It is an unlikely headquarters for an organisation that transcends continents and enjoys membership of nearly a billion devout in places as diverse as Brazil and South Korea. The white mosque, called Masjid Banglewali, which towers over the surrounding buildings in the neighbourhood of the famed Nizamuddin Dargah and overlooks the Urs Mahal, the erstwhile abode of the revered Sufi saint Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya in New Delhi is the international headquarters of Tablighi Jamaat, roughly translated as the group for the propagation of Islam in its truest spirit. The address couldn’t have been more ironic.
The 13th century Sufi Nizamuddin Auliya was and is revered by men, women and children of all religious persuasions who throng his tomb. Such divinity was associated with him that even noblemen and women, including a Mughal Princess, sought to be buried close to him to benefit from the holiness permeating the area. To be located in such a neighbourhood is ironic for the Tablighi Jamaat because the Jamaatis do not believe in Sufism and refuse to accept the divinity accorded to the sufi saints.
Moreover, the entire neighbourhood of Nizamuddin West is redolent with all things that are anathema to the Tablighis but were the staple of the Sufis: devotional music, flowers, road side eateries and a general air of celebration of life. But ironies, such as these, are lost in the busy lanes (that criss-cross the headquarters) housing small shops selling a range of goods from raw meat, fruits and flowers to colourful caps and audio cassettes featuring songs and qawwalis associated with Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, mainly composed by his most-devoted disciple Amir Khusro. All kinds of people swarm the lanes — locals, tourists and the visitors to the dargah. Yet, members of the Tabligh stand out because of their thick moustache-less beards, skull caps and white pyjamas, which ends just short of the ankles. For Tablighis all over the world, this is a uniform, a kind of an identification badge that sets them apart from the rest of the non-Tablighi world.