Darul Ulum Deoband – A Brief Account of its Establishment and Background (Part Eight)

By Mawlana Muhammad Zafiruddin Miftahi
Translated by Professor Atique A. Siddiqui (M.A., Ph.D.; Aligarh)
Edited by [Maulana] Abu Zaynab

British counter-efforts

The British tried hard to persuade Indians to study in schools established by the government by opening institutions of Oriental learning so that they might imbibe Western modes of thought and sensibility while remaining Indian only in appearance. The famous nineteenth century Orientalist, Garcon de Tassi, writes:

It cannot be denied that those Indian young men who are studying in government institutions or mission schools would naturally be inclined towards Christianity. (Addresses, Urdu translation, p. 408)

The foreign rulers of the country were certainly the main beneficiaries of this educational system. de Tassi again writes:

With the spread of the European system of education there has been a corresponding increase in the propagation of the European cultural norms and of Christianity which is gaining ground in India and the number of its followers increasing day by day. (Addresses, p. 407)

The British rulers instigated many political and religious movements that had specifically aimed at misleading Indian Muslims. The ulama of the Darul Ulum faced them with courage and determination and it was because of their efforts that Muslims were able to protect themselves from the disruptive activities of the British. The Arya Samaj movement that had already come into existence during the lifetime of Hadhrat Nanautvi began a vicious propaganda campaign against the basic tenets of the Islamic faith. It was the founder of the Darul Ulum himself who faced the challenges posed by the movement, he was followed by his disciples.

As a result of these endeavours the Muslim community remained totally unaffected by this anti-Islamic movement to the utter discomfiture of its initiators.

Then came the movement called the “Shuddhi Sangathan” which aimed at the “re-conversion” of Muslims. This time, too, the Ulama of Deoband faced the challenge, and the movement was a total failure with loss of face for the British who had encouraged it.

While the learned ulama of this great institution dedicated themselves to the cause of the propagation of the faith through teaching and oratory, they also engaged themselves wholeheartedly in the pursuit of tasawwuf. In this sphere also they were the guides of millions of Muslims in the country. Through spiritual illumination, vows of allegiance (bay’at), purification of the inner life of the heart and spiritual catharsis they helped thousands of their faithful followers to arrive at the truth and illumined their hearts with the light of Divine contemplation (marifah).

The founders and the learned alumni of the Darul Ulum were constantly engaged in writing books and treatises on religious and spiritual subjects. The number of their writings that have been published comes to thousands. They wrote books and treatises dealing with all the branches of divinity: commentaries on the Qur’an, hadith, fiqh, Islamic scholasticism, tasawwuf and history. Hakim al-Ummat Mawlana Ashraf Ali Thanvi alone wrote more than a thousand books.

Among others who made contributions to the world of learning by writing books may be mentioned the names of Hadhrat Nanautwi, Hadhrat Gangohi, Hadhrat Shaikh al-Hind, Hakim-al-Ummat Hadhrat Thanwi, Hadhrat Kashmiri, Hadhrat Allamah Uthmani, Mawlana Aizaz Ali, Mawlana Muhammad Idris Kandhelwi, Mawlana Badre Alam, Mawlana Thanaullah Amritsari, Mawlana Madani, Mawlana Ubaidullah Sindhi, Mawlana Mansoor Ansari, Mawlana Syed Muhammad Mia, Mufti Kifayatullah, Mufti Muhammad Shafi, Mawlana Muhammad Yusuf and many others.

Among the living ulama at Deoband mention may be made of Hakim al-Islam Qari Muhammad Tayyib Sahib (Muhtamim, Darul Ulum), Hadhrat al-Ustad Habibur Rahman Azami, Mawlana Saeed Ahmad Akbarabadi, Mawlana Muhammad Manzoor Numani, Mawlana Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi and Mawlana Minnatullah Rahmani. (Editor: all of these have since deceased).

Thousands of readers throughout the country have benefitted from their innumerable writings. May Allah give them long life to enable them to continue their invaluable service to the community. The brief comments that have been made above must have made it amply clear that without the courage and determination of the founders of the Darul Ulum and its innumerable alumni the shape of things in the subcontinent would have been entirely different. The living embodiments of knowledge and scholarship, moral excellence and purity, and of devoutness that can be seen everywhere now would have probably been nonexistent without the efforts made by those associated with the Darul Ulum.

Deoband has played a crucial role in the struggle for Indian independence. It can even be said that freedom came to India largely because of the efforts made by the scholars of Deoband; they did not rest till India had achieved freedom from the British rule. Unfortunately, some prejudiced persons hesitate now in free India to acknowledge the services rendered by Deoband in this regard, but who can forget the fact that it was for the country’s freedom that Shaikh al-Hind Mawlana Mahmudul Hasan, Shaikh al-Islam Mawlana Madani, Mawlana Aziz Gul and Hakim Nusrat Husayn had to suffer deportation to Malta where they had to endure many hardships.

Again it was for the same cause that Hadhrat Mawlana Ubaidullah Sindhi and Mawlana Mansoor Ansari were sent in exile from which the latter never returned. Mufti Kifayatullah, Mawlana Ahmad Sayeed, Mawlana Habibur Rahman Ludhianawi, Mawlana Hifzul Rahman Seoharwi and hundreds of other ulama suffered baton blows and spent years in jail. Hadhrat Mawlana Minnatullah, an important member of the advisory council of the Darul Ulum and the General Secretary of the All-India Muslim Personal Law Board, is a living testimony to the suffering endured by the ulama in jail in the cause of India’s freedom.

The ulama of the Darul Ulum have not remained inactive in free India. If they have made their contribution to the reconstruction of the country, they have also looked after the interests of the Muslim community as part of the national life. It was the Darul Ulum that came forward to preserve the separate identity of the Muslims by insisting on a separate Muslim personal law. The statement issued by Qari Tayyab Sahib, the rector of Darul Ulum Deoband, received countrywide attention leading to the Bombay convention on the issue. Almost all Muslim organisations in the country and Muslim intellectuals participated in that convention. A Muslim Personal Law Board was formed which is active throughout the country. As has already been pointed out the main aim of the Darul Ulum is and has always been the propagation of the Qur’an and the Sunnah, the endeavour to keep the Faith in its original form and to preserve the tenets of Islam along with safeguarding the community from religious heresies and warning it about pitfalls in political life, and it can be confidently asserted that this great institution has eminently succeeded in this endeavour.

The Dar Ulum is relevant now more than ever in this fast-changing world where everything is in flux. It is still relevant because it reaffirms the lasting and the abiding behind this apparent spectacle of change and inconstancy.

Read Previous Parts.

  1. Introduction
  2. Background
  3. The Final Collapse of the Mughal Empire and the Massacre of Muslims

  4. Founding of Darul Ulum, Deoband

  5. Why the “modern” sciences were excluded at Deoband

  6. The widespread popularity of the Darul Ulum

  7. The universal recognition of the role of the Darul Ulum