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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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Maulana Ahmed Ali Lahori (1886-1962),45 one of the renowned Deobandi Alim, rose to the revered status of Sheikh ul Tafsir because his exegesis of Quran is being regarded as the most authentic, lucid and comprehensive by the followers of Deobandi segment. Not only was he held in high esteem because of his contribution as the founder of such institutions like Anjuman-i-Khudam ud Din and Qasim ul Ulum but his scholarly works, particularly in the realm of tafsir, had also significance of their own. Ahmed Ali was instructed by renowned scholars and Sufis like Maulana Abdul Haque, Maulana Ubaidullah Sindhi and Maulana Ghulam Muhammad Deenpuri. He was initiated into Qaderia order and came under the spiritual tutelage of Maulana Deenpuri through bait in

1895.46 Ubaidullah Sindhi, however, was his guardian and spiritual guide. Therefore, he zestfully took part in the anti-colonial struggle and in the process went to Kabul in 1921 but soon returned. He went to jail seven times for his denunciation of the British.

Ahmed Ali completed his education at Madrisa-i-Dar ul Irshad in Sind and started teaching there immediately afterwards. Later on, he was summoned to Delhi by Maulana Sindhi where he was made Naib Nazim (Deputy Administrator) of Madrisa-iNazarat ul Maarif, Delhi. In 1917, he came to Lahore and started imparting Quranic lessons to the general public in a mosque opposite to Sheranwala School. However, important phase in his career as an Alim-i-Din (religious scholar) began when he founded Anjuman-i-Khudam ud Din. Promotion and dissemination of Quran and Sunna (the tradition of Prophet) were enunciated as fundamental aims of the Anjuman.47 Hence, the precedence of scriptural Islam was underscored, and the popular Islam epitomised through the primacy of Saint and Shrine was termed as bidat in Ahmed Ali’s teachings.

Sticking to the fundamentals of Islam was exhorted upon Muslims. Maulana Fazal-i-Haq, a student of Maulana Nazir Ahmed Dehlvi, and Maulana Abu Muhammad Ahmed, a student of Maulana Rashid Ahmed Gangohi, were made Anjuman’s members and Ahmed Ali became its Amir (Head). Madrisa-i-Qasim ul Ulum was founded under the auspices of Anjuman-i-Khudam ud Din in 1924. Its grandiose building was constructed in Line Subhan Khan, Sheranwala Gate, Lahore, which was completed in 1934. A madrisa for girls was also built in 1945 at the same location.48 Madrisa Qasim ul Ulum, known for learning in Tafsir ul Quran (exegesis of Quran), have instructed approximately 80,000 scholars of Islam.

Maulana Ahmed Ali remained politically active as he developed close affinity with Ahrar when it launched Kashmir Movement in 1931. He ardently espoused agitation against the high handedness of the Maharaja against the Kashmiri Muslims. After Pakistan’s creation, he was instrumental in collecting funds (to the tune of thousands of rupees) for Jihad in Kashmir, and went to Muzaffarabad to deliver the funds with his son Ubaidullah Anwar.49 Hence, Deobandi penchant for Jihad in Kashmir has a historical context. He was also in the forefront of the agitation launched against the British Principal of Maclagan Engineering College, Lahore, who desecrated Prophet of Islam.

Although he was arrested on the charges of inciting the unrest, however, the British Government had to give in and all rusticated students were restored.50 Ahmed Ali was elected Amir of Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI), West Pakistan on 8th and 9th October 1956.

In June 1957, Tarjman ul Quran, ‘the Jamiat’s organ’, was launched by Ahmed Ali in Lahore.51 Anjuman Khudam ud Din and Qasim ul Ulum continued their founder’s legacy even after his demise in 1962. It sustained its reputation as the prime institution in the learning of Quran and its tafsir (exegesis). His son Ubaidullah Anwar (1926-1985), a ingenuous exegete in his own right stepped into the big boots of Maulana Ahmed Ali.

Like his father, Ubaidullah Anwar was associated with JUI all his life. At the time of his death, he was its naib amir. Presently, both the institutions are “in the capable hands of Maulana Ajmal Qadri under whose vigilant oversight Anjuman and Madrasa are moving from strength to strength”.52 Quran and the tradition of the Prophet were the fundamental postulates that Anjuman has always emphasised without meaning any insolence to sufi tradition. Hence, practice of religious rituals was circumscribed strictly to the confines of Islamic scriptures. All said and done, not only religious instruction but also playing a proactive role in politics was the legacy of JUH which was kept alive by Ahmed Ali and his successors. Therefore, Anjuman Khudam ud Din and Madrasa Qasim ul Ulum significantly contributed to advance the cause of political (radical) Islam. Maulana Ahmed Ali and Ubaidullah Anwar’s preoccupation with JUI alludes to the implicit, if not explicit, support for jihad in Afghanistan and Kashmir.

Apart from Lahore, Ludhiana and Jullundur were the two districts where Deobandi Islam found conducive environ. Ulema from Ludhiana, particularly Maulana Muhammad and Maulana Muhammad Abdullah53 came to the spotlight when they took the lead in denouncing Mirza Ghulam Ahmed, the founder of Qadiani sect, as Kafir.54 After graduating from Deoband, Maulana Muhammad Abdullah came to Ludhiana and started teaching at famous Madrasa Azizia. Later on, he shifted to Madrasa Allah Walla along with his son Mufti Naeem Ludhianvi (1890-1970), and remained engaged in teaching hadith. However, Abdullah’s lasting contribution was the establishment of Madrasa Darul Ulum Naumania. Habib ur Rehman Ludhianvi was the most renowned of all Deobandi Ulma from Ludhiana. He was Deoband graduate and favourite student of Habib ur Rehman Usmani and Anwar Shah Kashmiri. In 1919, he entered in politics and began addressing public meetings along with Shabbir Ahmed Usmani (1885-1949) when Khilafat Movement had just commenced. He remained very active in the politics through out his life. He also was one of the chief protagonists of Majlis-i-Ahrar. In the annals of Ahrar movement, he is remembered as Rais ul Ahrar (Leader of Ahrar). Astoundingly, Habib ur Rehman stayed back in Ludhiana instead of migrating to Pakistan. His sons still live in East Punjab and are engaged in Tabligh (preaching). Maulana Muhammad Abdullah (sajjada nishin, Khanqah Sirajia Kundian District Mianwali),55 Maulana Muhammad Ibrahim (Mian Channu) and Master Taj ud Din Ansari were the prominent figures who migrated from Ludhiana.56 Maulana Rashid Ahmed Ludhianvi (b.1922) rose to prominence as an Alim and jurist.

Maulana Faqirullah Raipuri Jullunduri (1878-1963) and Maulana Khair Muhammad Jullunduri (1891-1970) both were Deoband graduates and celebrated scholars. Both ulema also shared the kinship bond. They belonged to Arain biradri. It signifies an important fact that initially Deobandi brand of Islam attracted the lower and lower middle echelon of the Muslim urban Punjabi populace.

Faqirullah received his early education from Jamia Rashidia, Raipur, which was modelled after Darul Ulum Deoband and Mazahir ul Ulum Saharanpur and was founded by Maulana Muhammad Saleh. Later on, he went to Darul Ulum Naumania, Lahore, and then to Deoband for higher learning. In 1908, he came back to Jullundur and started teaching at his alma mater, Jamia Rashidia. There he was entrusted with the task of shaping the future of such youngsters who attained prominence in the days to come, like Rashid Ahmed Salfi, Habib ur Rehman Ludhianvi, Muhammad Ali Jullunduri, Abdul Jabbar Hissarvi and Maulana Khair Muhammad Jullundri.57 At the time of Partition, Faqirullah migrated to Pakistan and settled in Sahiwal (Montgomery) District where he revived Jamia Rashidia which, in a few years time, became one of the prime institutions of Deobandi learning. Besides Khair ul Madaris, it is the only prominent madrasa which was set up in Jullundur and revived in the west Punjab after the Partition. Faqirullah was succeeded by his sons Abdullah, Qari Lutfullah and Fazal Habibullah. Abdullah shot to fame as a scholar in hadith and after his death, some dispute over the Jamia’s succession led the authorities to close it down. After 9/11, it is continuously subjected to the raids of the law enforcement agencies.58 Khair Muhammad Jullundri was born in Nicodar tehsil, and started his education at seven which continued till he was twenty in 1911. During the years of his education, he travelled extensively in the Punjab, and North India. Eventually, he settled down at Madrasa-i-Faiz Muhammadi, Jullundur. He came under the spiritual shadow of Ashraf Ali Thanwi through bait. On persuasion of his murshid, Maulana Khair Muhammad established Madrasa-i-Khair ul Madaris in Alamgiri Mosque, Attari Bazzar, Jullundur, which was inaugurated on 9th March 1931.59 Till his death in 1943, it continued functioning under the patronage of Ashraf Ali Thanvi.60 After partition, Maulana Khair Muhammad moved to Pakistan and settled in Multan. With the ardent support of his student and naib, Maulana Muhammad Ali Jullunduri, Khair ul Madaris was revived on 18 October 1947 in Multan. Here, Maulana Shabbir Ahmed Usmani was its patron but only for a brief period as he died in 1949.61 It flourished leaps and bounds and eventually came to be known as “the national centre of Deobandi educational activity”.62 Khair Muhammad was a keen theologian with a passion for Islamic learning and was devoid of any political ambition. However, he was one of few Deobandi ulema who espoused Pakistan Movement. After the creation of Pakistan, when JUI was re-organised with Shabbir Ahmed Usmani as its patron, he had been elected as its president. But, after a short while, he resigned as he did not find politics to his taste. However, he participated in putting together 22 points in the meeting of ulema at Karachi, which were presumed to be the basis for the Islamic constitution. Moreover, he also took part in “Tehrik-iKhatum-Nabuvat and strived for the promulgation of Islamic system in the country”.63 Khair ul Madaris was on firm footing when Maulana Khair Muhammad died on 22 October 1970. Currently, it is being managed by Khair Muhammad’s grand son Maulana Qari Hanif Jullunduri who matches his predecessors neither in scholarship nor in spiritual excellence and charisma.64 The gory incident of Lal Masjid in July 2007, has substantially undermined his reputation and also integrity among Deobandi folks. Khairul Madaris, nevertheless, is regarded as a prototype for other seats of Islamic learning within the country to emulate. The role of Khairul Madaris in exacerbating the sectarian cleavage in Pakistan would be brought up later in this paper.

Partition and mushrooming of madaris

The political scenario in the 1940s had an unsettling affect on the Deobandi movement.

Muslim League’s call for a separate Muslim state drove the wedge in Deobandi top ranks. Hussain Ahmed Madni, Abul Kalam Azad and Habib ur Rehman Ludhianvi stuck to the nationalist position of the Indian National Congress and JUH. However, a few ulema diverged from the avowed stand point of the nationalists. To them, Muslim separatism was a preferred course to safeguard their interests. Consequently, parting of the ways took effect in 1945 when Shabbir Ahmed Usmani, Ehtasham ul Hassan Thanvi, Zafar Ahmed Usmani and Mufti Muhammad Shafi conglomerated and founded JUI which espoused the cause of Muslim League.

The partition accrued benefit to Deobandis as JUI remained a political force to be reckoned with.65 Since 1947, mushrooming of the madaris illustrated Deobandi ascendancy, which bolstered the political profile of JUI. All of its leadership emerged from madaris, therefore, they shared the commonality of class along with creed, particularly till the late 1970s. Similarly, the student body at the madaris belonged to the lower middle and lower strata. Hence, madaris were no less than a lifeline for JUI. From partition onwards till 2003, 120 religious schools had been coming up every year. In 1947, Pakistan had 245 religious schools, whereas, in 2000, they had notched up the figure of 6,761, and increased to 6,870 by September 11, 2001.66 Vali Nasr contends that the proliferation of Deobandi, Brelwi and Ahl-i-Hadith madaris began in 1970s and in the Punjab rise in the number of seminaries “has been most notable”. They multiplied “three and a half times between 1975 and 1996, from over 700 to 2,463”. Of these madaris, 750 were “classed as aggressively sectarian”.67

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Source: Ministry of Education, Islamabad, 1988. Quoted in Saleem Mansur Khalid, Deni madaris main ta’leem: ka’fiyat, mas’il, imkanat (Islamabad: Institute of Policy Studies, Idara-e-Fiqr-e-Islami, 2004), p.


The principal reasons for the phenomenal growth of the madaris (particularly Deobandi) are (i) funnelling of the funds from Persian Gulf monarchies and particularly from Saudi Arabia. They viewed “the turn of Pakistan’s politics towards the Left in the late 1960s and the early 1970s with alarm, and supported all kinds of Islamic activities with the aim of strengthening Islamic institutions and ideology as a bulwark against the Left”.68 The doubts of the rulers of Arab states were dispelled by taking concrete measures, nevertheless, the support for “Islamic activism” continued. In the due course of time “the linkages between Islamic organizations and groups in the Persian Gulf monarchies and those in Pakistan had become entrenched, and operated independently of government control”.69 The Pakistani ulema and madaris were the biggest beneficiaries from these “religious and intellectual bonds that became embedded in institutional contacts and networks of patronage”.70 Barbara Metcalf argues that the madaris “were not only a resource in domestic politics but at times found themselves engaged in a kind of surrogate competition between Saudies and Iranians as each patronised religious institutions likely to support their side”.71 (ii) Afghan Jihad contributed very significantly in the mushroom growth of the madaris. Militarization of madaris in the 1980s at the behest of America and Saudi Arabia,72 later on, proved to be Frankenstein for Pakistani state and the entire western World.

(iii) Ziaul Haq (1922-88) himself a Deobandi and son of a cleric from Jullundur quite zestfully pursued the policy of Islamization and in a process strengthened madrasa networks and the ulema by doling out huge funds to them. After 1980, madaris also received zakat.73 Besides, madrasa graduates were accommodated in the public services as their degrees were accorded equivalent status with the degrees of the secular institutions. It resulted in substantial increase in the number of madrasa students.

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