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EDITORIAL: 16-31 May 2001

Promotion of disunity in the name of religion

Out of the blue the capital witnessed a grand conference hosted by the Jamiatul Ulama, headed by ex-Congress MP, Maulana As’ad Madani. During the last few years the respected Maulana has been hosting conferences on many a non-issue or dead issue. The topic this time round was curiouser than ever: Ahl-e Hadith attacks on Deobandism! The immediate provocation seems to be an Arabic book, Al-Diyubandiyah, published in the Gulf and said to be freely distributed around the world. Reportedly it contains attacks on the Deobandi creed and stoops to the extent of claiming that the founder of the Hanafi school of law, so dear to Deoband and to all Muslims, was a Jew!

Ahl-e Hadith-Deobandi, rather Ahl-e Hadith-Hanafi, tussle is not new but this escalation is a matter of grave concern. Earlier we had Shia-Sunni differences occasionally going out of control. Now, it seems, we have a similar dispute between the followers (muqallids) of the Hanafi creed and the rejectors of following any fiqhi school who call themselves ‘Ahl-e Hadith’ (people, or followers, of Hadith, the sayings and deeds of the Prophet, pbuh). They were dubbed as ‘Wahabis’ by the British. When they protested that they are not ‘Wahabis’ but ‘Ahl-e Hadith’, the British consulted their friend Sir Syed Ahmad Khan for a proper name for this group which was fighting the British in the Frontier after the collapse of Syed Ahmad Shahid’s Tahrik-e Mujahidin. Sir Syed suggested for them the name of ‘ghayr muqallid’ (non-follower) which the British accepted and started using in official communications.

Ironically the ‘ghayr muqallids’ grew from the same source to which the Deobandis belong. Both these groups were with Syed Ahmad Shahid. His right-hand man, Syed Ismail Shahid, founded this group which (rightly) rejected the blind following of any fiqhi school. The other group, too, had similar, but not that strong, feeling about taqlid. After the defeat of the Syed Ahmad Shahid movement, in the battle-ground of Balakot at the hands of Ranjit Singh’s French generals in 1831 and later by the British at Shamli in 1857, the second group shunned armed struggle and started the first private madrasa in India at Deoband with greatest emphasis on Hadith, though it stuck to the Hanafi madh-hab at the same time. It revived the scholarship of Hadith in the Subcontinent and is known and respected all over the world of Islam for its services to the Hadith literature. The Deobandis, too, are dubbed by their derogators as ‘Wahhabis’, i.e., followers of Shaikh Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab, the founder of the great reformist and revivalist movement in Arabia to which the Arab ‘salafis’ belong.

The other group, the Ahl-e Hadith, too started its separate schools at Delhi and Lahore among other places, published magazines and literature to promote rejection of taqlid of any established school of law (the Hanafi in this case since it is the most popular one in the Subcontinent due to the Central Asian and Turkish influence). Munazarahs (open debates) were held from time to time but, otherwise, there was no great acrimony. The Ahl-e Hadith slowly evolved into a new fiqhi madh-hab with the same rigidity found in the followers of other schools of law. With the advent of oil in the Gulf, the Ahl-e Hadith changed tack and their followers started suffixing the word ‘salafi’ to their names and institutions. Salafi, that is followers of the earliest generations of Islamic scholars and pious men, was a term used in the Gulf by the Hanbalis who are muqallids, that is followers of a fiqhi school just like the Deobandis, while the Ahl-e Hadith reject such taqlid. But material benefits blur many a sacred line, especially because the Gulf Arabs do not know the intricacies of the problem and some have come to believe what some members of the Ahl-e Hadith group tell them, that the followers of Deoband are ‘qubooriyoon’, worshippers of graves, and believers in un-Islam! An impression has been created that only these few lakhs of ‘salafis’ are Muslims in the Sub-continent and the rest are idolators! The learned and wise in the Gulf, who have interacted with Indian Muslim scholars, know the truth and hold the Islamic scholarship of this region in highest regard. But some of our local Ahl-e Hadith brothers work overtime to vitiate the atmosphere at home and abroad, only for mundane considerations.

No doubt, there is a serious problem here but the way to solve it is not to taking it to Talkatora Stadium but through amicable discussions between the leaders of both the groups and to explain the issues to the Gulf Arabs who are very keen to promote Islam everywhere in the world. Not only on government level, there are hundreds of private organizations and trusts in the Gulf which help Islamic causes all over the world. This deep concern of the Gulf Arabs is sometimes misused by vested interests and the publication of anti-Deoband literature there should be placed within this context. No doubt the writers of such objectionable tracts are bigoted Indians and Pakistanis who take the unsuspecting Arabs for a ride. It is the responsibility of the other side to explain the issues to those who matter and to seek amicable adjustment at home.
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