Deoband Movement And Its Repercussions In Modern India


By R. Upadhyay

Deoband movement started in 1866 AD with the avowed objective to overthrow the British rule in Indian sub-continent and restore Islamic rule. Its leaders adopted the strategy to educate the Muslim masses in pristine tradition of Prophet Era and to prepare them for Jihad.

Today there are eleven top Deobandi institutions and these include

i. Darul Uloom Deoband, UP, India
ii. Nazahirul Uloom, Saharanpur, UP, India.
iii. Darul Uloom Karanchi, Pakistan.
iv. Darul Uloom Haqqania, Pakistan.
v. Jamia Ashrafia, Lahore, Pakistan.
vi. Jamia Uloom ul Islamia, Banori town, Karanchi, Pakistan.
vii. Madrassa Arabia Islamia, Raiwind, Pakistan.
viii. Jamiatur Rasheed, Karanchi, Pakistan.
ix. Darul Uloom Muinul Islam, Hathazari, Chittagong, Bangladesh.
x. Darul Uloom Bury, Holcombe, England.
xi.. Darul Uloom Bolton, England.
(Source- Wickipaedia)

While these institutions impart education based on Deobandi school of thought, some of the Ulema have also launched religio-political campaign propagating puritan Islam. These organisations include

i. Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind, India.
ii. Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam. It is a political party in Pakistan.
iii. Tehreek-e-Khatme Nabuwat, Pakistan. It is a leading hard liner forum of Muslim clerics directed against the Ahmadias.
iv. Tablighi Jamaat with headquarter in Delhi, India.
v. Sipahe Sahaba. It is a Sunni Deobandi militant organisation and also a registered political party in Pakistan. (Ibid.)

The pre-Islamic past of India is a common heritage of all the Indians irrespective of their present religion. But the Arabian descendents who lost their political powers in the sub-continent desperately supported the Deoband movement for Arabisation of the Indian converts for their recruitment as Jihadi soldiers with the ultimate objective to restore Islamic power. Therefore, Darul Uloom was not only a theological seminary but a religio-social- political movement for Arabisation of Indian Muslims and their radicalisation, with the overall objective to free the sub-continent from the British and restore the lost Islamic rule.

Although, the Deoband movement of Sunni Islam was initially launched against the British rule for restoration of Islamic power but gradually it hardened its interpretation of Islam to the extent that the first loyalty of the Muslim is to his faith and only then to the country of his abode. It maintains that the religious boundary of Ummah (Muslim community as a whole) is only the national boundary of the Muslims. They also prescribe that the Muslims have a religious obligation to wage Jihad to protect the right of Muslims in any part of the world. The Sunni militants share the strongly restricted Deobandi view on women and Shia as non-Muslims.

Various media reports suggest that there are thousands of Madrasas in Pakistan run by former students of Deoband who follow the Deobandi lines. A report also mentioned that Pakistan at the United Nations Security Council in December 2008 had accused Darul Uloom Deoband in India of influencing terrorists in NWFP and Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) ( Similarly, a Congress leader M. Veerappa Moili said that “in January 1994, Jaish-e-Mohammad Masood Azhar Alvi arrived in India and interacted extensively with the leading figures of the Deoband Ulema” (Ibid.). As stated by Mohtamim Maulana Marguhul Rehmani, Vice Chancellor of this Islamic institution – ‘Darul Uloom is the ideological fountainhead of Taliban’ (Pioneer, 21 October, 2001).

Deobandi Ulema often boast that even before the Indian National Congress adopted resolution demanding complete independence, a Deobandi Ulama namely Maulana Mahmood Hasan popularly known as Shaikhul Hind (1851-1920) had organized a plan of stirring revolt to overtnrow the British Government and restore the Islamic Government. It is a fact that Shaikhul Hind had conspired with his fellow Ulema and disciples to launch Jihad against the British but his objective was not for the freedom of the sub-continent for restoration of a secular government. Since the second decade of twentieth century was a calamitous period for the world of Islam when the European powers made a secret pact against the Turkish Empire and also usurped some of its political territories and British power was behind this plan, Shaikhul-Hind had conspired for Jihad. However, when he was in his misson to collect arms and support from Islamic countries and had visited Mecca, he along with his accomplices like Maulana Hussain Ahmad Madni and others were arrested in 1916 in the midst of the First World War by Sharif Hussain the then ruler of Hijaj. They were handed over to the British who kept them under detention in the island of Malta for over three years. Shaikhul Hind was the first student of Darul Uloom Deoband and a most committed disciple of Maulana Qasim Nanautawi, the founder of this institution. After the end of the First World War he returned to India in 1920 following his release from detention when he joined Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind, an organization of Ulema mosty from Darul Uloom Deoband. His plan was referred by the British as “Silken Letters conspiracy”. It is said that the letters sent to Shaikhul Hind by Deobandi Ulema were written on yellow silk cloth.

After the failure of “Silken Letters conspiracy”, the Ulema mostly associated with Darul Uloom Deoband formed an association in 1919 named as Jamiat-Ulema-e-Hind (JUH). Its involvement in Khilafat movement and link with Mahatma Gandhi and Indian National Congress (INC) was a strategy to build bridge between Hindus and the Muslims so that they could fight against the mighty British. However, after the failure of Khilafat movement a group of Ulema always maintained reservation against the INC as they suspected it as an organization of the Hindus. In 1945 they finally broke out from the JUH which was against a separate state of Pakistan for the Muslims and formed a separate organization known as Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam. Thus, the split in JUH was the main reason as to how the Pakistan movement got the support of the larger majority of Muslim masses.

The Deobandis in India remained silent for over two decades over the on going terror war against India by various terrorist organizations like Jais-e- Mohammad and Lashkar-e- Toyeba. They denounced terrorism only last year but never cricised these organizations by name. Some media reports indicate that Msood Azhar after his release from jail by Government of India in December 1999 went to Binori mosque in Karachi and announced the formation of JEM (Jaish-e-Mohammad) which was responsible for launching terror war in Kashmir. It is said that Binori mosque is a most staunch adherent of Deobandi thought. One Sohail Abbas a leading psychologist of Pakistan interviewed over five hundred Mujahideens in Pakistani jails and asserted that “barring just a few, they also belonged to the Deobandi school of thought”.

Even though, Ulema are responsible for sectarian division in Muslim society due to their internal difference over certain interpretations of Islamic scriptres. It is amusing that Ulema are not unanimous even on issue like suicide bombing. While expressing his views over suicide bombing, the mufti of Saudi Arabia, said he was “not aware of anything in religious law regarding killing oneself in the midst of the enemy,” and concluded suicide is not permissible in Islam, the Hamas affiliated Ulema maintained that “sicide is not only permissible in Islam but even desirable” (The Middle East Quarterly, Fall 2001, Vol. Viii, Number 4).

Today, the on going Jihadi terrorism in different parts of the world has been an issue of concern for the entire human race but the analysts have often failed to highlight the role of the Islamic priestly class known as Ulama, Mullah and Maulana who have played a prominent role in mobilizing the Muslim masses in streets to fight for the cause of Islamist politics. “Only the Mullahs can bring the people into the streets and make them die for Islam – begging to have their blood shed for Islam” – Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeni (Quoted in Middle East Quarterly – Fall 2001 Volume VIII Number 4 by Gibreel from “The Spirit of Allah: Khomeni and the Islamic Revolution”, London, Hutchinson, 1985, page 51 written by Amir Taheri).

As per Islamic tradition Muslims are the religio-political community who believe that religion and politics are indivisible in Islam. Deoband has made the Muslims in India to believe that Islam is a comprehensive way of life. Therefore, with specialized knowledge of Islamic scriptures Ulema find themselves in advantageous position of expressing their voice on political issues also for influencing the community. They raised hue and cry against Supreme Court verdict in Shahbano case which vindicates the view that the Islamist priestly class can mobilise the Muslims in streets even against the verdict of the highest court in the country.

Ulema may not be a distinct class with any Quranic authority to interpret the holy Book but with the expansion of Islamic territories, the scholarly class in Muslim community interpreted the Islamic scriptures according to the convenience of the rulers and gradually attained an important role in the community. Islamic history suggests that the orthodox soldiers of Arab born faith never accept defeat and once they understand the cause behind the defeat; their response is both intelligent and vigorous.

Islam being a religio-political movement might have transformed the warring natives of Arabian Peninsula into a relatively controlled way of life; their pre-Islamic past remained the bedrock of the socio-political philosophy of the new faith. Therefore, Arabisation of the followers of Islam became the norm of its pure form. The Ulema of Darul Uloom at Deoband not only put greater emphasis on Arab tradition of Islamic rituals and codes of conduct by combining the creeds of the historical Islamists like Sheikh Ahmad Sarhindi, Shah Waliullah, Mawlana Wahhab, Syed Ahmad Barelvi and relied on them as tool not for inspiring spirituality among the Indian Muslims but for acquiring the lost political power in the sub-continent. Thus, Arabisation of the Indian converts for political gain developed a social tension between the two religious communities. Had the Deobandis allowed Islam to flourish among Indian Muslims on their pre-Islamic cultural past, the Muslims in India would not have suffered from their plight.

Instead of diagnosing the plight of the Muslims based on the concept of modernism, Deoband movement still believes in the medieval philosophy of Shah Waliullah who diagnosed the plight of the community due to its ignorance about Islam and tried to convince them that it was only the clear understanding of this faith that made the Muslims in the history as rulers and empire builders.

Ironically, the Ulema continue to have a mesmeric influence over the ‘secular’ politicians in India and are always a sought-after commodity for the votes of the Muslims in India as they are capable to manipulate the believers for supporting the political class of their choice. In fact they always misguided the Muslim masses inculcating fears in their mind of being swamped by the Hindu majority in democratic India. Preaching customary practices prevailing in Arabian society during the era of Prophet Mohammad, the Deoband school emphasized on purity of Islam with a view to purify the Indian converts from their cultural bondage of pre-Islamic past. The growing trend of radical Islamism discarding supposedly un-Islamic accretions to the faith and repeated emphasis on the customary practices of the Prophet era, they have often opposed watching TV and movies, singing song, playing musical instrument which they perceive as Western influences.

The point being made here is that had Darul Uloom Deoband confined itself to preach religion and not involved in producing the Jihadi soldiers for revivification of political Islam, the Muslims in India would not have suffered the pangs of partition and their current economic plight.


SAAG is the South Asia Analysis Group, a non-profit, non-commercial think tank. The objective of SAAG is to advance strategic analysis and contribute to the expansion of knowledge of Indian and International security and promote public understanding.

2 thoughts on “Deoband Movement And Its Repercussions In Modern India

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *