Maulana Muhammad Ilyas Meo (مولانا محمّد الیاس میو), the founder of the Tableeghi Jama’at (تبلیغی جماعت) of South Asian subcontinent, is arguably one of the most influential, yet least well-known , figures of the twentieth century Islam. Despite his enormous contribution towards the development of a powerful grass root Islamic Da’wah movement, Maulana Muhammad Ilyas Meo (مولانا محمّد الیاس میو) has not received much attention in the literature on modern Islamic movements. Most of the Western, and even Muslim, scholarships have remained occupied with the more spectacular and dramatic manifest ions of Islamic revivalist upsurge. The available literature on Maulana Muhammad Ilyas Meo (مولانا محمّد الیاس میو) and his Tableeghi movement (تبلیغی جماعت) is mostly in Urdu and that too consists mainly of inspirational works by its leaders and devotional writings by its followers and supporters.
Maulana Muhammad Ilyas Meo (مولانا محمّد الیاس میو) was Ammi Bi's favorite child. She used to say; to him ”I feel the aroma of the holy Companions in you.” Sometimes, placing her hand on his back, she would say,”How is it that I see figures resembling the holy Companions moving along with you?”.
NEED OF TABLEEGHI JAMA’AT (تبلیغی جماعت)
Owing to the negligence of the Muslims religious teachers, the moral arid religious condition of the Mewatis had sunk so low that there was little to distinguish between their beliefs and practices and wholesale apostasy. Even non-Muslim historians have commented at length on their estrangement with Islam. The moral and religious condition of the Meos in Mewat can be imagin in the light of following extracts:
The Alwar Gazetteer of 1878, written by Major Powlett, syay:
At another place, Major Powlett writes:
The Gazetteer of Bharatpur, again, says:
FORMATION OF TABLEEGHI JAMA’AT (تبلیغی جماعت)
Tableeghi Jamaat (تبلیغ) originated in 1926 (1344 Hijri) in Mewat, in north India. Presently; it includes the Gurgaon district of the Punjab, the native states of Alwar and Bharatpur and the district of Mathura of the United Provinces. Like all other regions, its boundaries, too, have been changing from time to time and the dimensions of the old Mewat must have been different from what they are now. The link with Mewat, was established in his lifetime. It is related that, once, he went out in the hope of finding a Muslim whom he could bring to the mosque and offer Salaat with him On meeting some Muslim laborers, he inquired from them where they were going.? "We are going in search of work", they replied. "How much do you expect to earn?' asked the Maulana. The laborers, thereupon, told him about the daily wages they, generally, received. "If you get the same here," the Maulana asked, "What is the use of going elsewhere” The laborers agreed and the Maulana took them to the mosque and began to teach the Salaat and the Quran. He would pay them their wages every day and keep them engaged in their lessons. In a few days, they developed the habit of offering up Salaat. Such was the beginning of the Madrassa of Bangle Wali Masjid, and these laborers were its first scholars. After it, about ten Mewati students always remained in the Madrassa and their meals used to come from the house.
The new movement met with dramatic success in relatively short period of time, thanks to Maulana Muhammad Ilyas’s (مولانا محمّد الیاس) utmost devotion, untiring efforts and sincerity of purpose. As a result many Muslims joined Maulana Muhammad Ilyas Meo (مولانا محمّد الیاس میو) to preach the message of Islam in every town and village of Mewat. The rapid success of his efforts can be seen from the fact that the first Tableeghi conference (تبلیغ) held in November 1941(Zeqa'ad 1360 Hijri) in Mewat was attended by 25,000 people many of them had walked on foot for ten to fifteen miles to attend the conference. Sayyid Abul A’la Mawdudi, the founder of the Jama’at-e-Islami paid glowing tribute to the spectacular successes of the Da’wah efforts of Maulana Muhammad Ilyas Meo (مولانا محمّد الیاس میو) in Mewat and elsewhere in sub-continent and described the Tableeghi movement (تبلیغ) as a major step toward the Islamization of Indian Muslim society.
Maulana Mohammad ismail Meo, and, after him, Maulana Mohammad Meo had adopted the same method. They used to keep the Mewati children with them and educate them in their Madrassa, and, then, send them back to Mewat to carry on the work of reform and guidance, and what little religious awareness was found there was owing to the efforts of these pioneers.
Maulana Muhammad Ilyas Meo (مولانا محمّد الیاس میو) went a step ahead and decided to establish Maktabs and Madrassas in Mewat itself so that the influence of Faith could spread to a wider area and the pace of change was accelerated.
The Maulana knew what was, commonly, meant by inviting a spirtua! mentor or his successor to their place by his disciples and admirers, and he was not willing to go to Mewat only to fulfill the formalities of attending the dinner given in his honor delivering a few sermons and giving good counsel.
Establishment of Maktabs
Maulana Muhammad Ilyas Meo (مولانا محمّد الیاس میو), accordingly, went to Mewat and demanded the fulfillment of the promise. Maulana Muhammad Ilyas Meo (مولانا محمّد الیاس میو) met Mewati Muslims who could not even recite Shahadah and who had not prayed even once in their life because they did not know how to pray. Maulana Muhammad Ilyas Meo (مولانا محمّد الیاس میو) fully aware of the difficult task ahead was, nevertheless, determined to bring the Meo Muslims back to the fold of true Islam. After great persuasion, the beginning was made and the first Maktab was established.
Maulana Muhammad Ilyas Meo (مولانا محمّد الیاس میو) devoted to what he described as “the mission of the prophets”. The method adopted by him was simple. It was to organize units (called jamaats, Arabic/Urdu/Persian: جماعتِ meaning Assembly) of at least ten persons and send them to various villages. This unit jamaat, would visit a village, invite the local Muslims to assemble in the mosque and present their message in the form of Six Principles. Maulana Muhammad Ilyas Meo (مولانا محمّد الیاس میو) articulated six demands in the form of Six Principles which are quintessential to Tableeghi Jamat’s (تبلیغی جماعت) teachings. These six principles are:
- Kalimah (کلمہ): "An article of faith in which the Tableegh (تبلیغ) accepts that there is no god but Allah and the Prophet Muhammad is His messenger."
- Salah (نماز) : "Five daily prayers that are essential to spiritual elevation, piety, and a life free from the ills of the material world."
- Ilm and Dhikr(علم و ذکر) : "The knowledge and remembrance of Allah conducted in sessions in which the congregation listens to preaching by the emir, performs prayers, recites the Quran and reads Hadith.
- Ikram-i-Muslim(اکرام مسلم) : "The treatment of Muslims with honor and deference."
- Tas'hih-i-Niyyat (تصیح نيّت) : Reforming one’s life in supplication to Allah by performing every human action for the sake of Allah and toward the goal of self-transformation."
- Tafrigh-i-Waqt (تفریخ وقت): "The sparing of time to live a life based on faith and learning its virtues, following in the footsteps of the Prophet, and taking His message door-to-door for the sake of faith."
Role of women
Women were encouraged to participate since the beginning of the movement. Some scholars objected on the participation of women but Maulana Muhammad Ilyas Meo (مولانا محمّد الیاس میو) slowly gained their support and the first jamaat of women was formed in Nizamuddin, Dehli. Accompanied by a close male relative, women are encouraged to go out in jamaats and work among other women and family members while following the rules of modesty and seclusion. Jamaats of women sometimes participate in large annual meetings; otherwise, they commonly hold neighborhood meetings. Tableeghi Jama’at (تبلیغی جماعت) tends to blur the boundaries of gender roles and both genders share a common behavioral model and their commitment to Tableegh (تبلیغ). The emphasis on a common nature and responsibilities shared by both genders. Just as men redraw the gender roles when they wash and cook during the course of da'wa tours, women undertake the male responsibility of sustaining the household
PERSONAL LIFE SKETCH:Stay at Gurgaonh
Maulana Muhammad Ilyas Meo (مولانا محمّد الیاس میو) used to live with his father at Nizamuddin, and, sometimes, with his maternal grand-father's family at Kandhla. Maulana Muhammad Yahya, requested his father that as the education of Maulana Muhammad Ilyas Meo (مولانا محمّد الیاس میو) was suffering, he might be allowed to take him to Gangoh. The father agreed - and Maulana Muhammad Ilyas Meo (مولانا محمّد الیاس میو) came to Gurgaonh in 1896 or early 1897 at the age of 10 or 11 years old, where Maulana Mohammad Yahya began to teach him regularly.
Death of Brothers
The death of Maulana Mohammad Yahya, on Wednesday, the 9th of August, 1915, was an extremely sad and frustrating event for the Maulana. In addition to being a most affectionate brother, he was, also, his teacher and benefactor. He could not get over the shock till the end of his days.
After the burial of Maulana Mohammad Meo, people urged upon Maulana Muhammad Ilyas Meo (مولانا محمّد الیاس میو) to take up residence at Nizamuddin in order to fill the void caused by the death of his father and brothers. They, also, promised monthly donations for the Madrassa to which the Maulana agreed subject to certain conditions which he observed throughout his life.
Maulana Muhammad Ilyas Meo (مولانا محمّد الیاس میو) had made it clear that he would come to Nizamuddin and take charge of the Madrassa only if Maulana Khaiil Ahmad Saharanpuri approved. Maulana Khalil Ahmad latter gave his approval, but added that, in the first instance, only a year’s Ieave be taken from Mazharul Uloom (مدرسۂ مظہرالعلوم)and if the stay at Nizamuddin proved useful and it was decided to settle down there permanently, he could resign at any time.
On regaining health, Maulana came to Nizamuddin from Kandhla. In those days, there was no habitation in that part of Nizamuddin, and, adjoining the Masjid, later the Basti Nzamuddin became his permanent residence as well as the headquarter of the Tableeghi movement (تبلیغ). Maulana Ihtishamul Hasan who, in his childhood, had come to live, for sometime, with Maulana Muhammad Ilyas Meo (مولانا محمّد الیاس میو) tells that “I used to go out and stand in the hope of seeing ‘a human face. When anyone appeared, I felt so happy as if someone had given me a precious gift.”
Absorption in prayers
Maulana Muhammad Ilyas Meo (مولانا محمّد الیاس میو), generally, remained silent and spent most of his time in meditation. He used to offer Nafl prayers much and often at that time. From Maghrib till a little before Isha, he devoted himself exclusively to Nawafil.
Spirit of Jehad
Together with Zikr, Saga (spiritual exercises and exertions) Nawafil and Ibadaat, Maulana Muhammad Ilyas Meo (مولانا محمّد الیاس میو) was, also, infused with the spirit of Jehad. Throughout his life, he was never without it, and had, in fact, taken the pledge of Jehad at the hand of Maulana Mahmood Hasan for that very reason.
Estimation in the eyes of elders
From his early days, he was held in the highest esteem by the elders of the family as well as the spiritual leaders of the day. Maulana Mohammad Yahya was like a father to him. He concentrated wholly on his studies, and on Zikr, and other forms of worship.
Sometimes, Maulana Muhammad Ilyas Meo (مولانا محمّد الیاس میو) was asked to lead the service in the presence of renowned theologians and spiritual leaders. Once Shah Abdur Rahim Raipuri, Maulana Khalil Ahmad Saharanpuri and Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanwi happened to be in Kandhla. When the time for Salaat came and Maulana Muhammad Ilyas Meo (مولانا محمّد الیاس میو) was asked to lead it, a senior member of the family, Molvi Badrul Hasan, humorously remarked that "such a small engine has been fastened to so many big carriages." "It depends on the power (not the size of the engine", replied one of them.
The Maulana Muhammad Ilyas Meo (مولانا محمّد الیاس میو) married the daughter of his maternal uncle, Maulana Rauful Hasans on Friday, October 17, 1912 (8th Zil'Hajja 1330 Hijri) was performed by Maulana Mohammad, and Maulana Khalil Ahmad Saharanpuri, Shah Abdur Rahim Raipuri an Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanwi, all the three of them, attended the ceremony. Maulana Thanwi's celebrated sermon, Fuwayid us Suhbat, was delivered on that occasion.
Maulana Muhammad Ilyas Meo (مولانا محمّد الیاس میو), for first Hajj was sailed in August, 1914 (4th Shawal 1332 Hijri), and returned in February, 1915 (Rabi-ul-Awal 1333 Hijri) and performed second Hajj in 1926 ( 1334 Hijri).
Maulana Muhammad Ilyas Meo (مولانا محمّد الیاس میو) was neither a charismatic leader like Mawlana Mohammad Ali Jauhar of the Khilafat movement, unlike Sayyid Abul A’la Mawdudi of the Jamaat –e-Islami who was a prolific writer and a systematic thinker, nor an outstanding religious scholar like Abul Kalam Azad of the Indian National Congress, he was not even a good public speaker like Ataullah Shah Bukhari of the Ahrar movement. Maulana Muhammad Ilyas Meo (مولانا محمّد الیاس میو) did not author a single book in his life. Physically frail and intellectually unassuming, Maulana Muhammad Ilyas Meo (مولانا محمّد الیاس میو) was, nevertheless, enthused with the zeal of a dedicated Da’wah worker. His passion to reach out to the Muslim masses and touch them with the message of the Qur’an and Sunnah knew no bounds. Like a true missionary, he was persistent, untiring, and whole-heartedly devoted to his cause. During one of his many missionary tours of Mewat, he was once hit with a stick by a peasant upon whom he impressed the importance of leading a religious life. The Maulana Muhammad Ilyas Meo (مولانا محمّد الیاس میو), already physically frail, fell on the ground and collapsed. When he regained consciousness, he got up and, holding his assistant affectionately, said: "Look, you have done your job. Now would you let me do my job and listen to me for a little while?" As one of his colleague put it,” Maulana Muhammad Ilyas Meo (مولانا محمّد الیاس میو), though a mere skeleton, can work wonders where he takes up anything." The Maulana was spending his days in obscurity. Worship, Zikr (repeating the Names, praise and Attributes of the Lord), attending to the needs of the travelers and teaching the Quran giving instruction in the Faith were his sole occupation in life. He used to take down the load from the heads of the thirsty laborers who passed the way place it on the ground, draw water from the well and give it to them to drink, and, then, offer two Rak'ats of Salaat, expressing gratitude to the Lord that He had given him the opportunity to serve His bondsmen, though he did not deserve it. His eagerness and indomitable determination to reach every Muslim and remind him of his obligations as a believer took precedence on everything else. His passionate concern for the spiritual welfare of his fellow Muslims caused him great anguish. He exerted his friends and followers to dedicate their lives to this cause. Once when he was trying to peruse his audience to volunteer for a missionary trip to Kanpur, U.P. India, not a single person responded to his call. Spotting one of his friends in the audience, Maulana Muhammad Ilyas Meo (مولانا محمّد الیاس میو) asked him what prevented him from going to Kanpur. His friend was suffering from serious ailment and was obviously too weak to travel. He told Maulana Muhammad Ilyas Meo (مولانا محمّد الیاس میو) that he was "almost dying" and there was no way he could travel. The Maulana said, "If you are dying already, you had better die in Kanpur." He used to council the groups going in the way of Allah for Tableegh (تبلیغ) to sit and learn from the gatherings of elders with the intention of improving oneself, and never to mention their own work in their presence. If the elders asked anything of their own accord, well and good, otherwise they were to keep silent.
The Maulana never bore a grudge against anyone. His detachment with the world was so complete that it had made him attached to everybody. All the persons who came into contact with him were impressed by his piety, sincerity and selflessness. Leaders of the different warring groups of Delhi held him in the highest esteem, and put an equal trust in him. From his childhood, there was present in Maulana Muhammad Ilyas Meo (مولانا محمّد الیاس میو) a touch of the religious ardour and fervent. Eagerness and enthusiasm for Faith were ingrained in his nature. Even in his early days, he, sometimes, did things which were much above the common level of the children. It is important to note that while Maulana Muhammad Ilyas Meo (مولانا محمّد الیاس میو) kept himself completely aloof from politics of the day and focused his program of action exclusively on making the Muslims aware of their religious obligations, he did not, at any time, criticized those Islamic groups which were actively engaged in politics. On the contrary, he maintained extremely cordial relations with Hussain Ahmad Madani and other Ulama of Deoband school whose political organization, Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind, a pro-Indian National Congress group, was very much active in Indian politics. Maulana Muhammad Ilyas Meo (مولانا محمّد الیاس میو) had equally warm relation with pro-Pakistan faction of the Deoband School led by Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi and Maulana Shabbir Ahmad Usmani and with the founder of the Jama’at-e-Islami Sayyid Abul A’la Mawdudi. However he refused to take any position on the issue of united India vs. a separate Muslim state of Pakistan for the obvious reason that this would distract his movement from its main religious tasks, and would also create dissensions within its ranks. Maulana Muhammad Ilyas Meo (مولانا محمّد الیاس میو) was of the view that the Tableeghi movement (تبلیغ) and the politically-oriented Islamic groups, although operating in two different spheres, were complementing each other’s work and hence there should be no competition and rivalry between them. Once when someone pointed out that his movement was "too narrowly focused" and did not address the larger issue of socio-political reforms in Muslim society, the Mawlana responded that this narrow focus in the initial phase of the movement was necessitated by the available manpower and that the movement could grow to encompass a larger and more comprehensive program in the future. It is unfortunate that those who succeeded Maulana Muhammad Ilyas Meo (مولانا محمّد الیاس میو) did not realize his larger vision and saw the Mewat model of Da’wah as eternally fixed. Nevertheless, the fruits of Maulana Muhammad Ilyas Meo (مولانا محمّد الیاس میو)’s efforts are visible all over the world today.
The result of this heart ache and dedication to his aim was that in just a few years, the ache that had bothered one breast caught fire in hundreds and thousands. The Maulana Muhammad Ilyas Meo (مولانا محمّد الیاس میو) had not undertaken the service of Faith as a “national cause”, the burden of providing the funds for which fell wholly upon the nation or the community, but as a personal affair and felt no hesitation in spending all he had on it. He believed that a person should perform a religious task as his own and expend his time and money freely in its way. This was the Maulana’s rule of life. First of all, he spent from his own pocket on the religious endeavor he had launched in Mewat, and, then, alone, would accept help from others.
Once a friend came to visit him while he was on his deathbed. Maulana Muhammad Ilyas Meo (مولانا محمّد الیاس میو) greeted his friend by telling him. “People out there are burning in the fire of ignorance and you are wasting your time here inquiring after my health!" He wanted every Muslim to be on his feet, preaching the message of Islam to others. Finally the humble, physically weak and thin Maulana passed away in 1362 Hijra (1943) at the age of 84 years leaving behind not one or two but thousands to take up his cause and continue on the path of reformation.