False association

The neo-Deobandis of Pakistan are a blot on the reputation of the Darul Uloom Deoband (in picture), India’s premier Islamic seminary. Supported by Saudi money, they have adopted a form of Wahhabism that stands in direct contradiction to the original philosophy of Deoband.

Wahhabism, which represents a rigid, exclusivist, virulently anti-Sufi form of Islam that allows its adherents to proclaim other Muslims as ‘unbelievers’, is in stark contrast to the original Deobandi perspective. Deoband’s founding father, Maulana Muhammad Qasim Nanotvi, was a member of the Chishti Sufi order. He and other leading
of Deoband believed that there was no contradiction between
(Islamic jurisprudence) and
(the mystical path to God) and that the two need to be combined to reach
(ultimate truth). The only caveat was that mystical acts must not contravene the rules of

Hence, for the neo-Deobandis of Pakistan to attack Sufi shrines is a travesty of the original teachings. So is their use of Islamic terminology to inspire terrorist acts. The neo-Deobandis are products of the so-called ‘Afghan jihad’ fuelled by Saudi money and American arms for which Pakistan became a willing conduit. In Pakistan, the legacy of Saudi money, a part of which went into funding Wahhabi madrasas, has appropriated the Deobandi appellation to give itself respectability.

At its inception, the Deoband movement was a progressive bastion of anti-colonialism. It advocated complete independence from British rule, decades before the Congress did. In the 1920s, two of its leading figures, Maulana Mahmood-ul-Hassan and Maulana Hussain Ahmed Madani, were incarcerated in Malta for their uncompromising opposition to British rule.

Most important, Deoband was and is a proponent of
muttahida qawmiat
(composite nationalism). Maulana Hussain Ahmed Madani, the head of the Deoband seminary for about two decades, published a book in 1938 titled
Composite Nationalism and Islam,
in which he argued that the idea of Muslims sharing nationhood with people of other religions was perfectly compatible with Islamic teachings. In a remarkably modern formulation, he declared that
(nation) is based on
(homeland) not

Further, except for a small breakaway faction, the luminaries of Deoband vehemently opposed the Muslim League’s demand for Pakistan and enthusiastically participated in the movement for a united, free India.

Therefore, for the so-called Deobandis of Pakistan to claim ideological descent from the Darul Uloom is pure fabrication that defames Deoband and distorts its foundational philosophy. Given Deoband’s uncompromising opposition to the idea of Pakistan, the very term ‘Pakistani Deobandi’ is a contradiction in terms.

The writer is University Distinguished Professor Emeritus of International Relations, Michigan State University

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