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The Deobandi are a Muslim religious revivalist movement in South Asia which has more recently also spread to other countries, such Afghanistan, South Africa and the UK.

Sure, Darul Uloom Deoband is today a renowned religious and academic center in the Islamic world. In the sub-continent it is the largest institution for the dissemination and propagation of Islam and the biggest headspring of education in the Islamic sciences. Not only that but further more Deoband stands now for even an own thought under the roof of the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jama’at Hanafi.

Wikipedia says:

The Deobandi are a Muslim religious revivalist movement in South Asia which has more recently also spread to other countries, such Afghanistan, South Africa and the UK. They follow the fiqh (tradition of jurisprudence) of Imam Abu Hanifa and follow Imam Abu Mansur Maturidi’s thought in Aqeedah (Doctrine) and Ilm ul Kalaam (Rhetoric) i.e the science of refuting attacks on Islam made using Greek logic Mu’tazili. The name derives from Deoband, India, where the madrassa Darul Uloom Deoband is situated.

Deobandi thought is characterised by a strict adherence to the Sunnah (the tradition of the Prophet Muhammad) and an emphasis on Shar??a (Islamic law). It has five main principles, which are:

1. Tauhd: (Monotheism) of God; no one shares His attributes.
2. Sunnah: Following and loving the methodology of the Messenger of God, Muhammad in every small and big matter.
3. Hubbu s-Sahabah: Love of the companions of the Messenger of God, and following their way.
4. Taqlid wa l-Ittiba: Giving preference to the jurisprudence of one of the earliest jurists of Islam over that of later jurists.
5. Jihad fi Sabili l-Lah: Doing Jih?d in the way of God against every evil.

The Inspired Madrasah & it’s school of thoughts
Fundamentally the foremost thing is its school of thought with out elucidating which neither any light can be thrown on its spirituality nor its religious orientation can be exposed. Some questions arise here: Firstly, what is its central thought from which its raison d’être may be determined? What are the constituents of its central thought from which its angles of action may be fixed? What is the head-spring of this thought from which it received this thought? What is the route to reach it whereby its being authentic and satisfactory may become conspicuous? These are the very questions without solving which no light can be thrown on its spirituality and reality.

So, the first thing in this connection is that the chain of authenticity of the Darul Uloom starts with the great traditionist of India, Hazrat Imam Shah Waliyullah Dehlwi whose continuous chain of authenticity reaches back the Holy Prophet (Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him!). Shah Waliyullah’s knowledge, taste and thought, through the medium of Shah Abdul Aziz, Shah Muhammad lshaq and then Shah Abdul Ghani, reached Hujjatul Islam (the Proof of Islam), Maulana Mohammad Qasim Nanautawi and Maulana Rasheed Ahmed Gangohi, who universalized it through this sacred institution, i.e., the Darul Uloom, Deoband. So, undoubtedly, in the teaching of the Holy Book and the Sunnah and in the elucidating and stating of the greatness and veneration of Divine Unity (Tauheed) and apostle hood (Risalat). Shah Waliyullah has had a peculiar color and a remarkable style of explaining, and whose foremost nuclear matter is Divine Revelation (Wahy) and its discernment, which is the basis of his thought.

Then in the sphere of teaching and inculcation there is that specialty of expression which appeals to the psychology of every age, and of which there are different constituents which have been working in it as per the Psychology of time. Then this style of thought is not the result of mere rational deliberation or intellectual exercise; it is rather inspirational, the inspirational specialty of which Shah Waliyullah himself has expressed in his monumental work, Hujjatullahil Baligha.

It is clear that to present the handed-down (narrated) and traditional religion in the garb of rational arguments, physical expediencies and spiritual secrets and mysteries. To make religion acceptable to the rationalist dispositions of the period by showing it to be the natural religion is the first part of this inspired school of thought that was inspired by Allah into the Shah Sahib’s heart.

But after the elapsing of the age of childhood of this era, when the time of the youth of rationalism came and the English power also, having passed through the hidden and machinating stage began to run full gallop in open courses. The said zest too began to dwindle in the same ratio. Rather, when therewith European theories and atheistic thoughts began to arrive in the shape of a rival vis-a-vis religion, and with the crossbreeding of philosophy with science. These theories began to take the form of percepts, sheer reason also lagged behind and perceptivity, launching an attack, scrounged its throne of sovereignty. And now the presenting of anything traditional in the garb of the rational no more remained a guarantor of its being believed so long as it was not put forth in the guise of percepts. It was so because the pace of the time and the straw in the wind were showing that shortly Lenin and Stalin would replace Newton and Goethe, and instead of theoretical philosophy. Sensory and socialism’s and perceptual philosophies were to be founded which would not be prepared to give importance to any theoretical and rational philosophies as long as practical and perceptible factors were not seen working in them. Rather, even the swords of strength and power should not obstruct the throats of this socialistic and sensory ism.

Accordingly, swelling like a turkey cock with the pride of perceptible and material powers, Gladstone’s swollen oratory. It was to echo in the British parliament to the effect that “now we have become so powerful that even if the sky wishes to fall down upon us, we will stop it at the points of our bayonets.” Then, after a brief interval. Stalin’s was to reverberate in the atmosphere that “now we have banned the entry of God into the Russian borders”. And (astronaut) Yuri Gagarian, returning safely from his journey to the moon, was to aver: “I, rising above the gravitational center of the earth went on circling in the atmosphere of the sky and witnessed the rising and setting of the sun seventeen times within an hour. But now where their l saw God”. Moreover, in this mean world anti-God and anti-prophet societies were also to be founded merely for the reason that God is invisible to them through bare eyes. God forfends! In sum, in place of the rational gallop, o perceptual race was starting and in place of the faculties of the heart and the mind the sovereignty of the eye of the forehead was to be installed. In other words, that old Judaism, which had divested the Jews of their faith, was to revive again to come before the world and it was this only that they, striking the adz at the very basis of their faith, had fixed the eye to be their deity; and they had said:

“0 Moses! We will not believe in thee till we see Allah plainly”(11:55). ‘And we will not acknowledge the divine speech to be divine till we hear Allah’s voice with our own ears’.

As though this abnegation had taken the form of a principle that a thing not seen by the eye does not exist; naturally the sequel was that sense had taken the place of intellect and perceptible things the place of rationalism. Hence, they were desirous of seeing with eyes even those spiritualities, which are things to be seen with the heart and are free from and above perceptible form and shape. Hence, it had become insufficient to explain to them a subtle and spiritual reality like religion by bringing it before them merely in a rational shirt, as long as it was not brought forth covered with the mantle of perceptible abject. Thus, even as at the beginning of this age of rationalism the respectable Imam Shah Waliyullah, through divine inspiration, carved the way of rational argument and proof for the stating of religion, at the start of this period of perceptivity. A unique gem in his own fourth academic lineage, Shah Abdul Ghani Muhaddith Dehlwi also, observing this situation of the world, indicated the dress of perceptions, though its practical period began afterwards. Accordingly, this fact becomes apparent from his own (following) incident, which was related by Haji Ameer Shah Khan Khurjawi, a favorite attendant of Qasimul Uloom Nanautavi, before a group of students among whom. This humble writer was also present; that Hakim Nuruddin (Bhervi), the first khalifa (spiritual successor) of Mirza Ghulam Ahmed Qadiani, was one of the pupils of Shah Abdul Ghani, though later on he reneged. After he completed his studios, Shah Sahib told him: “Mian Nuruddin! Books you have already finished; now learn something about remembering Allah”. He replied “Sir! I have read the Quran, l have read the Hadith. What’s remembrance of Allah besides this?” “Nuruddin! You must have estimated from my lectures on Hadith”, said Shah Abdul Ghani, “that l transform the traditional into the rational by the practice of remembering Allah this rational will become perceptible”. The purport of this observation was that by the excess of Sicker (remembrance of Allah) illumination of the heart (Ishraq-e-Qalbi) is achieved and by its luster, along with the realm of spirituality’s, the realities and knowledge’s of the world of perception are also uncovered. The hint was towards this that now it would not be sufficient to present religion theoretically in the rational color till it was not put before the world with arguments of the perceptual style. And perceptible evidences of which there is no other way except self-discipline (Riyazat), spiritual exertion (Mujahada) and excess of Zikr, whereby gnosis, insight and the dignity of divining realities are created in the heart, and theoretical propositions turn into and look as percepts.

So, in this stating of religion, Imam Shah Waliyullah had included rational expediencies and mysteries and a particular disciple of his in the fourth generation (Shah Abdul Ghani). Included along with it perceptual and observational arguments and evidences as well, which was the effect of the light of the same divine inspiration and gnostic intuition. But, anyway, this was the same aesthetic and oratorical manner, which, as regards the wisdom of the verses and the traditions, could be effective and appealing to the sentiments of our own people or those individuals who were intellectually proximate. It was, however, not of such argumentative dignity that it could affect a sheer repudiator and a pure antagonist, carrying a hidden negation of the Book and the Divine Revelation in his heart. And who, ab initio, be a denier of the existence of the Creator and, backsliding from the necessity of prophet hood, be unconvinced, from the very start, of resurrection, and may have taken these beliefs to be an amusing old fable. How could then the wisdom and insight born of verse and tradition or of relevance to them be effective upon one who would shy at the very mention of a verse and tradition? Hence it was necessary that without the initial mention of verses and traditions, religion might be presented before him with mere scientific principle in philosophical manners and in the style of the ism of the current period in such a way that, apart from narrative and tradition and apart from their rational arguments and perceptible proofs. Islam might appear before him independently in the form of a philosophy and ism. In the beginning it may not be sensed that this is some revealed religion which is being presented before him but he may feel that this independent, natural, intrinsic philosophy and a System of life without adopting which man can never pass his life pleasantly. And when love of this religion may have started flowing’ somewhat in the straits of his intellect, he may be told at the end that this was the same Islam from which he was shying.

Keeping this situation in mind, if the present-day period is seen, then this situation has reached its extreme stage. The war of today is not that of theories; intact it is not of theories even but rather mostly or caption and style of expression.

If today a reality is presented with the names of God and the Prophet, peoples free from it, but if the same reality is presented under the captions of civilization, society and worldly benefits. Then not only they deem it worth paying attention to but also consider it acceptable, it means, therefore, that the real enmity is with the names of God and the Prophet, not with their message, provided it is not presented with their names. What else is the upshot of all this but this that in the present-day superficial period all the religious wars are not of realities and events but only of captions. That is, superficiality has come to such a level that meanings and realities apart, the criterion of truth and falsehood has come to depend upon interpretation and interpretative ascription. For instance, it initially the inculcation of a belief comes in the name of a religious tradition or a religion and whatever number of exigencies are laid bare, it will continue to be lost to bewilderment and escape. And if the same is presented under the caption of scientific, philosophical, economic and cultural expediencies, in the form of an ism, then not only that it does not prove to be a means of bewilderment and flight but also becomes worthy of attention and cogitation. As though the world has become an appreciate of words and wearies of meaning. Hence, its reformation too is possible through percepts and verbal captions only, provided those words be of the same meanings which are meant to be instilled into their hearts. So, for treating the spiritual patients of this period rose up from the fifth academic generation of the same Waliyllahian family an individual whom on the afore-said line, presented from the very start the faith and religion. Religious beliefs and religious principles and universals, under the impulsion of the same divine inspiration, without mentioning the names of Quran and Hadith or religion and community (Miltat), in such an argumentative and logical style of expression as if he were presenting, as per the condition of the times. A strong and firm is in the external caption of which initially was neither the proclamations of religion nor the information of the Invisible, but finally it was the same religion and the belief of the Unseen. But he presented it in such a manner as if it were the inculcation of a pure philosophical ism without believing which neither the social life could be maintained in the right way nor politics and civilization nor life-after-death could be firm and successful. So he laid the foundation of a new perceptual philosophy and knowledge. We remember this individual as Qasimul Uloom Maulana Mohammad Qasim Nanautavi (may Allah have mercy on him’), who was the pith of the sciences of Shah Waliyllah, Shah Abdul Aziz, Shah Mohammad lshaq and Shah Abdul Ghani and the quintessence of their religious discernment. And the same deposit that he had taken from the Waliyullahian era, he put forth before the world in a philosophical manner opposite to the condition or this period. Accordingly, in view of the mentality of the period, verses and traditions or religions technical terms are not initially mentioned anywhere on the surface in Qasimul Uloom’s writings and compilations though in reality they are nothing but verses and traditions. Rather, remarkably the interpretative part as regards form consists of argumentative forms, demonstrative proofs and perceptual evidences and illustrations, whereas the internal part, in respect of meanings and imports, consists of the realities of faith, gnostic bonds and apocalyptic and manifestative qualities. So Qasimul Uloom has reflected the splendor of verses and traditions in the mirror of the indisputable questions (Musallamat) and objects of sense of this era, but through philosophical argumentation and logical style of affirmation, in such a way as if an independent philosophy of life were being presented. In the end, however, it is disclosed that this is very much the same Islam by the name of which the world had been bewildered. Thus, it becomes manifest to them that they were quarrelling over only names and captions and they had not got even the wind of the matter, though by nature they were not far from reality. But when by this philosophical style the reality became evident to them, finally the same caption which Allah Lord of honor had coined for this reality was put on it —-i.e., Islam which Shah Waliyullah and his predecessors had presented.

It was this reason Maulana Ubaydullah Sindhi used to say that the only ladder to Shah Waliyullah’s philosophy is the Qasimi’s philosophy without climbing which one cannot reach the Waliyullahian proofs adequately. So the sciences Shah Waliyullah presents in an aesthetic and apocalyptic color, Qasimul Uloom brings them out in an argumentative color. The former, in fine, does not let the familiar but skeptic persons become repudiators while the latter convinces the repudiators and pure atheists; the former, under verses and traditions, explains them philosophically. While the latter, by his philosophy, brings the backsliders to the door of verses and traditions to ease their entry into the palace of religion, provided, of course, this philosophy reaches or is conveyed to them. And even as the Waliyullahian philosophy is inspired, the Qasmi’s philosophy too is inspired and is a treasure of afflatus. And even as regards the Waliyullahian philosophy its propounder him-self has made it explicit in his writing that it is theopneustic and not the outcome of mental gymnastics. The elucidation and clarification of which has already been quoted from his writing; about the Qasmi’s philosophy too the clarifications of its propounder are present in his works.

Anyway, it is one and the same afflatus (Hikmat-e-Ladunni); when it descended upon Shah Waliyullah through divine inspiration, it put on the garb of rational color in the stating of religion when it came to Shah Abdul Ghani, and it indicated the performance of percepts. And when it was experienced by Qasimul Uloom, it took the form of perceptible objects instead of intuitive things and in that too it clothed itself with a ratiocinative dress; and in tune with the changing mentality of the times. This afflatus too went on changing different attires, the common value of which is divine inspiration and intuition. The same intuition (Ilqa), through divine providence, went on forming and developing the mind of these august men; but since Maulana Nanautavi had derived benefit from and been trained by all of them, he proved to be the quintessence of the knowledge and philosophy of all these elders. Thus he became the most accomplished exponent of the tack (Maslak) of the Ahl-e-Sunnah wal Jama’ah. And from time to time, presented the sciences of this tack sometimes in the rational color, sometimes in the perceptional and sometimes in his convincing dialectical method, in his teaching and inculcation, books and lectures. Wherefore this tack came before the world in a comprehensive manner; and its comprehensiveness too became conspicuous that it combines the traditional with the rational, the rational with the perceptional, and the perceptional with the dialectical color. It is for this reason that in the Qasimul Uloom’s knowledge there is knowledge with gnosis, expediency with command, the traditional with the rational, the rational with the perceptional, benefits with the law. The spiritual path (Tariqat) with the high road (Shari’at) of religion, consciousness of divine observation (Ehsan) with faith (Iman), defense of religion with its affirmation; that is, combining the sentiments of the grandeur of religion with religion. He presented it in the form of a compounded electuary with a life giving antidotal color, which comprised realities sprung from the head-spring of pure inspiration. Allah Most High, with His unbounded bounty and favor upon him, had made his physical nature itself such that if he proves one small proposition (Mas’ala) it appears in the garb of a general principle which settles not one but hundreds of other details.

It is obvious that when, in his time, Qasimul Uloom alone was the sole originator of the basic idea of the Darul Uloom Deoband, as has been evidenced by his pupils, compeers and elders. It was but ineluctable for this inspirational aspect to come to the fore in the tack of the Darul Uloom, and it did. And thereby it became clear that its tack, central thought and religious tendency were not the outcome of cogitation but were a drop from the overflowing sea of divine inspiration. So if it were said, then it can be said without the fear of the blamer’s blame that Deobandism is firstly Waliyullahism and secondly Qasimism, and that it is not merely the name of teaching and learning. And in view of the combination of the afore-said academic connections, it can be said that it is not merely a Madrasah but it is a Madrasah of though in the modern technical term, a school of thought.

Thus it becomes evident that Deobandism is neither a creed (Mazhab) nor a sect, terms by which its antagonists try to incite the masses against it. But it is a comprehensive picture and a complete edition of the tack of the Ahl-e-Sunnah wal-Jama’ah in which all he offshoots of the Ahl-e-Sunnah wal-Jama’ah are seen joined with their root. What a fine succinct sentence the Poet of the East, the late Dr. Sir Shaikh Mohammad lqba!-and it be seemed him alone-had spoken about Deobandism! When someone asked him, “What thing is the Deobandi, a creed or a sect”? He replied: “It’s neither a creed nor a sect; Deobandi is the name of every rationalist religious man”.

At all events, the central thought and fundamental religious orientation or tack of the Madrasah of Deoband is a comprehensive, moderate and versatile tack of the Ahl-e-Sunnah wal-Jama’ah in which, by the combination of the Sunnah and the Jama’ah (group). The principle of religion, which is the Holy Book and the Sunnah, and respect for the religious personalities-jurisprudents (Fuqaha), traditionists (Muhaddethin), school doctors (Mutakallemin), professional commentators of the Quran (Mufasserin), Sufis, fundamentalists (Usuliyeen) and divine doctors (Ulma-e-Rabbaniyeen) -both have combined. Neither departing from principle there is invention, novelty and renewal so that the door of heresies (Bid’at) and innovations may be opened, nor breaking away from the religious personalities. There is self-esteem and opinionatedness whereby the gate of pride, presumption, self-conceit and haughtiness may be set ajar, and “the greatness of the pious predecessors and the just posterity may become chimerical. So, the prevention of the first disease is done with the world ‘Al-Sunnah’ and the second disease is averted by the word ‘AI-Jama’ah’, and thus this comprehensive and moderate tack cleansed of all diseases, has reached us intact through Madrasah of Deoband and other Madaris of similar nature. Otherwise in whichever tack there is excess and deficiency, it is either due to the absence of both these words, Al-Sunnah and AI-Jama’ah, or the lack of one of them. If there be no Sunnah, it will become a tack of heresies and innovations, and if AI-Jama’ah be missing, it will become a tack of self-opinion, freethinking and presumptuousness and the result of these two shortcomings is excess and deficiency.