Historical context and roots of Deobandi terrorism in Pakistan and India

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Towards the end of the 16th century, a major challenge to puritanical Islam in India came in the form of religious policies of the Mughal Emperor, Jalaluddin Akbar (1556-1605), who endeavored to evolve a pluralistic religious order in India. Akbar was an open-minded Muslim and had built an ibadat khana (house of worship) in Fatehpur Sikri, his new capital, to hold interfaith discourses on Islamic issues. The quarrels and rivalries between the puritanical Musilm clerics and the ugly scenes created by them during the debate prompted Akbar to invite scholars and divines of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Zoroastrians, Judaism and Christianity to make himself familiar with their views on theological questions. This profoundly influenced Akbar’s outlook on religion.

Already fed up with the puritanical Muslim clerics’s capacity to interfere with his administration. Akbar went on to undermine their authority by acquiring for himself the right to choose between different interpretations of shariah as `sultan-i-adil’ (just ruler), if the ulema failed to develop a consensus on any point of law. Coercive measures of extreme nature, including executions, were employed to silence the dissenting ulema. Akbar also wanted to expand the political base of the Mughal Empire by securing wider support of his non-Muslim subjects. All these factors combined to make him proclaim a religious order that meant to dilute Islamic beliefs in uncompromising monotheism and prophet-hood of Hazrat Mohammad (P.B.H.U.) and to modify Islamic rites and social customs. His religious order did not make any considerable headway but the heterodoxy reigned supreme in the court.

In the war of succession, the orthodox (mostly Sunni, Salafi) ulema sided with Jehangir (1605-1627), the son of Akbar, on the condition that he would take steps to restore the power of orthodoxy in the court. Shaikh Ahmed of Sirhind (1564-1624), bestowed with the title of Mujahddid-i-Alf-i-Sani (the river of the religion in the first millennium), set in motion a process that culminated in the reign of Aurangzeb Alamgir (1658-1707), the most orthodox, pious and practicing Mughal Emperor. The sheikhs (divines) of the Mujaddidi order of Sufism, founded by Shaikh Ahmed of Sirhind, exercised tremendous influences on him. Not only Alamgir compiled Fatawa-u-Alamgiri, he re-imposed jizya (a tax on non-Muslims for protection under Muslim rule) that had been suspended by Akbar, destroyed some Hindu temples and checked proselytizing activities of the Hindus. Since the Sikhs, the Marathas and the Jats posed a formidable threat to the Mughal authority, Alamgir had no option but to resort to military means to restore the writ of the central government. Although Shaikh Ahmed Sirhindi (Mujaddil Alf Sani) believed in Sufism, in practice he was extremely sectarian and prejudiced. He got killed key Shia and Hindu scholars through his influnece on Alamgir.

After the death of Alamgir, the Mughal Empire, faced with internal disorder due to his sectarian policies, headed for disintegration. In the east, the British East India Company expanded its domain and, in the west, the Sikhs and Marathas got firmly entrenched and often devastated Muslim life and property. Indian Muslims were bewildered, demoralized and displayed all signs of decay.

It was in this backdrop that an orthodox Sunni (quasi-Salafi) cleric Shah Waliullah (1703-1762) launched his movement for the reformation of Muslim society and the restoration of Islam’s political ascendancy in India. A thorough pan-Islamist at heart, he invited the Muslim ruler of Afghanistan, Ahmed Shah Abdali, to overcome the growing Maratha rebellion and also to curb Shia Muslims. Ahmed Shah Abdali of Afghanistan not only killed many Hindus but also Shias, thus Sheikh Ahmed Sirhindi, Shah Waliullah and Ahmed Shah Abdali may be seen as pioneers of later Deobandi-led anti-Shia Takfiri movement in the subcontinent. In the meantime, the Nawab of Bangal, Sirajudduallah, was defeated by the British intrigues in the Battle of Plassey 1757 and the East India Company made itself the master of Bengal. The British success in the Battle of Buxer 1764 brought the British closer to Delhi.

Shah Abdul Aziz (1746-1824), the eldest son of Shah Waliullah, was a witness to the establishment of de facto British authority in Delhi in early 19th century. Shah Abdul Aziz issued a Jihadi fatwa (religious decree) that; since the real power was vested in the British and the Mughal Emperor was no more effective in his own domain, India had become a darul harb (land of war). The fatwa implied that it was obligatory for the Muslims either to wage jihad to restore the supremacy of Islam in India or to migrate to some place where shariah was supreme. The Britishers were discreet enough not to interfere with the day-to-day religious observances of the Muslims unlike the Sikhs who ruled the Punjab and parts of the N.W.F.P. (Khyber Pakhtunkwha province of Pakistan).

Shah Abdul Aziz impressed upon Syed Ahmed Shaheed (1786-1831) to organize a violent jihad against the Sikhs. Syed Ahmed Shaheed Barelvi (not to be confused with Barelvi/Sufi sect) received wide spread support in northern and eastern India for the mission assigned to him. Making the northwestern frontier region his base, he waged a jihad to liberate the Muslims of the Punjab from the Sikh yoke. The military engagements continued from 1826 to 1831 but the misgivings between his Pathan and non-Pathan disciples made him militarily weak. His haste in imposing the so-called `puritan’ version of Islam without taking into consideration the local customs and sectarian differences undermined his appeal in the region.

He fell a victim to the treachery of local tribesmen who did not subscribe to his sectarian views about non-Jihadis, non-Salafis and was killed by the Sikhs along with hundreds of his troops in Balakot in 1831. At about the same time, Haji Shariatullah (1768-1840) and Titu Mir (1782-1832) declared that Bengal had become darul harb and raised the banner of jihad against Hindu landlords who persecuted the Muslim peasants and interfered with their religion.

The Islamist (quasi-Salafi) mujahideen were disheartened by the failure of these movements but the spirit of jihad was not completely extinguished. During, what is known as the sepoy mutiny of 1857, the remnants of the mujahidden of north India continued their mission to
inculcate the spirit of jihad spirit. The British imprisoned, hanged or sent into exile several of the ulema to overcome the threat.

The dichotomy in Muslim response to the establishment of the British rule was very conspicuous in the aftermath of the 1857 revolt. The traditionalist Sunni and Salafi ulema, who derived inspiration from Shah Waliullah and Shah Abdul Aziz, decided to reconsider their tactics. They founded a dar-ul-uloom (house of learning) in Deoband, a small town in northern India, in 1867, under the leadership of Maulana Mohammad Qasim Nanawtawi with a view to impart higher learning in Islamic theology and to work for the revival of Islam’s political fortune in India. The Daru Uloom Deoband was in fact a continuation of the violent, sectarian, Jihadist legacy of Sheikh Ahmed Sirhindi, Shaha Waliullah, Ahmed Shah Abdali and Syed Ahmed Shaheed.

The Salafi-Wahhabi and semi-Deobandi influences also started becoming visible in the North Western Fronter Province (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa). Here, from nearly a century and a half ago, a stark warning of the emergence of a “mischievous nest of fanatical conspiracy” – a Salafi and Deobandi nest whose beliefs are similar to those of the Taliban and Al Qaeda – around the northwestern frontier of British-ruled India and Afghanistan. That is to say, modern Pakistan.

Wahhabi Fanatics Reported on the Afghan Frontier Feb. 13, …1872
By STEPHEN FARRELL
http://atwar.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/02/13/wahabbi-fanatics-reported-on-the-afghan-frontier-today-february-13-1872/

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Witness to the failure of the Salafi and Deobandi zealots, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan a reformist, adopted an entirely different line, and set up a modern Aligarh Muslim University. He advocated to the Muslims compete on merit, repudiation of pan-Islamism, non-involvement in violent politics, emphasis on learning of English language and physical sciences and fresh interpretation of the Holy Quran in the light of scientific observations. Sir Syed declared India as darul aman (land of peace) where Muslim life and property were secure and they enjoyed religious freedom. India being darul aman, neither jihad nor migration to darul Islam was obligatory. Encouraged by the British, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan was able to enlist the support of the upper class Muslims and exercised considerable influence till his death in 1898.

In the meantime, Maulana Nanawtawi, the head of Darul uloom Deoband, died in 1880 and was succeeded by Maulana Rashid Ahmed Gangohi. Maulana Gangohi issued a fatwa to the effect that in worldly matters cooperation with the Hindus was permissible provided it did not violate the fundamental principles of Islam. The followers of Deoband were encouraged by this fatwa to join the Indian National Congress and thereby come into mainstream politics. The former associates of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan and other conservative Muslims formed the All India Muslim League in 1906.

In 1905, a more dynamic Deobandi cleric, Maulana Mahmood-ul-Hasan, succeeded Maulana Gangohi as the head of the Darul Uloom Deoband. Maulana Hasan was a pan-Islamist to the core and a staunch anti-imperialist. In the wake of the First World War, he actively involved himself in organizing violent activities against the British government in India. He was arrested and incarcerated in Malta.

After the First World War ended, the terms offered to the Ottoman Khalifa (Caliph) under the Treaty of Sevres were extremely harsh. The orthodox Deobandi and Salafi Muslims considered the Khailafat (Caliphate) as an institution that was divinely ordained and a product of ijma (consensus) of the companions of the Prophet of Islam. The continuation of the Khailifat, therefore, was an article of faith with the Muslims and they were obliged to make a common cause with the Hindus who, under the leadership of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, were already agitating for political rights and liberties. In this backdrop, Jamiat-i-Ulemia-i-Hind (association of the Deobandi religious scholars of India) was founded in 1919 with a membership that came predominantly from the ulema of Deoband. In due course it assumed the role of political wing of the Darul Uloom Deoband. The Khilafat Conference, a body exclusively formed to promote the cause of Khilafat, had a more diverse and varied membership. The Khilafat and Non-cooperation movements launched jointly by the Jamiat-I-Ulema-i-Hind, the Khilafat Conference and the Indian National Congress electrified the masses in a manner unprecedented in Indian history. Religious appeal led to mass mobilization and the British government found it next to impossible to contain the agitation. Some Deobandi ulema revived the violent Jihadi fatwa of India being darul harb and called upon the Muslims to migrate to Afghanistan.

After accepting a few thousand Indian Muslims Afghanistan declined to give shelter to more. Hundreds of Muslims perished due to the hardship of travel and weather. Gandhi called off the Deobandi Khalifat movement when it turned violent and twenty-two policemen were burnt alive by a mob. During the agitation the Moplahs (a Deobandi Arab community of peasant) of Malabar Coast proclaimed their local khilafat and offered the Quran or sword to Hindu landlords and British officers. The government had to deploy troops to crush the Moplah revolt. The ultimate casualty of the involvement of religion in politics was communal harmony in India with some Muslim and Hindu extremists urging the youth of their respective communities to get marital training.

In the aftermath of the Deobandi-led Khilafat movement the Muslims League emerged as the principal political organization of the Indian Muslims and in 1940 demanded the partition of the sub-continent. It identified Pakistan slogan with Islam to capture the imagination of common Muslims and to mesmerize them with romanticism of Islam’s past glory.

A small faction of Deobandi Jamiat-i-Ulema-i-Hind broke away from its parent organization to support the Pakistan demand whereas the main body opposed the partition on the ground that it would divide Indian Muslims without solving the communal question. This small faction was led by Maulana Shabbir Ahmed Usmani (Deobandi) who was lured by Liaquat Ali Khan to help Muslim League in Islamizing (Deobanizing) Pakistan. Shabbir Usmani played a key role in the Objectives Resolution which set in place the transition of Pakistan towards a Deobandi and Salafi-led puritanical society.

In the mid 1940s, Syed Abul Aala Mauddodi founded his Jamaa’ at-i-Islami. In many respect the Jama-at-i-Islami was inspired by the Ikhwan-ul-Muslamoon of the Middle East, and its ideas were an amalgamation of Deobandis and Salafis. It too opposed the partition of the subcontinent and expressed the view that the leadership of the Muslim League lacked the essential qualities required to establish an Islamic State.

After the emergence of Pakistan in 1947, the break away faction of the Jamiat-i-Ulema-i-Hind, which adopted the name of Jamiat-i-Ulema-i-Islam, and Jamat-i-Islami became the harbinger of the movement to establish Islamic Deobandi theocracy in the country.

In 1957 the Jamat-i-Islami opted for electoral politics to implement its version of Islamic system through constitutional means. Jamiat-i-Islami’s appeal remained confined to a section of intelligentsia and student community and it performed very dismally in the national elections of 1970. It was in the wake of military action in former East Pakistan that the Jama’at sponsored militant groups, Al-Badr and Al-Shams, fought along with the Pakistan Armed Forces against the Mukti bahini (liberation army) and Indian aggressors.

The Deobandi Jamiat-i-Ulema-i-Islam also failed to make its mark on national level and its appeal remained largely confined to the North West Frontier Province and Balochistan in the elections of 1970.

The Jama’at-i-Islami was a nuisance for Zulfikar Ali Bhutto during his rule from late 1971 to mid 1977. Bhutto agreed to declare Islam as the state religion of Pakistan in the constitution of 1973 and Ahmedis as a minority under the pressure of religious parties. He also used several religion-related gimmicks to establish his Islamic credentials with the masses. However, after the charges of rigging in the elections of 1977. Bhutto could not withstand the onslaught in which the students belonging to Islami Jamiat-i-Talba, the student wing of Jama-at-i-Islami, and Deobandi madrassah students belonging to Jamiat-i-Ulema-i-Islam were in the forefront. The middle class bazaar people of the urban areas, under considerable influence of Jama’at-i-Islami, also played a crucial role in the downfall of Bhutto. The finest hour for the Jama’at came when marital law was imposed on 5 July 1977.

The Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan on 27 December 1979 offered unique opportunity to the United States to weaken its principal adversary, and to General Zia to prolong his obscurantism rule. A resistance movement imbedded with Islamic fervor appeared to be the most effective counter-measure to bleed the Soviets.

The Pakistan ISI and the American CIA masterminded the formation, logistics and action plan of the mujahideen outfits. They secured services of the Deobandi and Salafi mujahideen of Jama-at-i-Islami and Jamiat-i-Ulema-i-Islam for inculcating the spirit of jihad and recruiting rank and file to fight what was primarily an American war. Foreign Salafi/Wahabi elements, including Egyptians, Palestinians and Saudis, were inducted in the mujahideen groups.

The mujahideen movement thus became a meeting point for Islamic Deobandi and Salafi militants of Afghanistan. Pakistan and the Middle East. The United States, without any scruples, promoted and used Islamic militancy to defeat the Evil Empire. Generally the people from Pakistan and abroad professed and practiced the Puritan Schools of Islamic Shariah, where the Jehad is a practiced article of faith.

Excepts from : http://www.turkishweekly.net/article/68/the-historical-roots-of-islamic-militancy-in-pakistan-and-current-scenario-amicus.html

Deobandi Islam is the most popular form of pedagogy in the Pashtun belt on both sides of the Durand Line that separates Afghanistan and Pakistan. Moreover, prominent Afghan and Pakistani Taliban leaders have studied in Deobandi seminaries. This article explains the history of Deobandi Islam, shows how Deobandi Islam in Afghanistan and Pakistan has been influenced by Saudi Wahhabism, and finally looks at the role of Deoband today.

In 1867, Darul Uloom was founded in the town of Deoband as one of the first major seminaries to impart training in Deobandi Islam.

The Deobandi movement became the most popular school of Islamic thought among Pashtuns living on both sides of the Durand Line. Many prominent Pashtun community leaders established Deobandi seminaries in these areas. Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan (Bacha Khan), a prominent Pashtun leader, was instrumental in establishing several schools based on Deobandi curriculum in the Pashtun belt.[10] (This also partly explains why some Pashtun nationalists who frequently and at times legitimatelly blame Saudi Salafi ideology and Punjabi military establishment remain almost silent on Deobandi roots of terrorism in KP and FATA.) In other parts of British India, however, they faced competition from other Islamic schools, primarily Sunni Barelvi Islam. Sunni Barelvi/Sufi Islam, for example, remains the most popular Islamic school in what is now India and Pakistan’s Sindh and Punjab Provinces.

Deobandi sub-sect committed to a “correct” or puritanical interpretation of Shari`a (Islamic law). Deobandi students become alim (religious scholars) after an eight-year-long course in various aspects of Islamic learning such as logic, Islamic jurisprudence, the Qur’an, the history of literature and the hadiths. Deobandi scholars are opposed to certain Barelvi practices, such as visiting the tombs of saints and celebrating the birthday of the Prophet (Milad). Their opposition to these practices, however, is at at times as rigid when compared to Ahl-e-Hadith, which follows a more narrow interpretation of Islam. In that respect, Ahl-e-Hadith is similar to Saudi Wahhabism, although it remains of South Asian origin.

In 1947, British India was partitioned into Pakistan (which included present-day Bangladesh) and India. The separation caused the migration of someleading Deobandi scholars to Pakistan. This included Mufti Mahmood, the father of Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman, the former president of a faction of Jamiat-i-Ulama-i-Islam. Moreover, Mufti Mahmood, an ethnic Pashtun, became the chief minister of Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province in 1972 for nine months.

The looming war against the Soviet Union only led to a rise in enrollment in Deobandi seminaries in the Pashtun areas of Pakistan. During the late 1970s, for example, Deobandi seminaries in the Pashtun belt received state patronage. According to a World Bank report, enrollment in Deobandi seminaries increased after 1979, coinciding with the start of the Afghan jihad against the Soviets. Pashtuns played a major role in the Afghan jihad, and a large number of these fighters were drawn from Deobandi seminaries. In addition to American and Saudi money helping to support the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia infused Deobandi seminaries with Wahhabi ideology. The Saudis targeted Deobandi Islam because it was the most popular Islamic school in the Pashtun belt. Ahl-e-Hadith, for example, had a weak presence in the Pashtun belt,[11] and Wahhabis considered certain Sunni Barelvi practices—such as visiting mausoleums—as anti-Islamic and heretical. Some Pakistan-based scholars, such as Akbar Zaidi, have argued that Deobandi Islam in Pakistan and Afghanistan has moved away from its roots in India due to a number of factors, one of which is the influence of Saudi Wahhabism.[12]

The Soviet Union eventually withdrew from Afghanistan, and Deobandi became the religious base for much of the Taliban movement that ruled Afghanistan until 2001. Many Taliban leaders and fighters studied in Deobandi seminaries, many of which were funded by Saudi Arabia and at leasst partly influenced by Wahhabism. Mullah Omar, the head of the Taliban, is the product of a Deobandi seminary. Moreover, the top bracket of the current Taliban leadership in Afghanistan and Pakistan studied in Deobandi seminaries on both sides of the Durand Line. Even Hakimullah Mehsud, the slain commander of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, studied in a Deobandi seminary in Hangu District of the North-West Frontier Province, although he left his studies early.[13]

Excepts from : http://www.ctc.usma.edu/posts/the-past-and-future-of-deobandi-islam

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