Deoband, a country town ninety miles northeast of Delhi, has given its name to ulema associated with the Indo-Pakistani reformist movement centered in the seminary founded there in 1867. A striking dimension of Islamic religious life in colonial India was the emergence of several apolitical, inward-looking movements, among them not only the Deobandis but the so-called "Barelwis," the much smaller Ahl-e Hadis/Ahl-i Hadith, and the controversial Ahmadiyya. The Deobandi, Barelwi, and Ahl-e Hadis ulema not only responded to Hindu and Christian proselytizing, but engaged in public debate, polemical writings, and exchanges of fatawa among themselves. Each fostered devotion to the prophet Muhammad as well as fidelity to his practice; each thought itself the correct interpreter of hadith, the guide to that practice. All depended on means of communication, above all print, as well as on institutional changes that came with British colonial rule.
The Dar al-˓Ulum at Deoband utilized the organizational model of British colonial schools. Its goal was to hold Muslims to a standard of correct individual practice in a time of considerable social change, and, to that end, to create a class of formally trained and popularly supported ulema to serve as imams, guardians, and trustees of mosques and tombs, preachers, muftis, spiritual guides, writers, and publishers of religious works. At the end of its first centenary in 1967, Deoband counted almost ten thousand graduates, including several hundred from foreign countries. Hundreds of Deobandi schools, moreover, have been founded across the Indian subcontinent and now in the West as well.
The Deobandis followed Shah Wali Allah Dihlawi (1702–1763) in their shift from emphasis on the "rational sciences" to an emphasis on the "revealed sciences" of the Qur˒an and, above all, hadith. Unlike him, however, they have been staunch Hanafis in jurisprudence. They have also been Sufi guides, bound together by shared spiritual networks, especially Chishti Sabiri. Among the most influential writers was Maulana Ashraf˓Ali Thanawi (1864–1943), who published scholarly works on Qur˒an, hadith, and Sufism. He also wrote an encyclopedic guide for Muslim women, Bihishti Zewar, disseminating correct practice, reform of custom, and practical knowledge.
After about 1910, individual Deobandis began to be involved in politics in opposition to British rule in India and also to British intervention in the Ottoman lands. Many Deobandis supported the Khilafat movement after World War I in support of the Ottoman ruler as khalifa of all Muslims, and were also strong supporters of the Jam˓iyat ˓Ulama-e Hind who was allied with the Indian National Congress and opposed to the creation of Pakistan. The apolitical strand within the school's teaching has taken shape for many in the widespread, now transnational, pietist movement known since the 1920s as Tablighi Jama˓at. The popular writings of Maulana Muhammad Zakariyya Kandhalavi (1897–1982), associated with the second major Deobandi school in India, the Mazahir-e ˓Ulum in Saharanpur, are utilized extensively in the movement. In Pakistan, the Jam˓ iyat ˓Ulama-e Islam party represents Deobandi ulema. In striking contrast, the Taliban movement, which emerged in Afghanistan in the 1990s, had its origins among refugees in Deobandi schools in Pakistan and also identifies itself as Deobandi.
Metcalf, Barbara Daly. Islamic Revival in British India: Deoband l860–l900. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1982.
Thanawi, Maulana Ashraf ˓Ali. Perfecting Women: MaulanaAshraf ˓Ali Thanawi's Bihishti Zewar. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990.
Barbara D. Metcalf