The Deoband Madrasa

SherAli Tareen

in Islamic Studies

ISBN: 9780195390155
Published online April 2011 | | DOI:
The Deoband Madrasa


The Deoband Madrasa is one of the most influential reform movements in modern Islam. It was established in the North Indian town of Deoband, Uttar Pradesh, in 1867 by a group of prominent Indian Muslim scholars (‘Ulama’). More specifically, the charismatic scholars Rashid Ahmad Gangohi (d. 1906) and Qasim Nanautvi (d. 1877) set the foundations of this educational institution of religious learning that has impacted the intellectual, social, and political history of South Asian Islam in profound ways. In the early 21st century, with its parent institution in India, the Deoband school boasts the largest network of satellite madrasas all over Pakistan, Bangladesh, neighboring countries in Asia and beyond, and as far afield as the Caribbean, South Africa, Britain, and the United States. Deobandi madrasas account for approximately fifty to sixty thousand institutions on the Indian subcontinent alone, with the largest concentration by far in India. However, it is important to stress here that although innumerable madrasas in various parts of the Muslim world call themselves “Deobandi,” their ties to the founding school in Deoband, which continues to exist in the early 21st century, may well be only tenuous or even nonexistent. This is an important point because it shows that quite apart from the physical institution of the madrasa, the term “Deobandi” also connotes a certain ideological strand of thinking, or a particular thought-style within Sunni Islam in the modern world. A staunch commitment to the canonical authority of Hanafi law and a renewed emphasis on the study of Hadith are arguably the two most defining elements of the Deobandi tradition. The curriculum of study followed at most Deobandi madrasas is known as the Dars-i Nizami, a corpus of texts introduced into the ’Ulama‘ traditions of South Asia by the influential 18th-century scholar Mullah Nizam al-Din Muhammad (d. 1748), founder of the Farangi Mahall School in Lucknow. The pioneers of Deoband systematized this very flexible curricular template according to their own ideological needs and sensibilities; most notably they deemphasized texts dealing with logic and philosophy and amplified the significance of Hadith studies. It must be stressed here that there is no such thing as a uniform and monolithic Deobandi tradition. In fact, historically and more recently perhaps the greatest strength of the institution has been the remarkable diversity of ideological temperaments, styles of argumentation, and projects of reform that populate its intellectual history.

Article.  5023 words. 

Subjects: Islam

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