Differences of opinion & their Etiquette

By Zameelur Rahman

This link is to the fourth edition of Shaykh Muhammad ‘Awwama’s brilliant book Athar al-Hadith al-Sharif fi Khtilaf al-A’immat al-Fuqaha which describes how the science of hadith impacts on the disagreements between the Fuqaha. Muhammad ‘Awwama (b. 1940), a resident of Medina of a Halabi background, is a contemporary hadith scholar and one of the major students of two important Halabi scholars of the last century, Shaykh ‘Abd al-Fattah Abu Ghudda and Shaykh ‘Abd Allah Siraj al-Din. In this book, he has some interesting discussions, particularly on the statement of the Imams “When a hadith is sahih that is my madhhab” and how it should be understood; that some hadiths despite being sahih is not fit for practice; how often weak hadiths can inform certain rulings if not actually establish them; how variations in wordings of hadith can influence differences in rulings; the superiority of understanding over narration of hadiths and Abu Hanifa’s excellence in this; the dangers of taking shadh (isolated) opinions; the important differences between the Imams in reconciling between conflicting reports (there is a useful summary of the book on pages 193-8).

In the substance of the book, he refers to several Deobandi authors and their works, in particular Habib Kiranawi’s al-Qawa‘id fi ‘Ulum al-Fiqh, Yusuf Binnori’s Ma‘arif al-Sunan (a commentary on Jami‘ al-Tirmidhi), Zafar Ahmad al-Uthmani’s I‘la al-Sunan, al-Qawa‘id fi ‘Ulum al-Hadith and Abu Hanifa wa Ashabuhu l-Muhaddithun (which Awwama says “includes transmissions not found together anywhere else”), Anwar Shah Kashmiri’s footnotes to Nasb al-Rayah and he refers to Habib al-Rahman al-A‘zami’s help in offering some examples for one of the principles he cites which he included in this later edition of his work. He regards all of these authors and the works he mentions in high regard, designating them with superlative titles (like “Imam al-‘Asr” – the Imam of the time – for Anwar Shah Kashmiri and “Shaykhu Shuyukhina” – teacher of our teachers – for Zafar Ahmad al-‘Uthmani) and describing their books as “nafisa” (valuable) or “mawsu‘i” (encyclopaedic). In fact it might be said, from modern scholars, these Deobandi authors are his major sources in this book, with the exceptions of Allama al-Kawthari whom he cites frequently, and al-Ghumari and Muhammad Bakhit al-Muti‘i.

In the foreword to his book, while discussing endorsements, he writes:

“These short pages have received acceptance and approval from the leaders of the people of knowledge and virtue. From the most prominent of these and one whose acceptance and approval I treasure is our teacher, the great scholar, an authority of the people of knowledge, virtue, opinion and nobility in the Indian subcontinent, in particular, and among all who know him, in general, the master of hadith, Shaykh Muhammad Zakariyya al-Kandehlewi (d. 1402), Allah Almighty have mercy on him. For he was so kind as to listen to its contents page from one of his students while I was sitting in his presence [in Medina] and he became delighted thereby and said to his student “it requires reading in its entirety”. He was then so kind as to hear it completely while on his sickbed (Allah substitute the Garden for him). He then graciously provided me a dictated statement, which the reader will find shortly.” (Athar al-Hadith al-Sharif fi Khtilaf al-A’immat al-Fuqaha, 4th Edition, Muhammad Awwama, pp. 6-7)

Shaykh al-Kandehlewi’s statement is as follows:

“In Allah’s Name, Most Merciful, the Beneficent

All praise to Allah who showered us with His blessings and connected us with His favours. And prayers and peace on the chief of His creation, Muhammad, whose beauty and splendour is perfect, and whose effort and struggles is enough to admonish creation, and (prayers and peace) on his family, his companions who derived light from his speech and obtained its rays, and on those who follow them in goodness to the Day of Recompense.

To proceed:

Indeed Allah Almighty has placed in this Umma memorisers of the Clear Book and of the traditions of the chief of the first and the last, and He elected by His special grace from them the people of Hadith and fiqh who distinguished between the strong and weak (narrations), deduced (evidence) from the hasan and sahih (hadiths) and extracted rulings on that which they did not find a clear text by selecting what is weightier (in evidence) according to them. (This they did) after following the reports, busying the minds and spending lifetimes in understanding the nasikh (canceller) and the mansukh (cancelled) reports, and delved into the depths of language and the understanding of meanings so they were adept (in formulating) chapters and subchapters and deriving peripheral (matters) from the principle (ones). May Allah Almighty rain upon them the showers of mercy and approval and let them live a life of ease in the Gardens (of Paradise).

They had an immense rank in the application of what (apparently) contradicted, assessing what (actually) conflicted, clarifying what was unclear and expanding on what was summarised, but despite their unity in purpose and conciliation of hearts, they differed in many of the issues and rulings due to the difference in the approaches to assessing (the conflicting reports) and the methods of deducing (evidence). This difference was a natural and necessary result devoid of any reprehensibility or repulsiveness; rather it is a mercy for the Umma, as was agreed by the notable ‘ulama’. And since men are enemies of what they don’t know, those who had no feel for knowledge and understanding began to criticise the juristic Imams and spoke against them with a sharp tongue. For this reason the early and late (scholars) of (this Umma) penned books and epistles on the (underlying) causes of (these) disagreements, like Raf‘ al-Malam ‘an A’immat al-A‘lam by the great Hafiz, the insightful and critical scholar Ahmad ibn ‘Abd al-Halim ibn Taymiyya al-Harrani, and like Bidayat al-Mujtahid by Abu Walid ibn Rushd al-Qurtubi, Allah Almighty have mercy on them. I have an epistle on this subject in Urdu which I authored at the prime of my youth and I called it Ikhtilaf al-A’imma[1] and people have attained great benefit from it, and praise is due to Allah for that.

The merit in this age (however) goes to our honourable brother the scholar Shaykh Muhammad ‘Awwamah, for he delivered a valuable lecture on this subject three years ago at the Rawda University in Halab, then he made it into an independent epistle after editing (it) and concluding (it) and he called it Athar al-Hadith al-Sharif fi Khtilaf al-A’immat al-Fuqaha. And since I was unable to read it myself due to the weakness in my vision – and diseases betake humanity in old age – I heard it from one of my beloveds and found it to be very beneficial, and it, despite its brevity, contains lofty benefits and (coherently) arranges precious gems. I sought benefit in it (being read to me) and my soul was uplifted and my heart was delighted by it. It is worthy of being read by every teacher and student, for it is devoid of deviance and embellishment, and delivers (the Imams) from what (has been said) disparagingly about the rank of the Imams from the people of enmity and of deprivation.

I ask Allah Almighty to enable us and all Muslims to (do) all that He loves and pleases, and keep us alive on the religion of the one who came with light and guidance, and cause us to die on his religion which illuminates the darkness. And Allah Almighty bless the best of His creation Muhammad, his family and all his companions.

I am the needy servant,

Muhammad Zakariyya ibn Muhammad Yahya al-Kandehlewi

Medina, 1401 H”

(Athar al-Hadith al-Sharif fi Khtilaf al-A’immat al-Fuqaha, pp. 12-14)

[1]               The English rendering of this work, Differences of The Imams, has been published by White Thread Press. (blog administrator)


Related entry:  Shaykh Muhammad ‘Awwamah on Contemporary Scholars Of the Indian Subcontinent

Shaykh al-Islam Mawlana Husayn Ahmad Madani (may Allah shower His mercy upon him) advised: 

‘‘Mawlana [Ashraf ‘Ali] Thanawi’s (may Allah shower His mercy upon him) discourses are extremely beneficial; be sure to read them [regularly]. Likewise, Tarbiyat al-Salik is also beneficial.’’ 

Shaykh al-‘Arab wa ‘l-‘Ajam Hadrat Mawlana Husayn Ahmad Madani Ki Iman Afroz Batein, p. 177 (Karachi: Majlis-e-Yadgar-e-Shaykh al-Islam 1413 / 1993 ed.)

Mawlana ‘Ashiq Ilahi Mirathi (may Allah shower His mercy upon him) writes: 

‘‘Mawlana ‘Abd al-Majid Hazarwi would relate, ‘‘When I began studying hadith under the tutelage of Sayyid Nadhir Husayn Dehlawi[1], I would feel anxiety in my heart and would often see dreams in which I was surrounded by roaming piglets. Seeing these dreams I became completely disheartened and went straight to the company of Mawlana Fadl-e-Rahman[2] (may Allah shower His mercy upon him) in Ganj Muradabad. I explained to him what I was studying and the nature of my dreams. Mawlana asked me, ‘‘Where do you study?’’ I replied, ‘‘In Delhi, with Mawlana Nadhir Husayn.’’ He suggested, ‘‘Go to Mawlana Rashid Ahmad in Gangoh. That is where the bastion of hadith is.’’ Thereafter, he continued to praise Imam Rabbani (Mawlana Rashid Ahmad Gangohi (may Allah sanctify his secret)), and said, ‘‘Go there, relay my salam to him and inform him that you have been sent by Fadl-e-Rahman.’’ Thus, Mawlana ‘Abd al-Majid arrived in Gangoh. When he went to Mawlana [Rashid Ahmad Gangohi], he was sitting on a stool for ablution, brushing his teeth with a miswak. He smiled upon seeing Mawlana ‘Abd al-Majid. The latter greeted him with salam and relayed Mawlana Fadl-e-Rahman’s salam and message. He informed him, ‘‘Mawlana praised you greatly and I am now here having been sent by him.’’ Upon hearing this, Mawlana said with complete humility, ‘‘He praises others since he himself is worthy of praise, otherwise I know what I really am.’’ 

Mawlana ‘Abd al-Majid relates, ‘‘Finally, I commenced [the study of] hadith and benefited from Mawlana [Rashid Ahmad Gangohi], and from that very day my distress began decreasing and my happiness continued to increase daily.’’ ’’ 

Tadhkirat al-Rashid, Vol. 2, p. 320-321 (Lahore: Idara Islamiat, Jumada ‘l-Thaniyah 1406 AH / March 1986 CE edition) by Mawlana ‘Ashiq Ilahi Mirathi. 

[1] A renowned Ahl al-Hadith scholar of the sub-continent

[2] For details about Mawlana please see footnote no. 4 of the following entry: Imam Hakim al-Ummah Thanwi (1863–1943 CE): The link between the Juniors and Seniors

Hakim al-Ummah Mawlana Ashraf ‘Ali Thanawi (may Allah shower His mercy upon him) related: 

‘‘Mawlana Rashid Ahmad Gangohi (may Allah shower His mercy upon him) once wrote a fatwa concerning a particular issue. Mawlana Muhammad Qasim Nanautwi’s (may Allah shower His mercy upon him) renowned disciple, Amir Shah Khan, sent a letter to Mawlana by post, in which he expressed an objection to this fatwa. Thereafter, feeling he had disrespected the Mawlana, he wrote a second letter, seeking forgiveness. Mawlana Gangohi wrote in reply, ‘I liked your first letter in which you had expressed an objection. I do not like this second letter, as whatever you had written in your first one was sincerely for the din. I am certain that you had no intention to be disrespectful and therefore I was not offended in the slightest.’ 

(A couplet of Mawlana Rumi is quoted here, the translation of which has been omitted). 

In contrast to this, on another occasion, someone who had obtained a fatwa from Mawlana [Rashid Ahmad Gangohi] expressed objections to him in an argumentative tone. In reply, Mawlana wrote, ‘we have answered according to our knowledge. If you do not approve, then refer to a scholar whom you trust. Above every man of knowledge, there is someone more knowledgeable.’’

Majalis-e-Hakim al-Ummat,  p. 102-103 (Karachi: Dar al-Isha‘at, Dhu ‘l-Qa‘dah, 1366 AH ed.) compiled by Mufti Muhammad Shafi‘ Usmani.

Mawlana Shams al-Haq Afghani (may Allah shower his mercy upon him) related: 

Our teacher Shaykh al-Islam Mawlana Muhammad Anwar Shah Kashmiri would say: ‘‘Mawlana ‘Abd al-Hayy Lucknowi is dependable in his opinions. However, the reverence for him in my heart is due to his piety (taqwa). One of his students informed me, ‘‘I remained in Mawlana Lucknowi’s company for seven years. In all that time – despite having many opponents – I did not hear him utter a word of ghibah.’’ (Our revered teacher, [‘Allamah Anwar Shah] Kashmiri would say), ‘‘this is a quality which is rare among scholars, let alone the masses.’’ 

Mawlana Anwar Shah Kashmiri Ke ‘Ulum wa Ma‘arif  (Karachi: Dar al-Isha‘at, June 1980 ed.) p. 43-44 by Mawlana Muhammad Iqbal Qureshi, citing Sawanih Hadrat Mawlana Rasul Khan saheb, p8. 

Haji Imdad Allah Muhajir Makki’s Letter To Shah Rafi al-Din Deobandi

Below is translation of a portion of a letter from Shaykh al-‘Ulama’ Haji Imdad Allah Muhajir Makki to Shah Rafi’ al-Din Deobandi ‘Uthmani[1] in which he emphasises his love for Shaykh al-Sunnah Mawlana Rashid Ahmad Gangohi (may Allah shower them with His mercy) and highlights his dim view of those who bear enmity towards him. The letter is also a manifestation of Haji Imdad Allah’s high level of humility – a quality distinctly found in him and those affiliated to his tariqah

Hadrat Haji Imdad Allah writes: ‘‘And that which I have written in favour of Mawlana Rashid Ahmad – by way of divine inspiration (ilham) – in Diya’ al-Qulub is that whoever has devotion and love for this faqir also has love for Mawlana Rashid Ahmad Gangohi. And whoever opposes him and is his enemy is also my enemy. From among the brothers[2] of this faqir there is no one who is now superior (fadilat) to Molwi [Rashid Ahmad]. And whosoever claims that this faqir has disconnected himself from mawlana is a liar (kadhdhab). This faqir considers his love for mawlana the means of his salvation. That is all. May salam and du’as be accepted on behalf of all friends. I desire that you ask Allah to lift me up from this world as a believer and that He grants me a good death by His favour and generosity.

And I will also say that I consider Molwi Rashid Ahmad to be in place of my spiritual guide (pir). This faqir has written this letter with great difficulty. Due to my weak eyesight, reading and writing is difficult.” 

End of Dhu ‘l-Hijjah 1305 AH. 

Maktubat-e-Akabir-e-Deoband (Multan: Kutub Khana Majidia) p. 27-28

 [1] Shah Rafi’ al-Din Deobandi ibn Mawlana Farid al-Din ‘Uthmani, the second principal of Dar al-‘Ulum Deoband, was among the awliya of his age. He was born in Deoband on 29 Ramadhan 1250 AH into a renowned ‘Uthmani family famed for its religiosity, piety and knowledge. Three of his four paternal uncles were martyred in the Battle of Balakot alongside Sayyid Ahmad Shahid (may Allah shower His mercy on them all).

Shah Rafi’ al-Din Deobandi was a khalifah of Mawlana Shah ‘Abd al-Ghani Mujaddidi, the hadith scholar of Delhi. He also received an honorary ijazah in Tasawwuf from Haji Imdad Allah Muhajir Makki. The grand Mufti of Dar al-‘Ulum Deoband, Mufti ‘Aziz al-Rahman ‘Uthmani, traversed the path of suluk under his guidance. Mawlana Muhammad Qasim Nanautwi would say regarding him, ”Mawlana Rafi’ al-Din is no less than Mawlana Rashid Ahmad Gangohi in spiritual rank; their difference is only in knowledge. Knowledge is there (Mawlana Rashid Ahmad) and not here (Mawlana Rafi’ al-Din)”. [This refers to the fact that although Mawlana Rafi’ al-Din  was a man of knowledge, he was not of the same level as Mawlana Rashid Ahmad who was known as a faqih al-nafs. (For an explanation of faqih al-nafs see The Rank Of Recent Hanafi Jurists )].

He migrated to the illuminated city of Madinah in 1306 AH and passed away there two years later on 12 Jumada ‘l-Thaniyah 1308 AH. He lays buried in al-Baqi’ at the feet of his shaykh, Mawlana Shah ‘Abd al-Ghani Mujaddidi, the hadith scholar of Delhi close to the resting place of his ancestor, the Companion of the Prophet Dhu ‘l-Nurayn Sayyiduna ‘Uthman ibn ‘Affan (may Allah be pleased with him) (Translator).

 [2] The mashayikh often refer to their murids as brothers rather than murids out of humility.

Hadrat Mawlana Muhammad Aslam Shaikhpuri (may Allah protect him) writes: 

”Hadrat Mawlana Khayr Muhammad Jalandhari, who is among the special khalifahs of Mawlana [Ashraf ‘Ali] Thanawi, relates: ‘Hadrat Thanawi said regarding Hadrat [Mawlana Husayn Ahmad] Madani in my presence, ‘Our elders of Deoband possess, by the bounty of Allah, some special qualities. Shaykh Madani has, in particular,   two God-given excellent qualities which exist in him to the highest degree. One is mujahadah (striving for the sake of Allah), which no one else has as much as him. The second is humility. Therefore, despite being everything, he considers himself nothing.”      

(Heyrat Angeyz Waqi’at, p. 212, citing Takmilah Al-I’tidal) 

Chalis Barey Musalman (Karachi: Idarat al-Qur’an, November 2000 ed.) Vol. 1, p.513

Al-I‘tidal fi Maratib al-Rijal

 by Shaykh al-Hadith Mawlana Muhammad Zakariyya


Book Review by Mufti Muhammad Taqi Usmani


This is actually a letter that Shaykh al-Hadith wrote in reply to seven questions posed by one of his students. The letter was written when the political fall out between the Muslim League and Congress was at its peak in pre-partition India, and a difference of opinion arose between Mawlana [Ashraf ‘Ali] Thanawi and Mawlana [Husayn Ahmad] Madani. Some Muslims were concerned about which path to choose in this difference between the seniors. Shaykh al-Hadith has explained the legislative (shar‘i) viewpoint of the difference in this letter, and detailed what the general masses should do in such circumstances. Apart from this, the general poor state of Muslims in the political and social arenas, and the issue of the ‘ulama differing has also been included [in this letter]. Shaykh al-Hadith has explained these issues in detail in his special style, which refreshes one’s faith and conviction. The book is actually a review of a temporary political issue. However, due to its encompassing discussions, it is a specific work that is beneficial in all ages.


(Rabi‘ al-Thani, 1392 AH)


Tabseray, (Karachi: Maktabah Ma‘arif al-Qur’an, Rabi‘ al-Awwal 1426/April 2005 ed.) p. 76


Please, comment on the fiqhi standing of the following statement,

“Seeing that there is a scholarly difference of opinion regarding this matter, it is not permissible for anyone to refute one who practices it. As jurists have concurred, it is not permissible to refute that which scholars have differed over. Of course, it is praiseworthy to offer advice so that differences of opinion are avoided.”


 In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful
Assalaamu `alaykum waRahmatullahi Wabarakatoh

It is incorrect to generalize such a statement.
Furthermore, who is referred to within the term scholarly? What is the qualification of such scholars? Is it the scholar who studied some Islamic courses by himself or in a university or he studied in a Darul Uloom? What is the nature of the difference and its topic of discussion. What if the difference violates a fundamental principle of Shariah? The Fuqaha have ruled that if a Qazi issues a decree contrary to fundamental principles of deen, it will be rejected. This is also discussed by Imam Bukhari (RA) in the chapter of “Al I’tisaam bil Kitab wal Sunnah” in the thirtieth juz of Bukhari. In today’s time of liberalism, there are many people claiming to be scholars who have very little proper understanding of deen and issue incorrect decrees. We go by the general understanding of such a statement that will lead to presenting a distorted view of deen. It is thus compulsory to reject such views in order to preserve the prestine purity of deen.

And Allah knows best


Mufti Ebrahim Desai
Darul Iftaa, Madrassah In’aamiyyah

(Courtesy of Ask Imam)

Truncating History to Sell an Agenda? 

Written by Husain Al-Qadi

Anyone who saw the first of a new three-part BBC TWO series called “Clash of the Worlds” will have been given the impression that, prior to the arrival of Rev John Midgley Jennings in India in 1852, Indians had welcomed the British with “flowers and open arms” on account of pluralistic interpretations of their faiths.

Midgely Jennings spoilt it for all by attempting to proselytise Christianity in India, which sparked a violent “Wahhabi” Muslim reaction in the person of Sayyid Ahmad.

According to the author and co-presenter of the programme, Charles Allen, “Sayyid Ahmad’s Wahhabism” created Islamic terrorism not only in the 19th century against the British, in the form of the 1857 Mutiny, but it also has a direct connection with acts of violence in the 21st century – including 9/11, 7/7 and plots to blow up aeroplanes at Heathrow in 2006 – through the “Wahhabi” Deobandi tradition. It’s a fascinating story, but is it true?

Myth number one: Anglo-Indian relations were peaceful before Sayyid Ahmad

What the programme confidently omitted to mention was that, long before the arrival of Rev Midgley Jennings in 1852, the British East India Company had been fighting numerous devastating wars in India against Hindu and Muslim rulers including the Battle of Buxar, the Anglo-Maratha Wars (1777-1818), the Battle of Assaye, and the famous four Anglo-Mysore Wars that lasted over three decades.

These were hardly pluralistic or harmonious gestures of coexistence. Rather, they were the results of plain and simple brutal tension between the powers of domination and the dominated. For example, during the siege of Mysore in 1792 the British General, Lord Cornwallis, had forced the Sultan into a temporary treaty to hand over three million pounds and his young sons as hostages. Yet the BBC’s so-called “experts” told us, in order to justify their “global-Wahhabi-threat” theory, that in India the “idea of worlds clashing would not have made sense to anyone”.

Myth number two: Followers of Muhammad ibn Abd Al-Wahhab are all “anti-Western”

“Wahhabism” has become the convenient concept by which we can clump together all those aspects of Islam we wish to jettison from history. It is now the ultimate Room 101 for disposing of all that we find uncomfortable with Islam and wish to delete from Muslim consciousness. The problem is that history seldom allows the comprehensive destruction of records. If Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab’s (1703-1792) version of Islam was so puritanically toxic that it could inspire an anti-British mutiny across the seas in India, why did it not have the same effect on people much closer to him?

For example, his strongest supporters and most ardent followers were the House of Saud. In December 1915, the British government had made the lands of the House of Saud a British protectorate and since then, by and large, the Saudi regime has maintained a cordial relationship with the British, the latest example being King Abdullah’s state visit to Britain last week. There is certainly more to this picture than we have been led to remember. It was with a British stipend of £5000 a month and a steady supply of weapons that the founder of the Kingdom, Abd Al-Aziz ibn Saud, was able to defeat his opponents and galvanise his rule over Arabia.

Myth number three: Sayyid Ahmad was inspired by “Wahhabism”

Anger over the dismantling of historic Muslim monuments and relics in Saudi Arabia by some followers of Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Wahhab had given rise to the coining of the term “Wahhabi” in India to describe anything undesirable. Being so, it aptly served those British academics of an imperialist mindset who wanted to undermine Sayyid Ahmad’s freedom fighter credentials to label him a “Wahhabi”. The famous historian W.W. Hunter wrote in his Our Indian Musalmans (1871) that Sayyid Ahmad was a follower of Muhammad ibn abd al-Wahhab and that he was expelled from the Holy city of Makkah during the Hajj.

These allegations have since been proven to be baseless by a number of researchers. Sayyid Ahmad had no contact whatsoever with ibn Abd Al-Wahhab. In fact, at the time of his pilgrimage to Makkah in 1822, there were no “Wahhabi” preachers in those areas for in 1818 the Ottomans had marched on their stronghold in Dariya and killed many members of the Abd al-Wahhab family. The chief of the area, Abdullah the son of Muhammad Ibn Abd Al-Wahhab, was deported to Constantinople and executed. In 1822, the Hijaz area of the Arabian peninsular was devoid of any “Wahhabi” influence.

More importantly, Sayyid Ahmad had launched his campaign for jihad several years before embarking on the pilgrimage. It was Shah Abd Al-Aziz, son of Shah Wali Ullah Dehlawi, who had advised Sayyid Ahmad to go on a country-wide tour in 1818 to raise awareness for his cause. That advice had absolutely nothing to do with Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab.

Myth number four: Deobandis are all inspired by “Wahhabi” Islam

Charles Allen suggested in the programme that the seminary in Deoband was established by students under the “Wahhabi” influence brought from Arabia to India by Sayyid Ahmad in 1822. If there is one feature through which interpretive traditions in Islam can be identified, it is through their adopted schools of jurisprudence. Schools of jurisprudence in Islam determine the framework parameters within which any given interpreter may function. Principally, in Sunni Islam, there are four major schools of jurisprudence, known as the Hanafi, Shafi, Maliki and Hanbali schools.

These schools are distinguished from one another through their differing approaches to a vast number of issues (though not including basic tenets of creed), which range from methods of praying the daily five prayers to matters of divorce and complex government and financial issues. Rulings of one school are not automatically applicable for a follower of another school unless it is proven to satisfy the interpretive criteria of that specific school. In practice, followers of a particular school will only seek and follow rulings from within their school. The Deobandis are strict followers of the Hanafi school and Muhammad ibn Abd Al-Wahhab was a follower of the Hanbali school.

If Deoband Madrasa (seminary) was an institution inspired principally by the mythical “Wahhabism” that requires its follows to denounce all others in an accept-Islam-or-die cult, then it is hard to understand why such an institution would produce the likes of the late Moulana Husayn Ahmad Madani (d.1957), who was Shaikh al-Hadith of Darul Ulum Deoband (the highest professorial position in the seminary) and who declared, very forcefully, in the 1930s:

“The view that Islam is an inflexible religion is beyond my comprehension. To the extent that I can understand its laws, [Islam] can live together with non-Muslims in the same country; it can be at peace with them; it can enter into treaties with them; as well as into commercial transactions, partnerships, tenancy, the exchange of gifts, loans, trusts, etc. Muslims can interact with them, participate in matters of joy and grief, and dine with them…” (Madani, Muttahida Qawmiyyat, p.51).

Another historical fact that demolishes the “Deobandi-Wahhabism” myth of its followers being on the constant prowl to grab swathes of land and colonise them with puritanical regimes, is that Moulana Madani and his fellow Deobandi followers, and including a vast number of other ulama (religious scholars), opposed the creation of the state of Pakistan. Large numbers of Deobandi scholars demanded to live in an undivided, free India.

If these facts are also part of the legacy of Sayyid Ahmad Shahid and the founders of the Deobandi school, which of course they are, then we certainly need to take a more informed look at recent history before trying to join isolated dots from pages in paperbacks and fictional accounts masquerading as historical narrative.


The real question is why are academics, orientalists, policy makers and TV producers fanning the flames of war with 18th and 19th century trickery? Why is the role of the CIA in the Afghan-Soviet war and the role of the Neocon policy makers in the current wars not acknowledged in this flood of rhetoric we hear on Wahhabism and Deobandism? The answer, I suspect, is that somehow they hope to not only win these wars with a decisive victory but also to dispose along with them all those aspects of Islam they find difficult to accept.

By truncating chunks of history and bundling them together with unpleasant realities of the day, it may allow for some Western designed “reformationist” theories to be superficially buttressed and problematic inconveniences to be disposed of in a “Grand Room 101” of history. Unfortunately however, history has a habit of remaining persistently uncooperative with those who try to exploit it.

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