Couple of years ago, Arshad Madani, President of Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind (A) sitting comfortably at his residence located at the entrance of Darul Uloom Deoband stopped a reporter (name withheld) midway during an interview and called a boy by his name from amongst a group of approx. hundred students passing by his residence. The student was in his 20s and spoke Hindi with an accent. Arshad Madani asked him about his tentative date of return to Afghanistan and if he is facing any hardship at the seminary. The student replied that as long as teachers like him are present in Deoband, Afghan students will never face any issues in India and that they will be forever indebted to their “Ustaads” (teachers) of the seminary. He said that he will graduate soon and return to Afghanistan within a year. The reporter was astonished. Sensing his curiosity, Arshad Madani said that Darul Uloom Deoband, one of the largest Islamic seminary of India, located at Saharanpur, U.P is a second home to hundreds of Afghanis who come from Afghanistan to get educated about Islam in the seminary.
The relation of Darul Uloom Deoband with Afghanistan assumes significance given the recent capture of power by Taliban in Afghanistan. The Taliban are often portrayed as employing a narrow interpretation of Islamic sharia law inspired by the Deobandi fundamentalist school. 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. For those who don’t know, Taliban is mostly represented by Pashtuns. Prominent Afghan and Pakistani Taliban leaders have studied in Deobandi seminaries. Maulana Adil Sidiqui of Darul Uloom Deoband once said in an interview to Luv Puri from New York University that educating students from Afghanistan and Pakistan at Deoband would have a sobering influence on the Muslim populations in these countries. According to Sidiqui, Pashtun graduates would be the “true” ambassadors of a Deobandi education and Deoband can become a constructive platform to debate political, religious, economic and social challenges confronting Muslims in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. If this is to accepted at face value, why the seminary is silent on recent atrocities by Taliban on thousands of innocent civilians especially women? Why no official statement has been put on record by Arshad Madani or Mahmood Madani calling for peace in Afghanistan?
During their first period in power (1998 onwards), the Taliban issued their own harsh interpretation of Islamic life equally inspired by the Pashtun tribal code, the Pashtunwali which pushed women from public life, barred them from working or studying and confined to their homes unless accompanied by a male guardian. Public executions and floggings were common, western films and books were banned and cultural artefacts seen as blasphemous under Islam were destroyed (who can forget the Bamiyan Budhha episode?) Recently, just after capturing Kabul, images showing women were painted out, guards posted outside the homes of prominent women, including politicians, and opponents were reportedly murdered.
The Combating Terrorism Center of the US Military Academy at West Point published a report IN 2009 which revealed that although there was a severance of institutional links between Deobandi seminaries in Afghanistan, Pakistan and in India after the partition of India in 1947, the ideological connection cannot be denied. The connection of Deoband with extremism is not very old given the fact that Maulana Asim Umar, an alumnus of Darul Uloom Deoband became the chief of AQIS (al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent) and was charge sheeted by Delhi Police in 2019. Maulana Umar was also found to be associated with Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, a Pakistan-based terror outfit.
With the resurgence of Taliban in Afghanistan, there are chances that Taliban-affiliated organisations may try to vitiate the peaceful atmosphere of India. Indian Muslims at large has shown their indifference to the recent events in Afghanistan, and many have openly condemned Taliban for their violence. The government has responded by establishing an ATS commando centre at Deoband showing farsightedness. Now, the onus lies on the shoulders of teachers of Darul Uloom Deoband especially on leaders like Arshad Madani and Mahmood Madani to come forward and issue statements asking Taliban to stop violence and participate in peace process. As the naxal issue has showed us, those ideologically motivated will always listen to their teachers.