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Does Deoband follow Sufism?

Saquib Salim

A common belief among university graduates and masses with access to the internet is that Deoband School (Darul Uloom) is against Sufism. There cannot be a bigger misconception than this. Deoband School not only follows Sufi’s thoughts but also propagates the same.

Shah Waliullah Dehlavi, an 18th-century Islamic scholar, wrote several books on Sufi thoughts, history, and practices. There was a fatwa issued from Darul Ifta Deoband on him. It said, “Hazrat Shah Waliullah is academically like the father and the Ulama of Deoband are like its heir”.  

Waliullah in one of his writings argued that Islam is divided between two separate practices. One is of external religious code and another is the code for the inner-self of Muslims. While the first one deals with law and order, prayers, and social and religious codes, the second is about spirituality. Spirituality leads to the purification of the heart. In this, people don’t practice religion as a ritual but for the love of Allah.

Waliullah in one of his writings argued that Islam is divided between two separate ranks. One is of external religious code and another is the inner self of Muslims. While the first rank deals with law and order, prayers and other social and religious codes, the second rank is about spirituality. This spirituality leads to purification of heart and here people don’t practise religion as a ritual but for the love of Allah.

Waliullah went on to argue that existence of two ranks of religion implies that religious leadership should also be divided into two ranks. A leadership takes care of external social and religious order. It consists of scholars of Islam, warriors, administrators and teachers. Another set of people leads people towards the spiritual aspect of Islam. They are popular teachers to whom masses turn for guidance. These are Sufis

Most importantly Waliullah wrote that he had close scholarly collaborations with several Sufi silsila like Madariyas, Chishty, and Naqshbandi. He claimed that the souls of these Sufi teachers had guided him in his spiritual journey and taught him about Sufism.

In his view, Sufis of different silsila (order) should not be juxtaposed. Waliullah argued that each Sufi expresses himself according to the time and space in which he lives. Sufi teachings of one period cannot be compared with others and all Sufi schools are equally righteous and strive to achieve the teachings of Hazrat Ali.

Waliullah believed that all the hidden knowledge of Sufis emanated from one of the three sources, or all three of them – Prophet Muhammad, Hazrat Ali, and Ghaus Azam. 

Waliullah held the view that Sufism serves the higher level of the Islamic practice of purifying one’s soul; Sufis bring people toward Allah. Spirituality, in his opinion, is on a higher pedestal than religious rituals and duties. 

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Contrary to what people believe these thoughts of Waliullah are majorly taught at Deoband and its affiliated Madrasas.         

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