The Deoband Anti Terror Fatwa: But Who Is Listening?

The Deoband Anti Terror Fatwa: But Who Is Listening?

By Salil Kader

May 31, 2008 was an important day for all those opposed to acts of
terrorism being carried out around the world which are wrongly
attributed to Islam and its teachings. On a hot Saturday afternoon New
Delhi ‘s historic Ram Lila maidan witnessed a huge turnout (between
10,000-15,000) of Muslims at a peace-conference organised under the
aegis of Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind and Darul Uloom, Deoband. This meeting
was supported by other important organisations including All India
Muslim Personal Law Board and the Nadwatul Ulama, Lucknow , and
leaders of different faiths and sects. The aim of this anti-terrorism
and peace conference was summed up by Darul-Uloom’s deputy rector
Hazrat Maulana Qari Sayed Mohammed Usman, “Terrorism is the gravest
crime as held by Quran and Islam. We are not prepared to tolerate
terrorism in any form and we are ready to cooperate with all
responsible people.” The highlight of this meet however was a fatwa
sought by the Jamiat leader and Member of Parliament, Maulana Mahmood
Asad Madani and issued by the Darul Uloom, Deoband. This fatwa was
against all forms of terrorism. The fatwa clearly stated, “Islam is a
religion of peace and security. In its eyes, on any part over the
surface of the earth spreading mischief, rioting, breach of peace,
bloodshed, killing of innocent persons and plundering are the most
inhuman crimes.”

This conference and the fatwa issued are of great importance for more
reasons than one. Deoband, arguably one of the most important Islamic
centres of learning in the world after the Al Azhar University at
Cairo , has been in the news for all the wrong reasons in the recent
past. This is so because Deoband has been widely believed to be the
motivating ideology behind many recognised terrorist groups like the
Taliban, the Jaish-e-Mohammed and the Harkat ul-Mujahideen.
Interestingly, what many commentators and analysts researching the
phenomenon of ‘Islamist terrorism’ failed to highlight was the fact
that the world-renowned seminary never endorsed the Taliban or the
brand of Islam that they tried to impose upon the hapless Afghans. The
Princeton University Professor Muhammad Qasim Zaman records in his
book ‘The Ulama in Contemporary Islam’ (Princeton University Press,
New Jersey, 2002) that “the Deobandi ulama were never unanimously
euphoric about the Taliban Š in terms of intellectual activity, too,
there is a great gulf between the Deobandi Taliban and Deobandi
scholars like Taqi Uthmani.” (p.139-40).

This public denouncement of terrorism as anti-Islamic, coming soon
after the February 2008 Deoband conference where a similar stand was
taken sans the fatwa, also answers a question raised often from
various quarters: ‘Why don’t Muslims condemn terrorism or do Muslims
ever condemn terrorism?’ Though this question has been answered
effectively several times at different fora, it somehow keeps coming
back for revalidation. Probably those asking such questions never wait
to listen to the answers and quickly pronounce the whole Muslim
community guilty of not condemning acts of violence being carried out
in the name of Islam.

The fact that various Muslim organisations came under one umbrella and
unequivocally condemned terrorism as anti-Islamic was covered as
front-page news in various Urdu dailies of India . But did the English
language media do the same? The answer is N-O. I took a look at some
leading English dailies on the 1st of June 2008. Sample this. The
Hindustan Times ( Delhi edition) carried the news item on the 31st May
conference on page 8. The Hindu ( Hyderabad edition) carried it on
page 10. The Sunday Times of India (Delhi edition) has a small column
reporting the same on its front page. The other editions (Mumbai and
Hyderabad ) have it again on pages 7 or 8. This was the first time
that an institution of Darul Uloom, Deoband’s importance, facilitated
a rally of the size that assembled at the Ram Lila maidan, with the
sole objective of denouncing and condemning terrorism in the name of
Islam. Sadly it was cricket’s Indian Premier League that hogged
front-page newsprint and not the path-breaking declaration, which was
of utmost national and international importance. In my opinion, more
than the patrons of the Urdu dailies, it was the readership of these
English dailies that needed to be informed of the stand taken by
thousands of Muslims that day at the Ram Lila maidan. Because more
often than not it is this section of the society, which asks the
questions like, ‘We know Islam doesn’t support terrorism, but why
don’t Muslims openly condemn these dastardly acts?’ Muslims do condemn
every act of terror in their individual or collective capacities. But
who is listening? When the unified voice of over 10,000 Muslims got
relegated to a few column spaces somewhere in the corner of our major
English dailies, how do you think the voices of the common man in
Lucknow , Ahmedabad or Hyderabad would reach different corners of the

The Deoband fatwa might do little to change the mindset of groups
indulging in terrorist activities. Nonetheless, the fatwa might prove
to be crucial in guiding scores of youngsters as it, in a way, gives a
directive against taking the path of violence to achieve one’s goals.
The fatwa will also go a long way in clearing fallacies about Islam in
the minds of those influenced by the propaganda being carried out
against the faith. The Deoband fatwa, in that sense, bridges a major
gap and could prove to be a guiding star for the generations to come.

The author teaches History at the Maulana Azad National Urdu
University , Hyderabad, India