Analysing the work of Marloes Janson who carried out an extensive field work in the Gambia (2003-2006)
“When my neighbour – an elderly imam and Marabout trained in the Sufi tradition1 – in theGambian town of Sukuta where I was conducting field research, learned that I was interested in the expansion of the Tabligh Jama‘at (Masala Movement), a transnational Islamic missionary movement originating in South Asia, he summoned me to his compound.
After showing me pictures of his master, a Tijani sheikh from Senegal, he warned me of the dangers of ‘asking children (dindingos) questions about Islam’. Instead of interviewing them
I should have come to him:” Jenson
That is the typical reaction of Sufi Imams at the sight of young Masalahs (by the wish of God members). The name Masala is use as a derogation to the members of the Tabliq Jamaat. The Imam of Sukuta refers to them as Dindingos (children) in order to belittle grown up men.
This paper is based on ethnographic fieldwork undertaken between November 2003 and April 2004, April and June 2005, and March and June 2006 in The Gambia (West Africa). The research between 2003 and 2005 was funded by a grant from the International Institute
for the Study of Islam in the Modern World (ISIM), in Leiden (the Netherlands). The research in 2006 was funded by a grant from Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG), and conducted under the ZMO’s research project ‘Urban Youth Cultures in West Africa: Processes of Translocal Appropriation’. I would like to thank Mamadou Diouf, with whom I discussed my latest fieldwork data, for his valuable comments and suggestions. (Jenson)
Historical outline of the Tabligh Jama‘at and its establishment in The Gambia:
Narrated by Jenson
The emergence of the Tabligh Jama‘at as a movement for the revival of Islam can be seen as a continuation of a broader trend of Islamic resurgence in northern India in the wake of the collapse of Muslim power and consolidation of British rule in the mid-nineteenth century. One manifestation of this trend was the rapid growth of madrasas (Islamic schools).
The Jama‘at evolved out of the teachings and practices of the founders of the orthodox Dar-ul ‘Ulum madrasa in Deoband, a town near the Indian capital Delhi. The ulema (Arabic ‘ulama: scholars learned in Islamic sciences) affiliated with this school saw themselves as crusaders against popular expressions of Islam, as well as Hindu and Christian conversion movements, and they aspired to bring to life again the days of the Prophet Muhammad’s Companions (cf. Masud 2000: 3–5; Metcalf 2002: 4, 8–9; Sikand 2002: 16–17, 66).
Mawlana Ilyas was a disciple of the leading Deobandi ulema, who, after his graduation, taught Muslims about correct Islamic beliefs and practices at mosque-based schools. However, he soon became disillusioned with this approach, realizing that Islamic schools
were producing ‘religious functionaries’ but not zealous preachers who were willing to go from door to door to remind people of the key values and practices of Islam. He then decided to quit his teaching position to begin missionary work through itinerant preaching (Ahmad 1995: 166).
Ilyas strove for a purification of Islam as practised by individual Muslims through following more closely the rules laid down in the Sunna. In order to make Muslims ‘true believers’, he insisted that it was the religious duty of not just a few learned scholars but of all Muslims to carry out tabligh, that is, missionary work aimed at the moral transformation of Muslims. Missionary tours by lay preachers became the hallmark of the Jama‘at,8 established officially in 1927 in Delhi. (Jenson)
Over the years the Tabligh Jama‘at has expanded from its international headquarters in India to numerous other countries throughout the world. It has grown into what is probably the largest Islamic movement of contemporary times. It has come to establish a presence in about 150 countries throughout the world, and its annual conferences in Pakistan and Bangladesh have grown into the second largest religious congregation of the Muslim world after the pilgrimage to Mecca (cf. Ahmad 1995: 165; Sikand 2002: xi). Despite its worldwide influence on the lives of millions of Muslims, scholars have paid almost no attention to its spreading in sub-Saharan Africa.9 An explanation for this indifference is that this region is frequently, but unjustly, seen as the ‘periphery’ of the Muslim world. In this paper I focus on The Gambia, which, despite its small size, during the last decade has become a booming centre of Tablighi activities in West Africa (Janson 2005).
My analysis: Jenson's piece can be considered very fair and balance from his presentation of the founding of Tabliqh Jamaat or Masala movement to Gambians.
In part two I will bring forward the founder of the movement in Bundung Serrekunda, the common misconceptions and typical Masala mannerism. We all have friends and relatives that belongs to the movement. They are not a violent extremist movement, neither are they anti-work or culture. However, in every setting there will be those that go a bit far in their interpretations.