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DEOBANDIS. The `ulama’ associated with the Indo-Pakistani reformist movement centered in the Dar al`Ulum of Deoband are known by the name Deobandis. The school at Deoband, a country town some ninety miles northeast of Delhi, was founded in 1867. It was a pioneer effort to transmit the religious sciences, specifically the dars-i nizami identified with the Lucknow based `ulama’ of Farangi Mahall, by utilizing institutional forms derived from British schools. The goal of the school was to preserve the teachings of the faith in a period of non-Muslim rule and considerable social change by holding Muslims to a standard of correct practice; central to that goal was the creation of a class of formally trained and popularly supported `ulama’. The school had classrooms, a bureaucratically organized faculty, formal examinations, and an annual convocation. The founders, knowing princely patronage and waqf no longer to be dependable sources of financing, created a system of popular contributions utilizing the mail and money orders; donors, many from the ashraf classes involved in government service and trade, were listed in an annual report.

Darul uloom Deoband India

Several men central to the foundation of the school were educated in Delhi in the 1840s and participated in two critically important institutions: the reformist milieu of `ulama’ linked to the family of Shah Wali Allah and Sayyid Ahmad Barelwi, and Delhi College, founded by the British to teach both European and “Oriental” subjects through the medium of Urdu rather than in the former court language Persian or the religious languages Sanskrit and Arabic). [See the biographies of Wali Allah and Barelwi.] Among those later active at Deoband were the son and the nephew of a teacher at Delhi College, Maulana Mamluk `Ali: Muhammad Ya’qub Nanautawi, the first principal or sadr mudarris (1867-1888) and a revered murshid or spiritual guide at the school, and Muhammad Qasim Nanautawi (1833-1877), the school’s sarparast (rector) and also a spiritual guide. Also present inDelhiwere Rashid Ahmad Gangohi (18291905), an early muhtamim (chancellor) and a scholar of hadith and fiqh, and Hajii Imdadullah (1817-i899), who departed forMeccaafter the Mutiny of 1857 and served as the beloved pir of the early Deobandi `ulama’.

Starting with only a dozen students, the school enrolled several hundred by the end of the century; by its first centenary in 1967, it counted a total of 3,795 graduates from throughout India, 3,191 from what was then East and West Pakistan, and 431 from foreign countries. The students, whatever their geographic origin,  were united by the use of standard Urdu and shared accommodation in dormitories. The school soon became a metropolitan center, with students coming in the early years from Central Asia,Afghanistan, and all of India; in the twentieth century there have been students from the diaspora populations in East and South Africa, and from Europe and North Americaas well.

In its six-year course the school emphasized hadith and the Hanafi legal tradition, using both as a framework to scrutinize customary practices and to enjoin correct observance of ritual and life-cycle events. Students typically sought the personal transformation of sober Sufism with the help of a spiritual guide; multiple initiation into various silsilahs was common but occurred at the hands of a single murshid or pir. Those tied to Hajji Imdadullah were primarily Chishti Sabiri; the influence of the Naqshbandi Mujaddidi was also strong. Hallmarks of Deobandi practice included opposition to `urs (annual death anniversary celebrations) at the graves of saints, to the so-called fatihah food offerings for the dead (distributed after reciting the Fatihah Chapter of the Qur’an), and to the elaborate ceremonies associated with birth, marriage, and death often typical of local non-Muslims as well. By emphasizing individual responsibility for correct belief and practice, the Deobandis provided an alternative to an intercessory religion focused on the Sufi shrines and elaborate customary celebrations.

Deobandis served as imams, guardians and trustees of mosques and tombs, preachers, writers, and publishers of religious works. Some joined in the public debates that began in response to Christian missionary initiative in the nineteenth century. Many offered fatwas to provide spiritual counsel and guidance on legal matters apart from state institutions. Many were teachers. Among the most celebrated early graduates of the school was the prolific writer and revered spiritual guide Maulana Ashraf ‘Ali Thanvi (1864-1943) His guide for Muslim girls, the Bihishti zevar, written at the turn of the century, has been widely circulated both in Urdu and in translations into many regional languages.

The Deobandis from the beginning envisaged a network of schools; the multiple ties of education, Sufi affiliation, and family linked many teachers among them. By the end of the nineteenth century there were more than a dozen schools known as Deobandi fromPeshawartoChittagongtoMadras; in the calculations made for the school’s centenary, Deobandis were credited with founding 8,934 schools, both primary and advanced. Among the early schools, and most important down to the present, was the Mazahir-i `Ulum, founded in nearbySaharanpur; for a time Mauldna Rashid Ahmad served as chancellor of that school as well. Today there are Deobandi schools throughout the subcontinent, and the term Deobandi still characterizes one of the main divisions (maslak) of subcontinental `ulama’.

Originally quiescent politically, individual Deobandis, if not the school itself, began to act politically in the period before World War I. Maulana `Ubaidullah Sindhi (1872-1944) was one of the first to forge links between the `ulama’. and those educated atAligarh[seeAligarh]; during the war he went to Afghanistan to work with German and Turkish agents there. Maulana Mahmudulhasan (1851-1920), traditionally counted as Deoband’s first student and later a celebrated teacher at the school, worked on behalf of the Ottomans in the Hejaz (Hijaz), as a result of which he was exiled to Malta. He became known as the “Shaykh al-Hind.” As the nationalist movement gained strength, many Deobandis participated in the organization of the Jam’iyatul `Ulama’-i Hind in 1919; the movement allied with the Congress Party but clearly envisaged independence as leading to a federation of religious communities with little common social and political life. As independence approached, most Deobandis opposed the partition of India and saw Pakistanas the creation of westernized forces and an enforced confinement of Muslim influence. [See Jam’Iyatul `Ulamd’-i Hind.] Foremost among the politically active was Maulana Husain Ahmad Madani (1879-1957), who engaged in an exchange with Muhammad Iqbal over the priority of regional and religious identity for statehood. [See the biography of Iqbal.] A minority of Deobandis, led by Maulana Shabbir Ahmad `Usmani (1887-1949) and including Mufti Muhammad Shafi`, Maulana Ihtishamul Hagq Thanvi, and Maulana `Abdulhamid Badd’uni (d. 1969), supported the Muslim League’s demand for Pakistan; in 1945 in Calcutta they founded the Jam’iyatul `Ulama’-i Islam, which continued as a political party in Pakistan. [See Jam’iyatul `Ulama’-i Islam.] In 1967 Prime Minister Indira Gandhi visited Deoband on its centenary, and a commemorative stamp depicting the school was issued. In the early 1980s the school was torn by factional strife linked to national political affiliation; those associated with the family of the rector, Qari’ Muhammad Tayyib Qasimi, a grandson of Maulana Muhammad Qasim, were ousted. The central school, and Deobandi schools throughout the subcontinent, continue to teach many students. The apolitical strand within the school’s teaching has taken shape for many in the widespread, now transnational, movement known since the 1920s as Tablighi Jama’at; the movement has particularly cherished the hadith-based writings of Maulana Muhammad Zakariya Kandhalavi, long linked to Deoband’s sister school, the Mazahir-i `Ulum.

[See also India; Islam, article on Islam in South Asia;Pakistan; Tablighi Jama’at.]


Faruqi, Ziya-ul-Hasan. TheDeobandSchooland the Demand for Pakistan.Bombay, 1963. Brief but useful treatment of the role of Deobandis in support of the Congress movement.

Friedmann, Yohanan. “The Attitude of the Jami yat `Ulama’-i Hind to the Indian National Movement and the Establishment of Pakistan.” In The `Ulama’ in Modern History, edited by Gabriel Baer, pp. 157-183.Jerusalem, 1971. Detailed treatment of the first major political organization of the `ulama’. primarily Deobandi, which opposed thePakistanmovement. Friedmann notes the parallel opposition of respected Jewish religious leaders to the Zionist movement.

Hardy, Peter. The Muslims ofBritish India.Cambridge, 1972. The best overall survey, providing a good context for specific educational and political movements.

Metcalf, Barbara D. Islamic Revival inBritish India: Deoband, 1860-1900.Princeton, 1982. Study of Deoband in its early decades based on institutional records, government records, and writings of the Deobandis themselves, including biographies, memoirs, diaries, tracts, letters, and fatwas. It also includes an overview of other movements of the period: that of the Ahl-i Hadith, the Barelwis, the Nadwah `ulama’, andAligarh.

Thanvi, Ashraf `Ali. Perfecting Women: Maulana Ashraf ‘Ali Thanawi’s Bihishti Zewar. Translated with commentary by Barbara D. Metcalf.Berkeley, 1990. Partial translation and study of one of the most influential Deobandi texts.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/deobandis/

  • writerPosted On: November 6, 2012
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