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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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Source: Ministry of Religious Affairs, Islamabad, 1988, 2000. 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. 145. (Figures of 1980 are based on reports of 1979).

However, before explicating further on the rapid growth of madaris, it would be appropriate to mention two important seminaries, Jamia Ashrafia and Jamia Madnia, both are located in Lahore.

Jamia Ashrafia was set up by Maulana Mufti Muhammad Hassan74 who was apostle (Khalifa-e-Arshad) of Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanwi, after whom the madrasa was named. It practised a non-Jihadi and immaculately peaceful creed. “However, many teachers of the madrassas not only have connections with Jehadi organizations, they are actively involved in Jehadi activities”.75 This madrasa and the adjacent mosque exercises tremendous influence on affluent urban class of Lahore, besides, its administration avoids getting embroiled into any political controversy.

On 14 September 1947, it was founded in an old quadrangular three-storied building in Nila Gunbad Anarkali, at the centre of a thickly populated area of Lahore.

The scholars of immense repute namely Maulana Rasool Khan, Maulana Idrees Kandhalvi and Mufti Jamil Ahmed Thanvi taught in Jamia. In 1957, the staff and students were shifted to the new campus on the Ferozepur Road, Lahore. Today, the main campus of Jamia comprises a large mosque, a huge administrative and teaching block, two spacious boarding houses, a hospital and quite a number of residences for the employees.

After the demise of Mufti Muhammad Hassan in 1961, his son Mufti Muhammad Obaidullah, a graduate of Darul Ulum Deoband became Raisul Jamia. It has affiliation with the Wafaq ul Madaris ul Arbia - a Board of Islamic Education for over 7000 madaris. With branches and affiliated madaris spread all over Pakistan, Jamia Ashrafia has over 1500 male and 500 female scholars on roll at its Lahore branch only.76 Jamia Madnia is another Deobandi madrasa in Lahore, founded by Maulana Syed Hamid Mian (1926-1988) in the 1950s. Syed Hamid Mian77 was son of renowned Deobandi Alim, Maulana Syed Muhammad Mian who hailed from Sahranpur (UP). Five years after the Partition, he moved to Pakistan and started teaching in Jamia Ashrafia.

However, he decided to establish his own madrasa which he eventually managed in the Bhatti Gate, Lahore. It gradually developed into an important institution of learning in hadith. Abbass Najmi, a keen student of Deobandis in Pakistan, ranks Jamia Madnia as more influential than any madrasa after Khairul Madaris, Multan, as it has churned out numerous scholars of hadith and fiqh.

Deobandi concentration towards the South

Reverting to the mushroom growth of madaris, interestingly they multiplied by 2745 percent during 55 years of Pakistan’s history up to 2003.78 In 1988, the number of Deobandi madaris in the Punjab was 590 out of total 132079 which rose to 972 with 80,120 students in 1996.80 Curiously enough, Deobandi madaris expanded in quite a conspicuous number towards south Punjab as out of 972, 595 madaris were in three districts Multan, Dera Ghazi Khan and Bahawalpur. Similarly, Wafaq ul Madaris ul Arbia (established in 1959), which is a regulatory body of Deobandi madaris, too, is in Multan. This trend was quite discernable even before the Partition, and considerably strengthened with the establishment of Khairul Madaris. Ubiquity of saint and shrine culture, poverty, and very few institutions of secular education were arguably the main reasons for their proliferation in the region. In this connection the website of Khairul

Madaris makes an interesting reading:

Geographically, Multan is situated in the heart of Pakistan and possesses a great historical significance. But the people of not only Multan as a seat of learning, but of the whole southern Punjab were in the past decades, a prey to general ignorance and innovatory rituals practiced in the name of Islam. Under these circumstances, the new Khair-ul-Madaris at Multan proved to be a light house in a stormy night whose light began to spread not only through Punjab but also to the recesses of the whole Islamic world.81 It is a clear reflection of the ongoing dialectics in which Deobandis were playing anti-thesis to the exponents of local Islam articulated through saint and shrine symbolism.

It was quite obvious that not only Multan but most of south Punjab was awash with shrines as the sites of devotional practices which Deobandi puritanism was quite adamant to wipe out. It may be one of the important dynamics for the spread of Deobandi seminaries in overwhelming number towards the south. Jamia Abbasia, Bahawalpur, Qasimul Ulum, Multan, Darul Ulum, Kabirwala, Madrasa Qasimul Ulum, Faqirwali, Madrasa Ashraful Ulum, Rahimyar Khan, Makhzanul Ulum, Khanpur, were all important seminaries of the southern Punjab which were instrumental in paving the way for Deobandi Islam to displace the syncretic ethos reflected in the local Islam. Besides, they played a vital role in turning this region into the biggest recruiting ground for the Jihadi lashkers operating in Afghanistan and Kashmir. As Ayesha Siddiqua Agha is spot on when she says, “Bahawalpur is one of the few districts which have contributed as much to Jihad as some districts in the frontier district.”82 Similarly, while identifying the causes of the mushroom growth of the madaris in divisions like Multan, DG Khan and

Bahawalpur, Jamal Malik contends:

As their infrastructure is poor, there are few important industries and less urbanization; in short, they do not have a high level of development. They are however more integrated in their traditional systems of social order and social security and thus are possibly more cohesive than “modern areas”. These divisions are marked by large landed properties and a high number of small farmers or landless peasants.83 With so little allocation of funds on human resource development along with overlooking the social and economic disparity in the southern areas, the ruling elite helped creating conducive environment for madaris to proliferate. The fact that is far more alarming is the growing militancy among the madara graduates. SSP, LJ and Harkat ul Ansar (HA) have had their operational bases in the south. Stalwarts like Masaud Azahar and Abdul Rashid Ghazi (Naib Khateeb at Lal Masjid who was killed in July, 2007 by law enforcement agencies) hailed from Bahawalpur and Rajanpur respectively.

Deobandi militant outfits

Although many scholars consider Afghan jihad as a catalyst in engendering militancy along with the Islamic Revolution in Iran, but the historical context in which the phenomenon of militancy grew, and later on gathered momentum has not been unravelled. While studying Deobandi militancy, allusion must be made to couple of watershed points that galvanized Deobandi activism in Pakistan. First; the anti-Qadiani movement was launched in 1953, Ahrar being the vanguard of the whole episode that resulted into the imposition of martial law in Lahore. The protest movement was ruthlessly quelled through a military action under the command of General Azam Khan.

Deobandi activism, however, was stemmed for two decades. The Qadiani issue, nevertheless, smouldering beneath the surface and conflagrated again in 1974. The Qadianis were declared non Muslims by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s regime which appeared to work as a shot in arm for Deobandi leadership. The successful finale of the Qadiani movement had a lasting impact on Deobandis who found encouragement and held on to their extremist views and militant agenda with zeal and zest. Later on, the new Deobandi leadership founded organizations, which were avowedly sectarian and militant in nature.

Haq Nawaz Jhangvi, Manzoor Ahmed Chinioti84 to name a few militant leaders. The role of Afghan jihad in providing necessary wherewithal and motivation to such organizations can also not be refuted.

First of such organizations was SSP, exclusively dedicated to fighting shi’ism,85 which it considered non-Muslim. Assassination of its founder, Haq Nawaz Jhangvi86 in February 1990 led to a string of murders and random attacks against Shias including many Iranian officials living in Pakistan. Most of the SSP top leadership had been assassinated, i.e., Zia-ur-Rahman Farooqi, Isar-ul-Qasmi and Azam Tariq. The organization also sent armed volunteers to help Taliban in Afghanistan from 1998 onwards.

Jhangvi’s Army or LJ87 was a splinter group of the SSP comprising more radical Deobandis. Founded in 1994 by Raiz Basra, a veteran of the Afghan war and a close associate of Haq Nawaz Jhnagvi, the organization targeted Shia leaders, intellectuals and professionals. Based in Kabul until the fall of city in November 2001, the LJ was accused by the Pakistan government of plotting an attack on the then Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, in 1999.

In 1991, Fazal ur Rahman Khalil (a Pushtun) and Masud Azher, a young Pakistani cleric from Bahawalpur, established Harkat-ul-Ansar (HA) by converging Harkat-ulMujahadeen and Harkat-ul-Jihad. It was joined by many Pakistani volunteers (especially from Punjab) who went to Afghanistan to support Mujahidin. Later on, its attention was galvanized to Kashmir. A former US intelligence officer, Julie Sirrs, carried out a survey in 2000 which revealed that the “foreigners captured by military commander Masud in north east Afghanistan shows that 39 percent of the 113 prisoners were affiliated with Harkat-ul-Ansar”.88 In October 1997, the US State Department declared it a terrorist organization, therefore, it changed its name as Harkat-ul-Mujahidin (HM).

Jaish-e-Mohammad (JM) is another Deobandi militant organization which is a brainchild of Maulana Masud Azhar. In 1994, Masud Azhar was jailed for his militant activities in Indian held Kashmir. On 24 December 1999, a plane of Indian airline was hijacked and brought to Qandhar; the hijacker obtained the release of Masud Azhar. He remained under the protection of Taliban for sometime and came back to Pakistan and founded JM in Islamabad (Lal Masjid) in February 2000. Many members of the Harkatul-Mujahidin and of the SSP are presumed to have joined JM for ethnic reasons. Punjabis sided with Masud Azhar while Pushtuns stayed with Fazal-ur-Rahman Khalil.89 Oliver Roy attributes the pattern of suicide attacks to the JM. In December 2000, a young Muslim from Birmingham, Muhammad Bilal, committed a suicidal attack on Indian Army in Srinager, indeed the first incident of its kind.

Conclusion The linear trajectory of this narrative while mapping the growth of Deobandi sect in the Punjab must not obscure the primacy of Pirs in the contemporary socio-political setting of the province. Undoubtedly, evolution of Maulvi and madrasa nexus has expanded exponentially over the years at the expense of saint and shrine, and the spiritual excellence that they epitomised. Nevertheless, saint and shrine have sustained its supremacy at least in the rural areas of the Punjab. Historically, saints of the Punjab fitted well into the client-patron network of the colonial rulers, a tradition that continued undeterred till-to-date. Conversely, Deobandi maulvis and madaris have been clamouring for the sharia to be promulgated from the very outset. The success of anti-Qadiani Movement in the 1970s, Zia’s bid to legitimise his military rule, Afghan jihad and Islamic Revolution in Iran (1979) contributed a great deal in Deobandi upsurge.

American and Saudi aid changed the class character of Deobandi exponents. It should be reiterated here that Deobandi movement represented the lower middle and lower classes particularly in the Punjab. However, Deobandi outfits became more militant and markedly sectarian, frequently challenging the writ of the state in the 1990s. Recently, Lal Masjid and Jamia Hifza incident in Islamabad and the way Ghazi brothers exhorted the government to implement sharia, typifies religious extremism.

Defiance towards the state, spiralling of the sectarian hatred and suicide bombing are the tactics deployed by Deobandi militants have substantially unhinged the state apparatus in Pakistan. One explanation of the proliferation of Deobandis in the south Punjab is its feudal character. Having no alternative ideology like Marxism or liberalism or even the language symbols which may challenge the feudal stranglehold, Deobandi (or sectarian) militancy remains one of the few ways to counter it.90 Hence, Deobandi denomination has a roaring success in the districts like Bahawalpur and Rahim Yar Khan.

The quantum of autonomy that the madaris enjoy for the last twenty-five years makes it increasingly difficult for the Pakistani state to establish its own writ. Even the proposal for the curriculum reforms and registration of the madaris are defied vigorously.

ENDNOTES Stephen Philip Cohen, “The Jihadist Threat to Pakistan” in The Washington Quarterly (Summer, 2003), p,10.

Richard M Eaton, “The Profile of Popular Islam in the Pakistani Punjab”, Journal of South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, Vol. II, No. I, Fall 1978, p.74.



Ian Talbot, Punjab and Raj (Delhi: Manohar,1988), p. 21.


The grant of madad-i-ma ‘ash was theoretically an act of charity for “maintenance of the poor and indigent (creatures) of god”. According to Abul Fazl, there were four classes of persons for whom the grants were specially meant: men of learning; religious devotees; destitute persons without the capacity for obtaining livelihood; and persons of noble lineage, who would not, “out of ignorance”, take to any employment. See for details, Irfan Habib, The Agrarian System of Mughal India: 1556-1707 (Delhi:Oxford University Press, 1999), p.352.

Talbot, Punjab and Raj p.24.

9Gilmatin, Empire and Islam, p.47.

Secretary, Board of Administration, Punjab to Secretary, Government of India, Foreign department,13 September 1860 (Board of Revenue, file 131/1575) quoted in Gilmartin, Empire and Islam, p.47.

11Mushir ul Hasan, Legacy of a Divided Nation: India’s Muslims since Independence (Delhi:

Oxford University Press, 1997), p.4.


Ahl-i-Hadith exegesis of Islam emphasize on Quran and Hadith (Prophet’s tradition) as a fundamental sources of Din rejecting, therefore, the four schools of jurisprudence namely Hanafi, Shaafi, Maalki and Hunbali.

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