Article by Barbara D. Metcalf
The Tablighi Jama`at is a quietest, apolitical movement of spiritual guidance and renewal that originated in the Indian subcontinent, whose networks now reach around the world. Today Tablighi Jama`at’s annual meetings in Pakistan and Bangladesh are attended by over a million people, and, even though meetings in India are smaller, participants may well be as many. Tabligh networks extend throughout the world, not only to places of Indo-Muslim settlement like North America and Britain, but to continental Europe, Africa, Malaysia, and elsewhere. Membership in the Tablighi Jama`at entails its male members leaving their homes in small groups, for varying periods of time, to teach correct Islamic practices to fellow Muslims and to invite them to join the Jama`at in the work of da`wa or tabligh [proselytizing].
Due to its absence from the political arena and low institutional profile, there are relatively few studies of the Tablighi Jama`at, and most of this literature is strikingly silent on the involvement of women in the Jama`at. Yet popular opposition voiced against the Jama`at, in subcontinental cities at least, often focuses on issues related to women: men who leave for proselytizing are often accused of failing in their masculine roles to care for their families and implicitly encouraging the cultivation of what are considered to be effeminate attributes (gentleness, humility, and modesty). In this paper, I examine gender relations in the contemporary Tablighi Jama`at in Pakistan by drawing on my long-term interest in the Deobandi scholarly movement from which the Tablighi Jama`at emerged.
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