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The Grand Deobandi Consensus is by Khaled Ahmed, published in the The Friday Times of Pakistan, dated Feb 4-10 2000. The article examines the sectarian and doctrinal issues that underpin the radical mindset that prevails in Pakistan today. Khaled Ahmed is the executive editor of the Friday Times.




The Friday Times

Feb 4-10 2000
The Grand Deobandi Consensus

Khaled Ahmed

The civil war in Afghanistan and the jehad in Kashmir have gradually veered to a Deobandi consensus. The dominant Hizbe Islami of Hekmatyar, a flag-bearer of modernist-Islamist thinking of Maududi and Hasan al-Banna, lost favour with the Pakistani establishment in the mid-1990s. In its place, the Taliban of Mullah Umar, trained in the traditional Deobandi jurisprudence, enjoy popularity in Pakistan. In Kashmir, Jamaat-e-Islami's Hizbul Mujahideen has been eclipsed by Harkat-ul-Ansar (Mujahideen) of Deobandi persuasion.

In a parallel development, the Wahabi or Ahle Hadith warriors have gained strength. The most effective jehadi outfit based in Lahore is Lashkar-e-Tayba, functioning as a subordinate branch of Dawat al-Irshad, an organisation with contacts in the Arab world, collecting jehad funds among the expatriate Muslim communities in the West. It has training camps in Afghanistan and Azad Kashmir and is arguably the most resourceful militia fighting in Kashmir. It has contacts in Central Asia through its training camps in Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden has strengthened the old Wahabi connection with the Deobandi Taliban rulers. Some American sources claim that the Taliban amirul momineen, Mullah Umar, has married Osama's daughter.

The third strand of fundamentalist movement which seems attracted to the Wahabi-Deobandi combine in Afghanistan, is the Naqshbandiya. Most of the Muslim-populated North Caucasian region in Russia follows the shrine-worshipping mystical order of the Naqshbandiya. The uprising in Chechnya and its incursion into Dagestan is turning the Naqshbandi followers to the more strict orthodoxy of the Saudi-based Wahabi order. Russian onslaught in Chechnya is transforming the mystical faith into a militant one.

Afghanistan has become the retreat of Central Asian Islamists fighting against their ex-communist leaders. Juma Namangani and Tahir Yuldashev have staged a fundamentalist revolt against Uzbekistan's president Karimov and have sought shelter with the Taliban government after being accused by Karimov of trying to assassinate him in Tashkent. In 1999, Kyrgyzstan experienced a commando assault from these radicals along its borders in which some Japanese technicians were made hostage by them. Central Asian Islam has been traditionally Hanafi sunni with strong mystical colouring provided by the Naqshbandiya school of sufis.

In Afghanistan, the naqshbandi faith is represented by Sibghatullah Mujadiddi, Afghanistan's first president chosen by the mujahideen in exile in Peshawar in 1989. Mujaddidi is a descendant of Sheikh Ahmad of Sirhind (d.1624), also called Mujaddid Alf-e-Sani, who led a mystical movement of purification under Emperor Jehangir and was greatly admired by Islamic revivalist movements in India. It is a measure of the greatness of Sheikh Ahmad that the Naqshbandis of Afghanistan, Central Asia, North Caucusus and Turkey are all Mujaddidi today.

All three movements, the Deobandi, the Ahle Hadith-Wahabi, and Naqshbandi-Mudaddidi (in India), are against bidaa (innovation) in Islamic rituals. They oppose the eclecticism that developed among Muslims under the Mughals and wished to separate local accretion from the pure Islamic faith. The founder of the Naqshbandi order, Shaikh Ahmad, compelled the Mughal king Jehangir to persecute the Muslim mystical orders that had developed a spiritual consensus with Hindus and Sikhs.

The other preoccupation of the Naqshbandis in India was opposition to the Shiite faith developing in the South of India and in the northern province of Oudh. Shaikh Ahmad had decreed that the Shiites were apostates and had to be put to the sword. Central Asia has been historically Hanafi and anti-Shiite, particularly because the rulers of Iran were mostly conquering Turks from Central Asia and did not favour its conversion to Shiism which they thought heretical.

Deoband is in district Saharanpur in the Uttar Pradesh province of India. The Darul Uloom seminary established here in 1879 by Maulan Abul Qasim Nanotvi concentrated on the instruction of the Quran, realigning the mystically inclined Muslim population with the basic teachings of Islam. Deobandi scholars adopted Shah Waliullah (1703-1762) as their spiritual patron. Shah Waliullah is probably the most revered Islamic thinker among the Muslims of South Asia and Afghanistan. His ability to interpret the Quran and adjudicate among the various strands of Islamic jurisprudence was such that he declared himself a qayem al-zaman, a semi-divine personality given the mission by Prophet Muhammad PBUH himself to reform the faith. He travelled to Hejaz (Saudi Arabia) to learn the jurisprudence of Imam Malik and the other great jurists of Islam.

A renowned Deobandi scholar Maulana Ubaidullah Sindhi in his book Shah Waliullah aur unka falsafa quotes Shah Waliullah as writing that Prophet Muhammad PBUH ordered him in person that he should 'bind' all the schools of sunni fiqh together and not reject hadith. The great reformer then set out to combine the teachings of Hanafi, Maliki, Shafei and Hanbali Islam without denigrating any one of the schools. He was averse to accepting hadith, but in obedience to the Prophet PBUH, he selectively permitted the validity of hadith.

In Mughal India, this was tantamount to a revolution. S.M. Ikram in Mauj-e-Kausar explains how, from the progeny of Shah Waliullah, a new movement against bidaa (innovation) sprang up in early 19th century and was mistaken for Wahabism by the generality of Muslims of India. Shah Waliullah's grandson Shah Ismail (1781-1831 AD) was attracted to Ibn Taimiyya (1263-1328 AD) whose teachings were also to inspire Abdul Wahab (1703-1792 AD), the spiritual guide of the House of Saud. This 'confluence' gave rise to a new strict fundamentalism in India.

Annemarie Schimmel in Islam in the Indian Subcontinent tells us that Shah Waliullah in his youth was greatly inspired by the anti-innovation, anti-Shiite thought of Sheikh Ahmad Sirhindi. It seems that the antecedents of Shah Waliullah were derived from a Naqshbandi inspiration while his followers were inclined by his teachings to Wahabism. This sowed the seeds of a tripartite deobandi-wahabi-naqshbandi alliance that has now come into being.

In Pakistan, only one armed religious outfit called Tanzeem al-Ikhwan is active under the aggressive leadership of Maulana Akram Awan. Based on the mystical teachings of Shaikh Ahmad, the madrassa run by him in Chakwal is said to have close links with the army. In the investigations that followed the 1995 unsuccessful military coup in Pakistan, led by Islamist officers, his name is said to have cropped up in the list of the accused, but was allegedly removed from the findings because of his close army connections.

Asta Olsen in her book Islam and Politics in Afghanistan explains the historical Afghan connection with Darul Uloom of Deoband. The Afghan cleric was discouraged by the Khanate of Bukhara's oppression to seek religious training in Central Asia. He sporadically sought training in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, but the most convenient source of learning for him became Deoband with its doctrinal closeness to the strict Islamic observance of the Arabs. Many Afghan rulers invaded India and headquartered themselves in the region now included in Peshawar and the Tribal Areas in Pakistan - the region claimed by Afghanistan as Pakhtunistan in 1947 after challenging the 1893 Durand Line.

Many Afghan princes fled civil war at home and sought refuge in British India, thus renewing contacts with the followers of Shah Waliullah. Peshawar and Nowshehra just outside Peshawar gradually became home to the most famous Deobandi seminaries after Deoband, training clerics for Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Hind, the Congress ally that helped form a pro-Congress government in the NWFP in 1947, challenging the Muslim League of the Quaid-e-Azam.

The clerics trained in these institutions are now powerful leaders of the two factions of Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam (JUI), led by Maulana Fazlur Rehman and Maulana Samiul Haq, claiming strong links with the Taliban government in Afghanistan. In his book Unholy wars: Afghanistan, America and international terrorism, John K. Cooley reveals that Mullah Umar and Osama bin Laden first met in 1989 in a Deobandi mosque, Banuri Masjid, in Karachi, and presumably formed an alliance based spiritually on the traditional closeness of the Deobandis, who follow the Hanafi school, with the Wahabis, who accept only hadith under Imam Hanbal and Abdul Wahab. Thus the protection offered to Osama by the Taliban, and the threats delivered by Pakistan's JUI leaders to American citizens in support of Osama bin Laden, seem to spring from a historical interface between the two schools of Islamic fiqh.

The non-Pakhtun population of Pakistan is predominantly Barelvi, following the Hanafi fiqh of Ahmad Raza Khan (1876-1931 AD) who led a successful revolt in India against the stringent teachings of Deobandi-Wahabi school of thought. The stronghold of Barelvism remains Punjab, the largest province of Pakistan in terms of population, but increasingly the state-controlled mosques are being given to Deobandi khateebs. Because of the rise of the Deobandi militias, and their funding by the Arabs for their anti-Shiite doctrine, the province is rapidly losing its Barelvi temperament. The Tablighi Jamaat which holds its annual congregation in Lahore has become a powerful influence favouring a Deobandi point of view. It gathers 2 million people in its congregation but it is important to note that over 90 percent of its attendants are Pakhtun from Peshawar and the Tribal Areas bordering Afghanistan. The President of Pakistan, Muhammad Rafiq Tarar, is a Punjabi Deobandi. The High Court of Lahore, influenced by the Deobandi-Wahabi school, followed the Maliki doctrine in one of its verdicts in 1997 to deny the Hanafi practice of allowing girls to marry without the consent of their fathers.

The Afghan war pushed over 3 million Afghan refugees into Pakistan, which accommodated them in the Pakhtun-dominated areas of the NWFP and Balochistan. The Afghan youth trained in the Deobandi seminaries in these two provinces for over ten years later became the Taliban warriors of Mullah Umar. In their war with the Northern Alliance, the Taliban armies are constantly 'replenished' by fresh Taliban from Pakistan, many of them now Punjabi. According to Ahmed Rashid in Foreign Affairs, over 80,000 Taliban have gone to Afghanistan to fight the Deobandi war against the Northern Alliance of Ahmad Shah Massoud. Recognition of the Taliban government by Saudi Arabia and Pakistan can be seen also in light of the 'confluence' of historically anti-Shiite Deobandi-Wahabi spiritual coalition. This has pitted a Shiite Iran against them. After the Naqshbandi addition to this equation, the Central Asian governments too have joined the anti-Taliban reaction, with Russia at their back, and America inclining in favour of this formation because of Osama bin Laden.