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«Tahir Kamran• Abstract This paper seeks to delineate the process that culminated into the proliferation of Deobandi version of Islam in the Punjab ...»

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During the second half of the nineteenth century, the movements of Islamic revivalism led to the realignment of “ulema class interests with the fortunes of Islamic community rather than the state”.20 Darul Ulum, which Meston mentioned in 1915 as “a most impressive place, very like what one imagines some of the great universities of the middle ages to have been”21 had Qasim Nanutwi (1833-77) and Rashid Ahmed Gangohi (1829-1905) as its early patrons. Its establishment was a departure from the earlier patterns of education, hence, it caused “a sense of discomfort” to Barbara Metcalf when depicted as ‘traditional’. “Much of the organizational form was adopted from British institutions and then modified to fit the needs of Deoband”.22 Set up in an old mosque, the Chatta Masjid, under a shadowy pomegranate tree it was markedly distinct from earlier madaris. The people independent from kin ties and getting donations from the general public were the two primary traits, ascribing that institution the modernist peculiarities conspicuously absent in other religious seminaries of the subcontinent. As an independent institution in its own right, Darul Ulum had an independent infrastructure of its own. It was run by a professional staff and its students were admitted to study a defined curriculum and supposed to take examination for which they were awarded degrees at the convocation every year. It had its classrooms and a central library. In due course of time, it had many affiliated colleges, overseen by Darul Ulum’s own graduates.

The examining body too was consisted of Deobandi ulama.

The staff of Darul Ulum had specific assignments, which comprised teachers, administrators and councillors. Erudition in Arabic was a fundamental criterion for the selection of the teachers. However, Persian teachers too were recruited but the faculty of Arabic held precedence over them “in pay and prestige”.23 Initially, the number of teaching staff did not exceed twelve. The institution’s administration consisted of the Sarparast or rector who acted as a patron, the muhtamim or chancellor, who was in charge of day to day administration of the institution and sadr mudarris or principal who was to oversee the system of instruction. The further addition in the numerical strength of the administrators took effect when the official, mufti, was added in 1892. He was entrusted with the task “to supervise the dispensation of judicial opinions on behalf of the school”.24 Darul Ulum had the Consultative Council that included the administrators and seven additional members. Gradually the council became more important vis-a-vis staff and administration. By 1887, the consultative council was vested with all the powers to make decisions.

The curriculum introduced at Darul Ulum was quite similar to what was being taught at other madaris in Muslim South Asia, known as Dars-i-Nizami. That curriculum was first introduced by Mullah Nizamuddin Sihalvi (d.1747), who was a scholar of some repute in Islamic jurisprudence and philosophy in Lucknow.25 All madaris adhering to Sunni fiqh, whether they are of Brelvi, Deobandi or Ahl-i-Hadith persuasion follow Darsi-Nizami and Darul Ulum. The Nizami course “consists of about twenty subjects broadly divided into two categories: al ulum an-naqliya (the transmitted sciences), and al-ulum al-aqliya (the rational sciences). The subject areas include grammar, rhetoric, prosody, logic, philosophy, Arabic literature, dialectical theology, life of the Prophet, medicine, mathematics, polemics, Islamic law, Jurisprudence, Hadith, and Tafsir (exegesis of the Quran)”.26 Interestingly, only eight out of twenty subjects of the curriculum can be termed as purely religious. The rest of the subjects were meant (i) to enable the students for civil service jobs and (ii) to help them to have better understanding of the religious scriptures. Darul Ulum attracted mostly the poor students as opposed to the Ashraf (elites) who preferred Muhammadan Anglo Oriental College, Aligarh (which was elevated to the status of a University in 1920).

Darul Ulum was financed by the Muslim princes of Hyderabad, Bhopal and Rampur to quote a few who patronised learning and “extend their bounty across the border to their fellows in British India”.27 Similarly, big landlords from United Provinces also dispensed some of their wealth for the altruistic causes by lending monitory support to Darul Ulum Deoband. These grants, however, had no element of certainty. Ulema were not willing “to accept British grant-in-aid, for such help was precarious and carried the taint of its non-Muslim source”.28 Therefore, a network of donors was created with extreme care “who formed a base not only for financial support but for dissemination of their teachings”.29 Many supporters pledged annually the contributions which formed the major part of Darul Ulum’s income. Neither was the amount of contribution fixed nor the specificity of religious and sectarian persuasion considered important.30

Deobandi influence percolating in Punjab

When Haji Muhammad Abid started the fund raising for Darul Ulum, 12 percent of the total funds came from the Punjab during the first twenty years of its existence.31According to Gilmartin, financial support came mostly from the urban centres, where the influence of saint and shrine was somewhat marginal.32 Similarly, Punjab is reported to be quite significant in the recruitment of the students for Darul Ulum in its initial years. However, the concrete information about the number of students from the Punjab remains doubtful as even Barbara Metcalf has hardly anything worthwhile to impart, in this particular regard. She alludes with the aid of the map to the spread of the madaris in the Punjab, affiliated to Darul Ulum Deoband in the closing years of the nineteenth century. Lahore, Gujranwala and Peshawar were the centres, mentioned in the map where such madaris were set up.33 No further detail is furnished as to their founders nor are the names of those institutions recorded. Saleem Mansur Khalid, however, reveals that Madrasa-i-Rashidia at Jullundur was founded in 1897 and another madrasa, Madrasa-i-Naumania, was established in 1907.34 As regards the ulema, it appears that Hussain Ali of Wan Bhachran (1866-1943) of Mianwali district is the earliest recorded scholar, going to Darul Ulum Deoband.35 He became Maulana Rashid Ahmed Gangohi’s student in 1895 and got instruction in Hadith. He was also instructed in the exegesis of Quran by Maulana Mazhar Nanutwi, and Logic and Philosophy by Maulana Ahmed Hassan Kanpuri. In 1915, he returned to his village, Wan Bhachran, and began professing the Deobandi brand of Islam.36 For the locals, he zealously emphasised upon unequivocal faith in Tauhid (monism) and Quran as the fundamental source to ascertain the truth. Besides preaching, he also wrote quite extensively but due to extremist views, his writings remain unnoticed or mentioned briefly even in the narratives of Deobandi scholars. Nevertheless, Ghulamullah Khan (1909-1980), a scholar of great erudition and founder of Taleem ul Quran, a renowned madrasa in the northern Punjab, chose to be his disciple. Similarly, Maulana Abdul Haleem Qasimi (1920-1983) came to learn Quranic translation from Hussain Ali.





In the early twentieth century, Abdul Rahim Raipuri (1853-1919), a Naqshbandi pir and Maulana Ashraf Thanvi wielded considerable influence in the Punjab. Abdul Rahim Raipuri was born in Tigri, a town in Ambala district. He, therefore, may be considered as the earliest Deobandi alim with Punjabi background. However, he spent most of his life in Ganga-Yumna valley, working on different positions in various madaris like Mazahir ul Ulum Sahranpur and Delhi. Many of his successors like Shah Abdul Qadir Raipuri, Shah Abdul Aziz Raipuri and Saeed Ahmed Raipuri set up madaris in Lahore and Sargodha by the name of Idara Rahimia Ulum-i-Qurania. 37 The network of Nizam ul Madaris ur Rahimia is very extensive; innumerable madaris affiliated with it through out Pakistan.38 Unlike other Deobandi groups, its denomination disproves violence and organizes peaceful protest movements.

Ubaidullah Sindhi (1872-1944)39 may be deemed as the harbinger of Deobandi activism in the Punjab and Sind. Born to a Sikh parentage from Sialkot, Ubaidullah Sindhi embraced Islam at the tender age of 15 in Muzaffargarh on 29 August 1887. In September 1888, he went to Deoband and came under the tutelage of Maulana Mehmud ul Hassan (1851-1922) who was instrumental in stirring Deobandi movement to political activism. Ubaidullah proved himself worthy of Mehmud ul Hassan’s attention, when he successfully formed Jamiat ul Ansar, a student body at Deoband in 1909. It was meant to organize Deobandi scholars both in the country and outside as well. Besides setting up a madrasa, Dar ul Irshad (established in 1901) in Goth Pir Jhanda, Nawab Shah district in Sind and Nazarath ul Maarif (established in 1912) in Delhi, he also played a pivotal role in Tehrik i Reshami Roomal, a silk letter conspiracy in 1915. This movement merits a mention here because of two reasons; one, the area of its operation was mostly the Punjab, and second, it provides us a first testimony of Deobandi activism in the region.

Through a collaborative effort with Amir Amanullah Khan, the ruler of Afghanistan, the plan was hatched to oust the British from India with the help of Turkey. Ubaidullah Sindhi was overseeing the operational side of that movement. Unfortunate for Deobandi activists, the whole plan was leaked out and most of those involved were arrested.

Although it may not be altogether correct but one may assert that despite the failure of the Tehrik i Reshami Roomal, Punjab had a taste of anti-colonial misadventure which was a Deobandi undertaking.40 In 1919, Deobandi ulema formalised themselves into a political group immediately after the Khilafat Movement (1919-1924) that aimed at preventing British to abolish Khilafat in Turkey after the First World War. As a consequence, Jamiat-i-UlemaHind (JUH) came into existence; Mehmud ul Hassan and Abul Kalam Azad were its central figures. Khilafat Movement synchronised with Non-Cooperation Movement reconfigured all India politics in two ways; First, it brought the politics down to the masses, and second, it enabled ulema to secure significant position in public arena. The movement had its extraordinary resonance in north India and to a less extent influenced the urban Punjab. Lahore, Sialkot and Gujranwala were tangibly stirred by the antiBritish sentiments during the early 1920s on the issue of Khilafat. During the same period, Deobandi stalwarts in the Punjab like Ubaidullah Sindhi, Ata Ullah Shah Bokhari, Habib ur Rehman Ludhianvi and Ahmed Ali Lahori began their political careers. They assumed centrality by inculcating exclusionary version of Islam in the politics;

particularly their major rallying cry was Khatam-i-Nabuvat (finality of prophethood) deployed profusely in the condemnation of Ahmedhis ab initio. The concept gained foremost significance ever since the Ahmedya41 sect emerged in the late 1890s. The Ahmadis allegedly refuted the very idea of the last prophethood, considered one of the fundamentals of Islam.

Majlis-i-Ahrar: Instrument of Deobandi activism

Comprising Punjabi dissidents of the Khilafat Committee Punjab, Majlis-i-Ahrar-iIslam42 emerged in 1929 and later on, it followed the puritanical and agitation style of politics in the 1930s. Maulana Zafar Ali Khan, Maulana Daud Ghaznavi, Syed Ataullah Shah Bokhari, Chaudhri Afzal Haq, Maulana Mazhar Ali Azhar, Khawja Abdul Rehman Ghazi, Sheikh Hassam-ud-din and Maulana Habib-ur-Rehman Ludhianvi constituted the core leadership of the Ahrar. Most of them were orators of extraordinary calibre who could spellbound the audience for hours. Although it was a composite organization representing all Muslim segments, yet the core ideology and principal leaders, like Ataullah Shah Bukhari and Habib-ur-Rehman Ludhianvi, adhered to Deobandi Islam. It had entrenched following among the lower middle income echelon of urban Muslim populace and particularly among the artisans of Lahore, Amritsar and Sialkot districts of the Punjab.

The Ahrar’s agitations for the rights of the Muslims of Kashmir, who were suffering under the oppressive rule of Maharajah, are not fully acknowledged in the contemporary Pakistani historiography. The 1931 agitation raised the Ahrar party’s popularity in urban Punjab to unprecedented level.43 This was because of the presence of large Kashmiri Muslim communities in such cities as Amritsar, Lahore and Sialkot, where Ahrar had a substantial following. It was followed by another movement for the rights of the poor Muslims in Kapurthala State, which further raised its profile and popularity. It lasted till Masjid Shahid Ganj issue at Lahore that irreparably undermined Ahrar’s political standing in the province. Post Shahid Ganj era was quite chequered for Ahrar as its electoral strength plummeted, nevertheless, the impact that some of its leaders, particularly Bokhari engendered had a lasting resonance. Madeh-i-Sahaba (in 1937-39) Movement in UP widened chasm between Sunnis and Shias. Large number of Ahraris from Punjab travelled to Awadh especially to court arrest. In the 1940s, sectarian animosity was papered over as Pakistan Movement had gained momentum, thus mitigating the sectarian sentiments. However, sectarian differences could not be ironed out permanently as they kept recurring, finally culminating into the establishment of SSP on 8th September, 1985. Indeed, sectarian militants such as Haq Nawaz Jhangvi (1952founder-leader of SSP have acknowledged the legacy of Attaullah Shah Bukhari and his colleagues in Majlis-e-Ahrar.

After the Partition of India, Ahrar’s appeal to the masses continued unabated as Khatum-i-Nabuvat Movement in 195344 explicitly demonstrated. Persons like Haq Nawaz Jhangvi, the founder of SSP and many of his close companions like Zia-urRehman Farouqi took a leaf out of Ahrar’s book. Although Ahrar’s visibility in the political sphere remained peripheral, its influence was, however, markedly tangible on Doebandi ulema. Anti-Qadiani campaign in mid 1970s revealed the overriding impact of Ahrar on the ulema who were in the vanguard of that movement. Bokhari in particular was the major source of inspiration for many of them particularly in the Punjab.

Some earlier ulema and madaris with lasting impact



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