By Tahir Iqbal
The development of any community depends upon its educational setup, and Ilm(education)is the basic element or say the foundation for the socio-economic and political development of an individual as well as community. To seek Ilm is a sacred duty in Islam; an obligatory task upon every Muslim– male and female.
Islam has, from its very beginning, enjoyed a long and rich intellectual tradition. Throughout the Muslim history, one can find thousands of institutions established by Muslim rulers and scholars for the promotion of the Prophetic (SAW) traditions and knowledge.
Mamun Rashid, a great Abbasid Caliph, established the Baytal-Hikmahat Baghdad, where hundreds of books had been translated from various languages into Arabic. Baytal- Hikmah acted as a great centre of learning and intellectual development. Al-Nizamiyya of Baghdad was no less famous. It was the largest university of medieval Muslim world founded by a Saljuq ruler, Nizam al-Muluk Tusi. Imam Ghazali,, whose contribution is known to everyone,was its chief professor.
With the decline of Mughal rule in India and the subsequent failure of the mutiny of 1857, Muslims got scattered and lost their civilisational as well as political dominance in the subcontinent. The western cultural imperialism started obtruding its venom into the blood of Muslims and to break this incursion of “alien”thought, the Darul Uloom Deoband emerged as a saviour on the stage of Muslim history.
Darul Uloom Deoband,established by Maulana Mohammad Qasim Nanotwi in1868, is not an institution in ordinary sense but a way to understand and interpret the Islamic sacred text and civilisation. It emerged as a response to the colonialism and the western imperialistic incursion. In contrast to the Aligarh movement launched by Sir Syed Ahmad Khan,the motif of Darul Uloom Deoband was the moral and religious upliftment of Muslims of the subcontinent. This institution is prominent in reviving the traditionalist views of Islamic interpretation.
Maulana Nanotwi was a great scholar of Islamic intellectualism and better known for his polemical discourses against Christians and scholars of Hinduism. He refuted the principles of exegesis established by the modernists like Sir Syed Ahmad Khan and stressed upon Islamic traditions as understood by the ‘Salaf-us-Saliheen’ (the pious predecessors of Islam). Maulana Munazir Ahsan Gilani in his biography of Maulana Nanotwi says,“After the failure of the upheaval of 1857, his(Nanotwi’) mind was actively engaged in the establishment of new fronts of resistance and struggle.The educational design of Darul Uloom of Deoband was the most important part of it.”
Most of Muslims in the subcontinent then were the troglodyte in terms of Islamic knowledge and it was Darul Uloom Deoband which created the Islamic awakening and religiously channelised Muslims towards betterment. The promotion of Islamic ethos and culture based on the sacred text was its sole purpose. The institution has produced not only theologians but also reformers and freedom fighters who played great role in India’s freedom struggle against the British colonialism. ‘Sheikh-ul-Hind’ Mahmood Hassan became a famous symbol of Indian freedom movement by starting an armed revolution against British imperialism and trained his students for the cause. He started Reshmi Romaal movement against the British government and was exiled to Malta.
The Indian subcontinent is very fortunate to have been blessed with great scholars like ‘Mujaddid Alf-Sani’ Sheikh Ahmad Sirhindi and Shah Waliullah who tremendously influenced the later Islamic movements. The Waliullah tradition of combining scholarship, ethical attitude,and spiritual experience was most strikingly manifested in the personality of Maulana Qasim Nanotwi, and Darul Uloom Deoband is nothing but the extension of Shah Waliullah’s thought. It maintained the traditional legacy of Islamic intellectualism and safeguarded the traditions from the later accretion.It generated an Islamic vibrancy among Muslims of subcontinent in particular and Islamic world in general and engendered among them,as Abul Hassan Nadwi, puts it,“love of faith, respect for Shariah and self sacrifice for the cause of Islam and Ummah.”
Maulana Qari Mohammed Tayyib, while expounding the structural foundation of Deoband, maintained that the base and foundation of all Aqeedah is Tawhid and Deoband thought is firmly grounded in it, which would exclude all types of polytheism and partnership to God. In jurisprudence, it follows the principles of the Hanafi schoolof thought and its intellectual inclination is Waliuallahi. It is pertinent to mention here that the scholars of Darul Uloom are not against mysticism which has its base in the Qur’anic nasoosand Sunnah; infact they firmly believe in purification of soul and feel proud to be attached with different spiritual orders.Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanwi wrote extensively on Muslim mysticism, expounded its subtleties and tried to purify it from the masqueraders and charlatans. He rebuffed the un-Islamic mystical doctrine of annihilation and stressed on following the true contour of Islam.
The role of Darul Uloom in promotion of Hadith criticism is marvellous. It has produced world famous scholars of Hadith literature; one among such leading stalwarts being the Imam Anwar Shah Kashmiri whose views on ontological problems and metaphysical expositions even fascinated the ‘Poet of the East’ Dr Allama Iqbal. Anwar Shah Kashmiri never tried to dismantle the orthodoxy or the position of classical scholars though he may have some reservations but his main contribution is related to Hadith criticism and the jurisprudential legacy rather than in developing the hermeneutics of perennialists.
Another famous Hadith teacher of Deoband was Maulana Shabir Usmani who played a great role in the creation of Pakistan and became the first Sheikh-ul-Islam of newly the created country. He is notable for having led the funeral prayersof the founder of Pakistan ‘Quaid-e-Azam’ Mohammed Ali Jinnah and was a leading figure in passing of the Qarardad-i-Maqasid (Objectives Resolution) adopted by the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan on 12 March 1949.
Apart from dispersing the religious education among masses, the Darul Uloom Deoband with the help of Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind (JUH) also endeavoured in building a good relationship between Hindus and Muslims. The development of pluralistic attitude in a heterogeneous country like India is central to this effort of interfaith connection between various religions and denominations of India.
The Author is an Assistant Professor of Islamic Studies at the Higher Education Department, Jammu and Kashmir. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org