The Deobandi

In the Name of Allah, the Most Gra­cious, the Most Merciful.

As-salā­mu ‘alaykum wa-rah­mat­ul­lāhi wa-barakā­tuh (Peace, Bless­ings & Mer­cy of Allah be upon You).

This state­ment is being issued on the 28th of April 2016 and super­sedes all pre­vi­ous state­ments on the subject.

Let­ters received by numer­ous Deoban­di insti­tutes this week from the BBC News & Cur­rent Affairs depart­ment has stirred a great deal of inter­est and fren­zy on social media. In light of these let­ters we would like to point out that the atter is being dis­cussed amongst the ‘Ula­ma and respons­es to the BBC are being formulated.

Whilst we are unable to make the con­tents of these let­ters pub­lic at this time as they are under response, we would like to make a few obser­va­tions and com­ments, to bring fac­tu­al and accu­rate rep­re­sen­ta­tion of Deoban­di schol­ars and insti­tutes, as well as to remind Mus­lims on how they should respond.

Although the let­ters don’t con­tain the details of the pro­gram, we think that the pro­gram is enti­tled ”The Deoban­dis” to be aired in 2 parts with the first part going live on Tues­day the 5th of April 2016 between 9.00am‑9.45am. We encour­age Mus­lims to tune in to both parts and to lis­ten in.

Understanding the nuances of the term “Deobandi”

Darul ‘Uloom Deoband which is the full name that is often short­ened to “Deoband” is an insti­tute of high­er Islam­ic edu­ca­tion in a town called Deoband in India that was estab­lished in 1866 to pre­serve the her­itage of reli­gious learn­ing. Today, it remains one of India’s largest and old­est sem­i­nar­ies where Mus­lims not only from India, but coun­tries like Pak­istan, Uzbek­istan, Bangladesh etc., as well as from the Mid­dle East and East Asia attend to gain under­grad­u­ate and post-grad­u­ate degrees in Islam­ic Stud­ies (‘Alimiyyah, Ifta, Tafsir, Hadith etc.).

Those asso­ci­at­ed with Darul ‘Uloom Deoband have played a cru­cial role in pro­mot­ing a plu­ral­is­tic soci­ety with­in India. Dur­ing his speech at the World Sufi Forum (Del­hi) on the 17th of March 2016, the Indi­an prime min­is­ter Naren­dra Mod­i’s acknowl­edged this role and paid trib­ute to the Schol­ars of Deoband stating:

The tallest of our lead­ers, such as Maulana Azad, and impor­tant spir­i­tu­al lead­ers, such as Maulana Hus­sain Madani, and mil­lions and mil­lions of ordi­nary cit­i­zens, reject­ed the idea of divi­sion on the basis of religion.

Islam does not have a cen­tral reli­gious author­i­ty, unlike for instance The Pope in Catholi­cism, and has always had a rich tapes­try of diverse mutu­al­ly-exist­ing empha­sis and inter­pre­ta­tions of the sources of the reli­gion – the Quran and Sun­nah. In that con­text, it was up to schol­ar­ship to inves­ti­gate and inter­pret the sources, and thus to estab­lish nor­ma­tive Islam. These efforts very ear­ly in Islam­ic civil­i­sa­tion led to the estab­lish­ment of cen­tres of learn­ing where both reli­gious knowl­edge and sub­jects like Astron­o­my, Med­i­cine, Chem­istry, Geog­ra­phy, Log­ic, Phi­los­o­phy etc. where taught. It became cus­tom­ary for schol­ars to take the name of the place they were from (or most known to be from) as suf­fix­es in their names. And some­times they would take mul­ti­ple names. For exam­ple, the term “Al-Qur­tubi” has been used for schol­ars from Cor­do­ba in Spain, “Al-Azhari” for schol­ars from the insti­tute of Al-Azhar in Cairo, “Al-Khwariz­mi” for schol­ars from Khwarizm in Uzbek­istan, and so on. The clos­est to this tra­di­tion in UK is the cus­tom of show­ing the uni­ver­si­ty one attained their degree from, such as the des­ig­na­tion “Oxon” for Oxford or “Cantab” for Cambridge.

The use of the term “Deoban­di” derives from this tra­di­tion, and refers to schol­ars who have either learnt, or stud­ied with teach­ers, from Darul ‘Uloom Deoband. How­ev­er, with time, as the num­ber of grad­u­ates increased and became wide­spread, the term “Deoban­di” came to be used much more loose­ly, par­tic­u­lar­ly by non-schol­ars, often as throw­away labels of reli­gious iden­ti­ty in antag­o­nism to oth­er reli­gious iden­ti­ties. The growth of such atti­tude has meant that it is very easy, in a high­ly un-nuanced way, to cat­e­gorise just about any Mus­lim as “Deoban­di”. For instance, it is often the case that if you have friends who fre­quent so-called “Deoban­di” insti­tutes it is pos­si­ble then you too could be known as “Deoban­di” sim­ply by virtue of association.

Con­tex­tu­al­i­sa­tion plays a sig­nif­i­cant role in tra­di­tion­al Islam, jurispru­dence and deriva­tion of (Islam­ic) rul­ings. It is there­fore self-evi­dent that a tra­di­tion­al­ly trained Deoban­di schol­ar in Britain while using the same process­es and method­olo­gies may arrive at a dif­fer­ent rul­ing to a Deoban­di schol­ar in India. The ori­gin of Deoband is in India and the Mus­lim com­mu­ni­ty in India is a minor­i­ty. In con­trast, the Mus­lim com­mu­ni­ty in Pak­istan is in major­i­ty and there­fore more assertive in nature. There are some sim­i­lar­i­ties between the British Deoban­di mod­el and the Indi­an Deoban­di mod­el due to both com­mu­ni­ties being minori­ties. How­ev­er, since British Deoban­di com­mu­ni­ty is unique in its con­text, it has evolved dif­fer­ent­ly and its suc­cess­ful con­tri­bu­tion and inte­gra­tion with­in the British civ­il soci­ety (across local com­mu­ni­ties, hos­pi­tals, pris­ons, char­i­ty organ­i­sa­tions etc.) is evi­dent. British Deoban­dis are suc­cess­ful­ly run­ning close to 40% (or more) of Mosques in Britain inde­pen­dent­ly, with­out resort­ing to gov­ern­ment funds or sup­port. It is a suc­cess sto­ry which is to be admired and appreciated.

Yet, the over­whelm­ing major­i­ty of Mus­lims who might get labelled as “Deoban­di” are of course not the least bit versed in the the­o­log­i­cal minu­tia of “Deoban­di” schol­ars, which remain aca­d­e­m­ic in nature. The term “Deoban­di” unwit­ting­ly thus takes only the mean­ing of a reli­gious iden­ti­ty. And unfor­tu­nate­ly, dis­in­ter­est­ed Mus­lims are most guilty of mis­ap­pro­pri­at­ing the term in this way, par­tic­u­lar­ly those entrenched in reli­gious dis­sen­sion who fail to recog­nise that the­o­log­i­cal debates should be left to schol­ars. This in turn per­pet­u­ates com­plete­ly unnec­es­sary divi­sion with­in com­mu­ni­ties. Final­ly, “Deoban­di” itself is not a fixed term. “Deoban­di” schol­ars – both past and present, them­selves have dif­fer­ent inter­pre­ta­tions on many mat­ters, which is in tune with the wider tra­di­tion of nor­ma­tive Islam­ic schol­ar­ship through­out all peri­ods. ”Deoban­di” is noth­ing but tra­di­tion­al law.

What is the position of Deobandi scholars of Britain on terrorism, British values and integration?

Deoban­di scholars:

  1. Ful­ly endorse and are sig­na­to­ries to the many fat­was and con­fer­ences in 2008 & 2009 con­demn­ing in the strongest terms all forms of hate speech, vio­lence, rad­i­cal­i­sa­tion, and involve­ment in ter­ror­ism, whether home or abroad. They have also endorsed and are sig­na­to­ries to the let­ter to Baghdadi.
  2. Explic­it­ly, cat­e­gor­i­cal­ly and strong­ly con­demn, and have no links to, ter­ror­ist organisations.
  3. Pro­mote British val­ues (such as such as democ­ra­cy, rule of law, indi­vid­ual lib­er­ty and mutu­al respect and tol­er­ance for those of dif­fer­ent faiths and beliefs or of none) and teach that they are com­plete­ly com­pli­men­ta­ry to Islam­ic val­ues. The largest and lead­ing Deoban­di sem­i­nary in the UK is an inde­pen­dent school which has been rat­ed “Out­stand­ing” by Ofst­ed in 2014, and has repeat­ed been found by inspec­tors (as recent as 2016) to pro­mote British val­ues and bal­ances sec­u­lar cur­ricu­lum with Islam­ic education.
  4. Are against sen­ti­ments that are not con­ducive to inte­gra­tion and com­mu­ni­ty cohe­sion in Britain.
  5. Take immense pride engag­ing in dia­logue with faith and non-faith groups, as well as using faith to inspire Mus­lims to add val­ue to soci­ety through achiev­ing excel­lence in their jobs and work­places, trades, char­i­ties, vol­un­teer­ing etc., so as to play their full part in British society.

Why should the letters to Deobandi scholars and institutes be of a concern to us?

The recent let­ters to Deoban­di insti­tu­tions are most­ly gener­ic in nature, and are being respond­ed to by the insti­tutes con­cerned. How­ev­er, in some of these let­ters, the BBC pro­gramme mak­ers have not asked for clar­i­fi­ca­tion but seem to have con­clud­ed that senior Deoban­di schol­ars and insti­tutes are asso­ci­at­ed with the Tal­iban. It appears that an attempt is being made to frame Deoban­di schol­ars as some­how sup­port­ers of ter­ror­ist organ­i­sa­tions by virtue of an implied “guilt by asso­ci­a­tion”. Such asser­tions are deeply ill-informed and unsub­stan­ti­at­ed. It is dis­con­cert­ing that a pub­lic broad­cast­er like the BBC should attempt crude sen­sa­tion­al­ism, as it clear­ly belies the BBC’s high stan­dards and defames the peace-pro­mot­ing “Deoban­di” schol­ars and institutes.

The method­ol­o­gy of being “guilty by asso­ci­a­tion” is a tac­tic which is being lib­er­al­ly used against all Mus­lims, par­tic­u­lar­ly those already in or seek­ing to enter pub­lic life. Many high pro­file Mus­lims and Mus­lim organ­i­sa­tions who are ful­ly engaged with the demo­c­ra­t­ic and civic tra­di­tions of our coun­try have also been unfair­ly slurred in part due to their Islam­ic iden­ti­ty. The source of such con­cerns could be as flim­sy as being a Face­book friend with a for­mer extrem­ist, attend­ing a uni­ver­si­ty where rad­i­cals also stud­ied, or hav­ing encour­aged oth­ers not to co-oper­ate with police. These broad brush char­ac­ter assas­si­na­tions are seri­ous­ly worrying.

With regard to the rela­tion­ship with the Tal­iban, there has no doubt been an evo­lu­tion in the col­lec­tive stance of the UK and USA. For exam­ple, in the peri­od 2001–2004 the Tale­ban had a num­ber of offi­cial diplo­mat­ic-lev­el vis­its to the USA meet­ing up with the then Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Biden, which cul­mi­nat­ed in the White House offi­cial­ly con­firm­ing that the Tal­iban were not the ene­my. Here are two exam­ples of White House pol­i­cy on Tal­iban, in 2001 and then 10 years lat­er in 2011.

In light of this, find­ing Deoban­di schol­ars today guilty by his­tor­i­cal asso­ci­a­tion is a crass stan­dard of jour­nal­ism. If it were an accept­able stan­dard of jour­nal­ism, it would mean that the many For­eign Sec­re­taries who met and sup­port­ed the likes of Sad­dam Hus­sain, Muam­mar Ghaddafi, Jer­ry Adams (Sein Fein) and oth­ers who were once sup­port­ed but turned out to be ter­ror­ists or dic­ta­tors etc., should all be found guilty by asso­ci­a­tion. British rela­tion­ship with the Sein Fein has  evolved over decades from being con­sid­ered ter­ror­ists to (now) a legit­i­mate polit­i­cal par­ty involved in the British demo­c­ra­t­ic process. Polit­i­cal rela­tion­ships are flu­id, influ­enced by poli­cies and evolve.

Such approach does not take into account the chang­ing nature of geo-pol­i­tics and the adjust­ments and respons­es peo­ple, insti­tutes and gov­ern­ments make.

How should British Muslims react when faced with slander?

The Quran pro­vides a clear way for­ward for Mus­lims: “The good deed and the bad deed can­not be equal. Repel (the bad) with one which is bet­ter, then sure­ly between whom and you there was enmi­ty, will become as though he was a close friend.” (Quran, 41:34). The Prophet (sal­lal­lahu ‘alay­hi wa sal­lam) taught the com­pan­ions: “You have been raised to be easy on peo­ple, not to be hard on them” (Al-Bukhari).

This means that even when fear, prej­u­dice or stereo­typ­ing become wide­spread, par­tic­u­lar if intend­ed to defame or dis­cred­it Mus­lims, Islam­ic tra­di­tions (or infact any law-abid­ing civilised soci­ety), it is impor­tant to respond with con­vinc­ing argu­ments and com­pas­sion, with some­thing bet­ter as the Quran clear­ly states.

Advis­es Mus­lims to:

  1. Always seek con­sul­ta­tion with par­ents, elders, schol­ars, imams and com­mu­ni­ty leaders.
  2. Refrain from unnec­es­sary com­ment­ing on this sub­ject unless you have some­thing ben­e­fi­cial to say as it is a mat­ter for the insti­tutes that have received the letters.
  3. Refrain from bad choice of words and lan­guage, or show­ing dis­re­spect to the BBC or any­one, on social media or otherwise.
  4. Under­stand that the use of the term “Deoban­di” has nuances that are usu­al­ly over­looked. Whilst dif­fer­ences will always remain, and are a mer­cy to us, they should not be allowed to cause dis­uni­ty. We should have the matu­ri­ty and under­stand­ing to show good rela­tions and man­ners (adab and akhlaq) to one anoth­er. We remain a part and par­cel of British soci­ety and must show sol­i­dar­i­ty to play a key role in dis­charg­ing our oblig­a­tions and being in ser­vice (khid­ma) to others.
  5. We will fur­ther advise on how to write to the BBC to con­vey your thoughts about how the BBC should act to resolve not to make untrue and sen­sa­tion­alised assertions.

Final­ly, we pray and sin­cere­ly hope that the BBC pro­duc­ers will play a pos­i­tive role in com­mu­ni­ty cohe­sion to bring hearts and minds togeth­er and to main­tain the high stan­dards of journalism.

Thank You