The delegation of authority in the Tablīghī Jamāʹat

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2010-05

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Nelson, Priya Sumi

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The Tablīghī Jamā'at is a Muslim organization for faith renewal that was founded by Maulana Muhammad Ilyas during the 1920s in North India. The Tablīghī Jamā'at, which was loosely associated with Dāru'l-'Ulūm Deoband, responded to the increasing importance of identity politics in twentieth century South Asia by focusing on strengthening the Muslim community through proselytism. While the members of the Tablīghī Jamā'at have routinely claimed that their movement is strictly apolitical, some commentators have questioned the aptness of their characterization. Scholarship on the Tablīghī Jamā'at either confirms the apolitical nature of the organization or argues the opposite, claiming that its leaders have maintained an apolitical front that masks members’ political activity both in South Asia and abroad. This conversation has not advanced in recent years. This thesis asks why there have been such divergent attitudes towards the Tablīghī Jamā'at. In order to answer this question, it investigates the historical issues that shed light on the historiographical problem surrounding the organization. Through an analysis of the complex structure of authority in the organization, I argue that the Tablīghī Jamā'at is highly amenable to change and highly resistant to broad characterization.

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