Disobey: Deep in the Saharanpur district of Uttar Pradesh is the town of Deoband. Its streets are filled with young men dressed in white kurta-pajamas and white skullcaps, carrying books and bags on their backs.
This, locals say, is the result of around 300 seminaries or madrasas in the city alone that are home to around 6,000 students, many of whom from Indonesia, Malaysia and Bangladesh are seeking religious education.
The city is also home to the Darul Uloom Deoband, an Islamic seminary established in 1886, which has become a revered global center for Sunni education.
The seminar and its Deobandi version of Islam made headlines again after the Taliban took control of Afghanistan. The Taliban follow the Deobandi school of Islam, but locals say this is an extremist version that has little to do with them.
Arshad Madani, president of Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind and director of Darul Uloom Deoband, told ThePrint that the link is only historical.
According to him, the Deobandis of India taught their counterparts in Pakistan and Afghanistan, but it was not until the 19th century that there was an effort to push the British out of the subcontinent.
âOur ancestor Maulana Mahmud Hassan Deobandi, who was also called Shaykh-al-Hind, was a freedom fighter in the Indian freedom movement,â Madani said. âTo fight the British, he had created a jamait of freedom fighters. During this freedom movement, he sent his close ally Maulana Ubaidullah Sindhi to Afghanistan to create an allied force to aid the freedom movement in India.
âIn order to create this group of allies, Maulana Ubaidullah Sindhi was able to forge relations with the Afghan people and was able to create the first provisional government of India in Afghanistan where Mahendra Pratap Singh was declared president and who declared a jihad against colonial domination, âhe declared.
Madani said that in recent times the city has no connection with Afghanistan.
âThe person who started the freedom movement in Afghanistan was a Deobandi and the Taliban claiming to be Deoband supporters are probably his supporters three generations later,â he said.
As for students from Pakistan and Afghanistan, he said: âStudents from all over South Asia come here; for 800 seats, we receive around 10,000 applications each year. Students are selected based on various parameters available to us.
âAfghan or Pakistani students only come here if the Indian government gives them a visa. Thus, all students who enter go through a formal administrative process. The government obviously has all the information about our international students. “
“Stop associating with terrorist groups”
This is not the first time that the city of Deoband has attracted media attention.
In the aftermath of the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center in the United States in 2001, The New York Times wore a track on Deoband titled, ‘The seed of the Indian city has become the code of the Taliban‘.
Now Indian media have started to concentrate on the city and its school of Islam.
A spokesperson for Darul Uloom, who however declined to be named, said he had stopped speaking to the media due to “twisted accounts”.
âWe are a religious school but we are also Indians. To doubt our integrity every time the Taliban spread terror is shameful, âhe said.
His point of view was echoed by a 60-year-old farmer who has lived in Deoband for over three generations.
âAssociating terrorists with a religious school is unfair. It’s worse to blame Islam for their actions, âthe farmer said. âNo religion in the world teaches anyone to kill or maim; Islam neither. The Taliban have done terrible things to women and men who go against the teachings of Islam.
Locals argue that if they are indeed supporters of radical Islam, then terrorist activities would have hit other countries where the students come from.
Read also : 24-year-old Afghan woman, Delhi graduate, behind Kabul women’s protests against Taliban
Deoband and Orthodoxy
One of the main criticisms of Deoband Islam is that it “promotes extreme orthodoxy”, especially when it comes to women, by bringing them closer to their homes and denying them access to education, employment and equal rights of voice.
In Deoband, however, the opinion, among locals and maulanas, is that they are distorted.
Mohammad Arshad Faruqi, president of Darul Uloom’s online fatwa services, told ThePrint that according to the teachings of Islam, women have the right to education and equal employment opportunities, but on condition they will maintain purdah (condition of being fully covered).
Ziya Fatima, a 53-year-old housewife in Deoband, said the Sharia law imposed on women in Afghanistan is extreme and does not respect the teachings of Islam.
âMy daughters have been educated; they live in the Middle East, âshe said. “We go to the market and go about our daily chores and run our households, our religion doesn’t stop us from doing these things.”
âWhat they have done to women in Afghanistan is wrong; women should be part of the system and have equal opportunities, âshe added.
Orthodoxy, however, extends to what women wear.
Ziya Us Salam, author of the book Women In Masjid: a quest for justice, said this is due to a “patriarchal interpretation of the Qur’an”.
“Women have been instructed to wear loose clothing in our religious text, which is often translated into burqa, but the same instruction has also been given to men,” he said. âMen are supposed to cover the part between their navel and their knees with loose clothing. But we don’t see women telling men how to dress because in India all positions of religious power across religions have been held by men.
An ATS center
Amid the Taliban takeover, the government of Uttar Pradesh decided to set up an anti-terrorism squad (ATS) commando training center in Deoband.
âAmidst the savagery of the Taliban, here is news from UP. Yogi Ji has decided to open a commando training center in Deoband, âCM Yogi Adityanath media advisor Shalabh Mani Tripathi tweeted in Hindi.
Despite the communal connotations, locals and maulanas in the region hailed the decision. âThere is nothing wrong with what we teach and we invite ATS staff to be part of our classes whenever they want,â said Madani.
Residents added that it would only make them feel more secure.
âIt’s better if they come here and find the truth. Maybe these links they continue to establish between Deoband and the Taliban will end, âsaid Tehseen Khan, a lawyer living in the city. “In today’s polarized times, we will feel more secure knowing that there is a security force present in the region.”
(Edited by Arun Prashanth)
Read also : As the Taliban take matters into their own hands, fear and uncertainty grips Afghan students in Kabul and Delhi
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