Attitude of ‘ulamā’ of Deoband toward adversaries

Another noble trait of the ‘ulamā’ of Dār al-Ulūm Deoband was that they appropriately engaged with their adversaries: while refuting them they did not use any offensive language, nor did they apply any derogatory names. Even in response to provocation they tried to act with self-restraint and gave since advice to their detractors.

Amīr Shāh Khān reports that Mawlānā Qāsim Nānautawī once visited Khurja. In a gathering there someone mentioned Mawlawī Faḍl-i Rasūl Badāyūnī1. Since he belonged to a group of adversaries, Amīr Khān twisted the name by saying Faṣl-ī Rasūl (the one who has departed from the Messenger). Angrily, the Mawlānā asked me, “What do the people call him?” So the correct pronunciation of the name was given, upon which rebuked Amīr Khān and said, “Why do you say Faṣl-i Rasūl, then?” While commenting on this incident, Mawlānā (Ashraf ‘Alī) Thanawī remarked, “They followed the Qur’anic directive of not using offensive nicknames for anyone, not even an enemy.”

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It is well known that Mawlawī Aḥmad Razā Khān of Bareilly launched into an abusive tirade against the ‘ulamā’ of Dār al-Ulūm Deoband, branding them disbelievers. He spared no opportunity to hurl abuse at these noble, devoted men of knowledge aiming at Mawlānā (Rashīd Aḥmad) Gangohī as his main target of attack. One day, the Mawlānā asked his follower, Mawlānā Muḥammad Yaḥyā Kāndhlawī, to read out Mawlawī Barelwī’s writings to him. He replied, “These consist only of abuses.” To this the Mawlānā responded, “Distant words of abuse do not affect me. Read out his writings to me. Let me listen to his arguments, there may be some substance in them that could make a difference to my position.” Being a seeker of truth he studied the writings of his adversaries with a view to improving his own understanding.

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Mawlānā Maḥmūd Rāmpūrī reports, “Once a Hindu and I went to a court in Deoband. Shaykh al-Hind (Maḥmūd Ḥasan Deobandī) hosted me while the Hindu went to his relatives. He returned after taking dinner there, and stayed with me at night. He was given a bed to sleep in. At night, while everyone was asleep, I kept an eye on the Mawlānā so that if he took up any hard work I could get up and help him. I then saw him massaging the feet of the Hindu who was sleeping soundly. After a while I got up and told him that I would take over. However, he told me that he was his guest and only he would serve him. I had to remain quiet while he busied himself helping his guest.”

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Mawlānā Aḥmad Ḥasan Panjābī, a madrasah teacher of Kanpur, wrote an extensive tract entitled Ibṭāl Imkān-i Kadhib, in which he branded Mawlānā Ismā‘īl Shahīd2 and his followers as people who had gone astray. He included them among a misguided group of Mu‘tazilah3. The introduction to this tract crossed all the limits of civility in wantonly abusing those ‘ulamā’. On going through it, Shaykh al-Hand was enraged. However, being gifted with knowledge, sincerity and self-control he said, “If I abuse them, it will not compensate for their disrespect to the elders. If I vent my anger by abusing their mentors, it will be pointless, for they are innocent and have nothing to do with this sacrilege.”

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It goes without saying that Mawlānā Thanawī’s sermons, in both their oral and written forms, have benefited the Muslim community immensely. These have been a source of guidance to this day. They cover most of the aspects of faith and have had a transformative effect on their audiences.

He once had a lecture scheduled in Jaunpūr. A large crowd of Barelwis turned up to the lecture. He was given a note which stated: “You are a weaver. You are an ignorant person. You are a disbeliever. You should be careful about what you say n your lecture.”

Before beginning his lecture, Mawlānā Thanawī read out the contents of the note to the audience, and then said:

As for the assertion about my being a weaver, there is nothing wrong with that. I am not here to negotiate a matrimonial alliance. I have merely travelled here in order to convey Allah’s guidance. This has nothing to do with my profession. Moreover, this is not something that one determines by choice: Allah decides the circumstances of one’s birth and class however He wills. All people are created by Him, and if their conduct is sincere, they will do well. This is my reply in principle. As to the truth of it, there is hardly any need to state it in the light of the above clarification. However, for anyone who is very keen on finding out about my family tree, I leave behind here the names and addresses of some of the leading people of Jaunpūr. They will inform you as to whether or not I am a weaver. However, let me clarify here and now that I am not a weaver.

As to the next assertion that I am an ignorant person, I readily affirm this. Rather, I am the most ignorant person of all. However, I will keep on quoting what I have heard from my elders and what I have learnt from books. If anyone is in doubt about anything which I convey, they need not follow it.

As far as the charge of being a disbeliever, I do not have to say much. I recite publicly before all of you: ‘I testify that there is no god beside Allah; and I testify that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.’ Had I been, God forbid, a disbeliever before this moment, in view of my testimony I am no longer such.

Finally, I am asked to be careful in what I say. Let me tell you that delivering sermons is not my profession. I say only what I know. Also, I only deliver such sermons when people that I should lecture. If you prefer, I will not even say a word. As to the advice about being careful, I do not provoke anyone. Never do I intentionally say anything which may offend or cause discord. However, if I have to mention something that refutes innovative practices while elucidating the principles of the Shari’ah, I feel no need to hesitate in this regard. Otherwise it would be tantamount to being dishonest in matters of belief. Now, let me know your decision in the light of the above. If during my sermon I say anything that may offend anyone, I should be stopped immediately, and I promise on receiving any indication to do so, I will stop and retire to my seat. In fact, it would be better still if the author of the note were to stop me. If he cannot gather the courage to do so, he should ask someone else to do it.

Upon hearing all of this, A Mawlawī who himself subscribed to the adversaries’ viewpoint, and was an influential person in the locality, roared, “Some wicked person must have written that note. Go ahead with your sermon! Are you not a Fārūqī [a descendant of Caliph ‘Umar Fārūq]?” To this the Mawlānā replied, “I am Fārūqī yet the people of this place call us weavers.”

When the entire audience in the mosque, especially the aforementioned Mawlawī, took to condemning the sender of that note, the Mawlānā dissuaded him from uttering profanities in view of the sanctity of the location. Eventually, he delivered his sermon, which was a huge success. Unintentionally, during that lecture, he mentioned something about innovations in belief. Although he had granted people the permission to stop him from saying anything further, no one could muster the courage to disrupt his lecture.

A rationalist Mawlawī initially praised the Mawlānā’s lecture, repeatedly exclaiming, “ṣubḥān Allāh“, while the lecture covered sufism. However, as the Mawlānā took up the refutation of innovations in belief, he became quiet and listened patiently, which was by Allah’s special favour, because he was in the habit of disturbing public lectures which were not to his liking. However, when the lecture was over and eeryone was about to disperse, he asked the Mawlānā, “Why did you take up these issues of innovation”? At this point a Mawlawī of the opposing school tried to vindicate the Mawlānā. However, the Mawlānā said, “He has addressed me, so let me respond to him. You need not interfere.” Then he turned to the questioner , telling him, “Had you cautioned me earlier, I would have been more careful. I discussed only what I considered to be important. The only way to resolve it, since the audience is still her, is that you announce that I should not ave discussed those issues. I will not contest it. This will vindicate your position.” Upon hearing this everyone laughed and the Mawlawī went away. After he had left, people took to criticising him, but when this became excessive, the Mawlānā intervened, “Do not abandon the resident ‘ulamā’ in favour of a travelling one. I am leaving today for Machhlīshahr. I urge the person who sent me the note to refute my stance. People will then be free to put an end to this mischief.” Then the other adversary present there declared, “Brothers, you that I practise innovations in matters of belief. However, the truth is that Mawlānā Thanawī’s stance, which he presented just now, is correct.”

The Great Scholars of the Deoband Islamic Seminary. London: Turath Publishing. 129-134.

From the Malfūẓāt of Mufti Maḥmūd Ḥasan Gangohī, compiled by Mufti Muḥammad Fārūq Mīrathī

A disciple of Ḥājī ‘Imdād Allāh Muhājjir Makkī, Mawlānā ‘Abd al-Samī‘ Rāmpūrī, was in favour of attending mīlād. He wrote a book entitled Anwār-i Sāi’ah supporting his viewpoint. Mawlānā Rashīd Aḥmad Gangohī, who was also a disciple of Ḥājī ‘Imdād Allāh, was firmly opposed to attending mīlād due to the wrongs prevalent in these gatherings. Mawlānā Gangohī had Barāhīn-i Qāi’ah written by his student, Mawlānā Khalīl Aḥmad Sahāranpūrī, in refutation of Anwār-i Sai’ah. Mawlānā Gangohī and Mawlānā Rāmpūrī had serious differences between them in certain rulings. However, on one occasion when Mawlānā Rāmpūrī had to go to Gangoh for a function, he made a point of also going to visit Mawlānā Gangohī. Mawlānā Gangohī in turn expressed his desire that he join him for a meal to which Mawlānā Rāmpūrī accepted the invitation. During this time the two scholars did not discuss any of the controversial issues.

Malfūẓāt Faqīh al-Ummah. Isipingo Beach: Madrasah Ta‘līm al-Dīn. 2:343.


[1] Ḥājī Amīr Shāh Khān was a special servant of Mawlānā Qāsim Nānautawī. He was particularly known for his knowledge of ‘ilm al-kalām, which was a field that Mawlānā Nānautawī had mastered. His knowledge was so vast in this field that even the likes of ‘Allāmah Anwar Shāh Kashmīrī and ‘Allāmah Shabbīr Aḥmad ‘Uthmānī referred to him. One may refer to Khutbāt-i Akābir and Fatḥ al-Mulhim for further details.

[2] Mawlānā Faḍl-i Rasūl Badāyūnī was an Indian scholar of the 13th century of Islam. He had graduated from Lucknow and took ḥadith from the Arabian Peninsula and Baghdad. He wrote polemical works and engaged in much debate. He even gave a fatwa excommunicating Shāh Ismā‘īl Dehlawī and was disparaging of other mainstream ‘ulamā’ before him. He died in 1289/1872. For further biographical details, one may refer to Nuzhat al-Khawāṭir.

[3] Shāh Ismā‘īl ibn ‘Abd al-Ghanī Dehlawī was a leading student of Shāh ‘Abd al-‘Azīz Dehlawī. He was referred to by his teacher as Ḥujjat al-Islām. He wrote books emphasising the importance of tawḥīd or monotheism and purifying one’s creed and worship. He tirelessly engaged in raising the banner of Islam by participating in the group of his Sufi Shaykh, Sayyid Aḥmad. In the end he was assassinated in Bālākot in 1246/1830. For further biographical details, one may refer to Nuzhat al-Khawāṭir and Tarīkh-i Da‘wat was ‘Azīmat.

[4] The Mu‘tazilah are referred to as the rationalists. They became prevalent in the third century of Islam. For further details about this denomination, one may refer to Tarīkh-i Da‘wat was ‘Azīmat.

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