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Title: The Deobandi Madrassas in India and their elusion of Jihadi Politics: Lessons for Pakistan
Authors: Hashmi, Arshi Saleem
Keywords: Social Sciences
Political science
International relations
Issue Date: 2014
Publisher: Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad, Pakistan
Abstract: The madrassa system has been the source of traditional Islam providing the inspiration for intellectual philosophy. In South Asia, they have been actively involved in maintaining the traditional Islam and providing a cultural alternative. South Asian Muslims found in Madrassas, the centre of classical Islamic studies keeping the orthodox culture intact. Madrassa have been the torch bearer of conservative values within Islam and at times worked as reactionary forces against the “cultural invasion” from other religious traditions, especially Hinduism in South Asia. Post 9/11, the once little known educational institutions became a significant part of the public discourse, thanks to media coverage. But in this, hysterical coverage the most pertinent question remained unanswered. Why some of these Islamic educational institutions have been transformed drastically? Rather, a simplistic, readymade, and already known answer has been repeated over time, while ignoring the actual spirit of these madrassas being rooted in the historical unveiling of Islamic spirituality. However, following the collapse of Islamic self-confidence that accompanied the deposition of the last Mughal Emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar, disillusioned scholars founded an influential madrassa at Deoband, a 100 miles north of the former Mughal capital in Delhi. Feeling that they were pushed against the wall, the madrassa's founders reacted against what they saw as the degenerate ways of the old elite. The Deobandimadrassa, therefore, went back to Quranic basics and rigorously stripped out anything “Hindu” or “European” from the curriculum. Founded in 1866 byMaulanaQasimNanautavi and Maulana Rashid Gangohi, the school did take part in the freedom struggle against the British. Since the departure of the British, Indian Deobandis remained apolitical while Pakistani Deobandis got into politics. In the same way, it rejected any state influence. That role in the colonial period was not overtly political. The brutal repression of the so-called Mutiny of 1857 against the British had fallen very hard on north Indian Muslims. In the aftermath, the `Ulema, not surprisingly, adopted a stance of a-political quietism. As the Indian nationalist movement became a mass movement after World War I, the Deobandileadership did something of an about turn. They were never a political party as such, but, organized into the Association of the `Ulema of India (Jamiat `Ulema-i Hind). Thus threw in their lot with Gandhi and the Indian National Congress in opposition to British rule. Deobandi histories written before 1920 insisted that the Ulema did not participate in the anti-colonial rebellion of 1857. However, the histories written after independence, give freedom-fighters pride of place. In the aftermath of Soviet interventions into Afghanistan and Islamic revolution in Iran 1979, a kind of "surrogate" competition emerged between Saudis and Iranians, each side patronizing religious institutions which fueled sectarian violence. The surge in the number of madrasas in the 1980s coincided with the ideology of Jihad in Afghanistan due to Russian intervention that resulted in the influx of millions of Afghan refugees. The madrasas located along the frontier frequently provided the only available education. One school in particular, the Madrasa Haqqaniya, in AkoraKathaknear Peshawar, trained many of the top Taliban leaders. These students (talib; plural, taliban) were indoctrinated by many of the core Deobandireformists viiencouraged by Arab and Uzbek volunteers in Afghanistan. Deobandis followed Saudi-Wahabi injunctions including rigorous concern with fulfilling rituals; opposition to custom laden ceremonies like weddings and pilgrimage to shrines, and a focus on seclusion of women as a central symbol of a morally ordered society. Theirs was, according to Ahmed Rashid, “an extreme form of Deobandism, which was being preached by Pakistani Islamic parties in Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan." 1 This focus on a fairly narrow range of shari'a law, which emphasized strict ritual, was something the Taliban shared with other Deobandimovements, while the severity of the Taliban indoctrination made them known to the world as inhuman and terrorist. DarulUloomDeoband India,on the other hand, forbade their students from going to fight with the Taliban in Afghanistan. The clerics drew an important boundary line between theologically conservative views and political violence. A successful story of Muslim education in India is DarulUmoor, a one-year institute for madrassa graduates in the southern state of Mysore. There, religious students supplement their education with English literature and comparative religion before returning to their communities to teach in madrassas and preach in mosques. Many observers agree that local, Muslim-run projects like this one are essential if Muslims are to genuinely integrate into the Indian mainstream. Asgar Ali Engineer, head of an interfaith organization in Mumbai states, “Indian Deobandis and Pakistani Deobandis are quite different. Islam is in the majority over there. The Ulema have been politicized, they want and they use Islam. There is a very interesting phenomenon here (India). The Deobandis here are attacking terrorism and militancy. Deobandis have held largest demonstrations in India against terrorism. They are puritan otherwise and against Sufism, but in the Indian environment, their behavior is very different.” 2 On the other hand, in Pakistan, study of madrassas in Pakistan, gives us a totally different picture, while most of them are nonviolent, that does not mean that they are apolitical. As compared to Indian Deobandi Madrassas, if we just focus on Pakistani Deobandi madrassas and include Jamaat-i-Islami’sAhle Hadith madrassas as well, it appears that Deobandi and JI madarsassas are more inclined towards politics, they have political affiliations. The Barelviesdo not focus much on their political tradition. 3 The issue however remains that the preservation of a distinct Muslim identity is one of the principal concerns of the madrassas. This theological hardening however, does not lead to an embrace of militancy in India. In addition to forbidding participation in holy war abroad, Indian Deobandileaders specifically condemn violent jihad at home, saying Muslims have a compact to live in peace and harmony with others that cannot be broken unless they are actively persecuted in matters of faith. Deobandis in India insist that it is possible, within a pluralistic India, to practice rigorous Islam and send their children to religious schools without being opposed to the state. 1 Ahmed Rashid, “Taliban: Islam, Oil and the New Great Game in Central Asia”, New Haven, Yale Univeristy-2000 p-88 2 Asghar Ali Enginner quoted in Tom Heneghen, Faith World: Religion, Faith and Ethics, Reuter , April 27, 2009 available at accessed on August 8, 2011 3 Amir Rana, Mapping the madrassa mindset- Conflict and Peace Studies, Volume 2,Number-1 Jan-Mar , Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies, 2009. viiiFor Indian Deobandis, the Indian madrassas are not a part of mainstream politics through any political linkage unlike their Pakistani counterparts. More importantly, they are not yet a part of the transnational Pan-Islamic network of Al-Qaeda, as seen by the 9/11 attacks and after. At most they are reactions to domestic problems caused by bad governance and accentuated by petty vote bank politics as seen in states like UP, Bihar and J &K. Hence, it can be safely said that madrassas in India continue to provide Islamic knowledge and tradition rather than political Islam. Argument about the Deobandi being the violent sect of Islam is too simplistic. Though it is fair to state that violent expression did find its roots in pre-Independence India, the very fact that the Deobandi Madrassa split in to two, between those who wanted to continue imparting religious knowledge and preserving Muslim identity and those who took up arms first against British, then Soviets and now Americans declaring Jihad. It is unfortunate that in all three examples, the rank and file for Jihad were provided by the people from the mountains. This however does not prove that it is a particular people who are inherently violent as the leadership for all these expeditions was first from Sayid Ahmed of Rae Brailly, then Maulana Mehmoodul Hasan of Deoband, then General Zia who endorsed it and used the Deobandis. The construction of the “threat” from outside powers was mainly based on political interests than religious ideologies. Political and military intrusion by the west was on strategic basis and not to wipe out particular religion from the area as it was conceived and presented by successive Muslim leadership of pre independence India and later of Pakistan. The threat to Islam was so constructed that convinced the tribesman who have been always ready to lay their life in the name of God while the real purpose was and is power politics.
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