal forms have frequently been used in conjunction with prophecy or mission (risālah) to mean “to communicate a message or revelation” or “to fulfill a mission” (5:87). The Qurʿān's frequently used balāgh, according to the lexicographer al-Rāghib al-Iṣfahānī (d. 1108), is synonymous with tablīgh.

Responsibility of the Believer.

Balāgh in the Qurʿānic usage signifies that the mere proclamation of the message is sufficient for the fulfillment of the mission; a preacher is not responsible for conversion. The Qurʿān says, “And say to the People of the Book and to those who are unlearned: ‘Do you submit yourselves?’ If they do, they are in right guidance. But if they turn back, your duty is only to convey the message” (3:20). Moreover, “Had God willed, they had not been idolatrous. We have not set you as a keeper over them, nor are you responsible for them” (6:106).

According to the Qurʿān, “There is no compulsion in religion; truth is henceforth distinct from falsehood” (2:256). A preacher's duty is to communicate, warn, and remind others to follow the truth. Tablīgh in this sense implies an association with the concept of miracle as God's sign in support of a prophet's claim. Max L. Stackhouse explains that missionary activity is rooted in the fundamental assumption that once people are exposed to the proclaimed truth, they will choose this truth; therefore they should be free to encounter and choose even a foreign truth. The Qurʿānic statement about the completion of mission by mere proclamation of the truth refers to a similar trust in human reason. The Qurʿān further distinguishes the “People of the Book” (ahl al-kitāb) from other human beings because they are the recipients of earlier revelation, which should prepare them to accept the truth more quickly.

The Qurʿān, as the last in the series, confirms previous revelations, and commands the Muslim community (ummah) as a whole to carry out this mission of inviting others to goodness: “You are the best community that has been raised up for humankind. You enjoin right conduct and forbid evil; and believe in God. If the people of the Book had believed it had been better for them. Some of them are believers but most of them are lawbreakers” (3:110). The Muslim doctrine of al-amr bi-al-maʿrūf wa-al-nahy ʿan al-munkar (enjoining good and forbidding evil) evolved from these verses and forms an essential component of the concept of tablīgh and daʿwah.

Commenting on the above Qurʿānic verses, Muḥammad Rashīd Riḍā (d. 1935), an Egyptian reformer, explains that Islam has a universal mission; hence all humankind, including believers in other revealed religions, are its addressees, and tablīgh is a duty of every Muslim. Muftī Muḥammad Shafīʿ (d. 1978), a prominent Deobandī scholar in Pakistan, asserted that since tablīgh addresses the question of salvation, belief in Muḥammad's prophecy is essential. He refuted the argument of some scholars who, referring to Qurʿān 2:62, argued that those who faithfully practiced the religions revealed before Muḥammad were on the right path, implying that they were not required to convert to Islam. Mawlānā ʿUbaidullāh Sindhī (d. 1945), a Sikh convert to Islam, raised the question of the salvation of those whom the message of Islam had not reached and argued that their salvation did not depend on accepting Islam. Manāẓir Aḥsan Gīlānī, a twentieth-century scholar and author, stated the rule that punishment of individuals after death is always commensurate with their access to tablīgh in life. Abū al-Aʿlā Mawdūdī (d. 1979), the founder of Jamāʿat-i Islāmī, stressed that human beings are free to choose between truth and falsehood; tablīgh does not require coercion.

These debates echo the discussions in early Islam between the Muʿtazilah, a sect stressing human reason as a basis even of revealed laws, and their opponents the Ashʿarīyah. According to the Muʿtazilah, those whom tablīgh has not reached will be judged by God on the basis of their rational understanding of good and evil. The Ashʿarī theologians found it impossible to conceive of a human community ignorant of Islam. The only occasion that called for tablīgh, therefore, was before the waging of a war. Views on this issue were discussed in the doctrine of bulūgh al-daʿwah (inviting the opponent to Islam).

Wahbah al-Zuḥaylī, a contemporary Syrian jurist, in Al-fiqh al-Islāmī wa-adillatuh, explains that juristic opinion is divided on the question of whether tablīgh to the enemy is obligatory before waging war. Mālikī jurists consider it obligatory, whereas Ḥanbalīs do not. Most other jurists, including al-Māwardī, a medieval author on constitutional and administrative laws, hold that tablīgh is obligatory if the enemy has not previously heard about Islam; it is commendable (but not required) in other cases.

Against this background, the doctrine of amr bi-al-maʿrūf received increased emphasis and became almost synonymous with tablīgh and daʿwah. The Qurʿānic verses enjoining good as a duty of the Muslim ummah (9:72) are read along with a ḥadīth, reported by Muslim bin al-Ḥajjāj in his Ṣaḥīḥ, that says a believer must correct evil by hand or tongue, depending on his ability, or should at least condemn it in his heart. These three levels of action are explained as jihād, tablīgh, and hijrah (withdrawal), respectively. The level of action is determined by the ability of the actor. Tablīgh includes command of language and knowledge of divine laws, while jihād requires physical fitness and military skills in addition to a call by the Muslim ruler. Accordingly, like jihād, tablīgh was defined as farḍ kifāyah, an obligation not incumbent on every Muslim.

ʿAbd al-Qādir ʿAwdah, a twentieth-century expert on Islamic international and criminal law, differed with that traditional view. According to him, most jurists stipulate permission from the government as a condition, but this stipulation points to the political role of tablīgh, and the condition was probably added by Sunnī jurists against the Ismāʿīlīs and other sects whose tablīgh efforts were aimed at the establishment of states of their own. This cautious permission was probably also prompted by the fact that tablīgh, especially the doctrine of nahy ʿan al-munkar (prohibition of the objectionable), could encourage criticism and opposition against a ruler who did not abide by Islamic teachings. The Sunnī jurists justified rebellion against a Muslim ruler only in cases of open violation of the sharīʿah, but this justification was actually available only in extreme cases. Generally they recommended obedience even to morally corrupt rulers, because some rule of law was better than anarchy. Such considerations led tablīgh to be closely associated with politics. It may also explain the absence of formally organized institutions for tablīgh.

Tablīgh in the Political Realm.

The issue of tablīgh became crucial in politics when Christian missions came to the Muslim world with Western colonial governments, introducing missionary schools and hospitals. Muslims viewed these missions as efforts to subjugate the East to Western colonialism, using education, medicine, nationalism, and economic aid as missionary instruments. Tablīgh thus emerged as a weapon of religious and political defense against Christianity and colonialism. Tablīgh also became an expression of Muslim identity. In India, for instance, tablīgh appeared as a crucial issue in the Hindu-Muslim politics of conflict, and in the mobilization of the Muslim masses as a political entity. Tablīgh also urged Muslims to realize that their past glory was based on their adherence to Islamic teachings and that future success also depended on abiding by their religion.

Close encounters with Christian missionaries provided Muslims with the opportunity to study and adapt new missionary methods. Missionary organizations like the Aḥmadīyah Mission founded by Ghulām Aḥmad (d. 1908) in India illustrated the impact of this encounter. Rashīd Riḍā founded Jamʿīyat al-ʿUrwah al-Wuthqā (Society of the Reliable Bond) and al-Daʿwah wa-al-Irshād (Daʿwah and Guidance) for similar purposes.

Muslims have also used education for the purpose of tablīgh, and a number of organizations were founded with this objective in mind. Some, like Anjuman-i Ḥimāyat-i Islām (Association for the Defense of Islam) in Lahore and Peshawar in British India, combined tablīgh with education as their objectives. Others, such as the Muhammadan Literary Society (founded in 1863), and the Bengal Muhammadan Educational Conference in Calcutta, strove for the modernization of Muslim societies. They founded institutions on European models and published literature in defense of Islam against Christianity. The Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College, founded in 1875 by Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan (1817–1898) in Aligarh, is another such example.

Institutions like Dār al-ʿUlūm Deoband, established in 1867 in India, promoted traditional religious education and took an anti-British stance. This and other religious madrasahs produced persons qualified for tablīgh. They wrote in defense of Islam, refuting anti-Islam polemics, and participated in dialogues and public debates among Christian, Hindu, and Muslim missionaries. They traveled to towns and villages, preaching among both Muslims and non-Muslims.

In the twentieth century, participation of the masses in politics gained significance, especially after the introduction of democratic institutions. Conversion through missionary activities may well have helped to increase the number of politically active individuals. Additionally, modernity and democracy promoted secularism, posing a threat to traditional religious values. Muslims thus felt the need to focus on tablīgh among Muslims. Mawlānā Muḥammad Ilyās (d. 1944), the founder of Tablīghī Jamāʿat in 1930, observed that education alone was not sufficient to achieve the objectives of tablīgh. Rather than establishing madrasahs, he stressed organized and formal travel from place to place for the purpose of tablīgh among Muslims. He emphasized that its purpose was not to convert non-Muslims or to preach to others. Iḥtishāmul Ḥasan Kāndhalavī (d. 1971), an ideologue of the Tablīghī Jamāʿat, defined tablīgh without reference to conversion. He said that tablīgh was “to learn and then to convey, and educate others in, the teachings of the true religion” (p. 9). It was, in the words of Mawlānā Muḥammad Yūsuf, the second amir of the Jamāʿat, “an effort to adapt oneself to Islamic practices by inviting others to them” (Bijnawrī, p. 205). Tablīghī Jamāʿat has been one of the most successful modern Islamist movements. Now, the word tablīgh has become synonymous with Tablīghī Jamāʿat, and the participants in its activities are usually called tablīghīs.

Political movements and parties in the Muslim world—for example, the Muslim Brotherhood and Jamāʿat Islāmī—generally disagree with the form of tablīgh that requires avoiding participation in politics. According to them, the formation of an Islamic state is essential for the reform of Muslim society and the revival of Islam. This argument, which became popular during the struggle for independence against colonialism, became the main theme of the movements for establishing Islamic states, which came to be known as movements for political Islam.

Tablīgh as a Force for Religious Renewal.

Recent studies of Tablīghī Jamāʿat have rendered the notion of tablīgh more problematic than before. The activities of the Jamāʿat that allowed lay men and women to preach were questioned by the orthodox. The reformist Deobandī stance of the Jamāʿat led to its classification as a sectarian movement. Its stress on the apolitical nature of tablīgh was strongly opposed by those who supported daʿwah for an Islamic state. Consequently, the term daʿwah in its modern usage has been greatly influenced by these semantic changes. The Jamāʿat shifted the emphasis from proselytizing to faith renewal. As a result, the dialogue with non-Muslims that began in the nineteenth century and compelled Muslims to read about other religions stopped. The increasingly exclusive nature of tablīgh and daʿwah seem to have encouraged jihādī views against non-Muslims. The recognition of religion as an important factor in social and political relations between Muslim and other nations has in recent years given prominence to interfaith harmony and dialogue and is providing a new meaning to the notion of tablīgh, calling for faith-based communities to cooperate for a better human society.



  • Arnold, Thomas W.“Missions (Muhammadan).” In Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, vol. 8, pp. 745–749. Edinburgh, 1958. Comprehensive theoretical discussion of the Muslim understanding of tablīgh.
  • Arnold, Thomas W.The Preaching of Islam: A History of the Propagation of the Muslim Faith. Westminster, U.K., 1896. 2d ed., London, 1913. This is an excellent introduction to the issues concerning tablīgh, analyzing the missionary nature of Islam and describing the history of the spread of Islam in different parts of the world.
  • Bijnawrī, ʿAzīzur Raḥmān. Tadhkira Amīr Tablīgh, Mawlānā Muḥammad Yūsuf Dihlawī. Sargodha, Pakistan: Dhuʿl Nūrayn Academy, 1980.
  • Ḥajjāj, Abū al-Ḥusayn Muslim bin al-. Ṣaḥīḥ. Vol. 1. Cairo: Dār al-Turāth al-ʿArabī, 1954.
  • Kāndhalavī, Iḥtishāmul Ḥasan. Payām-i ʿAmal. Delhi: Idāra Ishā ʿat Dīniyāt, 1959.
  • Khālidī, Muṣṭafā. Al-tabshīr wa-al-istiʿmār fī al-bilād al- ʿarabīyah: ʿArd li-juhūd al-mubasshirīn allatī tarmā ilā ikhḍāʿal-sharq lil-istiʿmār al-gharbī. Beirut, 1964. The author argues that Christian missionaries used educational institutions, hospitals, and literary organs in favor of Christianity and to pave the way for the colonization of Muslim countries.
  • Manṣūrpūrī, Muḥammad Sulaimān. Tablīgh al-Islām. Simla: Army Press, 1928.
  • Masud, Muhammad Khalid, ed.Travellers in Faith: Studies of the Tablīghī Jamāʿat as a Transnational Islamic Movement for Faith Renewal. Leiden, Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 2000. Analyzing the historical and social growth of this movement, its transnational transformation, the development of its ideology, personal communication and conversion, and its organization, this volume also offers focused studies of its activities in India, Britain, France, Germany, Belgium, Canada, Morocco, and South Africa.
  • Rāghib al-Iṣfahānī, Abū al-Qāsim al-Ḥusayn ibn Muḥammad al-. Al-mufradāt fī gharīb al-Qurʿān. Cairo, 1961.
  • Stackhouse, Max L.“Missionary Activity.” In Encyclopedia of Religion, edited by Mircea Eliade, vol. 9, pp. 563–570. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1987.
  • Zakarīyā, Muḥammad. Faz¨āʿil-i Aʿmāl. Revised edition of Tablīghī Niṣāb (Islamic Teachings). Lahore, 1987. As a part of the instructional readings of the Jamāʿat, the book provides its teachings about the concept, merits, and methods of tablīgh.
  • Zuḥaylī, Wahbah al-. Al-fiqh al-Islāmī wa-adillatuh. Damascus, 1989. Muhammad Khalid Masud
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